The mayors of York Region are at odds over whether to amalgamate their respective municipalities into one city.
Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti raised the idea on Wednesday morning, sharing a statement on Twitter calling on the Government of Ontario to "consolidate all the municipalities in York Region into one city."
The region, which lies just north of the City of Toronto, is comprised of nine municipal governments -- Markham, Aurora, East Gwillimbury, Georgina, King, Newmarket, Richmond Hill, Vaughan, Whitchurch-Stoufville -- and the Regional Municipality of York.
Scarpitti argued that consolidating the towns would result in "significant" savings in both operating and capital budgets. Currently, the municipalities' combined operating expenses are roughly $4.4B, he said.
The Mayor of Markham pointed to the successful merger of Enersource, Powerstream, Horizon, and Brampton Hydro One in 2017 to create Alectra Utilities, which saved $310M in operating expenses and $110M in capital, as a prime example.
As well, Scarpitti noted that the foundation for a single city already exists, with the municipalities in York Region already benefiting from shared school boards, hospitals, healthcare, transit, and emergency services.
"The provincial government has taken bold steps restricting the City of Toronto Council and Peel Region and should be doing the same in York Region. There is no rationale for taking bold steps in other GTA cities and keeping the status quo of York Region," Scarpitti wrote.
"I am urging the provincial government to create a new streamlined governance structure for York Region. Municipalities have evolved, they deal with more complex issues, are expected to deliver more, and we need an updated governance model from the one established over 50 years ago."
However, not all of Scarpitti's peers agreed with his plan.
In statements of their own, the Mayors of Aurora, King, Newmarket, Georgina, and Whitchurch-Stoufville expressed their strong opposition to the idea of amalgamation. When contacted by STOREYS, a spokesperson for the Mayor of Vaughan, Steven Del Duca, said he was unavailable to comment.
Meanwhile, John Taylor, the Mayor of Newmarket, noted that amalgamation would take years to execute and require the diversion of energy and resources that would be better focused on other priorities, such as homelessness and housing affordability. It would also not, as suggested, result in cost savings.
While the Mayors agreed that further efficiencies and savings are required in the region -- something they're meeting to discuss on June 15, Pellegrini revealed -- the officials asserted that York's greatest strength is the distinct identities, cultures, and priorities that exist within each municipality. Such a celebration of diversity would not exist should the towns be amalgamated into one city.
When the bill, dubbed the Hazel McCallion Act, was first announced in May, the government said it would name regional facilitators to assess whether upper-tier government "continues to be relevant" to the regions of Durham, Halton, Niagara, Simcoe, Waterloo, and York.
With the appointment of a facilitator coming soon, Scarpetti told STOREYS he felt it was important to articulate the options that are available to the region. York has been through such a process in the past, but was ultimately "left with the status quo."
"To have bold changes happen in Toronto and Peel, and have York potentially go through this exercise again and have nothing change? That's not an option," Scarpetti said.
"It's becoming increasingly challenging for municipalities to respond to the demands of the community, the demands of more senior government. Our resources are not infinite. And our issues are more complex than they were 50 years ago... Ultimately, we're going to see some kind of change."
It seems, though, that that change will not be the amalgamation of York Region.
During an unrelated press conference on Thursday morning, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his government wouldn't support Scarpetti's proposal without a consensus from the remaining mayors.
"We just aren’t in favour of it. This is up to all the mayors. It’s not up to one mayor to go out there and say, you want to build your empire," Ford told reporters.
"We listen to the people. We listen to all the mayors. So we aren’t doing it."