Canada Next: John Tory on the future of Canadian cities and the role of U of T
“The better the city is, the better U of T is, and vice versa.”
When Toronto Mayor John Tory meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in December he will be heartened by indications from the PM that he is “friendly to cities.”
Tory, a U of T alumnus (Trinity College, 1975), told U of T News that he discussed the role of cities in telephone conversations with Trudeau during the recent election campaign. If the new government keeps its commitments, he said, Canadians will be "better off when it comes to investment in transit, housing and other infrastructure projects in cities.”
Tory said he is heartened by the Liberals' stated willingness to run a deficit. “Often in the past, parties make commitments, but when they get into government say, ‘things are much worse than we thought, and the money just isn’t there.’ In this case, they fully acknowledge the price to be paid for the expansion of transit and infrastructure.”
The mayor noted that Trudeau’s funding commitment extends to public housing.
“There is no daylight between us as mayors, at least big-city mayors, that the two issues that require the most assistance from other levels of government on an urgent basis are transit and housing.”
Another encouraging sign from the new federal government is Trudeau’s commitment to “having the cities at the table with him to discuss our issues, something that hasn’t been done often. And he has committed to an annual conference with big-city mayors, something that has never been done.”
To further emphasize the point, Tory pointed to the letters of mandate Trudeau sent to all members of his cabinet. “In almost every case he sees a significant role for cities, either in investments or cities giving advice to the federal government. That is a change for the better.”
Tory is working closely with the U of T on several fronts. City Council agreed earlier this year to ask Professor Eric Miller, the research director of U of T’s Transportation Research Institute, to do a study on TTC ridership, which is due in January.
The Mowat Centre, an independent think tank located at the School of Public Policy & Governance at U of T, released two reports recently on “community benefit agreements” (CBAs) and anchor institutions, of which U of T is one. Both rely on public-private partnerships (P3s) for major projects.
On Nov. 14 Tory suggested that such P3s would be useful to keep projects on time and on budget. He pointed to the Eglinton Crosstown LRT now under construction.
The Mowat Centre also referred to the LRT as an unofficial CBA. Asked whether such agreements are the way of the future, Tory said yes. "Look at the revitalization of Regent Park where there were community benefits agreements entered into where developers and the community, and other partners worked together to create jobs.
“And something really positive: When the project came to an end, there were fully trained skills trades people who then worked in other projects in the city. They found a permanent calling.” CBAs, he said, will be a major part of the newly announced revitalization of Lawrence Heights.
“The notion that (CBAs) should extend to public transit should come as no surprise. They provide plenty of opportunities for the transfer of skills to people looking for employment, local people. This is going to be a feature of that type of project.”
Tory has talked to U of T President Meric Gertler about the president’s commitment to becoming a partner with the City of Toronto.
“He made it very clear to us,” Tory said “that U of T employs hundreds of experts, hundreds even in the area of urban affairs that take in environmental matters, transit matters and anti-poverty matters, and will make them available to us because that is part of the contribution he wants to make to having a better city. It is quite sensible – the better the city is, the better U of T is, and vice-versa.”
Tory studied political science at U of T and fondly remembers the great professors he learned from – Robert Bothwell, Paul Fox and Michael Marrus among them. Tory listened to lectures from Marrus 35 years ago and was so moved that he has attended events recently to hear him speak again, including a Holocaust Remembrance service.
“That is one of the great things about going to a great university – you get the best teachers. I am sure there is the same level of excellence there today.” After graduating in 1975, Tory obtained his law degree at Osgoode in 1978. He sat on U of T’s governing council from 1995 until 2001.
As mayor, Tory has travelled to London and Texas to promote Toronto. “One of the biggest selling points is the critical mass and excellence of the post-secondary institutions in Toronto.
“U of T is in the top 20 in the world and that is a huge selling point in terms of attracting not only investment but attracting the best and brightest to Toronto.”