Dear fellow Torontonians:
I went to Montreal last weekend, one of the few times I’ve returned since graduating from McGill, and as I stood outside Mont Royal station with my bag, peering through the rain for the restaurant where my friends were waiting, I heard loud dance beats echoing against the boulangeries and bike shops. Immediately thereafter — they must have turned a corner and I didn’t notice — a crowd of boisterous Montrealers marched toward me. They came down the street, pots banging, their red felt squares prominently dividing me from them. The mood was festive and determined — placards calling for the end of the Charest era and the freezing of tuition fees left no doubt this was a protest — but whole families took part: small children, elderly couples, and mothers (some of whom identified themselves as “mères en colère“) mixed in with young people: students, I assumed. And while marchers blared their long, rainbow-coloured horns toward surrounding buildings, residents came out onto balconies to wave and cheer, including a small group of blue-robed nuns, who in turn were greeted with raucous whooping from the crowd.
And as I stood on the sidelines with my Toronto bus ticket still in my back pocket, I felt dejected, and wished we were so brave. What kind of city is ours that this scene would never play itself out here? Imagine King Street office workers heading up to Bloor and joining U of T students’ protests against raising tuition fees. Can’t do it? Me neither.
I immigrated to Canada at six years old, and as a child in grey suburban Toronto, always felt disconnected from the city’s political life. Like somehow people were engaged, and involved, somewhere I couldn’t see. But I wonder now if maybe the political community I had imagined doesn’t exist. I give Toronto the benefit of the doubt, but it is tough to stomach its political apathy. St. James Park never had more than a few hundred people for Occupy Toronto, and a few thousand joined in early day marches. The G20 protests, surrounding a homegrown event, had some 10,000 participants — less impressive in light of the damage, much of it done by mask-wearing young people, that shamed so many of us. Milder protests failed to draw the same keynote attention, and the legacy of that day is empty. Our recent half-hearted attempts at protests in solidarity with Montreal barely crawl into our newspapers, the nation’s largest. (more…)
In the wake of Pierre Trudeau’s landslide 1969 majority, several ambitious, activist policymakers began thinking about the relationship between Canada’s cities and the federal government. At the time, recounts Daniel Coates, then an advisor to Trudeau cabinet minister Robert Andras, a handful of influential federal bureaucrats had become increasingly preoccupied by urban growth, traffic, and housing. As they delved into the policy issues, they began to see that federal policy had a huge but largely uncoordinated impact on Canadian cities. “Nobody was thinking about it or talking about it,” Coates says. “But the dollar figures were stupendous. That was the compelling reason for [establishing] the Minister of State for Urban Affairs.”
With American cities facing dramatic upheavals, Coates recalls that his team began researching deeply, consulting prominent thinkers like Jay Forrester, a professor of computer engineering at MIT’s Sloan School of Management who had applied his work on dynamic systems to urban development. Inspired, Coates says his group started investigating the economic linkages between Canadian cities.
The bureaucrats pulled together an analysis and presented it to Trudeau’s cabinet. Their prediction: that Canada’s largest cities, especially Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, would soak up population growth, eventually becoming too large and too congested. Coates recalls showing the cabinet a map of Canada circa 2000, with “big red balls” indicating the population concentration in the large urban centres. The country, they predicted, would change dramatically. Time has proven them to be correct. (more…)