April 28, 2005
REGIONAL MUNICIPALITY OF PEEL ACT
The McGuinty government is at it again (or still). Bill 186 (REGIONAL MUNICIPALITY OF PEEL ACT, 2005) will restructure those local governments. To quote Mr. Prue (below): " The public was not involved; the public was not informed; the public did not know what was going on. The public found out when it was too late. Shades of amalgamation in 1997. The same scenario: Keep it secret, do the dirty, announce it to the paper a couple of days early and see where things fall."
The following is excerpted from the discussion in the Ontario Legislature on Monday. Full text is available in Hansard
As Michael Prue continues his eloquent fight for local democracy, Tim Hudak now joins the fray. John Tory and Laurie Scott remain resoundingly silent.
Mr. Hudak: It's interesting to hear the minister heckling about amalgamations, what with his own broken promises on Kawartha Lakes. Talk about setting a tone as Minister of Municipal Affairs. One of the first things he did was to sneak into Kawartha Lakes and say that the promise he made during the campaign wasn't going to be kept. Then you snuck out of there as fast you could, and I don't think you've been back. So I find it passing curious that the Minister of Municipal Affairs would heckle us about municipal restructuring when one of his first betrayals of the voters of Ontario took place in Kawartha Lakes. They made a promise there to win votes, but once they got in office, they tossed that promise into the waste bin, just like you tossed Justice Adams's mediation report into the waste bin.
Mr. Hudak: It does. It characterizes the Dalton McGuinty approach to municipal affairs that one of the very first things you did was break a promise with respect to Kawartha Lakes. It epitomizes it. It symbolizes it.
The Deputy Speaker: Order. We have guests from a municipal council tonight, and I'm sure they don't hear this at their council meetings. Let's let the speaker get on with his business.
Mr. Hudak: The minister was talking a little bit about municipal restructuring, and one of the earliest broken promises was the broken promise on Kawartha Lakes. One of the early broken promises of Dalton McGuinty was basically to do a 180-degree turn on his promise about houses on the Oak Ridges moraine.
You know what may have happened? The Premier told one mayor one thing, another mayor another, the third mayor something entirely different, and maybe the regional chair got a fourth story. You don't think Dalton McGuinty would tell four stories? Maybe just three. But I think Dalton McGuinty is telling different stories to different people at different times. It certainly bears it out when you look at the media clippings on this issue and the different positions he has taken.
Mr. Prue: It's always a pleasure to listen to the member from Erie-Lincoln. I may not always agree, but he says it very eloquently and he always has his facts.
He talked a lot -- over the hour -- about broken promises, and I think the biggest promise that has been broken here is the promise that the Premier made to Mayor Fennell of Brampton. I again quote what she had to say: "This Premier gave me his word there would be no restructuring in Peel.... This Premier gave me his word that governance was not on his government's agenda. I want to believe that this Premier's word is gold, not coal."
This debate we're having tonight is a very unfortunate one, certainly not one that any of us in this room could have anticipated as little as two or three weeks ago, prior to it being introduced in this House. In fact, there were denials that anything was happening right until the day before. The telltale way that I always know that government legislation is coming, whether it be this government or the previous government, is to open up the pages of the Toronto newspapers and see the leaked word two, three, or four days in advance of what the government is planning. That is, in fact, where this information comes from. They know it's a trial balloon. They want to judge reaction. I guess, from the reaction in the Globe and Mail and later in the Toronto Star, the minister felt it was safe to put his foot there and to go where he ought not to have gone.
Hon. Mr. Bradley
I don't recall -- maybe my friend Norm Sterling will tell me about this -- that the municipal changes made in Victoria-Haliburton were in the Tory plans or platform. I don't recall that the city of Toronto was in the Conservative platform. I don't remember that being in the platform -- not a lot of advertising.
I see that Guy Giorno, who ran the government, or at least the backrooms of the government, when the Conservatives were in power, now says it was a mistake to amalgamate Toronto. He was one of the strong members of the backroom at that time. I remember when so many people in the city of Toronto, from right across Metropolitan Toronto, made pleas to the government against amalgamation. Despite all those protestations, despite the petitions and so on, what we had, of course, was Toronto forced into amalgamation.
How did we get ourselves into the position we are in today, with two angry mayors sitting here watching the minister unveil his plan? How did we get to a whole turmoil and upset in two municipalities? How did we get half a million people riled up about what is happening here? How did we get a minister who in nine months has gone diametrically opposite to what his own Premier said he was going to do?
If you'll allow me to digress for a few minutes, I looked back to the roots of other government action and what happened in the great amalgamation fiascos of some seven or eight years ago. I ask you to look back to what happened there and you will see that, although this does not involve amalgamation, the exact same scenario is playing itself out over and over again.
In the period leading up to the amalgamation bill being filed in this chamber, not a word was said. Not a word was said during the Conservative election of 1995 that this was even on their agenda. No word was said from the cabinet meetings during the first two years that anything was being contemplated about amalgamation. In fact, minister after minister after minister, including the one who represented me in what was then the Don Valley East riding, the Honourable Dave Johnson, said it wasn't in the cards. Town hall meetings were held at which it was said, "Amalgamation is not a threat. There are a couple of people advocating for it, but it is certainly not on the radar. It's not what we are going to do."
Then all of a sudden one day, I opened up the Toronto Sun. I don't often open it up, but someone drew my attention to a little, tiny article that said that an idea had been floated around cabinet and was going to be presented within a couple of days, that the province wanted to amalgamate the city of Toronto and all its six municipalities and its regional municipality into one big city. When the person showed that to me, I started to chuckle. After all, who could believe the comic book of journalism, especially a story that was that tiny, that had no facts, no data, no quotes but just "an unnamed source?" The next day there was a similar but much larger article in the Toronto Star, and the day after that in the Globe and Mail. All of a sudden, there was this whole preponderance of media attention being drawn to an idea that had never been on the radar screen before.
Toward the end of that same week, I was summoned, along with the other mayors of the six municipalities and the regional chair, to meet Minister Leach, as he was in those days. We sat in a boardroom in the minister's office, where he laid out to us for the first time that he had a plan. He had a plan that no one had ever heard of, a plan that had never been discussed, a plan that had no paper or background, a plan that had no rationale, but he had a plan. His plan was to amalgamate the six municipalities and the regional government into one big, giant megacity.
I remember getting quite heated and a little bit angry at such hubris, such pomposity that he had. It was unbelievable that he had no plan and no idea why he was doing it. I asked him on that day -- I put it in negative terms, because he couldn't tell me why -- was it because East York was not a good government? He said, "No, you're a very good government." I asked, was it because we were not democratic enough? He said, "If anything, you're too democratic." I asked whether it was because we had any financial hardships. He said, "No, you have no financial hardships." I asked him, was it because we had just paid down all the debt that had been amassed over a number of years, even though we were in a depression? He said, "No, you are to be commended for that." Then I asked, "Well, why are you doing it?" And do you know what his answer was? He shrugged his shoulders and he looked at me and said, "I don't know, but I've got to do something." That was the answer and that's how we got amalgamated, because he had to do something.
I think this minister is doing the same thing. I look at this. There was no call on the radar. He got a couple of phone calls. An appointment of a learned judge was made. The learned judge gave him advice. He looked at the advice and he didn't want to follow it, so what does he do? I don't know. He had to do something. The same thing is unfolding -- exactly the same.
In the Conservative fiascos of amalgamation -- and I say "fiascos" because all of them don't work.
Hon. Mr. Bradley: Oh, you remember?
Mr. Prue: I remember all of them. Toronto doesn't work. Hamilton doesn't work. Ottawa doesn't work. Kawartha Lakes doesn't work. St. Catharines doesn't work. None of them works. They are all boondoggles. What happened with them, though, is that they used it at the same time to effect the downloading. They said, "You're getting a big municipality. We can now download. You're in a better position to pay." They used it to effect the downloading and to further cut taxes.
However, I'm not sure what the rationale is here. The learned judge has told you that the chief problem in Peel is not the restructuring or how many councillors are on the regional municipality or even where they come from. The chief problem is that this municipality, like every other one, has been downloaded. He wasn't given a mandate to look at it, but this is the problem. This is the problem that my friend and colleague with whom, as a former mayor, I sat on all the meetings and whom I like and admire but whom I am not afraid of, Hazel McCallion, has come to this government about and has talked about breaking away from Peel and has talked about restructuring. She is unhappy not about the governance; she is unhappy about the downloading she thinks has come to her municipality, the amounts of money they have to spend and the fact that she believes it's not financially tenable for her to stay there. It is a question not of politics but of finance.
When you get your head around that, you will understand what is happening here. This is a minister who feels he has to do something for no rational reason except perhaps one of finances. I'd like to get on to that in a minute.
You also have here a minister who has done some pretty bizarre things. One of them was Kawartha Lakes. He argued a little bit about what he should or should not have done and tried to blame the Conservatives for amalgamation -- and they are to blame for amalgamation. But he is to blame for not de-amalgamating the city of Kawartha Lakes. The Conservatives, the New Democrats and the Liberals all gave their commitment to the people of that city, leading up to the municipal election the year before last, that whatever they decided in a democratic referendum we would carry out.
The people of Kawartha Lakes, knowing all the facts before them, knowing the costs of amalgamation, knowing the costs of de-amalgamation, knowing what would be split up and how it would be split up, democratically, in their wisdom, decided to split that town. They voted, not in a huge majority, but 52% voted to de-amalgamate. Well, I don't know where you come from, but in every election in this country, 52% means you win. I think it meant there too that the people who wanted to de-amalgamate should expect to win.
This minister decided unilaterally, again for no apparent reason -- I guess because he has to do something -- that he is not going to obey the democratic wishes of the people of that city. He has left them floundering with a structure that does not work for them. He has left them with an economic situation that is untenable. The taxes are going up there enormously. The number of people who sit on the council is not sufficient for people in rural areas. Some of them have to travel 90 to 100 kilometres to attend a local civic meeting. It is simply not a structure that works.
Last week we had a whole discussion about the Association of Municipalities of Ontario when the minister stood up and touted that they are now equal partners, that he is going to consult with them on every single aspect of municipalities. Well, if he was going to do that, why hasn't he consulted with them about this bill? Why hasn't he consulted with them about this unilateral and unfair action in which he has gone against the recommendations of his own judge, his own appointee? He has not consulted with AMO. He has not paid them any mind. I suggest that he has not even -- and I'm going to deal with this a little later -- followed the laws of the province of Ontario, which set out quite clearly in the Municipal Act how one facilitates the kind of change he has unilaterally done. He has not done anything in that regard to follow the Municipal Act of this province.
The mayors are justifiably mad -- or angry; I shouldn't say they're mad; I should use the correct word. They are justifiably angry. I gave a couple of these quotations earlier, but I would like to give them again, just to show you how angry people can be.
The first one was March 31, Mayor Fennell to Minister Gerretsen:
"I would ask for your personal assurance, Mr. Minister -- before our luncheon meeting on April 7, 2005 -- that your government does not intend to implement this rumoured Mississauga 2, Brampton 1 proposal. Moreover, I would like your personal assurance -- again before our luncheon meeting on April 7, 2005 -- that your government has not given its approval to any alternative courses of action other than full implementation of Judge Adams's recommendations or maintaining the status quo for governance in the region of Peel."
The same mayor, same day, wrote to Premier McGuinty:
"Dear Mr. Premier: ....
"As you are also aware, Mr. Premier, Mayor Morrison and I formally objected in writing to the appointment of a provincial facilitator, urging your government to allow Peel's municipalities to develop a local solution within the purpose and intent of the Municipal Act -- a public, transparent and open process prescribed in law. Your government chose to circumvent the provisions of the act and both Caledon and Brampton participated in the facilitation process under the direction of Judge Adams and we did so in good faith."
Let's go to another mayor. Let's go to the mayor of the town of Caledon. This is what she had to say when she wrote on April 12 to Premier Dalton McGuinty:
Dear Premier: ....
"The city of Brampton has made a very compelling argument that their representation should increase as their population grows. They are one of the fastest-developing cities in the nation. Given all that the parties have been through, Brampton deserves to have this issue addressed now" -- she's underlined "now" -- "in the proposed legislation and not at some future point in time. We simply cannot afford to be continually involved in future governance" issues.
She goes on to say, quite succinctly and correctly:
"Also, Justice Adams identified that the core problem is largely a financial one. Pooling of social service cost across the GTA has exacerbated the financial pressures within Peel. When this matter was brought forward to Minister Gerretsen last week, he indicated that he did not have a mandate to deal with the issue. This is why I am appealing to you directly. I gather Mayor Fennell has requested a meeting with you prior to the bill being introduced and I would strongly encourage you to meet with the parties. We must get this legislation right the first time."
That is what the mayors had to say. That would have been well and good, had they been the only people contemplating this, but I have here a letter from Minister Gerretsen to the town of Fort Erie, and what do you think he told them about breaking away? The opposite. This is what Minister Gerretsen writes to them, almost in the same week. March 4, 2005, Minister Gerretsen writes to Carolyn J. Kett, the town clerk of the town of Fort Erie:
"Dear Ms. Kett" -- and this is a really good one, so I want you to pay attention to this little, tiny, short letter:
"Thank you for the opportunity to consider the proposal by the council of the town of Fort Erie to place a question on the next municipal election ballot pertaining to Fort Erie opting out of regional government. I have carefully reviewed the proposal.
"The provincial government's priorities are to strengthen the economy while improving health care for all Ontarians and outcomes for our students. Municipal restructuring is not one of our priorities. We do not support unilateral action on restructuring; we encourage the development of solutions that reflect the input of all affected municipalities.
"The government believes that the best decisions are those made locally and that a local solution can be found to make Niagara region work better for all constituents. I am confident that your local leadership can have constructive discussions with others at regional council leading to positive solutions on local governance and service delivery system issues within the current governance structure.
I find this appalling. I don't know about the rest of you. All of a sudden the room is silent. Usually I get heckled. I find this appalling because he treats the people in Brampton and Caledon in a much different way than he treats the people in Fort Erie. In Fort Erie, he's not willing to interfere. In Fort Erie, he believes regional government works. In Fort Erie, he says, "Sit down and discuss it among yourselves, and bring the changes you might suggest and we'll look at them." In Brampton, Caledon and Peel he unilaterally says, "I've made my own decision," notwithstanding what the learned justice had to say and notwithstanding the fact that this has never been dealt with in a parliamentary tradition in any of the three councils or in the regional municipality of Peel. It has never been there. It was never suggested by him that it go there. This is diametrically opposed. I do not believe a minister can have two different decisions on two similar municipalities. I know Fort Erie is a smaller town, but it's not significantly smaller than Caledon.
Mr. Hudak: It's 30,000.
Mr. Prue: It's 30,000. It's not significantly different from Caledon, and yet he would treat them diametrically opposite and differently. This shows, I think, the real lack of what is in this bill.
When I look at what the minister has done -- he said I used harsh words, and perhaps I did. I try not to use harsh words in here, but I try to make my point as strongly, as passionately and as correctly as I can. I said I was very disappointed in his actions. I am disappointed not only because of the way he has treated this municipality, but I am disappointed in the way he treated Kawartha Lakes and I am disappointed because he treats Fort Erie in a different way yet again.
What has he done in this particular circumstance? The first thing he has done is that he has avoided every single semblance of transparency. There is nothing transparent about what went on here. There was a secret and huddled meeting where the mayors were called together, along with the regional chair and a judge, and they sat down for four days. There was no semblance of transparency, and he avoided every semblance of public participation. The public was not involved; the public was not informed; the public did not know what was going on. The public found out when it was too late. Shades of amalgamation in 1997. The same scenario: Keep it secret, do the dirty, announce it to the paper a couple of days early and see where things fall.