Toronto Election 2018: Who should have control of Toronto?

Doug Ford’s attack on the 2018 municipal elections has made it clear that neither constitutional convention nor the Charter of Rights and Freedoms will stop him and his government

On January 1, 2007, the City of Toronto Act was proclaimed by the Province of Ontario. It formally recognized the city as a responsible government, provided power over its governance, among other things, and obliged the province to consult with the city over matters within its jurisdiction, including changes to the Act.

This wasn’t simply legislation passed by a city-supportive government, it was part of a global trend – in 2008 for the first time ever, the world became a predominately urban place, with more people living in cities than outside them.

In an increasingly urban world, it’s logical and appropriate to ensure that residents of a city can elect a government that responds to their needs and has the legal authority and financial resources to address present and future challenges – social, economic, environmental.

This is particularly true for Toronto, which is Canada’s fifth largest government by population and sixth by budget.

The City of Toronto Act did not address the issue of control over tax revenues sufficiently, but those of us involved in discussions at the time saved that issue to be fought on another day. In the meantime, it was expected that the spirit and the language of the law would be followed, and it was.

For example, as a result of unprecedented provincial-municipal cooperation, full funding for the Transit City plan was announced.

There is a lot of money from Toronto to share. A study at the time by the Board of Trade suggested that over $26 billion more went to Ottawa and Queen’s Park in taxes than came back in services. Every year. That’s more than enough to complete our transit plans, deal with affordable housing, our deteriorating parks, even the maintenance of our schools, if it was spent in Toronto.

Doug Ford’s unprecedented attack on the 2018 municipal elections, and his use of the notwithstanding clause, have made it clear that neither constitutional convention, provincial law, provincial legislative traditions – like white papers or public hearings – or even the Charter of Rights, will stop him and his government.

It’s not entirely clear why he is so determined to control Toronto – the purported rationale of efficiency doesn’t hold up to the most simple scrutiny. In fact, it is so untrue that he resorts to lies to defend it.

What we do know is that the question being asked by the PC government at Queen’s Park isn’t, “What should we do and how do we do it properly?” – it’s “What can we get away with?” The real question should be: “How do we help make Toronto a great 21st-century city, where no one is left behind?”

It’s now clear that we cannot rely on the governance structure from 1867 to even ask that question, let alone provide an answer. Provincial decisions are being made by one man. Torontonians need a government that can respond to their needs, and work with them to secure their future, not a constant crisis caused by whims.

Some places call it home rule. The name doesn’t matter. What does is the ability of the nearly three million citizens to collectively make their own decisions about their future.

It’s time for Toronto to have control of its own affairs and resources. Ford has just made the case.    

David Miller is a lawyer, environmentalist and former mayor of Toronto from 2003 to 2010. He is currently North American director for the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. | @nowtoronto

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