P R O P O S A L O V E R V I E W
We propose a two-step process toward greater power and autonomy for the city of Toronto. We believe this can serve as a template for other cities in Ontario and Canada who wish to achieve greater control over their own affairs.
1. A CITY CHARTER
The city and the province--with substantial public consultation--will create and pass a City Charter for Toronto. The Charter will give the city enhanced power and jurisdiction over city affairs.
2. A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
The province and federal government will pass a single-province amendment to the Canadian Constitution that enables the creation of Charter Cities in Ontario and protects those cities from provincial interference in areas of municipal jurisdiction.
For more than 30 years, cities in Canada have sought to gain more authority and the freedom to govern their own affairs.
City Charters from other jurisdictions have been suggested as models from which ideas might be taken – Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago, for example.
California alone has more than 100 Charter Cities with dedicated municipal powers, including the broad power of taxation, and a high level of autonomy from state governments.
At different times, some Canadian cities have been given additional powers by provincial legislation, but these carry two limitations: the exercise of powers granted are subject to ongoing provincial approval and the
"At the heart of the Charter is the concept that cities...should and can
province can unilaterally change or repeal those powers with no requirement to consult the city.
Another issue is that many programs upon which cities depend are cost-shared with the provincial government. When the province decides to reduce its share of funding, city programs suffer. Since city governments typically have very limited revenue powers of their own, they are often unable to find the money to continue those programs and residents lose out.
Our charter proposal attempts to overcome those limitations in three ways. First, we propose to remove quotidian provincial oversight and control over what are essentially municipal functions. Second, we propose a constitutional amendment to protect whatever powers and arrangements are established in the charter. Third, we propose entrenching some permanent funding arrangements in the charter.
This proposal is not a final set of ideas. Hopefully it will be widely discussed, massaged, amended, and changed to produce a document that has wide agreement.
Our proposal covers four broad areas: Governance, Authority, Resources, and Protection.
Our proposal covers four broad areas: Governance, Authority, Resources, and Protection.
The city of Toronto would regain the authority to determine its own governing structures.
That authority was unilaterally revoked by the province in 2018.
The city would have full control over: city council and the Mayor's office; the city bureaucracy; agencies, boards and commissions; community councils; oversight and accountability, and elections.
Toronto is the only municipality in Ontario without such authority.
The Charter would place exclusive responsibility and authority for key municipal functions clearly in the hands of an empowered city government.
Where necessary, the city and province would share authority in certain areas, but with clear rules defining the roles and authorities of the two partners.
The city would be empowered to make arrangements, financial and otherwise, directly with other governments, including other cities.
The Charter would give the city control over (not just access to) the revenues and resources it needs to meet its responsibilities.
It would also continue the practice of sharing the wealth generated in the city with its municipal neighbours, the province and the country as a whole.
Cities currently have access to just 10 per cent of all taxes
raised in Canada; the rest goes to the federal and provincial governments.
We propose that the provincial and federal governments create
and pass a single-province amendment to the Canadian Constitution.
The amendment would define Charter Cities and end their status as "creatures of the province" whose every decision--and very existence--is subject to provincial override.
This would ensure that no changes could be
made to the City Charter without the express consent of the city.
Why a City Charter for Toronto?
Toronto has been democratically governed since it was established as a city 33 years before Canada was created in 1867.
But at Confederation, provinces were allocated absolute power over municipalities. Cities were given no powers or authorities of their own.
These arrangements are antique and inadequate to the demands placed on cities in the 21st century.
In 1867, 80 per cent of Canadians lived in rural areas. At that time, powerful provinces were needed to unite the large, sparsely populated countryside; to pool resources and to provide good government.
Today, powerful cities are needed to move the country toward the future.
Now, 80 per cent of Canadians live in cities. 1 in 10 lives in Toronto. 1 in 5 lives in the GTA. Canada's cities are mature levels of government in their own right, capable of handling the full range of municipal responsibilities, given the resources and the authority to do so.
For most of our shared history, despite the inherent power imbalance, the province has supported cities as a close partner and ally. It recognized that Toronto's success meant success for the province and the country. That began to change in the late 20th century.
The forced amalgamation of Toronto's six municipalities into a mega-city in 1998 and the concurrent and subsequent downloading of responsibilities without adequate revenue sources, has left the city dependent on the province for handouts in order to pay its day-to-day bills.
In 2017, the city was made more dependent on and more vulnerable to the province when it vetoed the city's decision to toll inner-city expressways in order to raise money for transit.
"Cities are the constitutional orphans of Canada."
Senior Scholar, Caledon Institute of Social Policy, 2000
In 2018, the province vaporized half of City Council in the middle of an election and took away the city's ability to design its own forms of governance. It threatened to rescind Torontonians' rights under the Canadian Constitution in order to do achieve the cuts. The city, powerless under the Canadian constitution, could do nothing to stop it.
In 2019, the province took control of decision-making over Toronto's local transit projects. It threw out two critical urban plans for the city's downtown and midtown, wasting years of work and consultations with city residents. It rescinded the city's power to get property developers to pay for community infrastructure and benefits such as parks, libraries and child care spaces from property developers.
All of these provincial actions, and others, have left the city poorer and less able to run its own affairs.
A city can't succeed when its decisions are subject to arbitrary provincial override. Or when provincial plans are foisted upon the city without consultation or notice. Or when the city is perpetually denied the ability to raise the funds it needs.
By giving the city more control over its own affairs through a City Charter, and by giving the city a veto over any changes to the Charter, unilateral provincial interference would be made much more difficult, if not impossible. A more even playing field will help return Toronto and Ontario to a relationship of co-operation and partnership.
Democratic decisions about city affairs should be made by those who are most affected: people who live in the city.
A City Charter will promote a healthy local democracy and empower city residents to make their voices heard.
With restored--and protected--control over its own governance, Toronto can design institutions that encourage local decision-making and that fit the unique needs of our large, diverse city.
The city can also address the democratic deficit created by the current restrictions on the size of city council--rules imposed by the province without consultation or agreement by the city.
Toronto currently has by far the lowest rate of municipal representation per citizen in the province.
Toronto city councillors represent 100 times more people than councillors in the area represented by the Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs (see chart). That's simply not fair.
Good government demands a diversity of voices at the table and a City Council that reflects the city.
A City Charter will return equitable democratic representation to Toronto and restore its ability to design its own government structures and institutions--a right enjoyed by every other municipality in the province.
A constitutional amendment will protect the city from further such provincial interference in the future by requiring the city's consent to its democratic governance.
Redefining the power and fiscal relationship between the city and the province will produce significant benefits.
A more equal relationship, with authority clearly separated into exclusive city jurisdictions and others, with clear rules, that are shared with the province, will:
• reduce inter-governmental friction,
• streamline decision-making,
• eliminate duplication,
• produce tax savings and
• clear the decks for co-operation between
Toronto and Ontario on matters of truly
Removing unnecessary provincial permissions and oversight will free the city to experiment, innovate and find creative solutions to city design, including issues of congestion, density, affordability, livability and sustainability.
Centering control of civic affairs at the local level will encourage greater public participation and decisions that reflect local values.
Establishing city access to stable, predictable multi-year revenues will facilitate more effective forward planning and spending. New revenue tools will give the city the ability to raise sufficient funds to pay for necessary programs and services and ensure that growth pays for growth. Allocating the city a greater share of the income and sales taxes contributed by its residents will restore balance and fairness to the city’s financial relationship with the province.
A constitutionally protected City Charter outlining the city’s authority, governance and taxation powers, amendable only with city consent, will give the city status, stability and protection.
The people of Toronto have the brains, talent, ambition and love for the city to successfully run their own affairs.
We are a diverse, wealthy, fast-growing city that strives to be confident, inclusive, innovative, modern and forward-looking.
Toronto is a global city that competes internationally in such fields as culture, finance, sports, health sciences, manufacturing and technology.
Our quality of life is among the highest in the world. In study after study, Toronto has been ranked among the top 10 global cities for safety, livability, cost of living, business environment, democracy, and food security.
On a planet of increasing global mobility, Toronto is among the best at attracting the sophisticated, educated and innovative talent from around the world.
Each year, the Greater Toronto Area welcomes and settles more than 100,000 newcomers--refugees and immigrants alike-- from other parts of the world seeking a better life.
Toronto is an economic driver of Canada, contributing one-tenth of Canada's GDP every year--about $200 billion.
But city taxpayers contribute some $13 billion dollars a year more in tax dollars to the province than come back in contributions to the city’s budget. In a typical year, the city of Toronto gets back a mere 10 per cent of the taxes its residents send to the two senior levels of government.
These current financial arrangements, together with long-term provincial downloading, have rendered the city of Toronto unable to pay its bills or address a massive infrastructure deficit.
A City Charter can help get Toronto back on the road to a brighter future.
Charter City Proposal In Detail