Can We Talk?

Reading Alan Redway’s Governing Toronto, I’m struck by just how much the provincial government of Ontario spent time tinkering on the governance of Toronto and the GTA. governingtorontoStarting near the end of the Second World War, with a regional planning act, Queen’s Park exhibited little shyness in regularly rethinking how its biggest city and region should run. As the 1953 Cumming Report served up Bill 80 that established Metro Council, within 3 years, there would be a Commission of Inquiry to sort through the growing power of the suburban municipalities within Metro. Then came a Royal Commission in 1964. And another one in 1974.

The Mike Harris government had 3 reports and task forces (one of those coming from 4 mayors of 4 Metro municipalities) in front of it as it decided how to proceed with amalgamation. It largely ignored all 3, opting instead in favour of its own commissioned report from KPMG on the financial implications of creating one local government from six. From that point on, however, all examination and reviews of local governance in Toronto has ceased. Once our 44 ward boundaries were mandated in 2000, it’s been pretty much, Bob’s yer uncle.

Isn’t it time we sat down and had an in-depth conversation about things are functioning here?

We’re currently undergoing a ward boundary review that has to be in place for the next election in 2018. That, however, will do nothing to address the political structure, aside from changing the number of wards. tinkerIt’s long past due that we have a meatier discussion about what’s working and what isn’t with how we’ve governed ourselves since 1998.

The megacity’ll be two decades old when we next vote for our local representative, and I don’t think I’d be too far off the mark saying we have more than a few wrinkles we need to iron out. How come we’ve all gone radio silence and continued business as usual like everything’s hunky dory? Why did our provincial government stop being interested in trying to adapt our form of governance to the changes underway with both the city and region?

A cynic might suggest it’s because things are working out nicely for the province with the arrangement we have. By serving as the de facto regional level of government, the ultimate hands-on authority, Queen’s Park faces no serious challenge from a divided and weak set of municipalities. Toronto, the core of the region, is much, much too busy fighting with itself to provide much pushback against the province. Fiefdoms within fiefdoms, squabbling, leaving the monarch unrivalled.

But shouldn’t the provincial government really be concentrating more of its efforts on being, well, a provincial government? puppetmasterIt has the last word on how the cities under its rule do things. Can it really be effective micromanaging at a local level a region of some 6 million people?

I’d argue they can’t, and they haven’t been for some time now. Queen’s Park has proven to be an absentee-landlord, only to be seen when demanding money and/or votes. For too long now, their approach has been self-interest first, and everything else secondary to that.

No actual regional oversight body would’ve stood aside and meekly allowed one elected official, even one of mayoral stature, to try and torpedo much needed transit plans that had been in the works for three years. Worse than that, get involved in the melee, sacrificing fact-based decision making in order to better position itself politically. No, we’re the subway champions.

Last week’s provincial budget further proved Queen’s Park’s regional vision may come at a cost to certain municipalities that fall off the provincial radar. Oddly enough, Toronto seems to be one of those municipalities. Of the $16 billion being spent by the provincial government on public transit, $13.5 billion of that will be dedicated to its regional rail system. Not that that’s a terrible thing. It isn’t. There’s just not much left over for other necessary projects in the pipeline. Let alone helping to rebuild the biggest, arguably most vital component of the regional transit system, the TTC.

For over 20 years now, the provincial government has shirked its obligation to pay half of the TTC’s annual operating budget, billions and billions of dollars it’s pocketed over the last couple decades directly from Toronto’s property tax base. givewithonehandThis has regional implications as a shoddy TTC does little to encourage commuters to use it, bringing more cars into and around the city. A truly regionally inspired government would recognize that fact and work to fix it.

Exerting such pressure on the city’s budget leads to shortfalls elsewhere like, for example, social housing which the provincial government, acknowledging the regional implications of the file, used to help pay for. No more. Once again the budget made no mention of it despite the ‘moral and business case’ Mayor Tory pitched a couple weeks ago.

Raise your property taxes appropriately, critics say. Utilize the other taxing powers granted to Toronto back in 2006 with the City of Toronto Act. A vehicle registration tax, for example.

While not wrong, I believe those enhanced taxing powers should’ve been accompanied by new governance arrangements or, at the very least, discussion about regional government. It’s all well and good to say Toronto should start paying for what was traditionally thought of as regional or even provincial areas of oversight but shouldn’t that come with some bigger say in the matter? takemymoneyRight now, it’s awfully one-sided, more often than not falling in favour of the provincial government.

The case might be made that with such vested interest, Queen’s Park is not the ideal body to be solely in charge of regional governance for the GTA. It’s kind of conflicted, really. What with watching its own bottom line, and playing municipalities in the region off against each other, even encouraging a city to fight with itself, there’s a valid question of leadership here. We as a region are long overdue to have a conversation about how we should be governing ourselves in the 21st-century.

chattily submitted by Cityslikr

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