Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

De-amalgamation Nation? Not so fast, Toronto works better together

By: Metro Toronto Published on Mon Jun 10 2013

There’s a certain type of Torontonian who looks at all the city’s problems and comes up with one simple solution: De-amalgamation.

It doesn’t seem to matter what the problem is.

A transit system mired in under-funding and endless debates about expansion? De-amalgamate. Regular downtown-versus-suburban ideology clashes over things like bike lanes and social services? Oh, you better believe that’s cause for de-amalgamation. A scandal-prone conservative mayor gets elected with the support of a mostly-suburban bloc of voters called “Ford Nation”? Well, hey, it must be time for De-amalgamation Nation.

It’s not.

Sure, amalgamation came from a ridiculous process. When the provincial government forced together Old Toronto, Scarborough, North York and Etobicoke in 1998, they ignored the express will of the people and promised major cost savings that no one has been able to deliver on.

But it’s done.

As others have noted, all de-amalgamation would do now is separate the population in uncomfortable ways.

The Old City of Toronto is becoming less diverse and more wealthy, while the suburbs have more frequently become the landing point of a diverse group of newcomers.

It’s sort of hard to stick to Toronto’s motto of “Diversity, Our Strength” if we’re talking about cutting up the map.

And besides, it’s not clear what de-amalgamation would even look like.

As former mayor David Crombie is fond of pointing out, Toronto has been absorbing other municipalities and amalgamating for most of its history.

Do we go back to the semi-amalgamated Metro government that had its own set of problems? Or do we go back further, to the days when Swansea and Leaside and even Parkdale were their own municipalities?

A better idea would be to accept our current government and try to make it work better than it has.

To do that, we need to look at ways the amalgamated government can function better.

Start with this: Amalgamated Toronto’s government is unwieldy and poorly structured such that local, neighbourhood issues become city-wide issues.

Next week, the full Toronto City Council will vote on items as tiny as turn restrictions and liquor licences. Downtown councillors will get a say in whether a property in Scarborough gets rezoned. There’s no need for that.

Local issues should be decided at the local level. Residents should feel like they have a direct link to their representatives in government who are making the kinds of decisions that affect them.

That’s hard to do if some guy halfway across the city is calling the shots.

This kind of governance change could take many forms — further empowering community councils, even creating ward councils — but the end result should be the same: Let’s stick together as an amalgamated city, but let’s make the amalgamated government work better.

This post was originally published at on 2013-06-10T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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