April 26, 2006
City of Toronto Presentation to the
Standing Committee on General Government
Bill 53, Stronger City of Toronto for a Stronger Ontario Act
As Mayor of Toronto, it is indeed a pleasure to appear before Standing Committee this afternoon to review Bill 53. This Bill marks a historic milestone in the life of Canada's largest city and for all Ontarians, an achievement for which we can be proud.
I first want to acknowledge the leadership of Premier Dalton McGuinty. Premier McGuinty has shown a deep understanding of the importance of Toronto to the province and has demonstrated the courage and foresight to empower Ontario's capital for the betterment of our City and for the province.
And of course I also want to acknowledge the vital role played by Minister John Gerretsen who has drawn on his long experience in municipal government to ensure Toronto's needs are properly understood and responded to both within the government and the broader community.
The most recent example is the Provincial Budget, which for the first time specifically acknowledged the vital role Toronto plays in both Ontario and Canada's economies as a centre of commerce and innovation, with its own unique needs and long-term financial pressures.
In recent years, Toronto City Council has worked very hard at developing new and constructive relations with the provincial and federal governments. In 2003 Council adopted a report that set out the key principles and components of a new legislative framework, principles which are now reflected in Bill 53. Since the Bill was tabled in December 2005, Council has endorsed the Bill's general directions, and has suggested some important improvements which I will outline in this presentation and in more detail in our written submission.
And of course beyond elected officials, the Bill reflects many years work by business, labour, academic and community leaders, by provincial and City staff and by leaders in cities across Canada and Ontario.
All recognize Toronto's need for a robust, empowering legislative framework and for adequate and sustainable resources to continue to strengthen the province and the nation.
Rationale/ Benefits of the Bill - More Autonomy, Authority and Accountability
Much has changed since 1834 when Toronto became a city and since 1867 when the constitution made it one of many, small "creatures of the province". The population and economy was rural, trade was local, and Toronto's growth was on wilderness/ greenfields land. Now Toronto has over 2.5 million people at the heart of a dynamic economic region of 5.5 million. Trade is global, while all of our population and economic growth must be accommodated on already built on lands.
Achieving sustainable economic growth requires that we find ways to help Toronto's key exports grow and create more high value jobs. We need to implement new policies and tools to create sustained economic growth that will provide jobs, increase private and public wealth and contribute to improving the quality of life for Toronto residents and businesses.
Clearly a 'one-size-fits-all', highly prescriptive legislative framework is now totally inappropriate for a city of Toronto's size and responsibilities. We need a modernized framework that provides Toronto and its government with the autonomy, authority and accountability to provide good government and high quality services.
We are therefore pleased with the Bill's explicit recognition of Toronto as the nation's economic engine, and as a mature order of government, capable of exercising its powers in a responsible and accountable fashion. As in the Bill, we also believe governments need to work together in a partnership based on respect, consultation and co-operation.
Toronto's new ability to directly enter into agreements with other governments in its own right, including with the federal government, sets the stage for the long-term, multifaceted package of reforms that the City will need to develop in partnership with the Provincial and Federal Governments to resolve the City's systemic fiscal imbalance.
Provisions for ongoing dialogue and consultations with the province under agreements will ensure Toronto's place at the table on matters of mutual interest.
And, empowering Toronto's government with 'broad and permissive powers' to provide good government and determine what is in the city's best interest, only subject to restrictions informed by the provincial interest, represents an historic departure from the City only being able to do what the province permits.
These measures will facilitate creative problem-solving, support stronger relations with both the federal and provincial governments and change the way all Torontonians think about their City's government.
And in keeping with the 'broad and permissive power' framework, there is now clear authority for Council to provide any service necessary or desirable for the public and to pass by-laws respecting the economic, social, health, safety, environmental and well-being of the city and its people. This means not having to again fight all the way to the Supreme Court for City initiatives like the pesticide by-law that is protecting the health of our children and the environment.
The Bill also provides the City in principle with the general authority to levy taxes, but subject to certain important limits. In following the debate on the Bill, I know that this raises concerns and confusion among some of our residents and businesses.
First, these new revenue powers alone will not resolve the City's long-term fiscal imbalance. These can only be addressed through discussions and initiatives with the provincial and federal governments. Rather, the new revenue tools will allow the City to support investments in local services, relieve the pressure on our property tax base and provide more options to meet policy objectives, like conservation, through financial incentives. Secondly, it will be up to the new Council to decide whether, and to what extent, any new powers will be used to help the City thrive. City Council recognizes the various interests and cross-boundary issues involved. Council believes in a strong public consultation process in policy development. That's the model the City has used and will continue to use on all the new powers.
Along with the planning reforms under Bill 51, we also look forward to new powers to shape the urban environment and affect the quality of life. These include more controls on the demolition of residential rental properties, promoting green roofs to reduce energy consumption, the ability to set City-building standards such as the minimum height and development density and faster approval for community improvement plans and brownfield remediation.
We are pleased that the Bill restores the City's powers to determine its own governance structure. It gives us back some of the most basic powers like drawing our own ward boundaries. More importantly, it will equip us with the necessary powers to delegate truly local matters to community Councils and other City committees and local bodies, allowing City Council to focus on city wide leadership.
To prepare for these powers, last summer we appointed the Governing Toronto Advisory Panel to make recommendations on future governance directions. We will debate and approve improvements to our system later this summer.
And finally, accountability continues to be an important part of City government. The City looks forward to putting in place new accountability measures which it asked the province to include in Bill 53. These include statutory authority for an independent integrity commissioner, a fully empowered auditor general and a mandatory lobbyist registry needed to respond to the Bellamy Inquiry and other reforms.
A Stronger Toronto for a Stronger Ontario
Undoubtedly Bill 53 is good news for a stronger Toronto. As I mentioned earlier, City Council and staff have reviewed the Bill and I would like to take the opportunity to outline amendments for an even more empowered Toronto. We will be providing the Standing Committee with more details on these and other improvements to the Bill in a written submission which I will forward through the Committee Chair.
With respect to the City's autonomy, there are well understood and reasonable provisions in the Bill that ensure City by-laws will not be in "conflict with" provincial or federal Acts or regulations. However, the Bill goes further and prohibits by-laws that might be deemed to "frustrate the purpose" of such legislation, s.11(2). This introduces an unnecessarily wide degree of uncertainty for Council and the public and potentially unhelpful interpretation by the courts. The City requests striking out s.11(2) and adding a provision that deems City by-laws on local matters not to be in conflict with provincial statutes or regulations.
Similarly, the City strongly urges striking out s.25, which empowers the LGIC to limit the City's general powers under ss. 7 and 8 and its general power to tax under s.262 by regulation. These regulatory powers would be new and very broad and inconsistent with the intent of Bill 53 to empower the city.
Also inconsistent with the Bill's empowering approach are the numerous potential provincial limits that might be imposed through Regulation with respect to corporations, licensing, fees and charges, reserve funds, local boards, governance, taxation (e.g. s.25) and delegation and other similar powers. City Council, as a mature and accountable government, should be allowed to establish by by-law the policies needed to appropriately regulate and manage affairs within its own jurisdiction. At the very least, where there is an overriding provincial interest, provincial Regulations should be drafted in keeping with the broad and permissive approach so the progress made in the Bill is not lost through the Regulations.
Property tax is the principal source of revenue for City services. Council has recently approved a long-term plan that responsibly begins to address historic disparities among various property tax classes. Moreover the City needs the ability to create or modify various tax classes, like creating a small retail class to stimulate job creation. As a mature order of government, the City needs full control over its property tax base.
And as noted earlier, the Bill's new revenue powers will not address the City's fiscal challenges, nor does it deal with the inappropriate burden of provincial social programs on the property tax base. Modern cities need access to broader revenue sources, such as income and sales taxes that grow with the economy. We also welcome taking part in the upcoming discussions with other governments on addressing the City's fiscal imbalance.
And while the planning reforms under Bill's 51 and 53 are welcome, planning and local land use is a fundamental responsibility of local government. The City needs the authority to create a local appeal process for all planning matters, not just minor variances, to properly protect neighbourhoods and stimulate appropriate City building. The City also needs inclusionary zoning authority to effectively ensure affordable housing is available for our most vulnerable residents.
City Council has a proud record of public consultation to ensure that City infrastructure is both effective and environmentally sustainable. The City needs the legislative authority to develop a made-in-Toronto environmental assessment process for projects in Toronto that have only urban, local impacts and where the City of Toronto is the proponent. This is particularly critical to ensure timely and responsible waterfront development.
And finally the Bill appropriately imposes an accountability regime on the City to complement more autonomy and authority. However, it falls short providing us with a full statutory framework that will allow us to follow the blueprint laid out by Justice Denise Bellamy in her 2005 report.
For example, we need amendments that would allow us to better control lobbying, further empower our Integrity Commissioner and resolve conflicts between MFIPPA (Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act) and Bill 53 provisions.
Conclusion/ Next Steps
I've highlighted how Bill 53 is an historic step for the City, the province and for Canada, and how it will make a strong Toronto an even more dynamic place to work and live. However we need to recognize that important changes inevitably raise concerns, particularly when at this stage we can't definitively say how Council will use its new powers.
Toronto's government is the most open, consultative and responsive order of government - with a proud tradition of transparency and accountability. I want to assure this Committee and the people of Toronto that the City will continue to use its careful policy development process to prepare for the new authorities and ensure that new authorities are used wisely.
These reforms represent a significant culture shift in the City's government. It will require ongoing communication and consultation with the public and within government.
The Bill also represents the beginning of a new, consultative relationship between the City and the province, based on mutual respect. I have invited Minister Gerretsen to immediately begin working with the City so that an MOU on ongoing consultations is in place even before the Bill comes into force. I would also request the new Act be put in force in time for the new term of Council, i.e. December 1, 2006.
We also look forward to participating in the development of any Regulations under the Bill and to resolving outstanding issues in the lead-up to the new Act's 2-year review.
I want to thank the Standing Committee for its careful consideration of the proposed amendments outlined here, and those found in more detail in the City's written submission.
With this Bill, together with the amendments we have proposed and our ongoing consultations, the province will have truly put Toronto in a position to succeed and to realize its tremendous potential as a world city.