For a number of years now, Mississauga has expressed–under two different mayors–that it wants no part of the Region of Peel, the regional government system that Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon all fall under.
While the city’s request was rejected by the province when Hazel McCallion was mayor, a changing of the guard at Queen’s Park has made the prospect of a “Missexit” all the more possible–and Brampton isn’t happy about it.
Last week, Mississauga city council passed (in principle) Mayor Bonnie Crombie’s motion requesting the province pass legislation that Mississauga become independent from Peel. While Mississauga is able to govern most of its affairs, the Region of Peel controls and manages the local police force, waste management, public health and school boards.
The motion couldn’t have come at a better time, as it does look like Mississauga finally has a chance to “control its own destiny.”
In 2018, the Doug Ford government announced that it would review how regional government across Ontario is working. Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark said that former Waterloo Regional Chair Ken Seiling and former Ontario deputy minister Michael Fenn will serve as advisors to conduct a broad examination and provide recommendations to improve governance, decision-making and service delivery in regional governments.
More recently, the provincial government announced that it is seeking online feedback from the public for its review, specifically examining the regions of Peel, Durham, York, Halton, Niagara and Waterloo. It’s also looking at the Muskoka District and Simcoe County.
The review includes examining the cities and towns within those regional governments, and while nothing has been decided just yet, there has been ample talk of possible amalgamations (which Mississauga is not in favour of, as it hasn’t generated much in the way of cost savings for Toronto).
Last week, Crombie reiterated that as Mississauga continues to grow and become a much bigger city (its population has surpassed 700,000 and is expected to climb as the city tackles robust redevelopment projects over the coming years), it must prioritize its own interests as a single-tier municipality and separate itself from the interests of the rest of the region.
“Analysis shows we send $85 million to the Region to fund the growth of others cities. This is not fair to residents and businesses,” Crombie said on Twitter. “Our money should go towards Mississauga priorities. We must be able to govern our affairs and set our vision without interference.”
The response from Brampton and Caledon was, quite expectedly, negative.
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown told Global News that Mississauga will have pay up if it wants to secede from the region.
Arguing that Brampton taxpayers have subsidized Mississauga’s growth, Brown told Global that Mississauga would have to deal with a “debt owed to the city of Brampton.” Brown specifically called out a water treatment plant in Mississauga, but Crombie insisted the plant was paid for by development charges (DCs) from developers–not Brampton residents.
In a statement released over the weekend, Crombie said that some of Brown’s statements to the media are “categorically false.”
“You may read in the media some saying, including the Mayor of Brampton, that Brampton paid for Mississauga’s growth over the years,” Crombie wrote on Facebook. “This is categorically false. Facts are important.”
Crombie said that while the region primarily builds water and wastewater infrastructure, development charges (and lot levies before that) are used to pay for the relevant infrastructure in each community.
“So, developers in Mississauga paid their DCs for the pipes in the ground in Mississauga, in the same way Brampton and Caledon developers did for theirs. DCs are actually the best example of a municipality paying for its own growth. There is no way Brampton paid for Mississauga’s wastewater infrastructure. A basic understanding of DCs makes these claims untrue on their face,” Crombie wrote.
Crombie also pointed out what critics of the regional government have been saying since McCallion began asking for independence in the early 2000s–that Mississauga pays more than its fair share to support Peel.
“Now, even if DCs were not collected, for the history of the Region of Peel, Mississauga taxpayers have always contributed the vast majority of funding. From 1974-1995, we consistently paid over 70 per cent of the regional tax levy. At present, we pay 60 per cent. Based on these numbers, there is no way that Brampton paid for our infrastructure. That’s why Mayor McCallion led the charge to leave the Region in 2004. The math just doesn’t add up.”
Crombie argued that it’s actually Mississauga subsidizing Brampton. In her statement, Crombie said that Mississauga is contributing $85 million additional taxpayer dollars per year to subsidize Brampton and to a lesser extent, Caledon.
“In 2004, this number was $32 million. In the intervening 15 years, the number has grown by $53 million.”
Citing a recent corporate report, Crombie says data indicates that Mississauga is funding regional roads at a cost of $20 million per year and Peel Regional Police at $33 million per year.
“This is an unbalanced system that burdens Mississauga taxpayers. It’s not fair and it has to change.”
According to the report, Mississauga has been thinking of disentangling itself from the region since the mid-90s. Secession, it argues, would save money in the long run.
“As early as 1995, the City of Mississauga has advocated for single tier status,” the report reads.
“In 2003, council commissioned a report to look at the financial implications of becoming a single tier municipality. The report determined that Mississauga would save approximately $32 million dollars a year, in part due to efficiencies, and in part due to the elimination of cross-subsidization (i.e.) property tax dollars being paid by Mississauga taxpayers that paid for services delivered in Brampton and Caledon.”
For over 20 years, the city has argued that there’s no reason it cannot function as a single-tier municipality when much smaller cities–think Hamilton, Windsor, London, Kingston and Guelph–are not subject to regional governments.
The report says Mississauga has the population to warrant becoming a single tier city similar to other large municipalities such as Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa. It also says that Mississauga is “fiscally strong,” has strong resident support and has the necessary capacity and experience to operate as a single tier municipality.
The report also cites efficiency as a reason for leaving, noting that a number of duplications, barriers and complexities in municipal service delivery could be eliminated if Mississauga became a single tier city.
“Single tier status would give Mississauga full autonomy to focus on city initiatives related to its future growth and development,” the report reads. “A preliminary review by staff has determined that Mississauga currently cross subsidizes both Brampton and Caledon by as much as $85 million per year.”
The report says the Region of Peel and Mississauga provide the same or similar service resulting in an unnecessary duplication. It also says co-ordination or approval requirements at the Region of Peel impedes or delays Mississauga’s ability to provide its services as efficiently and effectively as possible (interestingly enough, the city has worked to create its own affordable housing plan rather than just rely on the region to tackle the mounting housing crisis).
While leaving the region would pose some challenges and lead to some upheaval, the city says some services won’t need to change. According to the report, Peel Regional Police operates under separate legislation, and already has a Police Services Board that has representation from Mississauga and Brampton. It does not service Caledon (the OPP does), so the model could continue.
Crombie says she understands why Brampton might be worried about Mississauga leaving the region.
“If I were the Mayor of Brampton, I too would be worried about Mississauga separating as it would leave Brampton to finally pay its own way. Brampton benefits most from Mississauga’s subsidy, at $74 million. This means that if Mississauga was to become independent from the Region, Brampton would need to find a way to make up the $74 million shortfall in their city budget.”
The full report can be found here.