When the baseball playoffs came to Toronto, the networks started showing scene-setting views of the city during breaks in play. The glittering skyline at night. Red-and-white streetcars gliding along busy streets. The sunlit waters of the harbour. One shot panned over a cluster of high-rise towers near the waterfront. Among them was a horizontal length of steel girder showing big brown patches of rust.
This, of course, was the mangy flank of the Gardiner Expressway, an embarrassing symbol of how, while Canadian cities have grown and prospered, the infrastructure that supports them has been allowed to crumble. The half-century-old elevated highway needs hundreds of millions of work just to keep it from falling apart. Much more is needed to fix roads, bridges, subway lines and water mains – still more to expand them to serve a rising population.
In short, Toronto needs a handyman. Justin Trudeau seems just the guy for the job. The Liberal Leader made help for cities a big part of his pitch to voters. Now that he has won the election in such convincing fashion, cities are expecting big things.
Adam Vaughan, the Liberal MP and former Toronto city councillor, is saying that a "golden age" of Canadian cities is in the offing if the new government comes through on its promises. Toronto hopes to come out a winner.
Mr. Trudeau has already promised to earmark $2.6-billion for Mayor John Tory's SmartTrack transit plan and $2-billion to help GO Transit improve commuter-rail service. He pledged to put aside billions more for housing and infrastructure across the country, money that Toronto hopes will pay for waterfront development and repairs to its aging public-housing stock.
"Overall, I like the tone I heard from the Liberals," says Joe Pennachetti, the respected former city manager of Toronto, who retired this year. "Now it's a matter of translating that quickly into action."
He is watching for a couple of things in particular. Will a new government commit itself to sustained, predictable funding for cities, especially for transit and housing, instead of just making the one-off payments for individual projects favoured by previous governments? And will it create a new ministry for cities, with its own cabinet minister?
Richard Joy, too, finds Mr. Trudeau's emphasis on cities "very promising" for Toronto. Mr. Joy is executive director of the Toronto council of the Urban Land Institute, a Washington-based urban think tank. He notes that Mr. Trudeau's right-hand man, Gerald Butts, was once at the side of an Ontario premier, Dalton McGuinty, who brought in a number of city-friendly programs, from legislation combatting urban sprawl to a new City of Toronto Act giving the city more power over its own affairs.
The time seems ripe for a similar push on cities from Ottawa. Vancouver's Gregor Robertson, Calgary's Naheed Nenshi, Edmonton's Don Iveson, Toronto's John Tory and Montreal's Denis Coderre have been campaigning across the country for a new deal for cities.
At the provincial level, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is promising to spend billions on rapid transit. At the federal level, all three major parties campaigning in this fall's election promised to reinvest in Canadian cities.
The host of Liberal MPs elected in the Toronto region should give the city some clout in the new government. Mr. Vaughan is an energetic presence who is vowing to make real headway on the issue of affordable urban housing.
"They have an aggressive urban agenda, which is very welcome," says Ryerson University professor Murtaza Haider, though he would like to see cities get more taxing power so they don't have to rely so heavily on the benevolence of senior governments.
Despite all these encouraging signs, it would be a mistake to imagine that it will be all bluebirds and unicorns for Toronto under a Trudeau government. To begin, even with Mr. Trudeau's plan to run budget deficits to help pay for some of his promises, there are only so many billions to go around for cities. Those billions must be distributed among many places apart from Toronto. As soon as Mr. Trudeau was elected, they started clamouring for their share.
Montreal's Mr. Coderre, a Liberal, says he looks forward to massive new infrastructure spending now that his party is back. "We now have a government that believes in Montreal, a leader who comes from Montreal and deputies who will believe in working together to find a solution instead of dividing," he said.
Calgary's Mr. Nenshi says he expects money for flood mitigation and a new light rail transit line. "The Liberal Party had a strong platform as relates to cities and we look forward to working with them on building transit, creating a better national housing strategy and building infrastructure," he said.
In the Vancouver area, mayors are eager for funding on everything from upgraded waste-water treatment to light rail to a new subway line.
Even if Toronto gets a good chunk of the new money from Ottawa, it is likely to fall short of the city's hopes and needs. Toronto Community Housing alone faces a $2.6-billion repair backlog for its aging public-housing stock. The Toronto Transit Commision has another $2.4-billion in unfunded projects in its plans.
City councillor Josh Colle, the TTC chair, says he is already calling newly elected MPs and planning a trip to Ottawa. "They need to know that we need money now," he told CP24 television.
The trouble is that everyone needs money now. In a soft economy, which means soft revenues, Ottawa will have a hard time fulfilling all Toronto's wishes. Lower levels of governments are always lobbying higher ones for more money. It is a perpetual dynamic of Confederation and it's not going to vanish just because of a change of government.
Remember that when Mr. Tory replaced Rob Ford as mayor, he promised a new era of cooperation with the Wynne government that would bring more provincial help for the city. Before long, the two governments were quarrelling over money again.
Apart from the risk of disappointment if Ottawa doesn't come through for Toronto the way that its leaders hope, there are some potential downsides for Toronto under a Trudeau government. Mr. Vaughan is a long-time opponent of the Island airport. He says Ottawa will block Porter Airlines' plans to fly jet planes out of there. The airport, close to the downtown business district, is a big asset for the city and the jets proposal deserves an open-minded review.
Another risk comes from Mr. Trudeau's plan to raise taxes on those who earn make than $200,000. Many of those high earners live in Toronto. Will they spend and invest less when they are taxed more? Will companies and entrepreneurs who might have moved to Toronto decide to avoid Canada instead because of the tax regime? For that matter, will Mr. Trudeau's decision to take on more government debt dampen faith and investment in Canada, with effects on its financial hub, Toronto? When it thinks about how a Trudeau government would affect the city, Toronto has to consider more than whether city hall will get more money for housing repairs and transit lines.