‘Foolish’ motion from Patrick Brown urges regional staff to break the law, demands Peel taxpayers take on $11B debt
Councillors were left stunned last week when Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown argued the Region of Peel should go $11 billion into debt to pay for the necessary infrastructure to accommodate unprecedented housing targets mandated by the provincial PC government.
Under the guise of addressing the growing affordability crisis in Peel, Brown claimed the debt was a necessary burden to show the provincial government the Region of Peel was committed to reaching its housing goals. It was a stance revealed later in Thursday’s meeting to be nothing but a ruse, as the controversial Brampton mayor would later reveal the true intention of his convoluted motion—which under the Municipal Act is illegal, would saddle local taxpayers with unseen amounts of debt repayment costs, and be practically impossible to implement. He wants to hitch Mississauga to a quasi cost-sharing agreement following the break-up of the Region of Peel, effectively forcing his neighbour to the south to subsidize investments in Brampton which Brown has ignored for five years while promising politically popular, but unmanageable tax freezes.
The motion was seconded by Caledon Mayor Annette Groves.
“It’s on all of us to make sure we provide a safe place for people to live, especially the most vulnerable,” she said. “Sometimes drastic measures need to be taken.”
She argued that should Peel take the step of issuing the absolutely unmanageable amount of debt—she was “certain” the PC government would step up to assist them with the infrastructure costs.
Neither Brown, Groves, or any other councillor who spoke in favour of the motion, mentioned the impractical nature of taking on so much debt—more than double the collective amount taken out annually, on average, by every municipality in the country combined. They also failed to address staff comments making it clear taking on this debt would affect the Region’s credit rating at a pivotal time, or the reality that it is absolutely impossible to complete $11 billion of work in a calendar year as there is simply not enough resources in the construction sector to take it on, while large construction projects of the scale needed to address the housing mandated by Bill 23, take approximately a decade to complete. This means that if Brown and Groves had gotten their way, regional ratepayers would be saddled with repayment costs for billions of dollars in debt on Peel’s books unused for years. The Region, on average, issues about $300 million in debt annually.
Major infrastructure projects like watermains or wastewater treatment facilities like those needed to support the mandated housing targets under Bill 23, can take up to a decade to complete.
(Region of Peel)
The motion was referred back to staff on a 13-11 vote which was entirely split down municipal lines save for Caledon Councillor Christina Early who voted with Mississauga councilors to refer it back to staff to study the legality and impacts of such a move.
The political stunt was widely panned by Mississauga councillors.
“It makes us look, if you don’t mind my saying, a bit foolish,” Councillor Carolyn Parrish said. “Our staff have already told us, big projects take 10 years for the manpower and even if we had all the money in the world, the big projects are going to take 10 years to implement.”
None of the councillors argued against the fact the Region of Peel needs to do more to address the housing crisis, which has seen waitlists for affordable housing explode in Peel and housing or rental costs pushing out of reach for 80 percent of residents.
Under Bill 23, municipalities in the soon-to-be-dissolved Region of Peel will be responsible for building a large portion of the 1.5 million homes Premier Doug Ford and the PC government have promised Ontarians. Since the Bill’s introduction in late 2022, Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon have struggled with how they will build the necessary infrastructure to support these new homes—something the Region of Peel estimates will cost more than 20 billion dollars over the next 10 years for roads and sewer/wastewater services alone.
“I think we need to send a strong signal that the Region of Peel is committed to building that infrastructure,” Brampton Councillor Rowena Santos said.
Parrish argued council would be sending the wrong message with such a motion. She said it effectively lets Housing Minister Steve Clark and the PC government off the hook from having to assist municipalities across Ontario with the infrastructure needed to support the housing they have legislated.
“I’m not denigrating the mess we’re in with housing right now, but Minister Clark would love this motion to go on the books because what it says is we’re foolish enough to let them off the hook and we’re going to take this debt on and put it on our taxpayers,” Parrish said. “The message is all wrong.”
Mississauga Councillor Carolyn Parrish labelled Patrick Brown’s attempt to have Peel take on $11 billion of debt as “foolish”.
(The Pointer files)
Brampton Councillor Michael Palleschi disagreed, noting it “certainly” wasn’t foolish, and would actually be the best thing for Brampton residents. He failed to explain how, as a soon-to-be independent municipality with finances gutted by consecutive tax freezes under Brown, it would be a good thing to force taxpayers to pay exorbitant fees to service the massive debt created by Brown’s motion.
Ford and Clark have repeatedly said the government would make municipalities “whole” when it comes to the costs of servicing the new housing as part of Bill 23 targets. However, as Mississauga Councillor Joe Horneck noted, it’s been seven months since Bill 23 was approved, and no details have been shared about what that exactly means, or what any financial compensation will look like.
“They should issue the debt, it should be on them,” he said of the PC government. “They’ve asked us to fulfill these commitments, that’s fantastic, so pony up for transit, pony up for housing, take it on.”
Questions were raised during the meeting about the legality of even considering such a motion. Councillor Dipika Damerla pointed out that the Municipal Act—the laws which govern the actions and decision-making power of every municipality in the province—stipulates how much debt a city or town is allowed to take on. The $11 billion requested by Brown would exceed that amount by a longshot.
This was confirmed by Peel CAO Gary Kent who told councillors the motion did not meet the standards of the Act. However, the region’s commissioner of corporate services did point out that there is nothing in the Region’s procedural bylaw prohibiting councillors from considering the motion.
“I find that very curious,” Damerla said. “I think it’s irresponsible for us as councillors to vote for a motion that we know full well that it contravenes the municipal act.”
Councillor Alvin Tedjo agreed.
“Let’s not direct staff to break the municipal act and break the law essentially, why would we do that? We don’t do that in any other situation?”
Councillor Damerla also pointed out that the typical debt term for such infrastructure projects is 20 to 25 years, meaning any debt issued now would extend far beyond the set timeframe for regional dissolution. The PCs' Hazel McCallion Act mandates the Region of Peel to be dissolved by 2025. The division of assets and debt is to be determined by a transition board currently being formed by the provincial government. A spokesperson for the PCs told The Pointer last week that the Province is currently in the process of appointing members to the board and an announcement should be made in the “coming weeks”.
This was the thread that, once pulled, unraveled the true purpose of Brown’s motion, which was to create the collective debt in order to have Mississauga cover part of the costs for future infrastructure in Brampton.
Since the announcement of regional dissolution, Brown has argued that Mississauga should compensate Brampton and help pay for the future growth in the city. He claims Brampton and Caledon subsidized Mississauga through tax dollars sent to the Region of Peel. He has used discredited reports to support his claims. Brown also repeatedly fails to acknowledge that the current regional funding formula has paid for critical infrastructure projects in the City of Brampton.
“The growth in Mississauga has been cost-shared, this is not something different,” he said of the debt.
The Brampton Mayor says the city is owed between $1 billion and $3 billion dollars before Peel separates and has even threatened to take legal action against Mississauga.
He has repeatedly claimed a Deloitte report in 2019 is proof that Mississauga has benefited at the expense of Brampton in the regional government structure. That report was discredited after a freedom of information investigation exposed how senior Region of Peel staff, without council's knowledge, hired Deloitte to produce a report that would support their desire to maintain the status quo, undermining Mississauga’s desire to gain its independence.
Ignoring what has been explained by the provincial government and municipal officials who have pointed out that Peel’s dissolution could result in cost sharing between Mississauga and Brampton, with current utilities such as waste water, and services such as policing, delivered in a model common across the GTA, Brown has been demanding Brampton be compensated for infrastructure, even though his city would continue to see the same benefits from that infrastructure in a shared delivery model.
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