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Ontario’s place in an urbanizing world

Posted by Daniel Hoornweg on September 29, 2014

A response to Lieutenant Governor Dowdeswell’s call for a discussion on Ontario’s priorities.

Ontario is home to one of North America’s fastest growing cities, yet despite the addition of some 4 million new residents, the Toronto urban region will still drop from about the world’s 50th largest city today, to barely being a Top-100 largest city by the close of the century. The global stature of Ontario, like Toronto and Canada, is declining relative to the rest of the world, especially with regard to Asia and Africa.  But as the world’s urban population, and wealth, more than doubles Ontario has an enormous opportunity. Probably there is no community better placed to live through the 21st Century with more opportunity and good fortune than Ontario.

Ontario’s experience and expertise is considerable. Electricity, as it powers the world’s cities and country sides, started in Niagara Falls; farm mechanization and automobile assembly plants are firmly anchored here, as are much of the world’s research in health, engineering, science and humanities. Ontario has done more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than any other North American jurisdiction, but more can be done, and much more needs to be done to prepare for a changing climate[1].

Ontario has also been an active and enthusiastic partner in the Canadian confederation. Ontario has often urged Canada to walk with pride and purpose on the world stage.

Ontario recently welcomed Elizabeth Dowdeswell as its 29th Lieutenant Governor. Ms. Dowdeswell was born in Ireland, grew up in Saskatchewan and spent much of her adult life working abroad with UN organizations. She’s a perfect fit for Ontario. One of the first things Ms. Dowdeswell has tasked herself with is to ‘listen to Ontarians’ discuss the Province’s future. A few thoughts:

The strands and linkages of a successful society will grow even more important in future. Ontario needs to reinforce its social fabric, but it also needs to – and maybe as a way to strengthen the strands at home – ensure that the threads that weave together Ontario’s narrative are well-anchored throughout the world. To paraphrase Wayne Gretzky and ‘skate to where the puck is going,’ Ontario and Canada needs to nurture the existing linkages to Europe and the US. We also need to foster new linkages to Africa and Asia, as well as Latin America. These linkages should not just be government-to-government, but as shown through Guelph’s partnership with Jinja, Uganda, many strands of society should be linked. Schools, Rotary clubs, businesses, financial institutions and their assistance with remittances, codes and standards, rules and regulations, traditions and culture: these ‘little things’ woven together are what gives Ontario its strength.

We need an ‘in it together’ mentality to be instilled in all Ontarians – the ‘905’ is only as strong as ‘416’ and vice versa. Together there is greater strength. Northern Ontario is as much a part of Ontario as is Bloor Street. Peterborough, London, Kitchener-Waterloo, St. Catherine’s, Cobourg and Sudbury – these communities need to be woven into the Toronto urban region. We need to build together, rather than head off alone. Agencies, boards and institutions like the Perimeter Institute, MaRS Center, Global Cities Institute, Nuclear Waste Management Organization, Ontario Energy Board, the Parliamentary Center in Ottawa and the Global Risk Institute in Financial Services, should also be linked together as much as possible.

Also, and perhaps even more difficult, Webequie, Marten Falls, Wunnumin, North Caribou Lake, Wawakapewin and other northern Ontario First Nations communities need to be an integral part of Ontario’s narrative. Most of the resources expected to be mined and harvested across Ontario, or transported in pipelines, trains and trucks, are destined to cities around the world. Global urbanization is one of the most powerful forces affecting all parts of Ontario.

The largest problems facing Ontario this century are mostly global in nature: climate change, pandemics, scarcity of resources, terrorism, refugees and financial infrastructure.

Ontario would serve itself well by: nurturing the role of women and children; making it easier to travel around the province and spend more time with colleagues and friends; building on its institutions of education – trades, colleges, universities and primary-secondary schools; supporting world-class research; grow its food industry; encourage advanced manufacturing; develop its own productivity and financial strength. Good things grow in Ontario: peaches, grapes, apples, tolerance, hope, respect, knowledge and many other attributes. Some of these we sell, and some we give away freely.

By facing outward, while watching each other’s backs, Ontarians can best welcome an urbanizing planet. These 3 billion or so new city-dwellers are our customers, suppliers, potential friends and, even if half-a-world away, our neighbours.

Filed under: Sustainability 101