Archive for March 2010
In a pair of posts, James Bow comes up with an interesting proposal on how to solve Ontario’s problems of growing regional fragmentation and polarization. In his first post, writing in relation to the greater Toronto Metrolinx transport authority, he outlines the problem.
In 1954, when the province of Ontario created the municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, they created an agency that would assure the competent management of Toronto’s regional issues without sacrificing local concerns. The two-tier system worked by allowing the local councils to remain to deal with local issues, while at the same time providing a forum for discussion of regional concerns to take place. But this only worked because of one key criteria: in 1954, the boundaries of Metropolitan Toronto encompassed most of the urban region that was Toronto. By the late 1980s, that percentage had dwindled to near 50%.
Today, the province refuses to create a regional manager for the GTA, instead opting for piecemeal special purpose bodies like Metrolinx to tackle the matter on an issue-by-issue basis. They’ve been leery of regional governance for the GTA since the 1970s when Bill Davis refused a recommendation by former premier John Robarts to expand Metro’s boundaries to encompass Mississauga, Vaughan, Markham and Pickering.
And why would they cut their own throat? A regional government for the GTA would encompass almost half of the province’s population, and an even higher percentage of Ontario’s taxes. It would certainly threaten the dominance of Queen’s Park, creating an elected official that theoretically spoke for half of Ontario.
But the issues of the region of Toronto aren’t going away, and they have to be managed lest the economy of the whole of Ontario is affected. This is probably why Dalton McGuinty has taken the steps he has done to effectively act as the regional manager for the Greater Toronto Area. This is probably why the prospect of a Metrolinx takeover of the TTC is on the table.
Unfortunately, this is likely to fuel greater resentment from the other regions of the province, particularly the north and the rural east, who feel that Queen’s Park is paying less and less attention to their issues and more attention to Toronto’s problems. Already, you’re starting to see the polarization of the province along these lines, and the risk exists that should the government of Ontario shift, the regional manager that Queen’s Park represents (such as it is) may disappear entirely.
Bow’s solution? Given the impossibility of dividing Ontario to create new provinces, devolving power within Ontario to regional governments might be viable.
There is a need for an accountable regional manager for the Greater Toronto Area, but the other areas of the province have their own issues that deserve attention as well. The political, social and economic make-up of southwestern Ontario is different but no less important than that of Toronto. Rural eastern Ontario is different still, and the National Capital Region is struggling with issues of growth management and congestion, and could use some attention of their own. And, of course, northern Ontario has long felt ignored by the politicians of Queen’s Park that it has generated enough separatist sentiment to launch political parties, and even get speculated on by mainstream politicians in the area.
So, let’s devolve. Let’s create four or five regional parliaments, receiving a share of the provincial income tax, and controlling a percentage point or two of the province’s HST. Give these regional parliaments a clear mandate covering municipal issues common throughout their own region, and leave Queen’s Park to focus on issues common to the province as a whole. Then dissolve all county-level governments and all two-tier regional governments. De-amalgamate all megacities into their component parts.
Thoughts? Does anyone here know of any jurisdiction that has done anything similar?