The fiasco of amalgamation becomes clear

The big problem is getting more comments directly from Rob Ford

By Mike Comstock –

I was fortunate enough to sit in on a panel of Sue-Ann Levy (Sun), Royson James (Star) and Marcus Gee (Globe), moderated by John Tory (CFRB). Fixated as I am on Toronto becoming great again, this panel of pundits was like candy. I enjoyed a Toronto focused authoritative and certified talk, made even more poignant by the presences of Councillor Doug Ford observing at front row centre. After a bit of review of the first 100 days with the new mayor, the panel generally agreed that for them the big problem was getting more comments directly from Rob Ford. Like comedians knocking on the door of a joke writer, the group just didn’t have enough material. Doug gave the impression things were going just as planned.

There is a definite schism between the three outlying community council areas and Downtown. The concerns arising within the old city and the new city are simply too different for it to be otherwise. And now15 years later we see why the collapsing of Metro government by amalgamation was not a good thing. Unfortunately we added to the problem when we made a stronger mayoral office rather than moving extra power to the community councils. The new city areas will be guiding administrative decisions for the older Downtown, which is a reversal of influences.

One person asked: “Speaking of assets the city should sell, the elephant in the room that nobody wants to speak about, is the Gardiner Expressway.” That question landed like a lead balloon. Each panelist knew Gardiner Expressway phrases: war on the car, toll roads, congestion fees, blockade to the waterfront, crowding on local roads, etc. Sue-Ann recalled that an environmental assessment has yet to report and was studying tearing part of it down. Royson would like it to come down, there by uniting the Star building to the Downtown core.

The city doesn’t have the money to rebuild it, improve it or even tear it down. New thinking by architects have found rebuilding it and its ramps as aesthetically pleasing from underneath—and separating it from an improved Lakeshore Blvd.—would be the least disruptive, least costly and provide better vehicular flow.

Everyone knows without saying that it will be a toll road eventually. Our Canada Pension Plan’s Investment Board saw fit to buy 10% of the 407-toll road this spring, for $895 million. Somebody would love to purchase the Gardiner, even if they had to replace it with a new model. This is “new thinking” but as a city we have no thought at all, it is the elephant in the room…etc.

The Toronto Association of BIAs has stumbled upon J.T Singh (www.jtsingh.com), a young social researcher with a unique insight and new ideas about tourism and neighbourhood development. They are having him study and report on some of our neighbourhoods. About Toronto he asks, “Which is the bigger brand Paris or France, is it London or England”? Why then is Toronto always marketed as part of the Ontario package, Toronto with vineyards and Niagara Falls and Mounties in red surge suits? He finds Toronto’s image of itself cloudy and its tourism marketing unfocused. He asks, “yes our true differentiation is multiculturalism but how do we make that something we can share?” Where can you take a tourist to enjoy that aspect of the city? We have to begin work on that. We don’t even have a visitor centre.

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