Our Last Best Chance to Control Our Future? II

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MTARTS, TCR and the Fall of Metropolitan Toronto


Photo Courtesy Van Maren Group of Companies

In the 1960s, the problems that spurred the creation of Metropolitan Toronto in 1954 started to repeat themselves. Despite the fact that Metropolitan Toronto was given planning control over its surrounding ex-urban villages and townships (even though these villages, from Toronto Township, Port Credit and Streetsville to Vaughan, Markham and Pickering, had no representation on Metro council), they could not stop the spillover of development over Metro’s boundaries and into these ex-urban areas.

The provincial government came to realize that commutes into Toronto would increase from the surrounding townships and, in the absense of an effective governing authority covering the whole region, its provincial highways would bear the brunt of this significant growth in traffic. So, in the mid 1960s, the provincial government commissioned a series of reviews on the state of Metropolitan Toronto.

One of those reviews, the Metropolitan Toronto and Region Transportation Study (MTARTS), led to the creation of GO Transit. Initially a commuter rail line designed to take pressure off the paralleling Queen Elizabeth Way, it has since grown into a major transportation system drawing thousands of cars each day off of major highways in the Greater Toronto Area.

MTARTS and other reports also addressed the issue of handling the growth that was spreading beyond Metropolitan Toronto’s boundaries. But unlike 1954, the provincial government had one caveat: the one option that was NOT to be considered was the expansion of Metropolitan Toronto’s boundaries. Despite the fact that Metropolitan Toronto was explicitly set up to handle the affairs of the whole Toronto region, the provincial government was not willing to expand Metro’s power and influence. Metro already covered a fair chunk of Ontario and held a sizable percentage of the province’s population; any bigger and the municipal government would rival the provincial one. The province stuck to this caveat even though the people writing the reports on Metro’s future, both in the 1960s and again in the 1970s, all said that Metropolitan Toronto’s boundaries had to be expanded.

The province’s solution instead was the creation of mini-Metros, the regional municipalities of Peel, York and Durham surrounding Toronto, and the imposition of the Toronto Centred Region (TCR) plan. The TCR plan would have controlled growth effectively in the areas surrounding Metro, ensuring that subdivision development didn’t overwhelm the new transportion and sewer/water infrastructure the province was about to install. The mini-Metros were built to be mean borrowing machines, able to develop and service large amounts of urban growth rapidly, but their development would be tightly controlled by the Toronto Centred Region plan… …until, that is, Ontario premier Bill Davis sabotaged the plan by commissioning the construction of Highway 410 deep in the region of Peel, into his home town of Brampton.

The Toronto Centred Region plan was then abandoned, but the borrowing machines of Peel, York and Durham remained, along with the transportation and water infrastructure the province commissioned. These regions had in their hands incredible resources with which to develop, and develop they did, without a coherent plan. It is for this reason we have Brampton and Mississauga, and why both municipalities are having difficulty maintaining their water and sewer supply while Pickering and the other municipalities of Durham region have capacity to spare. When Brampton Bill Davis commissioned Highway 410, he put the transportation infrastructure of Peel out of balance, skewing urban development west of Toronto.

In the late 1980s, Metropolitan Toronto approached a tipping point that would render it irrelevant. By the early 1990s, it managed barely half of the urban area that comprised the Toronto economic region. For this and other reasons, calls came from local politicians for Metropolitan Toronto’s dissolution and, when the Mike Harris Conservatives took power in 1995, they acted quickly to amalgamate the two-tier federation into the single-tier megacity of Toronto.

Harris’ move was bitterly opposed by the proponents of local control within Metro but, frankly, it was a decision that was obvious and overdue. By the mid 1990s, Metropolitan Toronto was completely incapable of performing the job it was designed to do. It had no credible reason to exist. Amalgamating the federation into a single megacity also made the most sense because otherwise the six member municipalities would be lost in the chatter of the Balkanized Greater Toronto region.

Next Article: Where Are We Now?

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