Should Mississauga get special 'charter city' status?


On the heels of the Ontario government’s decision not to reform and change regional government and not granting Mississauga independence from Peel Region, city councillors this past week endorsed more measures designed to bring “freedom” to Canada’s sixth-largest city by the 2022 municipal elections.

During the Wednesday, Nov. 6 meeting, proposals were unveiled to call for a number of actions, from more opaque measures like reviewing the amount of influence Mississauga councillors have at regional council and examining other regional governments around Ontario, to more concrete measures like reviewing the costs to Mississauga for Peel police and regional roads within the city and reviewing the number of regional councillors. 

Mississauga contributes some 60 per cent to Peel's operating budget yet receives just about 50 per cent of the voting power around regional council. Based on representation by population, Caledon should only get one regional councillor; instead, it has five. 

But despite all those measures, there was one proposal brought forward that was more outside the box than just separating Mississauga from Peel and that was to make Mississauga a 'charter city'. A charter city would have a written agreement amending the Constitution to provide it with more autonomy and recognition so that it is not subject to provincial decisions on certain issues and can only be amended with the city's consent.

"If we can team up with Toronto and Ottawa and take our case to the federal government whether the charter cities option is viable, even if we're not successful I think our issues will be highlighted," said Coun. Carolyn Parrish, who brought forward the idea.

Several cities in the United States operate on charter statuses, such as New York and Chicago (more commonly referred to as 'home rule' cities). In Canada, cities such as Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Saint John have city charters, but these charters are provincial legislation that can be unilaterally revoked or amended by the province. 

During the reign of the previous Liberal government, they bestowed upon Toronto what was known as the City of Toronto Act in 2006, giving the city certain powers over taxation as well as the ability to draw its own ward boundaries, which the city did until Doug Ford came in and reduced the size of council from 47 to 25.

A new advocacy group called Charter City Toronto has launched with the intent of making Canada's largest city a charter city to more clearly define Toronto’s powers, with support from politicians such as Liberal MP and former Toronto councillor Adam Vaughan.

A paper from the University of Calgary examined whether this model offered a viable method of financing cities. 

But charter city status is used to recognize a municipality's 'special' place in the jurisdiction they reside. Toronto and Ottawa being capital cities have a more concrete argument than Mississauga in stating the case for becoming a charter city. Vancouver is a gateway to the Pacific region and they have had a charter of sorts dating back to the 1950s. Edmonton and Calgary and the only two major 'metropolitan' type of cities in Alberta ' and Winnipeg is the only city of its size in Manitoba.

Therefore the special status of this type for those cities might make sense. Mississauga may be the third-largest city in Ontario, but there are growing cities nearby like Brampton and Hamilton that could conceivably claim special status in the future. Even the Kitchener Waterloo-Cambridge triumvirate can make such a claim down the road.

Is Mississauga that special enough to warrant becoming a 'charter city'?

Cover photo courtesy of @idris.yyz

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