You only have to listen to councillor George Mammoliti kvetching about how his Ward 7 (York West) constituents north of Highway 401 are getting shafted by lesser lights living downtown to understand how botched the amalgamation of six smaller municipalities into the megacity actually was.Just as the French and the British made a real mess of things when they carved up the old Ottoman Empire into a bunch of new Middle Eastern countries after the first world war, so it seems did the Ontario Tories.
In both cases, the amateur cartographers ignored fundamental demographics when they drew their boundaries. The lines may have looked good in the desert sand and even better on paper. But in reality, the mapmakers created all manner of cultural and political chaos with their illogical demarcations.
While tensions here are nothing like they are in places like Iraq, Syria and Jordan, disenchantment with the phony borders Queen's Park imposed on local communities is definitely growing.
Mammoliti once slammed a jar of coins down on his desk in the council chamber and pledged to add a dime to it each and every time one of his colleagues from south of the expressway said something negative about North York. Apparently, city council's biggest spender couldn't afford to keep his word, because the jar soon disappeared and hasn't been seen since.
But Mammoliti keeps right on complaining. And that has caused councillor Kyle Rae (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale), a reliable banner-waver for the city's urban core, to offer up a solution to his woes.
"When you hear George Mammoliti whining on about north of the 401, maybe north of 401 belongs with York Region," Rae suggests. "I wouldn't be surprised if there's more affinity between those communities than there is between the old city of Toronto and north of the 401. It probably is a better fit."
And why stop at ceding most of North York to the city of Vaughan or Thornhill?
"Same goes with Etobicoke," Rae says. "It seems to me that over the five years I've sat on council with Etobicoke councillors, their idea of a city is a bedroom community."
He then starts doing his impersonation of Rob Ford, the councillor for Ward 2 (Etobicoke North). ""No, we don't want to pay more taxes. No, we don't need services. No, we don't. No, no, no.'
"I think most cities have a healthy back-and-forth between urban and suburban," Rae offers. "However, we've never had a tradition for that. We've got two totally different mindsets, and I think it will take a generation for people in Etobicoke to warm to being part of the city of Toronto."
That said, the downtown politician continues: "I think we may be making a mistake in expecting them to want to be part of the city of Toronto. Maybe they should be part of the city of Mississauga."
Doug Holyday, the councillor for Ward 3 (Etobicoke Centre) and a former mayor of the old city of Etobicoke, says, "That's one of the things that maybe the Conservative government should have looked at when they did this amalgamation.
"Really, it's just an imaginary line between the two of us," he said. "I think there's an awful lot in common between Etobicoke and Mississauga."
While Holyday doubts Queen's Park will do anything about the situation now, Rae figures there's an opportunity for things to change when federal and provincial riding boundaries come up for review in 2004.
"The provincial government may well look at re-examining the GTA," he surmises. "It may break down the old boundaries between the 905 and 416 areas. Maybe it should take that opportunity, because amalgamation is not working.
"People who live downtown in the old city of Toronto will be the first to tell you it has failed," Rae says. "They have seen the litter pickup fail. They have seen garbage service fail. They've seen the cleanliness of the parks fail. They've seen the number of homeless on the streets increase. They know amalgamation has failed, and only someone who is smoking pot will tell you any different."
Perhaps because he doesn't want to be identified as an inveterate dope smoker, councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong is quick to agree that amalgamation has created more problems than it has solved. But he argues that his Ward 34 (Don Valley East) constituents on the north side of Highway 401 are the ones who've really been hard done by in the municipal merger.
"We got the short end of the stick," Minnan-Wong says of North Yorkers in general. "We came to amalgamation with money in reserves. But you look where all the money is going now in terms of capital improvements: it's going downtown and south of the 401."
He maintains that people in his neck of the woods aren't happy with the situation and could easily see the benefits of a new association with York Region communities north of Steeles Avenue.
"My folks are generally concerned with having reasonable taxes, no tax increases and decent services," Minnan-Wong advises. "They now find themselves paying for a lot of things they'd rather not pay for. From that point of view, I think they would see the attractiveness of joining another municipality that's more interested in the meat and potatoes of municipal government than some of the other things we spend money on. You know, people's pet projects down here, all the grants that go out, things like that."
Unfortunately, the councillor from north of the 401 holds out little hope that the Tories -- or their potential successors at Queen's Park -- will make any changes in the near future.
"You can't unscramble the omelette," Minnan-Wong says.
No, but you can pick the mushrooms and green peppers out of the cooked eggs and put them on different plates. Happens all the time at my favourite downtown diner.