21 Aug, 2018

Twenty years later: What Toronto’s amalgamation can tell us today

New paper from the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance revisits the remaking of Toronto

Toronto, August 21, 2018 – In 1998 the Province of Ontario consolidated Metropolitan Toronto and its six lower-tier municipalities into a single City of Toronto. It was a controversial decision. Supporters claimed amalgamation would produce a more cost-effective, transparent, and responsive local government, while opponents argued the elimination of the lower-tier municipalities would diminish the quality of democratic representation.

A new IMFG Forum paper, Legacies of the Megacity: Toronto’s Amalgamation 20 Years Later, revisits the decision and looks at the lessons. For the paper, author Matthew Lesch summarizes a March 2018 IMFG panel discussion which featured two people who were directly involved in Toronto’s amalgamation and subsequent reorganization, John Matheson and Shirley Hoy. Also on the panel were three academics, Alexandra Flynn, Enid Slack, and Zack Taylor.

Lesch identifies the following three lessons from Toronto’s experience:

1. Amalgamation is not just about reconfiguring boundaries, it is also about designing durable administrative structures. There is limited evidence that amalgamation led to notable cost savings. However, the creation of new institutional structures and practices has improved the quality of local governance in post-amalgamation Toronto.

2. The policy problems confronting municipalities are rarely confined to the boundaries that have been created. The decision to limit the reorganization of Toronto to the old boundaries of Metro Toronto inhibited the city’s capacity to cope with regional-level pressures. Addressing issues such as economic development, land-use planning, and congestion will require the city to find innovative ways to better coordinate with its regional partners.

3. Local governance is about much more than service delivery, it is also about promoting democratic responsiveness and civic inclusion within the community. Restructuring the boundaries of local governance not only alters how services are delivered but also can redefine how residents conceptualize their place within a political community. While opportunities for inclusive governance abound, bridging ever-widening divides between groups of Toronto residents represents a more daunting task.

Read the paper

About the Author

Matthew Lesch was the 2017–2018 Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance. He received his PhD from the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto. His research focuses on the politics of consumption taxes at the local and subnational level.

About the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance (IMFG)

The Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance is a research hub and think tank that focuses on the fiscal and governance challenges facing large cities and city-regions. It is located within the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

For more information, please contact:

Selena Zhang | Manager, Programs and Research
Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance, University of Toronto
selena.zhang@utoronto.ca | 416-978-5117