On TVO last night Steve Paikin asked me for my take on the election results, but before I could answer I was pre-empted by Dalton McGuinty’s victory speech. I wish the premier would not jump the queue like that. Anyway, what I was trying to tell Paikin was this: for all the constant conflict between Toronto’s downtown and its inner suburbs, or between the 416 and the 905 regions, last night the entire GTA spoke with one voice and voted overwhelmingly Liberal. And they did so despite the fact that the Liberals basically promised them nothing—no new commitments on uploading, no money for social housing or transit operating costs, nothing. The Liberals have been given carte blanche a mandate to do whatever they want in the GTA and with the GTA—to treat the GTA as its plaything or, more likely, as some kind of massive urban experiment. Which could actually be good news, because the GTA’s prosperity has become far too important to be entrusted to its small, petty local governments.
Any urban guru (you can find one on every streetcorner these days) will tell you that today’s great cities think regionally. City centres and their outlying suburbs cannot afford to bicker; they need to cooperate, pool resources and generally behave like small parts of a larger whole, which is what they are. And if they are unwilling to be humble and play nice, well, this Liberal government has proven its willingness to act like a de facto regional government—and a very activist one at that, more than willing to mess around with people’s living standards and habits. They created a Greenbelt and forced higher-density targets on all GTA municipalities with the Places to Grow Act. They implemented high-occupancy vehicle lanes on the region’s 400-series highways. And they created the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority (GTTA), which will coordinate MoveOntario 2020, the $17 billion in transit projects in the region.
I expect an emboldened second-term McGuinty to give the GTTA lots of teeth so that it can force municipalities to heel, including the power to collect its own revenue (road pricing ahoy!). I also expect that, when the City of Toronto Act comes up for review just over one year from now and Mayor David Miller goes looking for more new powers, he won’t get any. From Queen’s Park’s perspective, there are ever-diminishing returns to be reaped from giving additional authority to Toronto but not to its neighbours, especially when the region’s problems are too big for Toronto to solve alone—and when Toronto is unable to get its act together anyway.
Consider city hall’s looming tax vote on October 22, and put yourself in McGuinty’s shoes: you go out on a limb and give special taxing powers to Toronto’s city council, then watch as it pokes itself in the eyeballs and does multiple pratfalls as it tries to actually use one of those new powers. You’d conclude you could do a better job yourself. And you’d be right.