Spectator, Feb. 19, 03 Ian
Urquhart -- Torstar News Service
ago, then premier Mike Harris was beset by pressure to "do something"
about urban sprawl and the resulting gridlock in the Greater Toronto
Area. So he began talking about "smart growth," a phrase his speech
writers borrowed from Al Gore.
was pretty vague about what he meant, but the government began "consultations"
with "stakeholders" and held a smart growth "summit."
saw the whole exercise as a delaying tactic.
year ago, in one of his last acts as premier, Harris appointed a "smart
growth panel" for central Ontario, an area defined as stretching from
Trenton to Niagara Falls. He named Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion,
who has been dubbed "the queen of sprawl," as chair.
a chair and such a broad geographical mandate, the cynics again had
a field day.
with Harris long gone, something quite useful is about to emerge from
the whole exercise.
is set to release a pair of reports that could fundamentally alter the
direction of urban development in Ontario -- if the government accepts
report -- on "strategic directions" -- is to be released this week.
I am told it recommends that the province adopt policies that favour
"compact development" over sprawl and transit over highways.
even suggests that "boundaries" be drawn to fence off certain areas
from development, a concept that is anathema to the developers.
month's report -- on "implementation" -- could have even more impact
with its specific recommendations for government action.
is meeting this Friday and Saturday at the Seneca College campus in
King City to consider those recommendations.
say the following will be on the table for discussion:
a portion of the provincial gasoline tax to investment in transit.
form of GTA-wide governing body to co-ordinate and plan future development
of the region.
have the firm endorsement of McCallion herself, who has turned out to
be anything but the champion of sprawl that her critics portrayed.
It is far
from certain, however, that the recommendations will make it into the
report of the panel, which is composed of a hodge-podge of municipal
councillors, civic officials, developers and environmentalists, all
with competing interests. Thus, its recommendations could be watered
down to mush.
they emerge in sharp-edged form, the government will feel the jab.
the Conservative government has rejected the idea of a dedicated gasoline
tax. And while the Tories established the Greater Toronto Services Board,
an embryonic GTA government, they subsequently killed it after they
started the smart growth process.
of both ideas have found their way into the platforms of the opposition
Liberals and New Democrats.
an election looming, it would be difficult for the Tories to say no
to recommendations from their own panel.
all this from the sidelines are the developers, and they are becoming
Liberals last year called for curbs on sprawl, the Urban Development
Institute (UDI), a voice for the industry, angrily accused them of "political
UDI newsletter also reproduced an article in celebration of sprawl from
The Report, an Alberta-based, right-wing magazine.
described efforts to curb sprawl as a "soul-destroying scheme that would
transform us into automatons whose only purpose is to serve the state."
industry voice, the Greater Toronto Home Builders Association, has called
for "opening up new land for development" and "consumer choice between
roads and transit."
that development in the GTA is already higher in density than in comparable
not voices in the wilderness. The developers are major donors to the
Conservative party and have the government's ear.
could also line up against the smart growth panel, including: the Ministry
of Finance (which opposes dedicated taxes); the rest of the provincial
bureaucracy (which sees a GTA-wide government as a threat to its own
existence); and the regional governments (likewise).
the government is also feeling anti-sprawl and anti-gridlock pressure
from GTA voters, especially in the 905 belt around Toronto.
hold all but two of the 21 ridings in the belt (including Premier Ernie
Eves' own seat) and need to hold on to them to stay in office.
the smart growth panelists make tough-minded recommendations, they could
tilt the balance in favour of government action.
the very least, they could make urban sprawl an issue in the upcoming