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Bulletin No. 41, November 2003
November, 2003 -
Local Government Bulletin No. 41, November 2003
The purpose of this bulletin is to focus debate on the need to increase local self-government in Canada and to help local communities achieve more autonomy. The local self-government web site is http://www.localgovernment.ca
In this issue
1. Berger studies Vancouver
2. New mayor for Toronto
3. De-amalgamating and de-merging
4. More on community charter legislation
6. Subscribe to the Bulletin
1. Berger Studies Vancouver
The eminent lawyer Tom Berger has been appointed by the City of Vancouver to undertake a Commission on Electoral Reform.
The impetus for the commission comes from Mayor Larry Campbell’s election promise to look into establishing a ward system for Vancouver, which now elects all ten councillors at large. Mr. Berger’s terms of reference are broad and he will look not only at the usefulness of wards but also at the question of proportional representation. One option is to elect some councillors at large to serve as the city’s representatives on the Vancouver Regional District Council.
Berger intends to have public discussions before Christmas involving three former Vancouver mayors, Philip Owen, Art Phillips and Michael Harcourt. A complete and final report is expected to be ready by May which would permit legislation to be introduced and passed at the provincial level, if required, before provincial elections in the spring of 2005. Whether a referendum of Vancouver voters will be held to get public input on the various choices is still undecided.
2. New mayor for Toronto
Councillor David Miller was elected mayor of Toronto on November 10, and takes office December 1. Miller is bright (educated at Harvard), articulate and engaged, and his election organization had senior representation from the Liberal and the Conservative parties, as well as from Miller’s own party, the NDP. His organization has relatively good links to Paul Martin, the nascent prime minister. He appears to be in the same vein as Vancouver’s Larry Campbell and Winnipeg’s Glen Murray, and can be expected him to play a leadership role with other urban leaders across Canada and to provide a strong voice for urban needs at the federal and provincial doorsteps. After the tomfoolery of Mayor Mel Lastman’s six years in office, Miller’s ascension is a welcome change not only for Torontonians but for others across the country.
Strengthening Miller’s position is a City Council with a majority which seems amenable to his agenda and his approach so that Toronto will not be burdened with a one-man show, subject to derailment by a hostile council.
3. De-amalgamating and de-merging
In 2000, the seventeen municipal governments in Victoria County, Ontario, were forcibly amalgamated into the City of Kawartha Lakes. In the referendum that formed part of the November 10 municipal election, voters decided in favour of de-amalgamation by a slim margin of 51.6%.
There was much pressure over the last six months from existing governments leaders that voters should reject any further discussion about amalgamation, and except for this pressure, the margin in favour of de-amalgamation would have been larger. A strong contingent of councillors will now lead the discussion about alternative government structures for the area - few seem willing to return to the former arrangement consisting of a dysfunctional county government and 16 small municipalities. The big question is whether the process of looking at alternatives will bog down as the existing amalgamated structure goes about its day-to-day work.
The new Minister of Municipal Affairs for Ontario, John Gerretsen, a former Mayor of Kingston, has indicated he is willing to look at whatever alternatives are brought forward, since they will require provincial legislation to be implemented.
Meanwhile, in the Province of Quebec, the issues of how and when the promised votes on mergers will occur remain a hot topic. Groups favouring de-mergers continue to pressure the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Jean-Marc Fornier. The fear is that the provisions of Bill 9 may make it impossible for change to occur if the government continues to require a 50% turnout before the referendum can be taken seriously. In a letter to Mr. Fournier, dated October 27, twenty-two groups in favour of de-mergers stated:
“Since the election, the government has taken to describing the mandate in terms of two objectives: restoration of democracy through consultation, and ‘adhesion’ to the new cities. Concepts such as regional taxation and equalization have been added. Demerger proponents have been repeatedly warned that they will not get their old cities back, although that is precisely what they had been promised. With respect, Mr. Minister, an electoral mandate cannot be created post facto to incorporate a new agenda or the wishes of special interest groups. Your mandate is the policy of your party as the voters perceived it at the time of the election.
“To fulfill what was arguably the most prominent election pledge you must, to quote from the Liberal Party resolution, “permit the holding of referenda on the annulment of the forced mergers and respect the results thus obtained.” Referendum rules that are skewed to favour the megacities — whether by requiring a supermajority for demerger or a participation threshold to be deemed valid — would be not only contrary to our democratic traditions, they would directly contradict Jean Charest’s repeated pre-electoral assertions that your party was neither for nor against the mergers.
“The phrase ‘annulment of the forced mergers’ leaves little room for interpretation. No mention was ever made prior to the election of fiscal penalties or reduced municipal powers. Participation of all communities in the future of the metropolis can be accomplished by the strengthening of regional planning boards like the MMC. There is simply no reason not to restore completely, as promised, the towns that the previous government took away.
“Regional bodies to fund and manage collective services have existed throughout Quebec for decades. Before the mergers, twenty-eight municipalities on the Island of Montreal each paid their share for common services and, through the mechanism of the MUC, each municipality had a say in the administration of those services. Reconstituted municipalities must have an equivalent influence. At the root of the demerger movement is the desire to regain the representation that was lost along with the independent towns. Your government professes dedication to the democratic ideal. An offer of taxation with no representation, as an alternative to the Megacity, would be a travesty.”
4. More on Community Charter legislation
An article in Bulletin 40 on British Columbia’s Community Charter legislation has provoked enough response to require a bit more discussion.
Ray Young writes, “I cannot restrain myself in respect to some of the perceptions expressed by your various sources on the subject of the Community Charter in Bulletin 40.
“The endorsement by Mayor Frank Leonard (of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities) of ‘natural person’ powers because it allows municipalities to act like normal people and because it permits `creativity’ makes no sense. Can a municipality now ban all persons it does not `like’ from its property (parks, roads and libraries) as I can do from my house? Can the municipality donate 10% of its investment income to support orphans in Ireland? Can councillors invest the revenue of the municipality in hog belly futures on the Brazilian stock exchange? Can the municipality give its older pick-up trucks to political supporters of the council as I might do to my nephews? Surely the answer to these questions in each case is `No.’
“In the article, Mr. Leonard did not give a single example of one thing that conferring `natural person’ powers allows municipalities to do that they could not do before.
“In respect of the `11 defined spheres’ Mr. Leonard states that "... there are significant new powers..." The only example he gives is that municipal government can now regulate cats. Please!!!!! Is this example given tongue in cheek? Tell me it’s so.
“The `progressive local governance movement’ or whatever the aspiring leaders call themselves should be ashamed that they could be convinced of progress simply because the right buzz words appear in what is otherwise business-as-usual legislation.”
Professor Paddy Smith of Simon Fraser University thinks that when read with Bill 76, the Community Council Transitional Act which was given third reading by the Legislature on October 23, the Community Charter legislation doesn’t amount to much. He notes that Bill 76 contains 550 sections – a raft of detail. “The new act makes municipalities teenagers again,” he says. He points out as one example that the transitional legislation allows the province to step in if it is unhappy about the way municipalities apply property taxes to businesses.
He says the municipality of Delta has been unable to regulate heating stoves in the very large greenhouses that are such an important part of the municipality’s economy because the provincial government has said that greenhouses are really controlled by right-to-farm legislation at the provincial level. Other municipalities have been caught by the same dictate in trying to control fish farming, and learning that too is beyond their control.
Smith characterises the provincial approach in this way – ‘You have the right to exercise your powers as a municipality and if we at the provincial level like it then we won’t interfere.’ He notes that when the Community Charter legislation was originally introduced more than a year ago, provincial politicians talked about it as “the dawning of a new age.” But when the bill was given third reading this spring the provincial approach was much more muffled.
In short, the grand plan may be something much more minor in scope.
Bulletin 40 wrongly stated that Toronto had elected only Liberal party members to the Legislative Assembly in the October 2 election. In fact three members of the New Democratic Party and 19 Liberals were elected in Toronto. I apologize for this mistake.
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