Toronto the good has the potential to be Toronto the Great. Our city needs a realistic plan for the next 10 to 25 years that will instill confidence in investors and hope for residents. It would provide a common vision that all former municipalities of the mega-city can embrace. Instead of reinventing the wheel, we can apply best practices from other cities to resolve current problems.
There are five areas for Toronto to focus on: economic development and tourism, a better fiscal plan, quality of life, transportation and infrastructure.
It is vital that the mayor and council show the business community that they are a priority. If the business tax in Toronto was immediately decreased to have parity with the tax in the 905, it would decrease the number of businesses leaving. To attract international investment, Toronto should be marketed as part of the GTA region. Measures should be taken to reduce red tape. The city needs to work closely with small business and create entrepreneurial opportunities, especially with newcomers. Our 905 neighbours are our first tourists and we should think before adding barriers such as road tolls or removing the Gardiner Expressway.
Contrary to what you read and hear from city hall about a shortage of money, the $8 billion operating budget should be adequate. It is a question of priorities and not trying to be all things to all people. Many services beyond the municipal mandate were added since amalgamation. This has grown the corporation, and 80 per cent of the funds are used for salaries and benefits.
Despite recent contract changes, employee morale is rampantly low. Better communication needs to begin between city employees and the administration. The employees should be asked the question: “How can we save money and deliver service in a better way?” When the workforce knows they are truly part of the corporation, morale will soar and savings and productivity will result.
More needs to be done with the downtown core. The visible homelessness on the streets tells visitors that the city is not working as it should. We need to develop a plan that successfully rehabilitates vulnerable people who are dependent on institutional assistance and guide them to independence. The province should accept responsibility for the mentally ill and addicted persons who are difficult to house. City housing residents should be encouraged to move up and out. A plan that keeps people busy and off the streets with life skills, counselling and job training using proven methods of other cities is the solution.
To accommodate future growth in the city, Toronto must invest in public transit. The focus cannot be solely on streetcars, and it is worth the investment to build subways, which would reduce competition at the surface. When a streetcar is disabled, the others cannot pass. We require seamless travel across the GTA. Public transit needs to be accessible to all parts of the amalgamated city.
The infrastructure backlog of road and bridge repairs needs to be financed through city funds and federal grants. The recent announcement of $190 million from the federal government is welcome news, but the city must manage construction on budget and on time. The 2015 Pan Am Games could bring $1.4 billion of government and private support for sports infrastructure.
Elected representatives should communicate with constituents and vote based on majority opinion in their wards. Public consultation seems token at the moment. Major decisions should require town hall meetings and an option to vote before it reaches city hall.
The city’s motto, "Diversity is our strength," focuses on our differences. The time has come to embrace what we all want to be in Toronto: "Together in unity."
Post City Magazines’ political columnist, Jane Pitfield, was a Toronto city councillor for eight years. She is now involved in several volunteer projects.