queen's park toronto

Does the province interfere too much with Toronto's business?

Unless you spend your free time browsing the Ontario legislature's website, you probably don't know about Bill 82, the Toronto City Council Act.

The private member's bill, introduced earlier this year by Liberal MPP Mario Sergio, includes a number of interesting provisions.

  • Reduce Toronto's city council to 32 members
  • Cap consecutive council terms at two
  • Create a Board of Control made up of eight councillors to oversee all financial and personal matters (city council would only be able to overturn the Board of Control's decisions by a two thirds-vote)
  • Restrict a councillor's nomination for provincial or federal office if their membership to city council doesn't cease by the time of nomination
  • New rules to shorten the nomination and campaign period of municipal elections

I wonder why there's been so little discussion of this.

In the case of Bill 82, I would imagine it's partly because the act is a private member's bill, meaning it's not part of the provincial cabinet's agenda and it's unlikely to ever become law. However, it did pass the first of three readings, and it's one of a few bills at Queen's Park that would directly affect local government in the GTA.

Another is Bill 18, introduced by Liberal MPP David Caplan (the fall guy for the eHealth scandal revealed last year), which calls for the election of the heads of the GTA's upper tier municipalities. Caplan also introduced Bill 15, an act that would make transit an essential service and strikes by TTC employees illegal.

Bill 58, brought forward by NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo, would give Toronto city council the authority to pass inclusionary zoning by-laws (laws requiring building owners to leave a percentage of their units as low-income). DiNovo is also behind Bill 74, which requires drivers to leave adequate space when passing cyclists.

Though Bill 74 deals directly with the Highway Traffic Act, making it entirely in the domain of the provincial government, the bill, like the others mentioned, directly impacts our municipality (among others). None of these bills will likely pass further than second reading, but I can't help feeling that Queen's Park is budding its nose too deeply in Toronto's business.

Legally speaking the province is doing nothing wrong. It has full jurisdiction over municipalities, which are not sovereign entities. Municipal responsibilities are delegated downwards by the province and can be taken away. The City of Toronto Act 2006, which gives Toronto its powers, is a provincial law that was passed by provincial MPPs, not city councillors.

But putting the law books aside, should provincial politicians be proposing laws affecting our city when their debate takes place outside the context of our own municipal discourse? In other words, while our mayoral and council candidates, the media, and local pundits discuss the issues of our city in one corner of a room, should a group of provincially elected officials be making decisions for us in another?

Sergio, Caplan, and DiNovo could make a bigger effort to introduce their ideas into the municipal debates of Torontonians, instead of keeping them insulated at Queen's Park.

We only have to look back to amalgamation to find an example of how provincial politicians can bring change to Toronto against its will. The solution? Well, either we make a bigger effort to demand our MPPs engage and listen to our city, or - dare I say? - the sixth largest government in Canada separates as its own province.

True, the second option is a bit extreme, but with so many of our own distinct needs unrelated to Ontario as a whole, I can't help but imagine...

Photo by Still the Oldie in the blogTO Flickr pool.


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