Mississauga does not want to join Brampton in the ‘City of Peel’; pushes for ‘Mexit’ out of regional government
The City of Mississauga is once again pushing for independence, a crusade that’s been decades in the making.
Separating from the Region of Peel has been a preoccupation since Mississauga’s former long-time mayor Hazel McCallion first vowed to spring her city from the two-tiered regional system of local government. Her almost four decades at the helm of city council featured regular battles with premiers as she pushed to get Mississauga out of regional government. Now, her successor is scaling up the fight to become an independent, standalone municipality.
With a city of its size and major growth anticipated over the next few decades, Mayor Bonnie Crombie has for years argued Mississauga should be allowed to shape its own future, maintaining that without having to subsidize its smaller neighbours to the north, Brampton and Caledon, through tax dollars and other revenue funnelled from the City to the Region, Mississauga would be able to realize its true potential.
Council vowed through its unanimous support on Wednesday to depart from the Region of Peel and oppose amalgamation with Brampton, a decision that came one day after Mississauga bid farewell to its former matriarch. The same pledge was met with overwhelming support from the crowd at McCallion’s state funeral on Tuesday.
Crombie, addressing the large audience inside the Paramount Fine Foods Centre, related her last conversation with McCallion, who told the current mayor how proud she was of council’s handling of the pandemic. “And when I asked her,” Crombie told the crowd, “what would be next, she looked at me and she said…” pausing to wink at Ford who sat immediately in front of her, “‘Independence. It’s time for Mississauga to stand on her own two feet. A single-tier, independent city,’” Crombie recalled, imitating the legendary former mayor’s signature gravelly voice.
A wave of applause and whistles filled the cavernous space.
“She said, ‘It’s long overdue’… and she was right.”
A day later, with four new members on council sitting alongside her inside the City Hall chamber, Crombie said the purpose behind the motion is to reaffirm council’s position on independence and give new councillors an opportunity to weigh in.
She and others are also making it clear that Doug Ford’s decision to look at the possibility of merging Mississauga and Brampton into the City of Peel, similar to Toronto’s amalgamation three decades ago, does not sit well with council and the residents it represents.
Premier Doug Ford and his PC government passed the Better Municipal Governance Act in December, announcing regions including Peel could be restructured, and the possibility of merging Mississauga and Brampton into one single-tier municipality while getting rid of the Region of Peel emerged.
“It is time for us to stand on our feet. There has been a lot of speculation on what direction this will go and the premier seems to favour single-tier municipalities,” Crombie told council on Wednesday. “I want us to get behind an independence motion and really today in particular, because it's post-Hazel and she started this ball and I think we all want to fulfill her legacy.
“We want to go forward with a strong [City of Mississauga] and preserve our unique history, culture and identity which is very distinct from our partners north of us.”
Since being elected to the mayor’s chair in 2014, Crombie has been determined to finish the job she inherited from her predecessor to make Mississauga an independent city. She has said the move is about value and fairness, but noted it would take political will on the part of the Ontario government to change the city's status — something that hasn’t always been met with open arms.
Mayor Bonnie Crombie has continuously pushed for the City’s departure from the Region of Peel, most recently campaigning for the separation in the 2022 municipal election.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
Previous councils have unanimously supported Mississauga becoming an independent, single-tier and self-sufficient city, similar to other large and even smaller municipalities across Ontario. In the last half-century, Mississauga has grown from less than 200,000 residents in 1971 (before it became a municipality) to well over 800,000 residents, far bigger than single-tier cities like Hamilton, London and Kingston, and it is anticipated to exceed 1 million residents by 2050. Yet it is still hindered by decisions and funding for Caledon’s and Brampton’s future growth.
As 2022 came to end, Ford and the PCs introduced several pieces of legislation to supercharge the government’s ambitious housing goal to build 1.5 million homes by 2031. Crombie criticized Ford’s housing plan as nothing more than a taxpayer-funded gift to developers who will no longer be required to pay certain fees meant to cover infrastructure costs so their buyers will have services they need. In December, Ford countered, publicly telling Mississauga’s mayor to “stop being disingenuous” and “get on board” with his controversial housing plan.
However, it appears he has changed his tone. In a press conference Wednesday, when addressing the city’s independence, the Premier said he was in support of Mississauga separating from its regional partners.
“I’ve always supported the size of Mississauga… to be a standalone city,” Ford said. “We’re going to sit with the mayors again… and I think they’re both great [cities], along with Caledon as well. We see tremendous growth in Caledon and in Brampton and Mississauga. I’ve always been a believer they should be standalone but this is a conversation we’re going to have with the mayors in the region along with our minister of municipal affairs.”
Looking to push the separation forward, Wednesday’s Council motion included language that encourages the Province to immediately appoint a facilitator to ensure its proposed assessment of Peel’s regional government structure (part of the recent legislation passed by the PCs to rethink the value of regional government in Ontario) gets underway as soon as possible.
The approved motion says: “[That] the province make it a priority to appoint a provincial facilitator as soon as possible to begin the assessment of the Region of Peel and that this review be completed in a timely fashion. The provincial facilitator work with the City of Mississauga and other Peel municipalities to develop an agreed-upon methodology for data and information collection and analysis, and that Mississauga is involved throughout the entire process.”
As part of Bill 39, the Better Municipal Governance Act, which seeks to address the housing crisis by working to reduce municipal duplication in two-tier municipalities, the PCs proposed revamping regional governments in Peel, York, Halton, Durham, Niagara and Waterloo by appointing provincial facilitators to assess the best mix of upper and lower-tier governments.
Crombie has made clear a “City of Peel” is a non-starter and has said Mississauga cannot grow the way it wants while hindered by its responsibilities to two other municipalities that have not pursued the type of urban future Mississauga has. In a previous statement to The Pointer, the Mayor said an amalgamation would not be in the best interests of Mississauga residents, and it would simply change the structure without addressing the underlying problem she, and leaders before her, have been trying to solve.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Crombie listed several reasons why amalgamation wouldn’t address the underlying issues currently facing Mississauga. She and other critics of the current structure have pointed out that amalgamation would be more of the same: planning and growth look very different compared to Brampton which has always been a problem at regional government; services like policing also have different needs in each city; and Mississauga has numerous unique financial, cultural and infrastructure-related strategies which get drowned out when decision making has to consider competing interests from other areas.
Departing from the Region, Crombie has argued, would help Mississauga fast-track the ambitious housing targets set out by the PC government.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
Amalgamation, she noted, also does not do what the PC government has set out to achieve with Bill 23, to cut red tape, eliminate duplication and speed up the development process for new housing. The controversial housing Bill, which supports the provincial government’s direction for the City of Mississauga to approve 120,000 homes by 2031, has been heavily criticized by municipal leaders for its unreasonable financial consequences, as local taxpayers will have to shoulder unprecedented costs to cover the massive infrastructure spending to support the population that will move into the 1.5 million new homes.
Mississauga believes its approach to create more density, especially around transit stations including along the rapidly expanding LRT corridor along Hurontario Street, will help the PCs reach their goals, unlike the less dense planning built into Brampton’s and Caledon’s existing model, which would be hard to change.
Critics have also pushed back against all the supporting legislation for the PC housing goal which strips away control over planning from local governments, potentially rendering city council members irrelevant when decisions on housing are made. Crombie has previously said that if the provincial government allows Mississauga’s separation from Peel Region, it would address challenges surrounding the city’s future growth in a region that is currently in the midst of a severe affordability crisis. Allowing Mississauga to address its unique situation, she said, is the best way to deal with affordable housing, transportation, economic development and other issues the City is already tackling.
While facing unprecedented financial challenges, the best way for Mississauga to navigate through all the obstacles, is as a standalone municipality that is not saddled by the burdens facing other municipalities whose own financial problems are the result of their decision making.
The Region of Peel reported that: “Bill 23 imposes significant reductions to the Region’s ability to collect development charges. Preliminary analysis estimates that the DC revenue shortfall in Peel resulting from the changes to the Development Charges Act, 1997 could amount to approximately $2 billion over the next 10 years.”
That staggering potential loss is for just one revenue stream. Mississauga officials have stated the City should not be saddled with a range of costs, including affordable housing, that have been the responsibility of the Region of Peel. Mississauga, officials including Crombie have argued, should be allowed to keep all its own revenue and decide on its own how to best fund and manage affordable housing, policing, local utilities and many other responsibilities currently handled by the Region of Peel which has to juggle its own bureaucracy as well as the decision making of Brampton and Caledon.
Crombie and others say they no longer want to be hamstrung by these other jurisdictions, especially while suddenly facing its own unexpected challenges.
An overview presented by City staff to Mississauga Council revealed the City would lose an estimated $815 million to $885 million in development charges for infrastructure over the next decade due to Bill 23.
“The impact on us is, the word ‘devastating’ comes to mind, that without compensation, this Bill will gut our capital budget or require that we increase our tax rates substantially,” former city manager and CAO Paul Mitcham, who stepped down recently, said, when the new legislation was being passed.
“The financial impact over the decade, in the order of $900 million, is probably the most significant legislation that we’ve ever seen.”
Becoming a single-tier municipality, Ward 2 Councillor Alvin Tedjo said during discussions Wednesday, would allow Mississauga to make its own financial decisions for all local responsibilities and be a better provider of holistic municipal services. It's also important to highlight the fiscal benefits that a separation would create for the city, he added.
“I think there is a lot of civic pride around the name Mississauga, around our city, and we have a real identity there and I think that’s a very important thing to reinforce.”
Crombie has referred to various reports that show Mississauga has and continues to contribute more revenue to the Region of Peel, compared to Brampton largely because the city to the south has grown responsibly, making sure that more lucrative commercial properties, which pay a higher tax rate than residential properties, were planned alongside homes, while Brampton continues to recklessly approve residential building permits without attracting commercial interests to contribute jobs, and higher property tax revenues.
This means amalgamation would, effectively, see existing Mississauga residents and businesses subsidize current Brampton residents and businesses in order to provide all of them with the services and infrastructure a merged municipality would have to maintain.
In 2019, the Ford government first explored a review of the role of regional government after a motion endorsed by Crombie to leave Peel Region was brought forward. The unexpected move came after Ford’s decision to slash Toronto’s city council seats and wards almost in half and cancel planned elections for the regional chair position in Peel, Muskoka and York. But after creating false hope for cities like Mississauga, the 2019 regional review resulted in no changes, with the status quo maintained.
In a 2019 Regional Governance Review Study conducted by the City, staff noted the current governance model is not ideal, is “unbalanced” and “there are many systemic inefficiencies that cannot be overcome.” Staff said Mississauga has outgrown the regional government model and is now being held back from realizing its full potential as a city.
In the report, a financial analysis showed Mississauga over-contributes $85 million to the Region of Peel each year — a number that has grown from $32 million in 2004 — and that taxpayers, at the time, subsidized neighbouring municipalities Brampton and Caledon to fund services and growth there — a reality that is not fair to Mississauga’s residents and businesses, Crombie has said. Staff concluded that if Mississauga were to become a standalone city, it would see almost $1 billion in savings over 10 years.
“There's no disrespect to our Brampton and Caledon colleagues, but we are at a different stage of development. We don't have open farm fields that can be developed by the hundreds of acres,” Ward 6 Councillor Joe Horneck said this week. “If we had a City of Peel, where's the downtown, we have no centre of gravity to bring us together. It just doesn't make emotional, logical sense. It doesn't make sense of how you'd organize a city.”
“I don't suggest that the region does us wrong, but I think it's outlived its use,” Ward 1 Councillor Stephen Dasko added. “It's a really great institution, but we have outgrown that and Mississauga, it's time for us to flourish. When we talk about pride in our past, faith in our future, this is Mississauga and this is our time to shine.”
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