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Amalgamate Markham, Richmond Hill and Vaughan into one city: councillor
Nov. 7, 2016
By Lisa Queen

Markham, Richmond Hill and Vaughan and even parts of Whitchurch-Stouffville and King should be amalgamated into one city.

That’s a pitch being put forward by Markham Regional Councillor Jim Jones, who is asking city council later this month to consider the idea of setting up a meeting of councillors to debate the idea and to conduct a feasibility study.

“I want to open the discussion,” said Jones, who said an amalgamation could first kick off with merging services such as fire protection before leading to a political merger.

“The first thing is let’s have the meeting to see if there is an opportunity. It might not go anyplace. There could be parochialism, turf, people (who) don’t want to change because they don’t want to upset their own homeostasis. I’m just saying if we are in this for more than just our job, that we’re in there for the long term for the benefit of our municipality and our taxpayers, then we have to look at these merits.”

Markham, Richmond Hill and Vaughan are already home to three quarters of York Region’s population and are growing closer together as the region increases by another 700,000 residents by 2041, Jones said.

One city would mean one fire department, one recreation department, one planning department among other services, he said.

“We have to be more efficient and more effective,” said Jones, who is introducing the idea as part of a region-wide discussion now taking place on governance issues such as directly electing councillors to regional council and boosting the ranks of regional council to give municipalities at least two representatives.

“We’re duplicating a lot of services. I’m saying let’s look at the opportunities. Instead of growing more politicians.”

One city would also have more clout politically, Jones said.

“I think Toronto would have a lot more respect if they are facing a community on the north, a city that is (a population of) one million versus 300,000 (residents in Markham), 300,000 (residents in Vaughan) and 220,000 (residents in Richmond Hill). (It would no longer be) divide and conquer,” he said.

In addition to amalgamating the three southern municipalities, Jones suggested basing the new city on Oak Ridges Moraine watershed planning, which would mean parts of Whitchurch-Stouffville and King could be folded into the new city.

“I’ve had members of Stouffville council say one day they expect to be part of Markham,” he said, although he wouldn’t identify who.

Jones said he hasn’t given much thought to the future of the regional level of government, which provides a wide variety of services such as policing, public transportation, regional roads and public health, but said he’s inclined to preserve it.

Although Markham Regional Councillor Nirmala Armstrong has seconded Jones’ notice of motion, at least one other member of his council is opposed to the idea of amalgamation.

“I’m not in favour of it. I think these are extraneous to the work we have to do (such as) obviously, working on better transportation and all sorts of major issues. How we organize ourselves is, in my view, something that is far less important than getting on with the job,” Deputy Mayor Jack Heath said.

“I think the structure we have works. I always explain that the big items are at the region and local items that are closer to the population are at the lower-tier municipalities and I think it works. There are things you want to improve here or there but I don’t think you want to throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Regional chair Wayne Emmerson said he had no comment on Jones’ idea at this time.

Former Markham regional councillor Fred Cox remembers seemingly endless debates about governance in York Region about the time Toronto’s six municipalities amalgamated into one city in 1998.

He advocated for the region to be turned into one city as a way of streamlining services and saving taxpayers money before talk of municipal restructuring eventually fizzled out.

“It goes back to what I was saying 20 years ago. There is just too much government for what we really need. I think we proved 20 years ago the millions of dollars we could save,” he said during a phone interview from Florida.

“My speech was instead of nine city halls, you have one city hall. Instead of nine planning commissioners, you have one planning commissioner. You have one legal counsel as opposed nine. From an economic point of view, it absolutely crazy, the region should have one economic development department as opposed to now, there is about nine economic development departments. Now, Markham goes to China. The next week, Vaughan goes to China, the next week Richmond Hill. That’s very expensive.”

Cox isn’t hopeful York politicians will be any less parochial about cutting government today than they were years ago.