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What happens in Peel, stays in Peel. Or does it?
A look at the recent announcement to 'dissolve' Peel and what it might mean for Waterloo Region
Last month, the Ford government announced that Peel Region as we have long known it, would be ‘dissolved’, essentially transforming the region (by 2025) into three independent cities of Brampton, Mississauga, and Caledon. This followed last November’s appointment of facilitators to “assess the regional governments in Waterloo, Durham, Halton, Niagara, Peel and York to determine the best mix of roles and responsibilities between the upper and lower-tier municipalities in those regions.” And, apparently for Peel that means the region will be no more…eventually.
A number of issues need to be addressed before Peel region ‘breaks up’. A major consideration, of course, revolves around separating the currently intertwined finances of the three cities, especially regarding joint core services such as police, water treatment, roads, garbage collection and housing supports. The mayor of Brampton, Patrick Brown, has said, “the city of Mississauga would owe them at least $1 billion in infrastructure.” Meanwhile, Mississauga’s mayor (and Liberal leader candidate), Bonnie Crombie says that Mississauga “taxpayers have paid more than their fair share over the years and cannot be made to pony up more.”
In addition to financial considerations, it must be decided how to dismantle the 24-member regional council. In order to navigate these challenges, Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark announced that he will appoint a transition board of up to 5 people to develop a pathway forward. The board will consist of people with expertise in labour relations, civic governance, and finance, and their salaries will be paid for by the Peel municipalities. “These experts will be tasked with reviewing labour issues and regional bylaws as well as disentangling regional services, reviewing regional and lower-tier finances and their financial sustainability, exploring new property taxing arrangements and reviewing boards and commissions.”
There are clearly some important questions that need to be considered about this process. As noted in this article, “If the divorce in Peel ends up costing the new single-tier cities, will the province make them whole? If the regional municipalities are dismantled, who will have the job of building the infrastructure that new housing requires, particularly as the government weakens the traditional means of ‘growth paying for growth’?”
There is little doubt that residents of other regional municipalities are watching closely as all of this unfolds. Many of us in Waterloo Region are wondering what all of this might mean for us. Before the idea of dissolving a region into independent cities became news, there had been many local discussions on going essentially the opposite direction, and amalgamating into a single-tier government.
“Before the pandemic, it was anticipated that all of Waterloo Region might be forced to become one big city, as had happened decades earlier in Hamilton. But now it looks as if Clark might take the opposite approach, as the government focuses on getting more homes built.”
In fact, one Regional Councillor even hosted a townhall on The ‘A-word’ - Unnecessary or Unavoidable?, in March. As an aside, I watched that town hall and thought there was some pretty important information and data shared that at minimum, shows that we need to consider carefully whether amalgamation (or dissolution) is right for Waterloo Region. I hope to highlight more of those details in a future post but in the meantime I recommend reading this and this.
Perhaps to ‘get ahead’ of any possible provincial decisions impacting the fate of Waterloo Region as we now know it, several Regional councillors gathered to hold a press conference of sorts, expressing their support for a strong, unified region. Interestingly, that media event, to show a ‘Stronger Together’ region, only consisted of 6 of the 16 regional councillors, but more on that in a minute.
Councillor Harris (representing Kitchener) said that breaking up the region into pieces “would set us back — big time.” But he believes the current two-tier system could be more efficient.
Councillor Williams (also representing Kitchener) attended this event and said, “Overall, I think reorganizing the government to one level will save taxpayers money and will increase the level of service in the region [we] will be able to provide.” While I’ll save most of my concerns about amalgamation for a future post, I will note that I have yet to find any evidence for the claim that amalgamation leads to cost savings.
Now there is one area that I feel we must do better on, and one that many pro-amalgamation folks believe will be solved by a single-tier government - and that’s the confusion of knowing who does what exactly. “Both Williams and Huinink said many constituents tell them they don’t know how to navigate the region and lack understanding on which level of government to approach when seeking a particular service.” This confusion has long been on my radar and I even wrote about it in the early days of Citified. While I believe improvements in this area are necessary, I’m not convinced that amalgamation will solve it.
On the issue of this ‘Stronger Together’ media event, I think Councillor Craig (Cambridge) raises a point worth considering when he states, “This group here talks about silos, collaboration, about stronger together and leaves out a city, the City of Cambridge and four townships.” While I always appreciate being pro-active on issues, when we want to highlight that we are indeed ‘stronger together’, we need more than 6 councillors representing only 2 municipalities (and no townships).
It seems a lot of D-words have come up related to these recent provincial announcements - Dissolution, Divorce, even Demalgamation. One other D-word comes to mind - Déjà-vu. It feels like we have been in a somewhat similar place before.
Perhaps you recall that in 2019 Michael Fenn and former Region of Waterloo chair Ken Seiling were tasked by the province “with the job of consulting with municipalities, organizations and the public through meetings, open forums and online submissions as part of a review of regional municipalities.” You may be thinking to yourself that thankfully we have that report to help us navigate these challenges today. Unfortunately, that report, which was delivered to Minister Clark in the fall of 2019, was never made public. That same fall, Minister Clark said that “The province will not force amalgamation of municipalities.” Is that still the case today? Does the same approach apply to the dissolution of a region as well? Clearly, there are still many questions to be answered.
Additionally, the provincial government continues to claim that these changes to local municipalities and regions will help with the housing crisis. However, it is unclear to me exactly how that will come to fruition.
I think one Caledon resident summed up things well: “What’s the actual business case for separating these three municipalities at a time when we have an affordability crisis, there’s so many big issues and big problems ... and we are going to spend money dissolving the regional government? How did this become a priority?”
There is still much more to discuss on this issue, but until then, here are a few recommendations for further reading on the topic:
Martin de Groot has a series on this issue and I have appreciated his perspective as I also wade through the topic. I particularly liked this line from his sixth post in the series: “If we want to become, not just big, lean and mean, but the best we can possibly be, we’re going to have to find a better storyline than survival of the fittest and look for a loftier aspiration than ‘Big City / Major Player.’”
You can watch the Virtual Townhall on Amalgamation hosted by Regional Councillor Rob Deutschmann.
While I already linked to Phil Marfisi’s important thread on amalgamation, here are a couple of informative links from that thread: