21st Century Status for a 21st Century City
The Toronto region is home to nearly half of the people in the province.
One in five Canadians.
More people than all but two Canadian provinces.
In fact, Toronto’s Community Housing Corporation houses more tenants than
Prince Edward Island has people, yet our smallest province has vastly
more power and authority over its affairs and its finances than we do,
at nearly twenty times the size.
The Toronto region is Ontario’s economic engine. In 2013, it contributed $330 billion to the country's GDP--an economy larger than the six smallest provinces of Canada combined. The city of Toronto proper generated $157 billion of that: 10% of Canada's GDP.
Yet only a fraction of the taxes generated by that wealth comes back to Toronto in government services and investment. In 2005, Toronto gave Ontario and Canada $11 billion more in taxes than it got back in programs, services and funding. And the city has had to beg for every penny.
On any given day, Toronto manages complex realities that most other Ontario cities don’t even have to imagine.
We are the primary magnet for immigration in Canada, welcoming and settling a staggering array of people from every country and culture on the planet.
We run a transit system that carries 1.7 million people a day. We spend more than a billion dollars a year on police, fire, emergency and health services to protect millions of citizens in challenging, densely urban circumstances.
Our city councillors mediate more development proposals in a year than most Canadian cities see in a lifetime, while still finding time to help local residents calm traffic on their neighbourhood streets and field complaints about garbage pickup.
We provide public housing, health and welfare services for a large population of the marginal and homeless residents of Toronto, many of whom migrate to the city from the rest of the province and beyond.
These are just some of the activities and challenges and facts that set Toronto apart from the province in which it lies.
We take pride in them all.
Yet all of these things are under constant threat by a chronic shortfall in the resources needed to guarantee their continued success.
Toronto generates great wealth, but never seems to possess the wherewithal necessary to properly look after its own needs or meet its own objectives.
Why is such a rich city so eternally poor?
Toronto can't meet its own objectives because it is forever commanded to instead meet the objectives of the province, or the federal government, or whoever is "paying" the bill--with Toronto's money.
The city lacks the power, status and resources to carry out its responsibilities. It exists as an infantalized "creature of the province", without autonomy, without access to revenue sources that would nourish the city's ability to function, without the power to make adult decisions.
Forced to seek permission from 'senior' politicians for even the most mundane of city tasks -- setting speed limits on neighbourhood streets, designing our own governing structures, collecting the taxes we need to pay for the services we are required to provide.
And now. Toronto must on a daily basis endure insults and hostility from the provincial government, whose job it is to ensure Toronto thrives.
• The unilateral slashing of Toronto City Council, which gives Torontonians less representation at a higher price and leaves us as the only city in the province without the power to determine how it will govern itself.
• The fire sale of iconic city assets like the Hearn Generating Station to political insiders.
• The theft of the city's subway system.
• The announcement of a new transit plan for the city that was imposed without even informing our mayor in advance. Strike that: REFUSING to inform our mayor in advance.
• The revocation of $1.1 billion in promised gas tax revenues for transit maintenance, again without consultation, notice or regret.
• Cuts to vital services that protect our children and our most vulnerable, such as closing safe injection sites in the midst of an opioid epidemic that kills 250 residents of Toronto a year.
Toronto is home to some of the foremost urban thinkers in the western world, but who runs our affairs? Politicians from the hinterland who breeze into town to "fix Toronto's problems".
Instead, they amalgamate and slash us into political instability. They demand cities fulfill ever-increasing responsibilities with less money. And without the power of the purse, because even when the city has in the past decided to raise new revenues, the province has stepped in and said no.
Then they lecture us on how we aren't competent to manage our own affairs.
There’s no reason for the city to be governed by people who live and get elected in other parts of Ontario.
Why do we let Smallville run Metropolis?
Toronto needs a new relationship with the provincial government, founded on mutual respect and co-operation. But trust is no longer enough; we need constitutionally-protected guarantees of Toronto's autonomy and governance of its own affairs.
Charter City Toronto proposes a different future. One in which the city of Toronto is accorded the respect, the resources and the authority to be the city it can be. One in which the city throws off the shackles of arbitrary and small-minded provincial control and asserts itself as the confident, competent city of the future its citizens already know it to be.
Watch this space in the coming weeks as we unfold game-changing proposals to transform the future of the city.