Regional breakup?: PCs move to transfer planning, waste collection, major roads & water utilities from Peel Region to Mississauga, Brampton & Caledon
Bonnie Crombie might get what she wanted, after all.
After cancelling the breakup of Peel over a month ago, the PCs are now moving to dramatically reduce Regional Government, directing the start of a process to hand over planning, waste management, major roads and all water utilities to Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon, which would impact hundreds of regional employees.
In a January 24 letter obtained by The Pointer, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Paul Calandra announced he will direct the Transition Board — originally established to facilitate the Region’s dissolution under the Hazel McCallion Act — to review four Regional services the Minister says “are key to building homes and housing-enabling infrastructure.”
In the letter, Calandra wrote he would be shifting the board’s mandate “to focus on making local government in Peel Region more efficient and responsive to the needs of residents and taxpayers,” specifically relating to: accelerating the building of homes in Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon to increase housing supply; reducing duplication and removing layers of bureaucracy from the administration of services; ensuring the continuity of services for local residents; and recognizing financial sustainability and high-quality services delivered in an efficient manner.
Under the new mandate, the Board is now responsible for providing recommendations on the transfer of land use planning, water and wastewater (including stormwater), Regional roads, and waste management currently provided by the Region, to the cities of Mississauga and Brampton and the Town of Caledon.
The revised mandate comes after the PC government announced in December it would no longer be dissolving the Region of Peel. It was an abrupt shift from legislation that created anxiety among residents and frontline staff at the upper-tier municipality. Calandra said legislation would be introduced in the new year to repeal the Act.
It was an announcement taken in stride by former Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie, who had long fought for the City’s independence after taking on the crusade from her predecessor Hazel McCallion who envisioned an independent single-tier city government. In December, Crombie said she did not see the surprise move as closing the door on the Region’s dissolution. Her supportive response to the PC government’s backpedal foreshadowed what now might happen, what she called the “first phase” in Mississauga’s independence from the Region.
“This isn’t the end of our path to independence, it’s simply a bump in the road,” she told reporters following the Province’s announcement last month.
Crombie’s comments at the time hinted at what would be coming. She confirmed during a December press conference that Mississauga remained committed to working through the process to bring the city further to independence, noting it is “ready to take full responsibility of delivering on land use planning, waste management, water and wastewater and roads.”
Now, that’s exactly what is being directed by the PC government.
Former Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie championed the city’s independence from Peel Region throughout her tenure.
(The Pointer files)
It now appears the decision to turn around Peel’s breakup was more of a strategic move, to possibly carve away regional government slowly, instead of overnight. The PCs now want to “recalibrate the scope” of the dissolution process, starting with certain key services currently overseen by the Region, that would be downloaded onto Peel’s lower-tier municipalities.
Mississauga CAO and City manager Shari Lichterman confirmed in an email to The Pointer that senior leadership of each of the municipalities were advised at the time of the Minister’s unexpected announcement in December that the plan was to revise the mandate to transition these four services to local control. “The additional clarity from [the] letter is appreciated but the news does not come as a surprise.”
The City of Mississauga and its lower-tier neighbours spent the better part of 2023, ahead of the Minister’s decision in December, working to execute the takeover of regional jurisdiction, operating under the assumption that the Region was going to be broken up and Mississauga was going to be taking on all of the responsibilities handled by the upper-tier municipal government. With that process having already been launched, Lichterman confirmed, “A significant amount of work had already been completed by Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon in cooperation with the Peel Transition Board, so the plans for transitioning these services are partially complete already.”
According to Calandra, the decision to repeal the Hazel McCallion Act came after receiving advice from the Transition Board, but the Minister provided no reports or evidence to support the government’s decision despite referring to “evidence” that guided the sudden change of trajectory around Peel’s future. Instead, the new direction would “recalibrate the mandate” of the Board to focus on improving regional services like policing, paramedics and public health, Calandra explained at the time.
“The evidence we have seen is clear,” the Minister said last month, claiming “full dissolution would lead to significant tax hikes and disruption to critical services.” He added that to achieve the government’s aim of providing the highest level of service with the lowest impact on taxpayers, full dissolution “is not the best way to achieve this goal.” He repeatedly said the move was made with the ultimate goal of getting more housing built quickly under the PCs’ housing plan to construct 1.5 million homes — killing the Hazel McCallion Act in order to meet these key priorities, without ever explaining how eliminating the two-tier system would have hurt these goals.
The PCs had long claimed the opposite, that having two layers of municipal government was wasteful, ineffective and inefficient, dramatically slowing the process to get infrastructure and homes built.
Now, some of those inefficiencies will be addressed, and some of the duplication will be eliminated, if the direction in the January 24 letter leads to a significant reduction of regional government.
Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra claims a full dissolution of Peel would lead to significant increases to taxpayers and disruptions to services.
Controversy around how much breaking apart Peel would cost swirled long before the legislation to dismantle the Region was first introduced.
In 2019, when a Deloitte report showed that keeping the Region of Peel whole was the most financially valuable option for Peel taxpayers, an investigation by The Pointer later revealed the original 2019 report had been dictated behind the scenes by former senior staff and current Peel Chair Nando Iannicca, to present a narrative that would protect their jobs and keep regional government intact. Shortly after regional councillors realized what they had done, sparking outrage among the Mississauga representatives, the senior staffers were no longer with Peel’s government.
In the weeks leading up to the Minister’s announcement last month, keeping Peel intact, Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, who had pushed the Deloitte narrative in 2019, made claims about an “updated” Deloitte report that once again supported the preservation of regional government. He offered up wild numbers to the media, claiming a breakup would cost taxpayers severely, without ever providing any proof of his claims. When challenged to produce the “phantom” Deloitte report, he suddenly began referring to a new KPMG report which, he once again claimed, showed the negative financial impacts dissolution would have on Peel taxpayers. The existence of this report has been questioned and Brown has refused to share a copy of the document despite repeated requests from The Pointer.
Crombie asked why Brown is so afraid of an independent Brampton and questioned why he would not want to lead a city that could control its own destiny, suggesting his alarming financial mismanagement (with City budgets that have been wiped of transparency) can continue to be hidden behind the Region’s responsibility for the municipality’s biggest costs.
Lichterman said in her remarks following the PC announcement last month, when Calandra claimed excessive financial consequences prompted the cancellation of the Hazel McCallion Act, that an independent financial analysis into the full dissolution of Peel had not been completed by the Transition Board appointed by the province, and no information about the claims being made had been shared with her or other senior staff. The Province, she said, made its decision without ever sharing its evidence.
Under the new mandate, according to the January 24 letter, the Minister says the Transition Board has been asked to “move expeditiously” on the review of land use planning “to ensure that the three local municipalities are adequately equipped with the necessary resources and personnel to undertake the transfer of planning authorities,” as outlined in the PC housing plan. This work, the letter explains, will be announced upon the Minister’s further review of the Peel Region Official Plan, which Calandra says he has asked Ministry staff to prioritize.
The letter notes the board has also been asked to ensure any options and recommendations that are brought forward on the matter of water and wastewater will continue to maintain public ownership and control, including options and recommendations around the creation of a municipal services corporation or a services board.
All other services delivered by the Region of Peel are considered “out of scope” for the Transition Board at this time, the letter notes.
While the purpose of the letter was to provide clarity on the new mandate, Mississauga Councillor Carolyn Parrish, who has announced her bid to replace Crombie as mayor, has many unanswered questions.
She said that although moving water and wastewater management through to the lower tiers can be controlled by a service board, “The real elephant in the room is knowing which level of government will control where new services go in to facilitate the housing demands of the province.” She also questions who will be paying for it, noting that where pipes go, will dictate where new housing goes.
“Controlling what goes through those pipes is relatively simple,” the Mississauga Councillor explained. “There is no mention of that significant issue in the direction to the transition team.”
Another issue Parrish says should be pursued is the “unicorn nature” of the Region. She highlighted that once the transition is completed, it leaves Mississauga as “neither an independent municipality nor do we fit into the pattern of the rest of the regions in the [Greater Toronto Area]”, cautioning that the city will instead be “a third iteration.”
“Do the other regions then follow? Do we eventually get independence?” she asked. “I for one believe we are entering an experiment that has no end objective and it makes me very concerned.”
Mississauga and Regional Councillor Carolyn Parrish, who will run for the vacant mayor's seat, worries transferring only some regional services will leave Peel and its municipalities in an in-between existence.
(The Pointer files)
As questions linger around what this limbo-like, in-between stage will look like, one issue Minister Calandra, the Region and the City of Mississauga stand aligned on is the protection of Peel’s employees.
“Any options or recommendations put forward by the Transition Board must ensure service continuity for residents without disruption and to address all aspects important to the successful service transfer, including labour relations, corresponding back office supports, and detailed financial analysis on any local impacts,” the letter emphasizes. “Similarly, the Transition Board should continue to prioritize the preservation of frontline workers.”
Previously, the end of Peel had created great turmoil among regional staff, who feared they would no longer have jobs.
According to the Region’s Transition Board Orientation Package, there are currently 591.7 full-time employees staffed in the water and wastewater department, 236.3 full-time employees (39 contract/casual and over 30 summer students) in waste management, 64 full-time employees in land use planning and 341 in the roads department. These employees will now be filtered down into the lower-tiers, and it will be up to Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon, with the assistance of the Transition Board, to determine how these roles will be divided up.
As the architect of a previous motion to the City of Mississauga that called for more security for staff amid the previous dissolution plans, Parrish agrees the lower-tier municipalities should prioritize the hiring of regional staff that will be declared excess if the four services are downloaded to the lower-tiers.
In the weeks following the PC government’s introduction of the Hazel McCallion Act in May, Parrish swiftly introduced a motion to urgently protect Peel staff. The motion noted the looming separation of Peel’s municipalities had “created serious uncertainty for the Region of Peel employees in difficult economic times.” Its purpose was to ensure existing regional employees were given every opportunity to hold onto their job when all staff functions were divided among the three lower-tier municipalities.
“These are the experienced staff who have the experience and familiarity with the functions being downloaded,” Parrish explained to The Pointer, adding she would be “happy to reintroduce that motion” to protect regional staff in the four areas that could be downloaded.
Lichterman confirmed the City, along with Brampton and Caledon, will be looking to retain regional staff through the transition, noting “the process will depend on the types of roles and whether the roles are union or non-union positions.”
“The goal is not to disrupt service delivery for residents and to make the transition as seamless as possible for staff and our community,” she explained. “This is why we’ve been working jointly with the Peel Transition Board and the other municipalities in recent months to formulate the plan. Services have been uploaded and downloaded over the years between municipalities and other levels of the government many times, so the concept is not unique.”
In an email to The Pointer, Davinder Valeri, Peel’s Chief Financial Officer and commissioner of corporate services, said the Region “supports efficient and responsive services for Peel residents, and we support efforts that will achieve these objectives,” in response to the Minister’s letter. He noted the Province’s decision to keep Peel intact allowed the Region’s “focus to shift to future investment, business continuity and continuation of our cost reduction and efficiencies programs.”
“The Minister has asked that the recommendations ensure service continuity and address all aspects including labour relations, financial analysis and back office support. We don’t know what these recommendations will be or what this will mean for Peel staff. However, we are asking these questions and seeking answers and transparency,” he explained, underscoring that the Region hopes the recommendations will be made public.
Calandra’s letter commits Ministry staff to continue work with the Region of Peel, its lower-tier municipalities and the Transition Board to develop next steps and make proposed recommendations by the spring for the Minister’s consideration.
Going forward, the Board will be responsible for providing recommendations on the transfer of each of the services currently provided by the Region, to the cities of Mississauga and Brampton, and the Town of Caledon.
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