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Making a Megacity

On December 17, 1996, days before the Ontario legislature was to take its winter recess, the Progressive Conservative government introduced a bill meant to drastically reform Canada's largest city. Bill 103 was tabled by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Al Leach. "Today, Mr. Speaker," he said, "I am introducing legislation to eliminate Metro and its six member municipalities-Toronto, Etobicoke, East York, North York, Scarborough and York.... We will leave behind artificial boundaries that divide our region and are more of a hindrance than a help."

What the government ended up with was a region more divided than it could have expected. By February 15, 1997 the Citizens for a Local Democracy stage a march down Yonge Street that served two purposes: marking the 160th anniversary of the Rebellion of 1837, and protesting the amalgamation of Metropolitan Toronto. Many of those walking down Yonge Street participated in the Toronto Days of Action that took place in late-October 1996.

On March 3, hundreds of thousands voted in a referendum on the so-called megacity. Seventy-six percent against amalgamation. Premier Mike Harris, and his government, refused to recognize the referendum saying the vote was not just about Bill 103. Fourteen days later, Leach would introduce a handful of amendments, including the creation of community councils, like those in New York City. Jane Jacobs, the noted urban designer, spoke to a committee looking at Bill 103, and explained her experience sitting on those New York councils: "The system was a flop compared to the human-scale, elected local governments we are lucky enough to have."

During those same hearings, John Sewell, a former mayor of Toronto, addressed the members, and in doing so, reflected the feelings of many of the citizens of Metro Toronto. "They promise amalgamation but they deliver autocracy and dictatorship," he said. "Do not support their wicked schemes. They have no place in Ontario. Stand up for your own values, the values of democracy and the rule of law which so many other Ontario residents share."

Despite the efforts of the Citizen of Local Democracy, and the Opposition's filibuster—which table 13,000 amendments to Bill 103-Toronto will increase from a city of almost 600,000 to one of 2.3 million, on January 1, 1998. And with it will come the administrative problems associated with governing a population larger than six of Canada's provinces.