It's time for Mississauga to get its independence
Mississauga is all grown up. It’s no kid anymore, and it’s time for it leave the basement and strike out on its own.
In other words, Mayor Bonnie Crombie is right to push for her city to break free from Peel Region and become an independent municipality with all the autonomy and powers that go along with that.
Crombie laid out her case for “Prexit” in the Star this week, and it’s a persuasive one.
Cutting through the clutter about who pays more for what, it comes down to a basic fact. Since Peel was created back in 1974, Mississauga has grown from a bedroom community into a powerhouse in its own right with a population approaching 800,000 and a thriving business community.
It’s the third largest city in Ontario and the sixth biggest in the entire country, just after Edmonton. It’s bigger than the likes of Winnipeg and even the City of Vancouver.
Yet as just one component of Peel Region it has fewer powers than smaller municipalities like Hamilton, Windsor and (as Crombie never tires of pointing out) tiny Dryden, Ont., a single-tier city with just 7,750 souls.
As a result, argues Crombie, Mississauga must seek permission at the regional level to go ahead with the kind of policies it wants in areas like development and housing.
It pays 60 per cent of the costs of the region and subsidizes Brampton and Caledon (the other municipalities in Peel) to the tune of $85 million a year, she says. Yet Mississauga has just 50 per cent of the votes on the regional council.
During a recent meeting with the Star’s editorial board, Crombie put it like this: “We need to control our own destiny. It’s time for us to stand on our own two feet.”
Mississauga has been pushing for independence since at least 2004 with no success. But there may be an opening now; the Ford government announced a review of regional government in January and plans to hold consultations in June.
This is very much a double-edged sword. Crombie and her council (which endorsed a motion in favour of independence in March) hope this government is open to making changes in how the region is organized.
But it’s far from clear which direction the government will take, or whether it can be trusted to do the right thing in the end. Its sole focus so far has been cutting costs, and if setting Mississauga free means Brampton and Caledon will go begging for cash to Queen’s Park that may kill the whole idea.
But if the Ford government wants to do the right thing, it will let Mississauga become a self-standing city with the same powers the City of Toronto already has to raise revenue through such measures as a land-transfer tax and hotel tax. It would give fast-growing Brampton, which is on its way to having a million people, the same deal.
At the same time, it will re-visit the entire question of how the entire Greater Toronto and Hamilton region is governed with a view to ensuring more effective coordination in key areas.
Amost a quarter century after a major task force led by Anne Golden urged that kind of approach, there’s still no authority with a mandate to coordinate policy in areas like transit, housing, business promotion and tourism development across the entire region.
Given its track record so far, we very much doubt the Ford government has the kind of vision needed to carry out that kind of change. But it’s still what’s needed, and it should start by treating Mississauga like the adult city it already is.