11/25/2013 12:27 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 05:59 EST

Residents New and Old Deserve a Better Toronto

Toronto is facing a political problem that it hasn't asked for. That problem has threatened both the trust Torontonians place in their government and how the world sees this city. While we have to work to repair that trust and rebuild our global reputation, we shouldn't allow this political challenge to distract us from real day-to-day problems that residents face.

We need to talk about what matters, like making sure our businesses are successful, reducing crime, and building strong neighbourhoods and communities. To do this, we need to have honest conversations -- we need to talk, we need to act. If we do it right, we could identify problems and build solutions together. During next year's municipal election, we're going to have the most important public conversation in the city. It's critical that we don't lose focus and get distracted by the political theatre in City Hall. Let's focus on the solutions.

Our strength is in our diversity. When I ask why people why they choose Toronto as a home, it's because it represents community, culture, arts and acceptance -- not just tolerance. Among the many, our tight-knit Spanish, Portuguese and Italian neighbourhoods prove that community relationships matter. Immigrants come for economic prosperity and quality of life. Toronto remains internationally competitive in healthcare, education and real estate among others. Finally, it's clear that Toronto is one of the safest big cities in North America. Toronto is home to one of North America's largest share of immigrant families because immigrants seek a safe and secure environment to raise their children and to grow old in. Public safety matters.

And that's the deal we should have with our newcomers, immigrants, and ethno-cultural groups in the city: people come to this city to help build it and in return, they should continue to get what they came and paid for. Our politicians should help to ensure that newcomers live in welcoming communities, provide training and jobs and make it feel safe to walk the streets.

To do this, we have to begin with community. Newcomers should be able to come to Canada and feel recognized. We need to explore better local-level English language learning opportunities, and empower communities to voice their concerns to the people who shape immigration policy at the provincial and federal levels, including on issues such as credential recognition and skills and training. To do this, we need to be organized. Toronto needs a one-stop online community that brings interested people together take action on these issues. It needs a place to bring people who don't have a voice, together.

That online community is also important for jobs and the economy. Although our Spanish, Portuguese and Italian communities have their own business directories to help connect customers with businesses who speak the same language, an online community could expand the network of a small business like restaurants and shops so they could attract the customer base they need to grow. Further, we should be bold enough to launch and support local advertising initiatives to sell our businesses across the city. Business improvement areas and city-wide programs like Winterlicious are doing their part. But more needs to be done for businesses in all neighbourhoods.

As a local example, transportation is very important for businesses in Davenport. The St. Clair West streetcar line has reduced the number of traffic lanes, which has resulted in increased congestion and less parking opportunities for customers travelling to nearby businesses. We need to expand parking zones like Green P in busy business areas like St. Clair West and Eglinton. There's no question that our businesses need more customer parking to thrive, while at the same time require quick and efficient TTC access. We need to best balance the interests of transit riders and drivers to help businesses and communities thrive.

Finally, that the experience of new Torontonians is the best it can be. There's nothing worse than coming to a new country and it not being everything you dreamed. We need to ensure that our children get the support and security they need to thrive and our seniors the respect that they deserve. We need more community-based scholarship programs that provide opportunities to young newcomers to address high drop-out rates and get them back the classroom. We should help seniors who can't remove snow from their property during the wintertime free of charge. They need it. We should ensure that our seniors could walk the streets safely as pedestrians without the risk of an accident. Spanish, Portuguese and Italian communities understand the value of supporting family, and we need our deal to recognize that fact.

We can strengthen our city. We can empower our immigrant communities, create jobs, and create a safe environment. But in order to do so, next year we have to stay focused on policy, not politics.


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