A New Deal for Toronto
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 11 May 2004, p. 394-405
Miller, His Worship Mayor David, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
A wave of optimism about cities. The opportunity to get a "new deal." The need for that new deal. The key pieces from Toronto's perspecdtive. Some comments about cities. Cities as the wealth of our nation. Consequences of inadequate investment in our cities, with examples. Some comparisons with the United States. The Strong Neighbourhoods Task Force. Assistance from the provincial and federal governments. A matter of mutual respect, and good government. Spending for impact. A couple of cautionary tales - when cities do not have a real seat at the table. An area where we absolutely have to do better in the future. Benefits ot having a seat at the table. Toronto's waterfront issues. Clarifying roles and commitments of various government bodies. Reviewing and improving the government model. The speaker's optimism for a new deal.
Date of Original
11 May 2004
Language of Item
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Full Text
A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto
His Worship Mayor David Miller Mayor, City of Toronto
Chairman: John C. Koopman
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests

Tim Reid, President, Strategic Investor Relations and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Magda Mostowy, Grade 12 Student, Parkdale Collegiate Institute; The Most Reverend Terence E. Finlay, Archbishop of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario, Archbishop of The Diocese of Toronto Anglican Church and Honorary Chaplain, The Empire Club of Canada: Alan Huycke, President, Alternavest Capital Corporation; Kristyn Wong-Tam, Associate Broker, Coldwell Banker Terrequity Realty and Member, Church-Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area; Dan Argiros, Managing Director, Conundrum Capital Corporation and President, ProAction, Cops and Kids: Margaret M. Samuel, Vice-President and Portfolio Manager, Alternum Capital, Co-Chair, Central Waterfront Neighbourhood Association and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; John A. Honderich, Past Publisher, The Toronto Star; Catherine R. Charlton, Member of Council, Ontario College of Nurses and Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; and Glen Gowland, District Vice-President, Toronto Centre District, Scotiabank.

Introduction by John Koopman

In 1834 "Dirty Little York" became the City of Toronto. "Dirty Little York" because that was how it was distinguished from the grander "Yorks" in England and the United States.

Even by standards of the day, Toronto was not much of a city. Pigs rummaged openly in still muddy streets, there were no sewers and no water system. Privies stood in every backyard.

Hopes for progress were high in 1834 when William Lyon Mackenzie was chosen as the new city's first mayor.

But sewer building did not proceed, city finances were chaotic and at an angry protest meeting over tax rates tragedy struck when an over-crowded balcony collapsed killing five. Things got worse when a cholera epidemic swept Toronto and by mid-August 1834, 25 people a day were dying in a city of 9,000.

A year later Mayor Mackenzie was voted out of office. Two years after that he returned leading a mob of armed radicals in an attempt to seize the ungrateful city. His rebellion failed and our first mayor was exiled.

It was an inauspicious beginning for a city. No infrastructure, no money, a tragic epidemic and an exiled mayor.

Over the years, many things about our city have changed but at least one theme remains consistent. Former Mayor David Crombie raised that theme when he addressed the Empire Club in 1974: "The city still labours along with a regressive property tax as our main source of revenue ... while the federal government has access to ever increasing sources of revenue while ... they have diminished responsibility ... in urban problems ...I predict that you will hear from the mayors of ... cities across the country on the problem of money."

While there are no longer pigs and privies in our streets, the financial challenges faced by Canada's cities generally, and Toronto in particular, persist.

Mayor Miller emigrated from England to Canada with his mother when he was eight years old. He has a degree in Economics from Harvard, where he graduated magna cum laude. He also has a law degree from the University of Toronto, although it would not be fair to hold that against him.

More importantly, across the city he is known as a gentlemen and a man of great personal integrity. He has a commitment to consensus building and transparency in government for which we should all be grateful.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming to the podium of the Empire Club of Canada the Mayor of Toronto, His Worship David Miller.

David Miller

Thank you for having me here today. It's an honour to address the Empire Club for the first time since I was elected mayor. It's hard to believe, but that was six months ago yesterday.

It is a very exciting time to be a mayor in this country. There is a palpable wave of optimism about cities, and the opportunity to get a "new deal."

I want to speak to you today about the need for that new deal, and to start to describe what the key pieces might look like from Toronto's perspective. But I also want to outline for you what the challenges are of governing a city like Toronto without the proper legislative and financial tools. I want to describe for you the strengths and weaknesses we juggle every day, as an economic centre and as a city government.

A hundred or more years ago, when the planners and builders who dreamed my city were doing their work, did they ever imagine that it would look as it does today?

Cities are hives of tremendous activity; they are buzzing, creative centres where immigrants come to prosper, where our souls are lifted by the arts, where new neighbourhoods grow. Every day, I am filled with pride to think that I am mayor of a great city.

Did those who drafted our first laws--making cities creatures of their provinces--know how we would evolve? Did they ever imagine that we would need to move several million people around this city every day, through a combination of public transit and cars, subway lines and roads? Did they ever imagine that Toronto would be home to such an intense, wonderful diversity of inhabitants?

Likely not. And while many of the tools they created serve us well, we have outgrown others. Just as the city does not look the same as it did when Toronto was born, neither does the country.

We are an urban nation today--a country where the bulk of the population lives in large urban centres. And we are continuously moving in that direction, not away from it.

I don't need to tell anyone in this room that cities are the wealth of our nation. You understand better than most the strategic value of cities to Canada, illustrated by looking at the distribution of GDP

Cities finance this country. As our large urban centres go, so goes the country.

The demands on cities are more complex than ever before, and yet our powers and our revenue sources have not evolved in a parallel way. We need the funding, the legislative tools, and the autonomy to be able to deal with the opportunities and challenges that come with that growth.

In my view, cities need the full powers of government, like those of a province. We need revenues from taxes that grow with the economy, because these are the only taxes that can support all of the responsibilities that modern cities have.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the absence of adequate investment in our cities--in everything from public transit, to affordable housing, to childcare, to infrastructure--is reaching a crisis point.

For the past few decades, the federal and provincial governments have steadily been withdrawing from, or reducing their commitment to, a number of policy fields that have a profound impact on Toronto.

Some examples:

The combination of lack of investment in social housing by the other orders of government and cuts in welfare rates correlate statistically with observable increases in homelessness. There's a direct impact on the demand for municipal services, from hostels to policing.

The complete withdrawal of the previous Ontario government from transit and urban transportation shifted responsibility to the municipal level.

Even where there has not been a formal transfer of responsibility to the municipal level, cities like Toronto, just by virtue of its size, are being drawn into responsibilities vacated by the federal and provincial governments.

This is not inherently problematic, but it is practically so if we do not have the powers and revenue sources we need to assume increased responsibilities.

Our only source of taxation is the property tax. We tax land. Good times or bad, the amount of land doesn't change. And in mature, almost fully built-out cities like Toronto, the ability to generate additional revenue is severely constrained.

Federal and provincial governments tax income and consumption, both of which increase during periods of economic growth. Another key difference: the federal and provincial governments can cut taxes without necessarily cutting spending. At the city level, tax cuts lead directly to service reductions.

And note the comparison to the U.S. There, the federal government is into urban transit and renewal. Compared to U.S. cities, Toronto is at about a $600-million-a-year disadvantage in improving its future economic competitiveness.

U.S. cities have access to a wider range of revenue sources than Toronto, including gasoline, sales and income taxes in some instances. As a result, they rely on property taxes for less than one-fifth of their revenue. By comparison, property tax accounts for almost half of Toronto's revenue.

Next week the provincial government will bring down its first budget. I am optimistic, and I have been encouraged by some of the moves that have already been made--like raising the minimum wage, and investing in Toronto's public transit system.

Yesterday, along with the federal government, the province and the city announced the Strong Neighbourhoods Task Force. This is an important initiative, as it will help develop long-term solutions for building strong neighbourhoods and preventing further decline.

But at the same time, I must remind the provincial government that real families and children live in our poorer neighbourhoods now. And they can't wait a year for a task force report. It is time for the province to take direct, new steps to help the low-income families and individuals in Toronto.

How can they do this? Well, they can start by passing through the federal childcare funding to keep open 1,100 childcare spaces in Toronto by raising the benefit levels of the Ontario Works program and by cost-sharing the Affordable Housing program. Maintaining and building strong neighbourhoods require social re-investment in our city by the other orders of government. The Ontario budget next Tuesday provides an opportunity for the new Liberal government to start that process.

In this year's Throne Speech, Paul Martin acknowledged that "the new deal means that city hall has a real seat at the table of national change." I, and mayors from hub cities across the country, were very encouraged by that. Allow me to lay out for you what a seat at the table might look like from my perspective.

In the broadest sense, it is about mutual respect, and it's about good government. It's also essentially free. It doesn't cost the senior orders of government a cent to bring cities to the table as full partners in areas where there is overlapping jurisdiction.

In order to manage resources wisely and govern effectively in the public interest, different levels of government must work together and talk to each other. Having a real seat at the table is a necessary precondition for doing this. This will provide public officials with the time, means, and opportunity to share information and resources.

In so doing, it will allow governments to develop policy and programs and budgets that meet the same priorities as those of the people of Toronto. Good planning and co-ordination, in turn, is what allows governments to "spend for impact."

In a moment I will give you an example of an area where it might easily be accomplished to great effect. But first, here are a couple of cautionary tales--examples of what happens when cities do not have a real seat at the table.

Recently we negotiated a billion-dollar, three-way funding agreement for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). Or rather, the provincial and federal governments announced that a billion dollars in transit funding would be coming Toronto's way, at a time when discussions about the agreement had only just begun. And it's worth noting that $350 million of that billion comes from the City of Toronto.

More problematic than a premature announcement was the process of negotiating those funds. They effectively arrived at an agreement, and then came to us with it. As city officials sat down to work out how that money would flow over five years, it became clear that the senior orders of government each had priorities for spending that made no sense from our perspective. Both the provincial and the federal government wanted us to spend money immediately on projects that are not only not priorities for the TTC, but they actually cost us at this point in time, as they don't address the critical state-of-good-repair issues that really are the priority for Toronto.

It's the city that runs the TTC. It's the city that lives and breathes by the state of the transit system. It's not an exaggeration to say that Toronto doesn't work when our transit system doesn't work.

But the other levels of government had identified priorities that made sense to them, each within their own silo, somewhat divorced from the on-the-ground reality of the transit system in our city. We had to elbow our way into the discussion and try to shift everyone's gears. Now, I will note that this process (lid get back on track, and while we haven't yet signed an agreement, we are on the way to working out a deal that will make sense for Toronto and for transit riders.

Ultimately the agreement will work, but it took much longer than necessary, and we risked jeopardizing substantial public investment, simply because the federal and provincial governments, in their rush to announce $700 million, did not think to involve the city as an equal partner.

Let me give you one more example of what the consequences are of not treating cities as equal partners. Last year, we as a government did not hear about the World Health Organization's issuance of a travel advisory related to SARS until it was far too late. This happened because the WHO only talked to Health Canada, and Health Canada in turn would not communicate with Toronto Public Health for fear, presumably, of intruding on provincial jurisdiction.

A seat at the table--a true relationship among equal partners--would provide a forum in which to exchange information and, more significantly, would help build a "culture of communication" between governments.

Now let me outline for you an area where we absolutely have to do better in the future. Toronto's reputation as a city that does a good job of welcoming and integrating immigrants is important to me as mayor, and it is in jeopardy. Not because governments don't spend enough money, although a little more in the right places would make a big difference. Not because we don't care about the success of newcomers. But because governments have failed to "talk to each other" and co-ordinate their policies and programs.

Consider this example. Some years ago, the federal government adopted a new immigration policy that significantly increased the number of highly skilled, well-educated immigrants entering Canada, yet little effort was made to ensure that these individuals would be able to access the labour market in their respective areas of expertise. Provincial regulatory and licensing bodies--for engineers, doctors, etc.--were simply not ready, willing, or able to accommodate the aspirations and needs of a significant influx of foreign-trained professionals.

If Toronto had been "at the table," we would have been in a position to share our staff's expertise and the expertise of Toronto's extensive network of community-based immigrant service providers with the federal and provincial governments. The disconnect between implementing a federal policy that opens the door to skilled immigrants without corresponding changes to provincial regulatory, licensing and credential assessment practice would have been detected and corrected earlier.

The national tragedy that sees thousands of skilled immigrants unable to find jobs in their area of expertise could have been avoided--or addressed far more quickly and effectively--if Toronto had had a seat at the table.

So, as the next step in achieving a new deal, I'll be looking to the Prime Minister and Premier, effective immediately, to include Toronto officials in major policy, program, and budget deliberations on issues that have a significant impact on the city. We can start with the areas of public transit, affordable housing, immigration and settlement, childcare, and infrastructure.

A seat at the table will have the benefit of making it more difficult for governments to point the finger at each other when things go wrong or fail to go right. Canadians can then more easily hold governments accountable and, in turn, help to close the democratic deficit that threatens confidence in public institutions.

Toronto's waterfront is another area where we absolutely must do better.

The Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation (TWRC) and the City of Toronto are moving forward with plans to improve the water's edge promenade. As you can appreciate, a project of this magnitude and complexity requires significant up-front planning. Precinct plans for East Bayfront, West Don Lands and Commissioners Park are nearing completion. These plans will be very detailed about public and private space, and about the height and relationship of buildings to one another. They will also set out transportation, servicing and environmental measures.

When the precinct plans are presented to Council later this year, they will form a comprehensive package that includes strategies for achieving important public objectives such as affordable housing, community facilities, transit, and parks.

But first, the roles and contributions of the three governments must be clarified and balanced.

The governance structure of the TWRC implies an equal partnership, yet the business strategy and project approach do not quite reflect equality. The TWRC is calling for each government to contribute 6500 million in cash, and all public lands free.

The City of Toronto owns 65 per cent of land in question, and will have operating responsibility for most of the new infrastructure and parks. Yet ultimately, tax revenues from a successful waterfront redevelopment will benefit the federal and provincial treasuries the most. The City of Toronto is already cash-strapped by dramatically fewer revenue streams available to us than are available to senior governments.

We also need to balance each government's need to maintain its policy and regulatory powers, while providing the waterfront corporation with the autonomy it requires to effectively manage the project.

From the city's perspective, clarifying the roles and commitments of various government bodies is critical to ensuring protection of the public interest. This is a challenge, to be sure, but we must address the overlapping jurisdictions of government agencies and departments in Toronto's waterfront.

In addition to the waterfront corporation, there are no fewer than 14 additional players, including the City of Toronto Development Corporation (TEDCO) at the city, the Ontario Realty Corporation provincially, and the Toronto Port Authority at the federal level. Each of the government partners must ensure that its agencies and departments are supporting and facilitating the waterfront corporation and its revitalization activities. For the TWRC to succeed, we should give them the tools they need to do the job.

We will also be able to review and improve the governance model. By introducing elected officials, including the mayor of Toronto, to the board of the waterfront corporation, we can provide each government with the direct link required to ensure timely realization of revitalization goals. This will ensure public accountability, and it will expedite the release of funds.

Friends, no one wants to see a new deal come together more than I do. I am optimistic. With the federal government facing an election and in need of urban support, and a premier in Ontario who seems to understand the importance of cities, I think we are on the way. We need to be. I want to see Toronto thrive; I want us to be able to offer a healthy economic climate, cosmopolitan splendour, and the familiarity and comfort of distinct neighbourhoods.

In cities we come together to pool resources, to share risk, to create critical mass, to reduce costs, to learn and share experiences and to define a new sense of identity of community. Every day I am buoyed by Torontonians' sense of civic pride and commitment. There's an energy in the streets that I have never seen before. The people I speak to are full of hope and excitement for their city.

And it is in cities--in Toronto--that I hope we are poised to make bold, new policy moves that will move the whole country forward. The people of Toronto deserve and demand that success.

Thank you.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Margaret M. Samuel, Vice-President and Portfolio Manager, Alternum Capital, Co-Chair, Central Waterfront Neighbourhood Association and Director, The Empire Club of Canada.

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A New Deal for Toronto

A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
A wave of optimism about cities. The opportunity to get a "new deal." The need for that new deal. The key pieces from Toronto's perspecdtive. Some comments about cities. Cities as the wealth of our nation. Consequences of inadequate investment in our cities, with examples. Some comparisons with the United States. The Strong Neighbourhoods Task Force. Assistance from the provincial and federal governments. A matter of mutual respect, and good government. Spending for impact. A couple of cautionary tales - when cities do not have a real seat at the table. An area where we absolutely have to do better in the future. Benefits ot having a seat at the table. Toronto's waterfront issues. Clarifying roles and commitments of various government bodies. Reviewing and improving the government model. The speaker's optimism for a new deal.