Beach Books

Governing Toronto: Bringing back the city that worked Governing Toronto
By Alan Redway
FriesenPress, 312 pages
Reviewed by Andrew Hudson

Alan Redway, a former mayor of East York and councillor for the now defunct Metro Toronto, had a front-row seat to the mega amalgamation fight that gripped Toronto politics in the late 1990s.

After serving as a PC MP in Brian Mulroney’s cabinet, Redway returned to politics to chair the East York group that opposed the 1997 merger of East York, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, York and old Toronto into one “megacity,” Toronto.

In Governing Toronto, Redway not only reprises the behind-the-scenes of that particular battle. He also traces the history, going back to 1834, of Toronto’s many annexation debates, and details the rise and fall of what he believes was a Golden Age of local government in Ontario’s capital — Metropolitan Toronto, a regional level of city government that was “admired around the world.”

Governing Toronto is a book for the policy wonk’s shelf. Although based on historical research and interviews with such movers and shakers as former premier Mike Harris, who brought in the megacity, the book reads like a passionate, sometimes quixotic essay.

Anyone who feels it’s still an open question whether amalgamation helped or hindered things like regional transit planning, local school boards, or the city’s bottom line will probably join Redway in calling for the merger to at least be formally reviewed the way previous governments double-checked the various phases of Metro’s development.

Redway refers to reports that suggest amalgamation did not deliver its promised savings, and pitches his review appeal directly to Premier Kathleen Wynne, who once chaired the Citizens for Local Democracy group that campaigned against the megacity for shrinking the average citizen’s access to local representatives and decision-making.

At the same time, he points out the opposition by such conservative leaders as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher to such government-growing initiatives.

Redway ends the book with a look at Montreal, where several boroughs were allowed to de-amalgamate, and suggests a similar path for Toronto.

As envisioned by former Premier Leslie Frost and Ontario Municipal Board chairman Lorne Coming, Redway argues the Metro regional government is what made Toronto “the city that works.”

“We weren’t satisfied with a good thing in its original form. We wanted change,” he writes, before quoting something a wise man once said: “In the end we get the government we deserve.”

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