It’s time for Toronto to get broad new powers over its affairs, argues a group of prominent residents in a reform proposal they say could also be suitable for other cities hamstrung by a constitutional framework that doesn’t reflect the modern country.
Charter City Toronto, which includes former Toronto mayor John Sewell, unveiled Tuesday its proposal for a city charter that would allow Toronto more influence over its destiny, including greater control of taxation powers and development planning.
“We’re proposing that Toronto, with Ontario, adopt a strong city charter that gives it the powers and resources it needs to succeed in the 21st century,” said Doug Earl, who sits on the group’s steering committee.
Such a charter would have to be granted by the province. The group is also proposing a constitutional amendment to prevent any such charter being changed without city consent.
The group stresses that such a constitutional amendment would not need a Meech Lake-style national debate and would require the consent only of Queen’s Park and the federal government.
The power imbalance of Canadian cities vis-à-vis the provinces has been laid bare in recent years.
In the midst of the 2018 municipal election in Toronto, Ontario Premier Doug Ford decided to cut council nearly in half. Just last month the Alberta government unilaterally cut grants to Calgary and Edmonton, funding the cities believed was guaranteed under provincial-municipal agreements.
But the proponents of a Toronto city charter say the problem goes back further. They point to the forced amalgamation of Toronto two decades ago, against the wishes of its people. And they note that the problem is rooted in the early years of the country.
When the British North America Act was passed in 1867, the country was largely agrarian and cities were given no specific legal standing. They were creatures of the provinces, which can do with them largely what they want. But over the decades that subservient role became at odds with the makeup of Canada. The country gradually urbanized and a large majority of people now live in cities, without those cities having secured greater powers as a result.
The 22-page city charter proposal presented Tuesday includes a range of options for devolving power to Toronto but is intended as the starting point for what its supporters acknowledge will be a lengthy discussion.
“It’s not going to happen immediately,” said Councillor Josh Matlow, who supports the charter proposal. “It may not happen with this current Premier in office. And I recognize that this is going to be at least a three-year campaign.”
Mr. Sewell noted that the issues raised by the charter push are not unique to Toronto and that other cities in the Greater Toronto Area might want to use this model to pursue their own powers.
Asked why higher levels of government, which have become accustomed to controlling the destiny of cities and benefiting from tax revenues raised in them, would be willing to give up those advantages, the city charter proponents said that public pressure can make it happen.
“If enough people in the province … demand it, then they will have to listen,” Mr. Earl said.
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