PCs reverse Peel dissolution, no evidence provided for sudden policy shift
The PC government says it will no longer be dissolving the Region of Peel, an abrupt shift from legislation that has created anxiety among residents and frontline staff at the upper level of municipal government.
It puts an end, for now, to the intense politicking that pitted Mississauga and Brampton council members against one another.
In a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Paul Calandra said legislation will be introduced next year to repeal the Hazel McCallion Act, the law enacted earlier this year after Premier Doug Ford made a deathbed promise to the former Mississauga mayor for whom the Act was named, vowing to grant her city independence—the singular motivation of the iconic former leader before she passed away earlier this year after demanding a break up from the region for decades.
According to Calandra, the decision to repeal the Act comes after receiving advice from the Transition Board that was put together by the PCs to oversee an equitable dismantling of Peel’s regional government. The new direction will now “recalibrate the board’s mandate.”
“The evidence we have seen is clear,” Calandra claimed, saying that to achieve the government’s aim of providing the highest level of service with the lowest impact on taxpayers “a full dissolution of the Region of Peel is not the best way to achieve this goal.”
Calandra provided no reports or evidence to support the government’s decision despite referring to “evidence” that guided the sudden change of direction, reversing course on Peel’s separation, a task that was originally meant to be facilitated and completed by the Transition Board by 2025. He repeatedly referred to the PC government’s aim to “reduce red tape” and that this move was a necessary step to build 1.5 million homes, justifying the cancellation of the Hazel McCallion Act in order to meet these key priorities.
However, his claims run directly counter to the wording used in the Act itself, to explain why it was created in the first place.
The legislation, passed in June, states that Ontarians “Recognize that municipalities should be empowered with the tools needed to plan for population growth, including the tools needed to build more housing options” in “an efficient manner for taxpayers.”
After using these justifications for the break-up of Peel, Calandra is now using them to justify keeping the Region intact.
After claiming, in the legislation, that the break-up of Peel would help ensure the “delivery of effective frontline services… including by preserving frontline workers”, Calandra on Wednesday claimed the break-up would cause problems for the delivery of critical frontline services such as policing and paramedics (he did not explain how; both services could have remained intact after dissolution with each municipality covering their share of costs).
And after claiming the break-up of Peel was necessary to cut wasteful duplication in a two-tier municipal system, with the Act describing “the importance of value for money and high-quality services delivered” in a cost effective manner that avoids wasteful overlap, Calandra once again contradicted his government’s justification for dismantling Peel, now claiming the surprise decision will somehow eliminate the very waste and duplication the soon-to-be-reversed legislation was designed to address.
Aside from vague references to eliminating service duplication, Calandra did not explain how this will be achieved with two levels of government continuing to deliver many of the same services and functions, such as planning, roads, snow removal, budgeting processes, council operations and many other redundancies.
“We’ve heard the numbers from Brampton, we’ve had a lot of delegations from Caledon, I’ve heard from Peel Region, I’ve heard from Peel Police, I’ve heard from Peel Paramedics,” Calandra said, when asked for the data and evidence he used to support the decision.
Over the last two weeks, Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown has repeatedly referenced an “updated” Deloitte report from 2019 which showed that keeping the Region of Peel whole was the most financially prudent future for Peel taxpayers. An investigation by The Pointer revealed the original 2019 report was completed after collusion between senior Region of Peel staff, some of whom are no longer at the Region, as well as Regional Chair Nando Iannicca to direct the results to conclude leaving Peel whole was the best option. After this was pointed out in a press conference by Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie last week, and after demands to see the updated Deloitte report, Brown began referring to a new KPMG report which, he claims, shows the negative financial impacts dissolution would have on Peel taxpayers. The origins of this report are unknown and Brown has refused to share a copy of the document despite repeated requests from The Pointer, and despite claims during a Wednesday press conference that he was “happy to share it”. Brown and the City of Brampton have refused to explain how the updated Deloitte report, and now the KPMG report, were paid for or when any motion for funding was voted on by city council.
Mayor Crombie also asked last week to see the reports Brown was using to make his claims; her staff said they were not given any reports or evidence the PC government is relying on to make its policy u-turn.
“I sure hope they’re not the ones Mayor Brown is using because no one has seen those,” Crombie said during a press conference Wednesday, following Calandra’s announcement.
Mississauga CAO Shari Lichterman said an independent financial analysis into the full dissolution of Peel has not been completed by the Transition Board appointed by the province, so it's unclear what information the PCs are basing the surprise decision on.
“Having been at the table of every single meeting of every working group that has been involved since this Transition Board convened…no financial modelling has been done on the full dissolution of Peel as of yet,” she said Wednesday. “That was work that was just commencing with the Transition Board. So any numbers or financial reports that have been put out around impacts of dissolution have been done outside of the process and have been done under hypothetical scenarios.”
The PC announcement came the same day Mayor Crombie announced January 12 would officially be her final day as Mississauga’s mayor. She will then officially take her full-time post as leader of the Ontario Liberal Party.
Critics have suggested the move to reverse course on Peel dissolution is a political one to hurt Bonnie Crombie after she was named the new Ontario Liberal leader earlier this month.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer files)
Reversing the dissolution process—something Crombie has long pushed for—less than two weeks after the popular Mississauga mayor was named the new Liberal leader, had Marit Stiles, leader of the Ontario NDP calling out Premier Ford for playing political games with the taxpayers of Peel, creating months of uncertainty and anxiety.
“They’re pawns in a political chess game that none of them asked to be a part of,” she said. “The province of Ontario is not a circus. We deserve good government, we deserve responsible government, we deserve a government that actually has the interests of Ontarians at heart and not silly games.”
Calandra took several shots at Crombie and the City of Mississauga during his press conference using false and misleading information.
He first accused the City of Mississauga of being absent from the dissolution process. Noting that while he had heard from both Brampton and Caledon, “Mississauga, not so much,” he said.
It’s a claim CAO Lichterman disputed, pointing out her team has attended every meeting of the Transition Board since it was created. Crombie also pushed back against Calandra’s comment. “Mississauga has been fully engaged in this process, leading this process every step of the way and any suggestion otherwise is categorically false,” she said.
Calandra also accused the City of Mississauga of lagging behind its housing targets under Bill 23—something City officials have consistently maintained they will achieve, even without the heavy handed approach by the PCs to push through policies like the MZO for Lakeview Village. In his press conference, the Housing Minister claimed Mississauga had the worst housing starts in the province. Data from the Region of Peel show this is blatantly false.
In the third quarter of 2023, the most recent data available, Mississauga had 1,319 housing starts; more than Brampton which had 1,238; and more than all of Durham Region which had 753.
Calandra made several other misleading claims during his press conference. When pressed on why it appears the government is reversing course on legislation after failing to do the proper study in the first place, Calandra claimed the Hazel McCallion Act was necessary in order to create the Transition Board and study the dissolution process. This ignores the fact the PCs could have easily created a task force to study the idea ahead of ramming through the Hazel McCallion Act. It also ignores the extensive work under the PC government which announced a comprehensive review of regional government in 2019, commissioning a detailed report led by two experienced officials who worked in the municipal government sector for decades, which to this day remains secret.
It remains unclear how the PCs would not have known about the issues suddenly being raised now, regarding the costs of regional dissolution, when that was exactly what the 2019 review examined.
It was only after this work, that Ford and his government moved forward with Peel’s dissolution, eventually passing the Hazel McCallion Act.
While the wording of new PC legislation to reverse Peel’s break-up has yet to be released, Crombie said she does not see the move as closing the door on the Region’s dissolution.
A press release from the PC government explains the new mandate of the Transition Board will include bringing forward recommendations on “optimizing the delivery of services that support the commitment to build more homes, including land-use planning, servicing, roads and waste management.”
In her press conference, Crombie described this as an opening to transition these services to the lower-tier, seeing this as evidence of a phased approach to dissolving the Region of Peel.
“These are good first steps, and represent a significant portion of the services that the Region of Peel already delivers,” she said. “I have no doubt that through this first phase we will demonstrate to the province that we are capable and ready to stand on our own two feet.”
She said the provincial government now needs to step aside and allow for an independent financial analysis to be completed and “stop caving into pressure and making rushed, uninformed decisions based on Mayor Brown’s scare tactics and fear mongering.”
Whether this means an abandonment of Peel’s dissolution, or simply a delay, it will be welcomed by social service agencies and frontline staff at the Region of Peel, all of whom have expressed uncertainty about what the dissolution was going to mean for their employment.
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown has repeatedly refused to share reports he claims to have commissioned that support his fears about the financial costs of Peel’s break-up.
(City of Brampton)
Frontline social service providers have repeatedly appeared before regional council to talk about how services to some of Peel’s most vulnerable residents, from housing, to mental health, to addictions services, will suffer if the Region of Peel’s dissolution is not done responsibly.
This would have been next to impossible in the extremely short timeline granted by the PC government, giving Peel less than two years to figure out how to untie the Gordian knot of regional services and shift them down to the three local municipalities. It inevitably would have led to hiccups, delays in services, and harm to vulnerable residents who rely on the Region of Peel.
Brampton, where Mayor Brown has repeatedly frozen the budget or kept badly needed spending increases to a minimum (far below inflation), has suffered from his pattern of mismanagement which has left residents without adequate investments into the services and infrastructure they desperately need. Adding responsibilities of affordable housing, mental health and addictions, child care and other services currently provided by the Region would have been next to impossible for the City of Brampton, even with the additional tax revenue it would retain post-dissolution.
Crombie has suggested this is what has sparked Brown’s unsubstantiated claims to scare the province away from dissolution.
“I think this is more about Mayor Brown getting his own financial house in order,” she said Wednesday.
This points to one of the largest issues with the regional structure when large municipalities with conflicting financial strategies, management styles and priorities, are welded together in a two-tier structure.
Mississauga has worked diligently in recent years to recover from years of low tax increases or freezes under McCallion which left City coffers barren with few rainy day funds to pay for aging infrastructure. It left a significant financial deficit, but moderate tax increases in recent years, including a 2.3 percent increase proposed for the City’s 2024 tax share, along with prudent investments have allowed municipal officials to begin pouring dollars into its transit system, fund unprecedented growth in the downtown core and invest in sustainable technologies and services to put the municipality on a path toward mitigating some of the more serious impacts of climate change. Other investments into university expansion for its U of T campus, Sheridan College and other post-secondary operations have bolstered the city’s education space, while partnering with the private sector to grow the local economy. Mississauga’s focus on investing in economic development, growing its commercial tax base at almost four times the rate of Brampton, is another mismatch between the two cities, with the neighbour to the north financially crippling itself by failing to balance its tax base with more lucrative tax-generating commercial property owners. Mississauga yields far more revenue due to the higher tax rate businesses pay, under its tax mix that sees far more money coming from the commercial sector than from residents. Brampton is the opposite.
Current investments have allowed Mississauga to transition nearly 50 percent of its bus fleet from diesel to hybrid electric.
(The Pointer files)
Mississauga has also invested heavily in density, creating far more tax revenues per hectare than Brampton, which continues to hand out building permits for large single family homes, which cost far more to service with municipal infrastructure while bringing limited tax revenue per hectare.
Brampton has been scandal-plagued for years, and the situation only got worse under Mayor Brown whose populist agenda has gutted spending into critical projects (downtown revitalization, recreation, transit, libraries, post-secondary expansion); councillors last term worried the city is “cutting everywhere”, and future financial planning has been all but eliminated, with Brown constantly looking to other levels of government to pay for key projects like the Hurontario LRT extension into downtown, the crucial Riverwalk project and transit expansion.
Brown even had to cancel the long-planned redevelopment of Brampton’s downtown which was supposed to be done in partnership with Peel Region. After critical underground infrastructure could no longer be delayed, the Region had to move forward with its work, without the participation of Brampton, due to Brown’s failed financial leadership and inability to simultaneously make dramatic budget cuts and move forward with critical projects.
It has become clear that the two cities have been on two very different trajectories for two decades. Mississauga features one of the most impressive skylines in the country now, with studios, corporate headquarters and other private-sector investments flooding in; Brampton’s downtown is decaying and its donut-style growth is spreading, with sprawling subdivisions continuing to stretch out beyond the aging industrial areas in the middle.
Under the current model, Mississauga contributes 60 percent of the funding used by the Region of Peel, and according to the City it is subsidizing Brampton under the two-tier system of local government.
Crombie said Wednesday she hopes the Transition Board, Minister Calandra and Premier Ford will eventually realize the Region of Peel is a system that no longer works for her city.
“I know, deep down, they share our collective commitment to ensuring that local government runs efficiently and effectively and that our taxpayers get a fair deal.”
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