Blue Line


March 24, 2014  By Morley Lymburner

1843 words – MR

Economies of scale

The regionalization of Ontario policing

by Morley Lymburner


Ontario began creating 10 regional municipalities and police agencies in 1969. Only six remain in their original form:

• Peel Regional Police (1974)

Peel is the second largest police service in Ontario. It’s 2,000 officers police some 1.25 million people spread over three municipalities immediately west of Toronto, including the cities of Mississauga and Brampton. The 60,000 people living in the town of Caledon are policed by 108 Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officers. Although policed by two different agencies the region has only one police services board.

• Durham Regional Police Service (1974)

The Durham Regional Police Service has an established strength of some 900 officers who serve about 650,000 people living in an area bounded by Toronto to the west and Lake Ontario to the south. Durham Region encompasses the area formerly known as the County of Ontario and portions of Durham County. The police service was created from seven original city, town and township police departments. Due to the complexities, the new agency was given six years to completely take over the responsibilities across the vast expanse of the new region. The OPP delivered local services until full strength was achieved.

• Halton Regional Police Service (1974)

Halton’s 650 officers police just over half a million people. Halton Region was developed from the amalgamation of the former County of Halton with four townships, the cities of Oakville, Burlington and Milton and the town of Halton Hills.

• Waterloo Regional Police Service (1973)

Waterloo has a population of just over half a million people and is policed by 780 officers. This region was developed from the amalgamation of five cities, four towns and four townships in the former County of Waterloo. The new regional government oversees three cities and four townships.

• York Regional Police (1970)

This two-tiered municipal structure is policed by some 1,500 officers and has a population base of just over one million. This covers the policing needs for nine municipalities stretching from Toronto’s north border to the southern shores of Lake Simcoe. The creation of the York Regional Police in 1970 amalgamated 14 police forces.

• Niagara Regional Police Service (1971)

The Niagara Regional Police Force, as it was then known, was Ontario’s first regional police agency. It was established on January 1, 1971 with the creation of the Regional Municipality of Niagara. This two-tiered municipal system saw the amalgamation of 12 area police forces.

The service currently works out of six police facilities and covers 12 municipalities bordered by Hamilton to the west, Lake Ontario to the North, Lake Erie to the south and the Niagara River to the east. The service’s 704 officers police a population of just under half a million people.

{Altered states}

Three of the other four former regional police services have morphed into stand-alone agencies; the other one disbanded.

• Ottawa-Carleton Regional Police Service (1995)

This agency turned full circle with its expanding city and police responsibilities. It traces its history back to 1855 when the town of Bytown formally incorporated and hired its first chief constable. Over time, neighbouring municipalities also formed their own police forces, including Eastview in 1913 (which became Vanier police in 1963) and Gloucester-Nepean in 1957 (this service split into separate Nepean and Gloucester forces in 1964). As a precursor to future amalgamations, Ottawa Police absorbed Vanier Police on the last day of 1984.

The former Ottawa, Nepean and Gloucester police forces were amalgamated to form the Ottawa-Carleton Regional Police Service on Jan. 1 1995. The service area extended to those portions of Ottawa-Carleton that had previously been policed by the OPP. The service was given its current name in 2001 to reflect the amalgamation of Ottawa-Carleton’s constituent municipalities into the new City of Ottawa. It currently has 1,363 officers covering a population of just under one million.

• Hamilton-Wentworth Regional Police (1974)

The Hamilton Police Service currently has some 850 officers policing a population of 550,000. It was formerly known as the Hamilton-Wentworth Regional Police Force, which began in 1974 after the amalgamation of Wentworth County with the cities of Hamilton, Dundas, Stoney Creek, Ancaster, Flamborough and Glanbrook. The new force included the former Dundas, Stoney Creek, Saltfleet, Ancaster and Hamilton City police.

• Sudbury Regional Police (1973)

The now Greater Sudbury Police Service currently polices a population of 165,000 with 264 police officers. The OPP polices some portions of this geographically spread out population.

• Haldimand-Norfolk Regional Police (1974)

Haldimand-Norfolk was created through the merger of the townships of Delhi and Norfolk, the City of Nanticoke and the towns of Dunnville, Haldimand and Simcoe.

The regional municipality was created on the expectation of dramatic growth, which never realized due to changing government policies and other economic realities. It was situated to the north of Lake Erie and bounded by Niagara, Hamilton and Waterloo Regional Municipalities. At its peak the service had 80 officers policing a population base of 37,000.

Haldimand-Norfolk Regional Police was disbanded in 1998. In a close, contentious vote the regional council opted to go with the OPP.

{Local government growth}

For many years the basic structure of local government in Ontario was that provided by Robert Baldwin’s Municipal Corporations Act of 1849, which divided the southern part of the province into counties, cities, towns and villages.

The Ontario of the 1960s and 70s consisted of 49 cities, 146 towns, one borough, 119 villages and 477 townships, which all had powers of local taxation based on property valuation. There were also eight “improvement districts” and 70 “police villages” whose care was overseen by the province. Although these areas had local administration they were entities with no independent taxation powers.

Urban growth began to strain the traditional jurisdictions. Rather than let the cities expand indefinitely into the surrounding suburbs and countryside, the province looked to create super municipalities that could operate on a regional basis and encompass a variety of jurisdictions.

The first of these new “two-tiered” municipalities was Metropolitan Toronto, which began on January 1, 1954. It was a federation of Toronto and its suburbs, carved out of the southern half of York County, including the City of Toronto, the towns of New Toronto, Mimico, Weston and Leaside, villages of Long Branch, Swansea and Forest Hill and the townships of Etobicoke, York, North York, East York and Scarborough. Each had its own police service, which was amalgamated into the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force.

In 1998 the province decided to pass a regulation to amalgamate the six remaining municipalities under the Metro Toronto model into one city. More than two thirds of residents voted against the amalgamation but the province moved ahead regardless, citing considerable dysfunction and duplication of expenditures as the primary reason.

In the 1960s and 1970s “regional municipalities” on the model of Toronto were created, sometimes over the intense resentment of local citizenry.

Eventually there were 11 regional municipalities created, including one district (Regional District of Muskoka). They were governed by assemblies of locally elected politicians, with jurisdiction over such items as police, water supply and arterial roads. Many larger local cities that came under the regions were not abolished and enjoyed some extended limited powers.

{Regional study remnants}

Two key reports in the 1960s highlighted rapid urbanization and recommended the creation of regional governments.

The first was the 1965 report of the Select Committee on the Municipal Act and Related Acts, which found that Ontario’s rapid urbanization required larger municipal units.

The second was the report of the Ontario Committee on Taxation, which drew on the recommendations of the above committee and recommended a tiered system of regional government with varying service and policy responsibilities.

Shortly after the two reports were submitted, several individual regional studies assessed the viability of regional government in many of the province’s most rapidly urbanizing areas.

The result was the creation of ten regional governments and a permanent change in the way the province viewed urban areas in relation to their rural peripheries.

The Beckett Committee, named after its chairman, Hollis E. Beckett, submitted the first major report addressing the need for regional government in the 1960s. The Beckett Committee began its discussion on local and regional government by emphasizing that the character of separated cities and counties in the province had changed dramatically since the introduction of the 1849 Baldwin Act.

The combination of population growth and urbanization coupled with economic prosperity and futuristic thinking had created a need for greater forethought and a demand for community services never envisioned by the original authors of Baldwin’s municipal legislation. Not only had the cities developed a new vigour but population had spilled over into rural areas which were neither financially or politically equipped to deal with the resulting problems.

The report further notes that steady – and, in some areas, rapid – urbanization was changing the nature of certain communities. Rural areas slowly became more developed, earning the moniker “dormitory municipalities.”

As these problems intensified, local politicians struggled to find solutions since urbanization crept over several jurisdictions. The Beckett Committee recommended restructuring as the only alternative.

The committee suggested that larger municipal units would correct these problems and laid out seven benefits of increasing the size of local governments. In particular, it argued that larger municipal units would:

  1. Enable the provision of services which require large areas;

  2. Enable agreement on common policies and the co-ordination of activities;

  3. Eliminate the justification of some special purpose bodies which had been created to deal with problems extending beyond the limited area of local municipalities;

  4. Make it feasible to employ more highly qualified staff and staff with specialized qualifications;

  5. Provide a more fiscally sound municipal unit;

  6. Reduce competition for commercial and industrial assessment;

  7. Enlarge the tax base, thereby reducing inequalities in the burden of taxation.

To account for newly urbanizing areas, the committee saw a clear benefit in increasing the size of local governments, essentially arguing that the functional scope of each area needed to be increased.

With respect to the new responsibility provided to new upper-tier municipal units, the committee noted that individual studies should be conducted for each new region in order to determine which services would be best handled by the upper- or lower-tier. However, it did recommend that the new regional councils have the responsibility to:

• assess, tax, plan;

• maintain arterial roads;

• administer public health, hospitals, welfare and policing.

The report also suggested that regional councils assume responsibility for storm and sanitary trunk sewers, sewage treatment plants, trunk watermains, water purification plants, “regional type” parks and fire services. All upper tiered municipalities agreed to all regionalizations with the exception of fire services. In many locations municipalities could see themselves saving money using a mixture of volunteer and full-time fire fighters.

For further comprehensive study into regional municipal structuring, see a Western University paper (> by Zachary Spicer. It was published in 2013 and is the source for much of this article.

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