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Toronto needs to be thinking bigger, not smaller

At a time when leaders at city hall are talking about cutting social programs, arts funding and environmental initiatives to save money, a comprehensive report prepared by a coalition of Toronto region’s leading minds is calling for the opposite.

The GTA should develop a “regional strategy to reduce and divert commercial waste,” expand conservation programs and improve storm water and flood risk management, according to a report by the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance, formerly the Toronto City Summit Alliance.

Among the other recommendations in the report, released this morning and entitled “Breaking Boundaries: Time to Think and Act Like a Region,” governments must: work better to attract and settle immigrants; do more to help those living in poverty find work; invest in community revitalization; and help entrepreneurs get the help they need.

Many of the recommendations come in stark contrast to the cost-cutting scenarios being debated at city hall over the past two weeks as part of the core service review debate.

Recommendations included in the KPMG review include: scaling back recycling, which is more expensive; reducing community grants; and ending programs to assist entrepreneurs. Last week, councilor Giorgio Mammoliti — Mayor Rob Ford’s ‘quarterback’ — suggested Toronto stop funding all immigrant and refugee settlement programs.

But John Tory, who chairs the CivicAction board, said his group’s findings are not totally at odds with the desire for cutting costs. A lot of the report talks about better coordination with other levels of government and stakeholders to manage issues with more efficiency, rather than have five different groups doing the same thing.

“I think what’s taken over at city hall is political theatre. It appears there are only two choices: do away with funding or keep it exactly the same. And I think that’s false — there’s a middle ground,” said Tory. “Politics and the political process sometimes make it very difficult to have those discussions, and I say that regretfully. It shouldn’t be a choice between no arts funding and leaving it the exact same.”

This is especially true concerning housing, jobs and poverty strategies, he said, but it’s also relevant from an economic development side.

For example, one of the report’s key recommendations is to develop a regional business brand. That way, one entity could travel abroad to promote Toronto, Pickering, Markham, etc., which would be more effective and it would save money, said Tory.

The CivicAction report was put together after a year of consultations and feedback from a February summit, where 1,000 business, political, academic and community leaders spent two days brainstorming about issues impacting the Toronto region.

The final report highlights 10 areas: the Economy; Jobs and Income; Transportation; Immigration; Diversity; Environment; Housing; Neighbourhoods; Arts and Culture; and the Pan Am Games. Tory said CivicAction will be focusing its efforts on the first four, working to bring municipal leaders together and injecting politically unpopular but practical solutions — like road tolls or parking surcharges to pay for transit expansion — to the challenges.

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