The Blurred Responsibilities in a Two-Tiered Regional System

Sopana Selvachandran

The City has outgrown its capacity – this is a statement we hear often, especially within the last 10 years. Of course “the City” doesn’t solely include the metro Toronto area. As the Greater Toronto Area (“GTA”) continues to grow and expand, more regionally recognized issues in governance structures and economic growth became apparent.

David Wolfe, Director of the Program on Globalization and Regional Innovation Systems at UTM, and Royal Bank of Canada Chair in Public and Economic Policy was the first panelist to speak at the Seminar on Municipal Governance: Navigating a Two-Tiered Regional System. He started off by expressing his interest in economic development in a regional and local context, referencing models suggested by Toronto organizations from which an appropriate government mechanism could be created to support a regional system in Toronto; including the Toronto Region Research Alliance, the ICE committee and the Toronto Board of Trade, among others.

As a public policy academic, one of the key tools to any research report is to look at best practices. Are there other jurisdictions that can do it better? How are they doing it and why is it better? Professor Wolfe’s research did just that. His curiosity led him to assess a variety of different models with such a governance structure that may teach us a thing or two about the implementation of a regional coordinating agency for economic growth.

Among some presented examples were a Northeast Ohio voluntary oversight organization and Florida’s privatized economic functions. One particularly interesting example is the Montreal International Economic Development agency, which consists of many municipalities all participating together for one common economic strategy. Montreal provides a strong exemplar for Toronto, but their model was considered and later rejected in Toronto. Given what we have in the Toronto region, what could be made to work?

Professor Wolfe’s view is that it is difficult to create a unified body. We need a regionalized coordinating body. They cannot be voluntarily funded, as is often done in the United States simply because we don’t have philanthropic organizations that do these things. According to Wolfe there is a need for provincial funding and the regulatory body should use a carrot and stick approach with strong incentives.

The problem for the Region of Peel was to determine which appropriate government mechanism could be created.  Ed Sajecki, Commissioner of Planning and Building, City of Mississauga mentioned, “we have a 21st century city region that has a 19th century governance structure and until we fix that we are damn struggling”.

“Friends, romans, countrymen, we’re all in arrears” can be heard quoted by Mr. Sajecki, who argues there were huge issues in the Toronto regional area in the past that needed attention, but today we are all under a financial crunch so we have to be careful on how we invest financial growth. There are about $100 billion in requests but we cannot get funding to do all of them unless there were ways to connect the dots so everyone could benefit. The argument by Mr. Sajecki is that, simply put, “times have changed”.

When Metro Toronto was put in place in 1950s, there was a recognition that all these other surrounding areas were outside (including Vaughan, Markham, Meadowvale area etc.) but now there is an increasing reliance on working together, on coordinating and creating economic growth together, hence the regional structures were put into place as a cost-saving mechanism for the province.

A two-tiered system looks good on paper for the Region of Peel, but when the responsibilities are split between the region and the municipalities, however as the last speak Heather MacDonald, Director of Strategic Housing Initiatives and Business Services, City of Mississauga mentioned, it only looks good until you run into a problem over whose jurisdiction it falls under.

A specific problem for the City of Mississauga can be seen in the example of affordable housing. The Region of Peel is responsible for social housing and social services, but the City of Mississauga is responsible for land use planning. There is a challenge because you need to look at both when looking at affordable housing. Moreover, the region is responsible for subsidized housing, but the City looks after market housing. There is an area of affordable housing where the Region and city cross over each other, which creates a conflict in the delivery of public service.

Is there a better way to deal with this conflict? Why haven’t other models of governance been considered to tackle the issue of regional/municipality service delivery? After the recent ice storm in the GTA not very long ago, have we not learned anything about the GTA structure of governance being outdated? Does the regional governance system really allow for timely, efficient service delivery? When governing in a crisis such as the recent ice storm, decisions have to be made at a regional level, which may take away the efficiency of implementing fast solutions…which is the heart of the problem; lack of efficiency.

We are aware of the many challenges the regional structures (specifically the Region of Peel) face, however have our regions and municipalities been slow to identify the failures of such systems? Is there a solution to this problem?

Sopana Selvachandran is a Master’s of Public Policy candidate for 2015 at the University of Toronto. She holds a Bachelor of Arts (Hons.) degree in Criminology from York University. Sopana has expressed a keen interest in a wide range of research and policy areas including, social, economic and immigration policy. Sopana has specialized education and experiences in the justice policy area and hopes to pursue a rewarding career that implements meaningful policy changes.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. André Darmanin - The Urban Strategist says:

    You and I have a lot of the same interests when it comes to policy issues surrounding regional governance. I am in the midst of finishing up a blog post on developing a GTA wide regional governance structure similar to what was proposed by the Golden Report in 1996. Just gathering my thoughts and should be completed by the end of the week. A two-tiered system is needed as the GTA cities don’t collaborate as much as they should on issues infrastructure, planning and of course transit.

    The old model of regional governance IE Peel, Durham and York are outdated and in fact need to be developed into a larger system, which includes Toronto. I am curious to know your thoughts. Good luck with your final year of studies.

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