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Toronto Justin Trudeau to look into 'next steps' if Toronto bids for World Expo 2025

Mayor John Tory, left, meets with Prime Minister Trudeau in a file photo.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has revived the idea of Toronto playing host to World Expo 2025, promising Mayor John Tory in a letter that the federal government will talk about "next steps" should city council support such a bid.

"We are committed to strengthening Canada's place in the world as well as restoring our country's reputation as an active and constructive partner of the international community," the Prime Minister's letter says.

The letter was sent to Mr. Tory just days before the city's executive committee meets Tuesday to consider a recommendation from an advisory panel not to pursue bidding for Expo without support from the provincial and federal governments.

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"This [letter] was not before the city staff when they wrote the report that will be debated tomorrow," Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said.

The Prime Minister's intervention appears to promise a reversal of the 2013 decision by the former Conservative government to withdraw Canada's membership in the Bureau International des Expositions. The BIE picks host cities, but accepts bids only from national governments. Countries must be members of the BIE in order to be eligible to play host to the world fairs.

A long-time proponent of Toronto holding a World Expo, Ms. Wong-Tam argues that revenue from the global fair and contributions from the province and Ottawa would galvanize transportation and housing projects planned for the Port Lands area, where the exhibition would be held. Up to 190,000 jobs could also be created.

"We have an opportunity to unlock tremendous value on the waterfront in the Port Lands," Ms. Wong-Tam said.

To move forward, 40 representatives from the business sector also announced they are willing to pay for a business plan looking at what's required to pursue a bid. That document is likely to cost up to $1-million to put together, said Ken Tanenbaum, co-chair of the Expo 2025 working group, and vice-chairman of the Kilmer Group, an investment and development firm.

A formal bid will cost another $10-million to $15-million.

The business plan would update a 2014 feasibility study from Ernst & Young that examined possible Expo and Olympic bids. It concluded that holding the world fair would cost the city between $470-million and $950-million in cash and land contributions, depending on how much the province and Ottawa pitched in. (The Olympics were abandoned last year.)

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According to the timetable included in the EY report, Toronto is now years behind in developing an Expo pitch.

"Bidding for [Expo and the Olympics] is a highly political process and requires strong leadership with intimate knowledge of the process," the report also said, adding that the "best technical bid has no assurance of actually winning."

Still, Mr. Tanenbaum said Expo would be a much-needed shot in the arm to the vast formerly industrial area, the subject of many promises and little action.

The East Bayfront LRT has been considered a priority for years, for example, but will require up to $1-billion in funding to extend into the Port Lands.

"It's been articulated by the city that the East Bayfront LRT is a priority, as is the Cherry Street LRT and a Go East Station around the Don River. … Those three represent most of the capacity that is needed to move people to the Expo site," he said.

World Expos are held every five years and last for six months. Montreal's 1967 Expo and Vancouver's in 1986 have been Canada's only outings. Paris and Osaka are likely to be Toronto's main competitors for 2025.

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Milan's 2015 Expo was considered a commercial success, with 20 million visitors making the trek to its grounds, 15 kilometres away from the Italian fashion and financial centre.

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