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Politics may sink revitalized waterfront

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Politics may sink revitalized waterfront

CHRISTOPHER HUME

The future of Toronto's waterfront will be revealed in the next few weeks or months.

But unless things change dramatically, chances are Toronto's dream of lakeside regeneration will be found lying dead on the beach.

Despite extensive work done by the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp., it has yet to receive the money or the mandate promised by all three levels of government three years ago.

Instead, waterfront redevelopment has been co-opted by politicians for their own crass purposes. Thanks to them, the scheme that would allow for the completion of Toronto, provide housing for tens of thousands and rejoin the city and its lakefront will end up on a shelf gathering dust like countless plans before it.

Most egregiously, under Prime Minister Paul Martin the federal Liberals have decided to make the 30-year, $14 billion rebuilding project, or at least the parts of it they like, a re-election plank for local MP Dennis Mills.

Mills, the urban cowboy who will face federal NDP Leader Jack Layton in the next election, has already plastered his riding, Toronto-Danforth, with scores of posters and billboards calling on us to "Save Our Waterfront."

In the process, Mills has done enormous damage to any hope of revitalizing the docklands.

The reason is simple. It's called the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp.

The TWRC was created by all three levels of government to oversee the redevelopment. It was promised $1.5 billion to start that process, but from the beginning those funds were tied to specific projects including the Front St. extension, Union Station improvements, naturalizing the mouth of the Don River and remediation of industrial property in the docklands.

Sounds fine, but if the money doesn't go directly to the TWRC, instead of being channelled through the corporation, it remains subject to whatever needs the government of the day may have and to whatever gain it thinks it can derive from funding one program or another. Of course, the waterfront corporation must be accountable, but already each level of government has three seats on its nine-person board.

Meanwhile, the provincial Liberals claim they are committed to waterfront revitalization, but for the time being, there's nothing they can do because of the review of TWRC legislation now under way.

Consultants have been hired and are looking into what powers the agency needs to do its job.

Wonderful, but this is research that was undertaken fully five years ago by the waterfront task force headed by Robert Fung.

The task force examined waterfront redevelopment agencies across Europe and North America and concluded the key to success lies in being independent of political interference. That means the corporation needs title to the land, the ability to make development deals and to borrow money against that real estate. Some would go further and say the TWRC needs the power of expropriation, but this is unlikely.

In a few cases, civic politicians, usually a mayor, have been appointed to an agency board, the idea being that local representative know best what's appropriate in local circumstances.

Certainly Mayor David Miller has made no secret of his desire to join the board of the TWRC. Miller made his commitment to the waterfront a central issue of his mayoral campaign last fall. It was Miller who demanded the Toronto Port Authority kill its plan to build a bridge to the island airport.

"This is a perfect opportunity to fold the port authority lands into the TWRC," Miller argues. "That's what they've done in great cities and it has succeeded. Here, the federal election is creating a problem. It's very difficult to get Ottawa to make a decision."

Provincial Infrastructure Minister David Caplan will say only that he's waiting to hear what the consultants tell him and that he and Premier Dalton McGuinty remain committed to waterfront redevelopment.

"The Premier has said to me that he wants to see something happen on the waterfront," Caplan insists. "We share the same frustrations, we're determined to get things moving."

The nature of this project is that it's too big for any one level of government to do alone.

It isn't a question of whether one region, one province or one city wins or loses, either we all win or we all lose.

Perhaps Mills' posters should read, "Save Our Country." That would be more to the point.

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Yeah I know, this waterfront thing may never get done. Maybe if Toronto became a seperate province, then we'd only have one level of government to wrestle money from.

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That sucks, feels like nothing gets done in this place sometimes :angry:

Now you know how I feel in regards to Detroit developments! Sometimes it just takes way too long to get things done. :(

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