04/03/2014 01:03 EDT | Updated 06/03/2014 05:59 EDT

Toronto's Mayoral Candidates Should Realize Budget Cuts Don't Equal Prosperity

Toronto is headed by an unsustainable mayor of an increasingly unsustainable city. Despite being blessed with great people and geography, small ideas linger and great things don't seem to get done in Toronto anymore.

Wouldn't it be refreshing if one of the candidates in Toronto's mayoralty race this October dared to think big, such as leading Canada's most populous city to a more prosperous and sustainable future?

Instead we have candidates who come across as timid, all but mimicking the small beer ideas of Rob Ford. Incredibly, Ford has succeeded in limiting the debate to be about how to endlessly rearrange Toronto's fiscal deck chairs.

Meanwhile, Toronto is ranked ninth in a list of 13 major North American cities in the high profile Green City Index. The city somehow managed to beat Minneapolis but couldn't top the highway mecca of Los Angeles, which came in eighth.

Toronto has launched green initiatives in the past but under Ford -- go figure -- they have fallen by the wayside. Right now the western world is beset with cut and strut politicians such as Ford. Famously, he likes to brag how he saved taxpayers a billion loonies. It's a dubious claim but even if he had achieved that, would the city be better off now?

No, because you can't cut your way to prosperity. Slashing and burning just leads to stagnation and worse. It's like your spouse saying, 'Hey I've decided to save $500 by not fixing those squealing brakes on the car.' At best, your repair bill will double in the coming months; at worst you will be met with catastrophe.

Despite Toronto's potential we don't get action, we get vapid clichés such as Ford's "Stop the gravy train!" The first televised debate was a perfect example of the trivia and trifle besetting this run for the honour to rule from Nathan Phillips Square.

"Despite much talk about winners and losers, the event was a farce, a meaningless exercise staged to maximize spectacle and minimize substance," Christopher Hume wrote in the Toronto Star.

Michael Bloomberg was hardly the tiny perfect mayor of New York City but he didn't shrink from a challenge. A businessman, Bloomberg launched a slew of sustainability initiatives, including the $20 billion scheme dreamed up after Hurricane Sandy devastated the region.

Toronto was nearly swept away by a huge downpour last July and was hammered again by an ice storm in December. It should be clear to everyone that Toronto must also adapt to a changing climate and prepare for a grimmer future. (For an account of getting stuck in Toronto's torrential weather, click here.)

Besides facing up to climate change, the city also needs leadership on going green, which can generate international goodwill and business innovation. Just look at Vancouver's efforts to become the world's greenest city by 2020. Can we have Toronto's plan please?

I know, I know, if a Toronto candidate has any kind of a green agenda he or she will be slammed as a "tax and spend liberal." After that, supposedly, the candidate might as well spend the rest of the campaign in one of those famous stupors. It doesn't have to be this way.

Brian Vad Mathiesen, an associate professor at Aalborg University, recently related how Denmark has been reaping the benefits of sustainability:

"But in Denmark sustainable city planning is not a niche; it's just what we do. And you have to remember that sustainability is not just about the environment. It's also about creating local jobs.," he told the Guardian.

Don't have time for European "socialists?" Then listen up to Don Tapscott, the Canadian futurist and business leader who recently challenged Toronto to remake itself as a centre of sustainable excellence:

"Which mayoral candidate will lead us in making Toronto the start-up capital of the world? Rather than championing the waterfront as an ideal casino venue, we need a mayor that takes a page from Boston -- developing a startup and innovation area in the redeveloped waterfront. We need to nurture our homegrown entrepreneurs and attract new entrepreneurs from afar."

Wouldn't it be cool to have a mayor who swanned around in a hybrid car, rather than a gas guzzling jalopy, and who talked about "nurturing" entrepreneurs, or who sought tax breaks for sustainability initiatives, or who could imagine something outside of the box when it comes to Toronto's moribund waterfront?

Yes to all that. And let's also imagine a day when a Toronto mayor is invited onto a U.S. talk show to brag about the city's innovative and cool new ideas, rather than being asked down to provide fodder for endlessly renewable one liners that pollute the name of a great city.


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