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Ontario hasn't studied impact of Peel split on municipal finances

The government is appointing a transition board to study finances, among other matters
Steve Clark, Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, speaks to journalists at the Queen's Park on Nov. 16, 2022

The Ford government didn't conduct any studies into how dissolving Peel Region would change the affected municipalities' finances — something two of the mayors, and a group of municipal experts, have raised concerns about.

In May, The Trillium filed a freedom-of-information request for: "Any studies, briefings, slide decks or other information prepared by the ministry on the effect of the dissolution of Peel Region on finances in the region. This could include information about projected municipal budgets, property tax changes, lawsuit expenses, etc. in Mississauga, Brampton and/or Caledon as a result of the dissolution."

The time frame for the search was the day the Ford government took office until May 29, when the request was filed. The government announced plans for Peel's dissolution on May 18.

"After a search through ministry records, no responsive records were located," came the reply on June 23.

A spokesperson for Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark didn't deny the lack of study before the announcement. That will be handled afterwards, she said, pointing to the to-be-created group that will advise the government on how to handle the nuts and bolts of the divorce.

"The government is in the process of appointing a transition board for Peel Region to provide advice to the province on a range of restructuring matters, including service delivery, allocation of assets and liabilities, labour relations, long-term financial sustainability, among others," Victoria Podbielski said in an email. "As part of this, we are currently bringing together a group of people with deep expertise and credibility in municipal operations, finance, service delivery, housing, labour relations, among others. We look forward to announcing the appointments in the near future."

This is one of a number of laws the government has passed since its 2022 re-election that "significantly affect the municipal sector" in a bid to improve the housing supply, noted David Arbuckle, the executive director of the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario (AMCTO).

"In all cases, little to no evidence has been provided to justify the legislative actions and little to no consultation has occurred with municipalities to best understand the challenges and solutions that are in the best interest of everyone involved," said Arbuckle, who was formerly Caledon's general manager, a planning and budgeting manager with Peel Region, and the chief of staff to the former Liberal housing and municipal affairs minister, Jim Watson. 

"As an Association of municipal leaders and professionals, we have routinely offered up the expertise of our 2,200 members to the government when contemplating significant legislative reforms. That offer remains on the table.”

Clark announced in May that Peel Region (Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon) would be dissolved by Jan. 1, 2025, and that six more upper-tier municipalities — Durham, Halton, Niagara, Simcoe, Waterloo and York — may be next in line. (Mayors in Simcoe have since come out against the idea).

It's a move long sought by Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, who has argued her city pays more than its fair share of the region's costs. 

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, on the other hand, has said the split could cost his city up to $4 billion. He has promised to sue Mississauga if it refuses to give Brampton restitution. 

Caledon Mayor Annette Groves has said she is also not a fan of the decision but has said she has faith in the Ford government to get it done fairly.

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