1, 2004: The Greater Golden Horseshoe is the economic
engine of Ontario and of Canada. That is one of the underlying
premises of all those discussion papers issued by our provincial
government over the past six months: Places to Grow, Growing
Strong Rural Communities, Toward a Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt,
Planning Act Reform, Ontario Municipal Board Reform –
the list goes on.
I don’t object to thinking about the Greater Golden
Horseshoe in terms of one powerful economic engine. Most years
it acts like one big vacuum cleaner sucking in much of the
economic potential of the rest of Ontario and a lot from across
Canada. But the writers of these discussion documents assume
that urban regions, with their concentration of public and
private resources, drive economic development all by themselves.
Their concept of sustainable growth is simplistic: draw people
with talent, money and ideas into urban centers and all will
In reality, our urban centers enjoy symbiotic relationships
with our countryside, towns and small cities that wrap around
them. For example, for generations youth from towns, villages
and farms have moved to the bright lights of our urban centers.
Enough went back to our countryside with new talents, new
money and new ideas to sustain a thriving countryside economy.
But the latest wisdom, delivered by the authors of the current
set of discussion papers, proposes putting all our eggs in
a few baskets. The cities that are already booming, have been
designated priority urban centers and worthy of the new approach
to growth in Ontario. They will reap first dibs on infrastructure
money and new incentive programs.
The province’s new growth strategy lacks a key insight.
Describing urban centers as economic engines is OK. Just don’t
forget that engines consume. The lesson from mining towns
is clear: deplete your resource and your community’s
vitality suffers dramatically. Is it coincidence that almost
one-third of Canadians have made the Greater Golden Horseshoe
their home? Check out where about half of Canada’ best
farmland is located. Again and again, farmland--with the guidance
of farmers--takes nutrients, rain and free energy from the
sun and turns it into a stream of new wealth. That guaranteed
flow of new wealth enabled the emergence of dynamic urban
centers. To this day that new wealth is a foundation of the
Greater Golden Horseshoe.
A new strategy for Ontario urban centers cannot afford to
treat small cities, towns and the countryside like a hinterland
to be cannibalized of people, money and resources. In their
own long-term interests a two-way relationship is essential.
Urban centers have to give back – and just sending urban
waste and sewage sludge doesn’t cut it.
The discussion paper, “Places to Grow: Better Choices.
Brighter Future,” can be accessed at www.placestogrow.pir.gov.on.ca/userfiles/HTML/nts_2_20438_1.html.
Note maps 4, 5 and 6.
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