Peel transition board to have early recommendations finished by January, a major step toward regional break-up
A report coming to Mississauga’s general committee Wednesday reveals the first level of recommendations on the Region of Peel’s dissolution are expected to be developed by January, but it’s still unclear when the public will get a glimpse at what’s happening behind closed-doors.
The Hazel McCallion Act, or Bill 112, which has triggered the process to dissolve the two-tier system and make the municipalities of Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon independent by January 1, 2025, has created insurmountable levels of uncertainty both at the Region and within its lower-tier governance systems. The unnerving decision has created concerns about the future, including how Peel’s municipalities will assume Regional assets as they are divided, how the finances involved in splitting up the Region will be managed and when details on the transition will be made public.
Under Bill 112, which was initially proposed to ensure that the municipalities can meet “the ambitious housing pledges they have agreed to,” the Province established a five-member transition board in July tasked with providing recommendations to facilitate the municipal restructuring process. The board is responsible for establishing the roadmap for the regional separation. This includes “winding down” the Region’s financial operations; transferring regional assets, overseeing the disbursement of programs and departments to the lower-tier municipalities, identifying which services will continue to be shared among the three municipalities, and deciding whether joint municipal service boards or other shared servicing arrangements will be required.
Wednesday’s report notes meetings with working groups requested by the transition board to focus on the challenges that will come with dissolution have started and will continue weekly as final recommendations are developed, with the first level of recommendations expected to be completed by January.
“The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing will work through the Transition Board to determine what information is being made public,” a spokesperson from the City told The Pointer. “Staff have consulted with Council on preferred recommendations and will continue to update and get direction from Council as the process continues.”
“Where there is an opportunity to share City positions and transition information publicly, the City will do so.”
The spokesperson noted keeping the information private will give the Ministry time to review and implement the necessary legislation in the late summer of 2024. Implementation is expected to occur in the final months of 2024 in order to achieve dissolution by January 2025.
But the complexity of the dissolution process, along with the lack of transparency from the PC government and the absence of accountability mechanisms to oversee the process, has raised concerns among staff and councillors over what the outcomes are going to be.
“It's almost like we’ve opened Pandora’s box and many things leaked out of it that we can’t control,” Councillor Carolyn Parrish said to Regional council in October, pointing out that the transition board has yet to make themselves present in council. “Some of us are having second thoughts on this whole process but unfortunately, it's out of the box and it's going.”
As uncertainty and anxiety looms for Regional staff, Councillor Carolyn Parrish has admitted to having second thoughts about Peel’s separation.
(The Pointer files)
Councillors have been meeting with staff almost weekly in council and general committee meetings during in camera sessions to discuss Peel’s transition. Asked what qualifies meeting behind closed doors to discuss the Region’s dissolution, the City spokesperson said “the updates fall under the Municipal Act exception to open meetings section 239 (2) (h) ‘information explicitly supplied in confidence to the municipality or local board by Canada, a province or territory or a Crown agency of any of them.’”
“This is because the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Transition Board have communicated that the Transition Team process is confidential unless the Board and/or the Ministry approve the release of information.”
A Regional report in June noted recommendations from the transition board are expected to be submitted to the Ministry in the summer/fall of 2024. Legislation to address restructuring matters is expected in the fall of 2024 when the Minister will make the final decision. The Region’s CAO Gary Kent has cautioned council that the Board has no obligations to report on any of its activities to any party other than the Minister. On October 12, Kent told council he has requested full transparency on the transition board’s recommendations, acknowledging the undertaking of dissolving the Region is a “humongous wicked problem” and “should be public for the minister to consider.”
A spokesperson from the Region previously told The Pointer that staff have “asked that the work plan be made public and that their recommendations be made public,” noting the Region continues to provide the Board with information about the municipalities services to inform its recommendations.
The Province has not responded to repeated requests from The Pointer on whether any information will be made public throughout the dissolution process. The PC government has promised the process will be fair for all three municipalities and “prioritize the preservation of frontline services and workers,” but has provided few details on how this will be achieved.
While the transition board is keeping the process private, there is nothing in the legislation that states City staff cannot come to council with their own recommendations that have been presented to the board. As the transition process remains hushed, it raises questions around why the City of Mississauga, which has championed the thought of dissolving the Region for decades, has not been more public about what information it is sharing with the transition board and what it would like to see post-dissolution.
In February, ahead of the introduction of Bill 112, Mississauga councillors unanimously supported Mississauga’s departure from the Region of Peel, a battle for independence the municipality has long fought for. The crusade, years in the making, started with former long-time mayor Hazel McCallion, who was central to the region’s rapid growth during her 36 years as Mississauga’s mayor, when she first vowed to spring her city from the two-tiered system of local government decades ago. Following in the footsteps of her predecessor, Bonnie Crombie has argued that for a city of its size and the growth anticipated over the next few decades, Mississauga should be allowed to shape its own future, and that without having to subsidize its neighbours through tax dollars and other revenue, Mississauga would be able to realize its true potential.
“Single-tier status has been an important point of advocacy and request from the City of Mississauga for the past two decades,” the report on Wednesday’s agenda states, adding “Mississauga and Brampton in particular have outgrown the regional governance model, with Caledon also projected to rapidly grow in the next decade, leaving all three municipalities in a strong position to control their own future in key city-building areas and services.”
“There are many benefits and opportunities for Mississauga residents and businesses as a result of Peel dissolution; while the mandate is to continue to deliver all services uninterrupted, becoming a single tier city will allow those services to be delivered more efficiently and for Mississauga to focus on resourcing its own priorities.”
The provincially appointed transition board has been tasked with dividing the Region of Peel’s infrastructure and services amongst its lower-tier municipalities.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
But the lingering dissolution also creates a series of complex questions about infrastructure and services currently provided by the Region of Peel, which now need to be divided and assumed or shared by the soon-to-be independent municipalities in Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon. These services include policing and paramedic services, wastewater infrastructure, waste management, a major housing file, and roads. Untangling the shared costs among the municipalities will not be an easy feat.
“The dissolution of the Region of Peel will result in significant changes to the City’s budget and sources of funding, as it takes on new service areas and shifts to a single tier municipality,” the report acknowledges. “It is expected that much of the property tax revenue that Mississauga currently collects and directs to the Region of Peel will form a new revenue source for the City, to fund the new services, along with the redirection of provincial funding for certain services.”
“With efficiencies created, it is anticipated that Mississauga taxpayers will benefit from this new structure in the long term.”
A 2019 financial analysis to the Region confirmed that if Mississauga were to separate from the Region, Mississauga taxpayers would see $84 million in savings annually. The report showed Mississauga over-contributes $85 million to the Region of Peel each year — an estimate that had grown from $32 million in 2004 — and that taxpayers, at the time, subsidized neighbouring municipalities Brampton and Caledon to fund services and growth there. Staff concluded that if Mississauga were to become a standalone city, it would see almost $1 billion in savings over 10 years. In a separate 2019 Regional Governance Review Study conducted by the City of Mississauga, staff noted the regional governance model was not ideal and was “unbalanced,” adding “there are many systemic inefficiencies that cannot be overcome.”
Wednesday’s report to Mississauga council notes the purpose of the transition board is not to dictate how the services should be redistributed or managed, but to act as a “neutral third party” to facilitate the process for the lower-tier municipalities, with the assistance of the Region of Peel staff, as they provide advice to inform the transition board’s recommendations to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Wednesday’s report notes the transition board has established a process where Peel’s three lower-tier municipalities, with information from the Region, provide advice on how to inform the final decisions relating to services, governance, staffing, assets and finances.
The transition board has identified 12 key working groups and has asked that each municipality form specialized teams for each to help inform the reallocation of services focussing on the challenges that will come with dissolution around water and wastewater, land use planning, health, housing, transportation, policing and paramedics, among others. A finance working group will also likely be added in the coming weeks, according to the report. The working groups will involve representatives from the Region of Peel and its lower-tier municipalities and will be required to meet on a bi-weekly basis. Members of the groups will discuss the service areas and undertake a detailed analysis to support determinations on the assignment of services.
As the transition board dissects Peel’s assets and departments, the police board is the only entity in the Region that has received the support of council to remain intact after Councillor Parrish moved a motion in June requesting the Region send a letter on behalf of council to the Province requesting the "immediate confirmation that the Peel Regional Police remain as a single entity and the Ontario Provincial Police Caledon Detachment remain as a single entity, beyond the dissolution of the Region of Peel." The motion requested a funding formula be determined at a later date. In October a spokesperson from the Region confirmed the upper-tier municipality received correspondence from the Premier’s office in July indicating that the matter was referred to the province’s Solicitor General Michael Kerzner, but has not received any correspondence from the Minister.
Wednesday’s report notes City staff will continue to provide public updates through council reports and meetings, adding that “Throughout this process, the mandate and goal is to continue to deliver all services unchanged and uninterrupted.”
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