IMFG Paper | 2016

Financing the Golden Age: Municipal Finance in Toronto, 1950 to 1975

Toronto is known for having been a prosperous and successful city in the decades after the Second World War, and the postwar period has come to be seen as something of a Golden Age for the city. While acknowledging the problems inherent in this sort of characterization, this study seeks to uncover what role Toronto’s postwar municipal finances played in making the city the success that it was. It presents the historical context, briefly explaining the formation of Metropolitan Toronto and the emergence of Ontario’s welfare state. The main body of the study analyses the annual reports of both Toronto’s and Metropolitan Toronto’s Commissioners of Finance, and highlights trends and features: the shift from hard to soft services, the impact of the welfare state, increases in provincial funding, and the importance of debt financing. The author shows that although Toronto, as an overall urban system, was fiscally healthy in this Golden Age, several of the circumstances that made it so were beginning to unravel by the mid- 1970s. The study concludes by suggesting what this history might teach us about Toronto’s municipal finances today.

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