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East York people, places, events & insights

EY ADVOCATE 029: It’s 20 years since The Borough of East York was killed by Province

Almost 20 years ago our present megacity of Toronto was created by the amalgamation of the six municipalities that, at the time, made up the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto.  Those who were born during the past 20 years will know nothing of what our city was like before amalgamation and for many others it is only a hazy recollection.  Why and how did it happen?

One of those six amalgamated municipalities was the Borough of East York.  The Township of East York had been incorporated as a separate municipality in 1924, while the Town of Leaside was incorporated earlier in 1913.  They were two of twelve separate municipalities that surrounded the old City of Toronto at the end of World War II, when, after an independent public review, the Ontario provincial government created the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto.

Under the Metro system of government local issues such as planning, roads, sidewalks, water, sewers, parks and recreation, traffic, garbage collection and fire protection were dealt with by local councils while metro-wide issues were dealt with by the Metropolitan council.  Some of the locally elected councillors also sat on the Metro council.

East York flag

East York flag

Ten years later, following another independent public review, the provincial government reduced the number of municipalities making up Metro Toronto from thirteen to six.  It was then that the Town of Leaside was merged with the Township of East York to create the Borough of East York.  The five other municipalities of “The Six” were Etobicoke, York, North York, Scarborough and the old City of Toronto.

The slippery road to total amalgamation began 20 years later when the provincial government initiated direct election of Metro councillors. As a result, apart from the six Mayors, Metro councillors no longer sat on their local councils but only on the Metro council.

Meanwhile, the neighbouring municipalities of Mississauga, Vaughan, Markham, Richmond Hill, Aurora, Newmarket, Pickering, Ajax, Whitby and Oshawa had been growing next door to Metro Toronto.  Just as Metro had been created out of a need for coordination, so too coordination was clearly needed between Metro and those surrounding municipalities.  Accordingly, a further independent provincial review recommended a Greater Toronto Area (GTA) Metro government to deal with the need for coordination.

Local councillors right across the GTA, led by Hazel McCallion, the Mayor of Mississauga, rebelled.  They would have no part of that recommendation.  Instead they proposed returning to the pre-metro solution of a vast number of individual municipalities coordinated thorough separately negotiated agreements.  But it had been that unworkable system that resulted in the creation of Metro Toronto in the first place.

Provincial politicians of all stripes feared and continue to fear to this day Hazel’s ability to influence the voters of Mississauga and Peel Region at election time. So the concept of an additional GTA Metro government was rejected. That has left the Ontario provincial government itself, as the Regional coordinating body for the GTA in addition to its primary role as the government for the entire province. As a result the Ontario government is now in a conflict of interest position when dealing with provincial issues that conflict with those of the GTA.

After rejecting the idea of a GTA Metro government the Province turned its attention to Metro Toronto itself where its politicians had joined with Hazel in advocating the dissolution of the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto as well.  However, after the Provincial government had initiated the direct election of Metro councillors, both former Toronto Mayor David Crombie and former Metro Chair Paul Godfrey had reached the conclusion that there was now no need for the six local councils, so when asked by the Province, they recommended total amalgamation.  The government jumped at their recommendation and very shortly afterwards introduced legislation to bring it about.  When East York Mayor Michael Prue asked the Minister of Municipal Affairs why the government was wiping out the Borough, the Minister responded, “We had to do something.”

Now, however, it was the residents of Metro’s turn to rebel.  Organizations opposing amalgamation sprang up in each of the six Metro municipalities.  In the old city of Toronto, large meetings against amalgamation numbering one thousand people were chaired by the now Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne.  In our municipality, Team East York, an instantaneously formed grass roots residents’ organization, took the lead against amalgamation.  A local referendum held right across Metro resulted in an 80% plus vote against the provincial proposed legislation.  But the peoples’ massive vote was ignored by the provincial government.

Provincial legislation mandating the creation of the megacity was passed 20 years ago last month and thus our megacity of Toronto came into being on January 1, 1998.


 

Alan Redway’s 2015 book, “Governing Toronto: Bringing back the city that worked,” can be ordered on line from Chapters/Indigo.ca or Amazon.ca or ordered for you at any book store.
If a local organization is looking for a speaker he would be happy to make a presentation of his book and can be reached at alan.redway@gmail.com

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