Merger reviews mixed
November 1, 2000
Megacity's first three years win converts
By Karen Palmer
Toronto Star City Hall Bureau
What a difference three years make.
Toronto Star Poll
Voters, once among the hordes at anti-amalgamation demonstrations, have turned the page on the much-hated merger, a recent Toronto Star poll conducted by Ekos Research has found.
Only 26 per cent of people across Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area still feel they were better off before the provincially ordered wedding of six municipalities.
Some 37 per cent prefer the amalgamated Toronto over the two-tiered system, the poll found. Another 29 per cent of the 1,018 respondents contacted by phone Oct. 10-12 across Toronto and the GTA still haven't made up their minds.
Results from a sample this size are considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Harken back to March 3, 1997, when legions of people from across Toronto, North York, Etobicoke, Scarborough, York and East York lined up to turn down the idea of a megacity. There were unruly public meetings and marches down Yonge St. in which demonstrators shouted their defiance. All were united in their desire not to be united, and to prove it they voted 85 per cent against the idea.
But it was all for naught.
Mike Harris's Progressive Conservative government went ahead with amalgamation and although the city fumed, it swallowed downloading costs and a mandate to become the sole provider for welfare and public transit.
Fast-forward three years and it would seem the evils of amalgamation got lost on their way to the council chamber.
The merger appears to be viewed as more successful in the 905 areas, where 41 per cent of people see a seamless Toronto as superior to the old, separate municipalities. Nineteen per cent disagreed with that.
Councillor Jack Layton (Don River), an amalgamation foe who still sees more negatives than positives to the megacity, conceded the merger allowed some of the best programs and practices, such as Healthy Babies and breakfast programs, to be spread around the city.
``Some things we used to do in old city, we were able to ramp up and have available across the City of Toronto,'' he said.
However, 31 per cent of people in the new Toronto are pining for the old days, when Toronto meant Toronto and Etobicoke meant Etobicoke.
East York Councillor Michael Prue, a vehement megacity opponent, says the worst of amalgamation is yet to come.
``I have told people it will take us about 10 years to get back to as good as it was,'' the former East York mayor said.
Electioneering in his ward has shown him that people are disappointed with litter on the streets and the poor maintenance of local parks, he said.
The next three years will bring some incredible amalgamation-related headaches for the city.
It'll have to harmonize wages for unionized employees, pay out hundreds of millions for public transit, plus begin paying back debts totalling more than $200 million.
All told, expenses could jump by $140 million to $180 million annually.
The jury's still out on whether creating a megacity hurt or helped recreational facilities.
While 24 per cent of people claim amalgamation had a negative effect on access to after-school or after-work fun, 28 per cent said it had a positive effect.
But for the most part, voters report they have as much access to their councils as pre-amalgamation days.
Megacity didn't turn out so bad [James]