Will Canadians See a New Era in Municipal Affairs Unfold in 2006?

Written by Posted On Monday, 02 January 2006 16:00

New Year’s celebrations excite an interest in the future that often encourages Canadians to put the preceding year behind them as quickly as possible. When it comes to real estate and, therefore, to the issues which will be addressed in this column over the coming months, continuity with past years must be interwoven with a view to future improvements.

As 2005 drew to a close, a new era in municipal affairs was unfolding in Ontario. In acknowledgment of the emerging role of major cities, the provincial government introduced legislation that creates greater autonomy for Toronto, Canada’s largest urban area and the capital of Ontario. Since municipal powers cover issues from property taxation to disaster response, improving the way a city operates can generate a variety of benefits for its citizens, property holders, businesses and its province.

"A strong Toronto means a stronger Ontario,” stated Premier Dalton McGuinty in response to the tabling of a new modernized City of Toronto Act, introduced as Bill 53 Stronger City of Toronto for a Stronger Ontario Act last December. “Greater autonomy is one of the tools that can make one of the world's great cities even greater. Toronto would now have the ability to be as dynamic, as competitive and as successful as the people who have chosen to build their lives here."

If passed, the legislation would allow the City to pass bylaws covering its services, programs and public assets, which could range from setting bar hours and regulating store openings on holidays to protecting public safety. Under the Proposed City of Toronto Act, municipal powers would expand to give The City more authority:

  • to license and regulate businesses

  • to undertake economic development opportunities to assist its economic competitiveness

  • to determine the composition of council and ward boundaries (a power held by other Ontario municipalities).

The City would also have more flexibility to raise revenue which would take some pressure off property owners, currently the city’s principal target for taxation revenues.

"This is a huge achievement,” said Mayor David Miller. “It gives the City of Toronto its own Charter, which has been called for, for more than 100 years. For the first time ever, there is recognition of Toronto's status as the sixth largest government in Canada. The City of Toronto grew up a long time ago. It's time for the law to catch up.”

The new Act is the result of combined efforts from the Joint Task Force of City and Provincial officials that reached consensus in several important areas, including governance, economic development and the creation of new financial tools. The final report of the Task Force was issued on November 14, 2005 and called for major changes to laws that determine how Toronto functions as a government. Broad permissive powers were seen as the best way to ensure that Toronto had the flexibility to provide services, be accountable to residents and manage growth.

According to Vancouver-based Constitutional lawyer Donal Lidstone , a leading expert on Canadian municipal law, "Toronto and the Ontario government are now 156 years ahead of the rest of urban Canada in terms of the City's empowerment and self-determination. That makes Toronto's citizens gifted and it happens to make Toronto more of an international player. This constitutional milestone will help cities in the rest of Canada in their quest for palpable recognition as an order of government under our constitutional regime."

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