Better Days: A response to “Toronto has outgrown provincial oversight”

Better Days: A response to “Toronto has outgrown provincial oversight”

When the Toronto Star published my op-ed on the need for a renewal of the 10-year-old City of Toronto Act, I hoped to accomplish two things. First, I wanted to articulate my frustration with the change of direction on road tolls in a productive way. Second, I hoped that it would be the start of a conversation about what is legislatively required to help Toronto grow up and become the city we, as a country, need it to be.

I have been extremely pleased to see that the second goal is well underway.  Readers responded to the piece by way of e-mail and social media. Some were supportive of my position, others less so, but none were dismissive. In an effort to keep the conversation going, let me address the four main concerns or criticisms levied against the op-ed.

First, some readers hold the position that Canada’s constitution prevents the City from having increased powers. That is incorrect. It is true that Municipalities are creatures of the provinces, and can only exercise those powers that are explicitly conferred upon them by a provincial statute. That is why I am calling for a piece of provincial legislation that bestows greater and more explicit authority upon the City of Toronto to control its fiscal and policy destiny.

Second, many disagree that Toronto should receive more autonomy than any other city in Ontario. The word “snowflake” might have been used once or twice. Based on my experience, spite is a terrible basis upon which to make public policy. I stand by my position that any city that is responsible for 10 percent of the national GDP, 20 percent of the provincial GDP, and 10 percent of the national population should be given unique powers. However, many readers make a valid point that other large municipalities deserve expanded powers as well. Perhaps the province should consider unique revenue generating powers for Toronto while allowing an expansion of policy powers for the large municipalities. While I am trying to remain open-minded about this approach, I am attracted to the simplicity of an “only Toronto” option. Expanding the discussion requires consideration about what powers for which cities.

Third, especially in the context of the ongoing Scarborough subway debate, many readers question whether the city has the wherewithal to wield new powers.  With greater autonomous powers, Toronto will be required to be more responsible and take greater ownership over its decisions. It is easier to take on politically advantageous, but possibly fiscally deleterious decisions if you know that a higher order of government is there to bail you out. If we improve the quality of the tools at the city’s disposal, I believe we will improve the process and outcome of the decision making.

Finally, and most interestingly, many raise the argument that they are only in favour of increasing the autonomy of Toronto if there is a “good mayor” in office. Let’s put aside for the moment that one’s definition of “good” can shift depending on their perspective and the nature of the issue at hand. If you believe in the city as a level of governance, and you believe that Toronto, in particular, needs greater authority, you must build a governance model that can succeed regardless of the people in power. 

Some readers use the example of Trump’s ability to pardon and write executive orders as evidence for why these powers should not be given to a “bad mayor”.  Comparing the awesome powers of the President of the United States with any authority that might be bestowed upon the Mayor of Toronto is untenable. 

There is an urgent need to continue this conversation, especially for understanding what powers are required for the City. Such a conversation must address the merits and weaknesses of the status quo against those that could be created with a refurbished City of Toronto. If we do that, better days are ahead for all of us.

- Jamison Steeve

Category: Legislation, City of Toronto, Public Policy, Public Transit