Toronto: A Vibrant Place To Live And Work

Thursday, July 1, 2004 - 01:00

Editor: Mayor Miller, would you give our readers something about your background and experience prior to becoming Mayor of Toronto?

Like many Torontonians, I am an immigrant. I came to Canada from England as a child, and I grew up in Ottawa. I was fortunate to attend the University of Toronto Law School, stayed on after graduation and, in time, became a partner at one of the city's law firms, Aird & Berliss LLP. A number of my clients there had cases against the municipality, and I became interested in how the City was administered. In 1994 I ran for the City Council and was elected to the first of three terms. I went on to be elected mayor last November.

Editor: During the election campaign last fall, you spoke out against the expansion of the Toronto Island Airport. For starters, would you provide our readers with some of the background on this issue?

Toronto has a wonderful opportunity today to revitalize a depressed waterfront area and turn it into an environmentally and residentially sustainable area with parks, people, businesses and a waterfront promenade. This represents a chance to put a new face on Toronto. During my election campaign the choice was pretty clear: to transform a derelict industrial neighborhood into a showcase for the entire city or to continue with the Toronto Island Airport project, which meant leaving the waterfront in its derelict condition. The voters recognized that the waterfront could be made into a place for people and could become a symbol of the city's belief in its economic future. Accordingly, immediately following my election I moved to stop construction of the bridge that would have transformed a small downtown airport into a very busy commercial facility in the heart of the city, and which would have left the waterfront in its present condition.

Editor: You've only been mayor for a few months now, but would you tell us about the principal challenges that you have faced over this period of time?

The first challenge concerned the city's budget. When I assumed office we faced a deficit of $344 million on a budget of $6.5 billion. I was able to bridge the gap with a modest tax increase, and I remain very pleased with the results.

The larger challenge has to do with the relationship between the city and the national and provincial governments. Toronto is Canada's sixth-largest government, and we believe that there is a need for a new arrangement - one entailing new authority and new resources - to enable us to govern our own affairs. We are in discussions with both Ontario and the federal government on a variety of funding issues, and I am pleased to say that we have made significant progress. This is absolutely crucial, since everything we wish to do - including investing in our neighborhoods, in public transportation and in the environment - requires proper funding. This is the number one item on my agenda, and I think it represents the possibility of a new deal for all of Canada's cities.

Editor: The quality of life in Toronto is celebrated across Canada and, indeed, the world. This did not just happen. Can you comment on how this has come about?

A very long time ago Torontonians realized that a city's life begins with its neighborhoods. That realization resulted in the election of City Councils that understood this principle and supported the development of a livable city. Public transportation became, and continues to be, one of the most important pillars of a city that is truly livable. Toronto's livability has served to attract a very diverse community. Over 50% of the people who live in Toronto were not born in Canada, and over 50% are from non-European backgrounds. There are over 100 languages spoken in Toronto. An astonishing variety of communities live together peacefully, celebrating their own cultures and respecting those of their neighbors. What has brought all of these people to Toronto? Many things contribute to our livability: hospitals and health care facilities and medical research institutions that are among the finest in the world, an educational system that is a model for all of Canada - the University of Toronto is a major component in the country's economic success - a vibrant business community and all of the job opportunities it generates, and a cultural diversity that welcomes people from all over the world. Public investment underlies much of this, of course, so you are correct in saying that it did not just happen. A great deal of forethought has gone into the making of Toronto, and we have been blessed with visionary leadership over a very long period of time.

Editor: Can you tell us about access to the arts in Toronto?

We are very proud of our arts community, and we have our own versions of Broadway and Off Broadway. We have large-scale performances, and we have great theatre in a multitude of smaller venues. The arts scene in Toronto also reflects the cultural diversity of the city, and we offer performers and performances from just about every culture in the world. I believe the city is undergoing something of a cultural renaissance today. We are building a new opera house. The Ontario College of Art and Design has a wonderful new facility, and the Royal Ontario Museum is in the middle of an extensive renovation. In the year 2006, we are going to focus attention on the arts in Toronto with a celebration along the lines of Europe's arts city of the year program.

Editor: Would you tell us something about Toronto as an investment destination and as a place to do business?

It is our belief that companies invest and choose to do business in places where the available workforce aligns with their needs. Are there enough skilled people? Is the labor market large enough to enable the company to access the human resources it requires at a reasonable cost? And, of course, is the city livable? On all of these questions Toronto responds with a resounding affirmative. We enjoy a more diverse economy than any other city in North America, and that includes New York and Chicago. In sixteen major industry clusters, we are among the top five cities, and we have particular strengths in communications technology, information technology and financial services. The real strength of Toronto's economy is its diversity, which ranges from industrial production to biotechnology and bio-medical research and development, information technology and the like. As a result of strong public investment and strong public institutions, we have a highly educated and motivated workforce and, at the same time, a very diverse workforce, one with connections to every economy in the world. We offer a business intelligence network that is second to none in North America, and possibly the world. On top of everything else, Toronto is a low-cost business center, which translates into "excellence for less."

Editor: In the age of globalization, the ability to compete is essential. Would you tell us what it is that gives Toronto its competitive edge?

Attaining, and then maintaining, a competitive edge is a very real challenge and something that requires an ongoing strategy. I mentioned communications technology as one of our strengths. Canada is a country with 30 million people, and they are spread across an area that is larger than the United States. It is no surprise, then, that we know something about communications technology. And because Toronto is the center of Canada's banking and financial services industry - it hosts the head offices of the country's five major banks - and of its high tech industry, these things come together to provide a foundation for a very sophisticated communications technology industry. Investment in that area is both ongoing and very extensive. That is what enables us to maintain the competitive edge, and this is just one sector of our economy.

The livability of Toronto is also something that contributes to its competitive edge. A vibrant waterfront neighborhood, for example, makes a city more desirable to people looking for a new site for their company. The Toronto waterfront project represents the kind of investment that helps to ensure that a highly educated workforce stays in Toronto and that, in turn, ensures that we remain competitive from the standpoint of cost. Our strategy is complicated and consists of many different threads. We work hard at seeing that they intertwine.

Editor: Would you tell us about the city's investment in the environment?

There are a number of aspects to our investment in the environment. We are committed to preserving and, if we can, expanding our great parks and open spaces. All cities need places where people can forget they are in the midst of a great population center. Our waterfront project is an attempt to transform a blighted industrial landscape into something that enhances the quality of life in the city. Cleaning up this site is something that is long overdue. In addition, we have a great interest as a community in preventing global warming, and this extends to both public and private sectors. Toronto set an example for the world by creating the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, an organization which uses its endowment income to invest in projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time the city is in the process of renovating its public housing facilities to reduce emissions. We are well aware of the fact that clean air and clean water contribute to a city's livability and that livability contributes to its competitiveness.

Editor: At some point in the future you will be handing over your mantle as mayor to someone else. When that happens, what do you wish to have accomplished during your tenure?

I would hope to have contributed to a strengthening of Toronto's economy and to the city taking its rightful place as one of the leading cities in North America. I would also hope to have revived the city's public transportation system, which, I believe, is such a very important part of the quality of life in any city. Needless to say, I would wish to be remembered as the mayor who brought about the renewal of the city's waterfront. Most of all, I would like to be remembered as a mayor who kept his word, who worked to keep the city clean, safe and a good place to live and work, a mayor who celebrated the city's diversity and worked to make it achieve its marvelous potential for everyone.