Thursday, November 7, 2013

Deamalgamation Won't Fix Toronto's Problems

Rob Ford has ridden to the Mayor's office by stoking a sense of grievance and alientation in many suburban Toronto voters toward those who live "downtown" (usually meaning the entirety of the pre-amalgamated Old city of Toronto, which is of course much bigger than the downtown core).

While this was forced on Toronto by the Harris government for its own cynical reasons, reversing it now would not cure what ails us.

Most of the big problems we fix are regional in scope, in fact, in some cases, like transit, amalgamated Toronto is not big enough to address them properly (hence, Metrolinx).  But others:
  • The Gardiner is primarily used by suburban 416 and 905 area commuters, do we really want Old Toronto responsible for fixing (or getting rid of it)?
  • The flash flooding is a regional problem - too much pavement and too little green. Want to redivide the city and let various elements have different rules on driveway size & lawn paving?
  • Climate change is going to have big impacts on everyone and cities will need coordinated responses. Flooding is one thing, but things like west nile virus show there's much more.
  • Inequality is at severe levels, and is going to reduce vast areas to slum status unless things are done. I fear this too, needs a bigger, rather than more localized response
Some of this, like transit was previously addressed by moving certain issues to the Metro government, but there, Old Toronto would be again outnumbered by the suburbs should they choose to unite.

The biggest reason against this is that it is unnecessary.  The suburbs are not monoliths.  David Miller did pretty well there in 2003 and won them outright in 2006.  Polling by forum now suggests Olivia Chow would beat Rob Ford not just downtown, but in Scarborough, North York and even Ford's home turf of Etobicoke:
Once Olivia Chow is included, however, Stintz falls away significantly. This suggests that Stintz's support in the first poll is more about not being Rob Ford than it is about being Karen Stintz. Chow wins by a much wider margin with 43% of the decided vote, against 32% for Ford, 18% for Stintz, and 7% for Soknacki. Chow wins every region of the city, with 48% support in old Toronto, 44% in North York, 41% in Scarborough, and 38% in Etobicoke (where Ford comes closest to winning).
 Toronto is going to need to do a better job defusing this suburban/urban tension somehow, but I don't think turning the clock back to 1995 1997 is the answer.  Maybe we can bolster the powers of the community councils to keep the most purely local issues locally decided, or strengthen their voice in, say, things like whether the Island airport should be allowed to use jets - maybe Old Toronto's councillors should have more weight in that decision.  We certainly can't allow more Ford type demagogues to profit from this angst.  A city that regularly elects Mayors who hate the downtown, and encourages flight to the suburbs?  I think that sounds a bit like Detroit, a fate we should hope to avoid.   

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