A charter flight to … where?

Toronto city charter event

Canada’s largest city is having an important debate about local autonomy. As one of North America’s largest and fastest growing cities, many argue that Toronto needs more money, more legal authority, and more discretion to respond to a multitude of pressures and crises. One solution, proposed by Charter City Toronto, is to enact a constitutionally protected “city charter”—a permissive legal foundation for the city that would also limit the ability of other levels of government to restrict its activities.

On November 28, 2019, I was pleased to join Kristin Good, Bruce Ryder, and Patricia Wood in a panel discussion on the topic moderated by Enid Slack and hosted by the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance and the Urban Land Institute Toronto.

While I am sympathetic to the idea of a more empowered and capable City of Toronto, I worry about the impacts on metropolitan governance and equity. In my remarks, a version which were published on-line in Spacing magazine, I drew on the American experience to caution against constitutional “home rule” as a charter flight to a better future. In fact, home rule in the United States has been an engine of inequality, promoted intermunicipal conflict within metropolitan areas, and enabled state governments to abdicate their responsibilities in urban and metropolitan affairs.