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Toronto the could; Why the city falls way short of its potential What our next mayor, Liberals can do to fix it
[ONT Edition]
Toronto Star - Toronto, Ont.
Author: Monsebraaten, Laurie
Date: Nov 6, 2003
Start Page: G.20
Abstract (Document Summary)

As Toronto goes, so goes the region, the province, and some would say, the country.</P><P>Many say it needs city-state status with new powers and revenues to compete on the national and international stage.</P><P>They fret that if Toronto continues to be a national punching bag - the place everyone loves to hate - the city and the region will become an international backwater.</P><P>But with a new government at Queen's Park promising to treat Toronto and all urban regions differently, a future prime minister with cities on his radar and a new mayor waiting in the wings, there is cautious optimism among local residents.</P><P>In the regions surrounding Toronto, where voters last month gave their former Tory MPPs a failing grade on the urban file, that optimism and thirst for change may translate into upsets at the local level.</P><P>It's clear the tide is turning. But where are we going?</P><P>Toronto has been a rudderless ship for the past eight years, tossed on a sea of red ink, dodging the provincial thunderbolts of amalgamation and downloading.</P><P>An exasperated Mayor Mel Lastman - frustrated at the lack of cash and political clout at his disposal - threatened mutiny in 1999 by suggesting the city should secede from Ontario.</ P><P>While nobody took Lastman seriously, his musings tapped into a growing sentiment in cities across Canada for a "new deal" from senior governments.</P><P>The national debate on the city-state was born.</P><P>Winnipeg Mayor Glen Murray says provincial governments are becoming increasingly irrelevant.</P><P>Looking around the world, the most powerful cities - Paris, London, Frankfurt - aren't under the thumb of state or provincial governments. They run their own shows.</P><P>"The provinces are the least important level of government in Canada now," Murray said during a recent trip to Toronto. "They have too much power.</P><P>"We're living in an age of city-states. But Canada is two centuries behind the rest of the world in understanding the importance of cities," he added.</ P><P>Toronto, with 2.4 million people, has less power than Nunavut and Prince Edward Island, he notes. This is not only ridiculous, it's dangerous for the health of the country at a time when wealth creation and the global economy are based in cities, he says.</ P><P>Cities - largely reliant on stagnant property taxes - need access to growing revenue sources such as the income tax, and consumption taxes such as the GST, the PST and the gas tax, Murray says. And they need the power to spend that money for the good of their residents without having to ask the province for permission.</ P><P>But in the boardroom of a 1950s heritage building on the edge of Toronto's Rosedale ravine, respected urban planner Tony Coombes contemplates a different view.</P><P>"We don't need a new deal for the city," he says. "We need a new deal for the region."</ P><P>Coombes, executive director of the privately funded and non- partisan Neptis Foundation, has been overseeing a series of studies for the provincial government on urban issues affecting the Toronto region, including growth, transportation, social services and employment.</P><P>The research points to a high level of interconnectedness between Toronto and the surrounding regions and a shocking lack of co-ordination.</P><P>"Toronto's problems are larger than the municipality itself. Transit, housing and infrastructure are problems right across the region," he says. </P><P>A coherent vision for the region can't be articulated by a city-state, Coombes says. He dismisses the idea of creating a new regional government, based on the old Metro model, arguing that it would be too unwieldy.

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