Separating assets and finances promises to be messy as Peel Region is dissolved

Click to play video: 'Mississauga mayor discusses Hazel McCallion Act to dissolve Peel Region'
Mississauga mayor discusses Hazel McCallion Act to dissolve Peel Region
WATCH ABOVE: Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie discussed on Thursday the "Hazel McCallion Act," which would see Mississauga, Brampton, and Caledon as independent cities by 2025. Crombie reassured residents that their day-to-day lives wouldn't be changing – May 18, 2023

Ontario filed for a municipal divorce of sorts on Thursday with legislation to break up Peel Region, and while the mayors of its two biggest cities welcomed their looming independence, separating their assets and finances promises to be messy.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark tabled a bill to dissolve the regional government covering the municipalities of Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon as of Jan. 1, 2025, though much of the heavy lifting is being left to a transition board that he’ll name at a later date.

The board, which will have up to five members, will make recommendations to the province on how to handle shared services such as police, social services and water. It could recommend some of those services continue to be shared between the communities, but will ensure no disruption.

“If you live in Caledon, or Brampton, or Mississauga, the front-line services that you receive today, I want those preserved on Jan.1, 2025,” Clark said. “In fact, I think we should look to a view of strengthening them.”

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The transition board will also be tasked with making recommendations on employment issues, property tax arrangements, and – perhaps most contentiously – finances. The mayors of both Mississauga and Brampton have said they believe their taxpayers have funded growth or infrastructure in the other municipality.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie has said independence would save her municipality $1 billion over 10 years because her city has been the “cash cow” of the region, funding Brampton’s growth.

“I look forward to opening our books so everyone can see for themselves, the status of our finances and our reserves and what exactly Mississauga paid for the past 50 years towards the growth and the development of not only Mississauga but Brampton and Caledon,” she said Thursday.

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown has said he would welcome efforts to remove duplication, but believes Mississauga would owe Brampton under any separation because of all the Peel infrastructure that is in Mississauga.

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“Brampton would never accept our residents being taken advantage of,” he said Thursday.

“Every single cent we put in to build that infrastructure in Mississauga my residents expect back because the infrastructure has been used up, the servicing capacity has been used up. It’s like going for dinner and having one party eat the entire plate, give you the empty plate, and say, ‘Let’s share it now.'”

The goal of the transition board will be to ensure an “amicable and fair” dissolution process, the government said, and one of its functions will be to oversee the communities’ financial decisions, including ordering them to change those decisions if they’re not in the interest of the future single-tier municipalities during the transition process.

“This is a power that they will not use lightly, but I want to make sure that all three single-tier municipalities are set up for success,” Clark said.

Click to play video: 'Doug Ford set to dissolve Region of Peel and grant Mississauga independence'
Doug Ford set to dissolve Region of Peel and grant Mississauga independence

Government officials say a second piece of legislation is set to be introduced in the fall of 2024 to address any outstanding restructuring matters for the region west of Toronto.

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While the financial fracas between Mississauga and Brampton demanded most of the attention at a joint news conference Thursday with Clark and the three municipal leaders, Caledon’s mayor chimed in to express hope that the process will take care of her residents, too.

“I know that we’re the child in this marriage, but the children get to speak in a divorce because at the end of the day, the children, they are affected,” Annette Groves said.

“The region has served Caledon extremely well, so it isn’t something that we wanted, but at the end of the day, we’re here with this decision today, and I think that we just have to work with it.”

Groves said she is unsure about what future the board will recommend for Caledon – whether as a standalone city or part of a different region – but she is confident the province’s process will work.

“I don’t have any issues here in making sure that Caledon’s residents will be well served through this divorce,” she said, going on to crack a joke.

“I had a great divorce. I didn’t even use a lawyer and my ex-husband comes and lets my dog out and takes my garbage out. What more can you ask for? So I think that this is the kind of divorce we’re going to have here in Peel Region.”

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Click to play video: 'Ontario government to dissolve Peel Region'
Ontario government to dissolve Peel Region

Clark said the objective of the legislation is to support future population growth, reduce duplication and see more housing built. He has committed to getting 1.5 million homes built in Ontario in 10 years, but is not yet hitting the annual targets needed to achieve that.

Clark had announced in November that he would appoint facilitators to assess six regional governments, including Peel Region, and look at the best mix of roles between upper-tier and lower-tier municipalities with an eye to expanding “strong mayor” powers beyond Toronto and Ottawa.

Clark said the province wants to give all three Peel Region municipality mayors those powers, which would give them certain veto and budgetary powers.

The facilitator process now will not move forward for Peel, but Simcoe County has been added to the reviews that will also include Durham Region, Halton Region, Niagara Region, Waterloo Region and York Region.


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