This Tuesday was a big day for the Peel and Halton regions as it marked the first ever conference held for improving conditions in the Western GTA. The 7-hour long conference tackled issues such as commute times, urban sprawl, and income security. In attendance were the mayors of Mississauga, Brampton, Caledon, Oakville, Burlington, Milton, Halton Hills, and Barrie. That last one was a bit of an anomaly as Barrie isn’t part of the Western GTA. During her speech, Hazel McCallion didn’t feel like Hamilton should be either.
But this brings us to the issues. As suburbs sprawl outwards from Toronto, places traditionally outside of the GTA, like Hamilton and Barrie, are being consumed by the endless expansion. Alongside the expansion comes the traffic crisis that the municipalities in the Western GTA (as well as other parts) face today. Topics of discussion for how to move in the GTA included Metrolinx’s $50-billion Big Move plan (link). The goal of the discussion was to agree upon how to acquire the necessary revenue to execute it. And to this, all participants somewhat disagreed.
Property taxes were off the table. As were increasing fares. Expressway tolls and fuel taxes seemed to be the most favoured idea. Cherise Burda, of the Pembina Institute (link), indicated that while there is initial resistance to these mechanisms, communities start favouring these revenue tools after they see the positive results taking place in the transportation system.
In tackling sprawl, there was much discussion and debate on how to manage the growth of municipalities in the Western GTA. In managing how we live in the GTA, the province of Ontario set density targets in the Places to Grow plan (link). It is over this discussion that the municipalities in Peel face different circumstances.
Mississauga is a city that has already grown “out” and is in the process of growing “up” with the Hurontario corridor targeted for upward expansion. Mayor Hazel McCallion’s priorities are to improve transit options throughout the city. Brampton still has some room to grow “out” although the city has already seen some exponential growth over the last few years. Mayor Susan Fennell has also outlined support for higher density development in Brampton, with transit being a priority. Brampton’s latest Zum BRT speaks to that.
The difference truly lies in Caledon, Peel’s rural community. While places like Bolton are more developed, the bulk of the town is primarily rural and Mayor Marolyn Morrison doesn’t show any intention of Caledon to sprawl out the way its neighbours to the south have. But Caledon, too, is targeted by the province to face exponential growth. And Mayor Morrison has devised a strategy to handle it.
To prevent Caledon from facing the traffic nightmares that wrought Brampton, Caledon’s growth can develop side-by-side with transit options. Mayor Morrison has also been a proponent of active transportation, such as biking and (if weather permits) skiing. This would involve the development of mixed use neighbourhoods rather than just single-family homes as far as the eye can see.
A third topic was how to thrive in the GTA. This discussion moved away from transit and focused on poverty, housing, education, and food and income security. Speakers represented various not-for-profits in Peel. Issues to tackle included access to income for seniors (as 40% of single seniors in Peel live below the poverty line), new immigrants, and youth. Philip Manzano, founder of Good Movement (link), expressed a passion for connecting unemployed and under-employed youth to job opportunities. If more of Peel’s youth could make a living wage, they could reinvest their earnings into the local economy as well as pay into a system that supports our seniors.
Finally, after 7 hours, characterized by both progressive discussions and partisan attacks on behalf of MPPs, the conference came to a close. Not a single break was allotted during this time, probably leading to many hungry guests leaving before the conference was complete. But at the end, the night was filled with food and fun for the survivors. The conference culminated at Fionn MacCool’s at Britannia and Mavis with the celebration of Mayor Susan Fennell’s 60th Birthday. As the Mayor looked back on her 60 years of life (Mayor McCallion having a tad bit more), Peel and Halton also looked forward to ensure that the 60 years ahead will be marked with sustainable growth.