Why Two-Tier Regional Government Works

Toronto Skyline

Over on the Toronto Skyscrapers Forum, we got to talking about what Toronto will be like in 2025. Coincidentally, that’s roughly the time and setting of the (possible) fourth Rosemary and Peter novel, Shepherd Moons. Nice pair of books, right? The Young City takes place in Toronto in 1884, and then we zip ahead to the future. Must be my urban planning degree speaking through me.

The conversation got onto the need of a regional government for the Greater Toronto Area. As this was my thesis, of course I stepped in. When somebody expressed (understandible) skepticism about the effectiveness of such a mammoth government, I piped in…

The principle of two-tier regional government was that it allowed for small community input as well as region-wide management. For the small issues of community parks, parking ordinances, etc, you would go to your local council. Any issue that spilled beyond the local council borders (regional transportation, regional development plan, economic growth) was kicked up to the regional level.

There are two keys for making the two-tier system work.

One: the regional government has to encompass the entire region. If its boundaries don’t cover the majority of the socio-economic areas that make up the region, then the regional government is irrelevant.

Two: the regional government is not a fourth level of government, but an extension of the lower tier municipalities. In all cities where regional government works (or worked), the regional councils were composed entirely of councillors and mayors who sat on the lower tier council. This is not a matter of democracy, but of effective management. The regional government is not a separate municipal government sitting atop the member municipalities, but simply a forum for the member municipalities to meet, discuss and decide upon common issues. In every case where the regional government was directly elected, the regional government collapsed within the decade. Greater Winnipeg, instituted in 1959, was a complete disaster that fell to amalgamation in 1970. Metropolitan Toronto was the “city that works” until 1988 when (wait for it) the old system of indirect representation was replaced with a system where regional councillors were directly elected by the public. When Metropolitan Toronto fell to amalgamation in 1996 the move was, frankly, inevitable, as Metro Council was fractous to the point of impotence, and it was also irrelevant. By 1996, Metro covered just 50% of the socio-economic region it was set up to manage in 1954.

Outside of the Ontario government, there is no single authority managing the economic development and infrastructure of the Greater Toronto Area. There will have to be, or else Queen’s Park will find itself dragged into managing the region, no matter how hard it kicks and screams. A GTA-wide regional government would have to replace the regional governments of Halton, Peel, York and Durham with a single authority covering the whole of the GTA. The upper-tier’s powers will have to be severely limited, and it must be seen ONLY as a forum wherein the member municipalities meet to discuss the issues that are common throughout the region.

If this happens, Toronto will succeed. If not, the province has severe headaches in its future.

And then we have to figure out where to put the 2 million that are going to arrive between now and 2020.

Work continues on The Young City and the synopsis of Rosemary and Time, so I haven’t had much time to work on any new Harry Potter fan fiction. And there is something else looming large on my horizon: the Trenchcoat Farewell Project. I may have some writing news to report here soon. Artwork is continuing to stall. Hmm… Can you draw?

Click on the picture at the beginning of this post to see more images of the City of Toronto.

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