Amalgamation: Mike Harris’s gift that keeps on giving to Toronto conservatives
One of the things really hit home by those maps that came out yesterday is that, as far as Toronto goes, the battle over amalgamation is still fresh in some people’s minds. When Mike Harris’s government combined the old cities that now make up Toronto, it was over the objections of the widespread “No Megacity” movement and the expressed will of the people in a referendum. Harris, of course, was never the kind of guy to let a little thing like that get in his way, so here we are, 12 years on, with the voters of the downtown core sharing a government with Etobicoke and North York. The division between the two is still as stark as ever (see map, left).
Kelly McParland writes in the National Post that maybe this was Harris’s plan from the beginning, since the original reasoning—cost savings—has turned out to be a bad joke. Rob Ford is exactly the kind of guy Harris would like; he even showed up at Ford’s victory party. (And don’t think the Ford camp wasn’t keeping Harris’s support on super-double-secret lockdown for a reason.) By the end of Ford’s term, assuming everything goes according to plan, traditionally progressive Toronto will have spent 10 of the 17 years since amalgamation being governed by suburban conservatives. If it was Harris’s plan to shackle Toronto with cost-cutting Tories, so far that’s a big “Mission Accomplished” for him.
It’s true that the map of the old city fits almost perfectly on top of the wards that voted for George Smitherman. But don’t read too much into that. The maps of Smitherman’s support aren’t wildly different from the maps of David Miller’s support in 2003: clustered around the core (though with a bit more spread, because he won, after all) versus John Tory’s support strongest in the suburbs. Like it or not, there’s still a lot of divisions within the city, and amalgamation never got rid of them.
The mayor-elect’s father had a small hand in this, of course: Rob Ford’s father, Doug Ford Sr., served as a backbencher in Harris’s government before losing his seat in 1999. Ironically, Ford lost out on a wave of amalgamation of his own: as Harris cut the number of seats in the Ontario legislature—sound familiar?—Daddy Ford was to run, and lose, against a more popular conservative in his larger Etobicoke ward.