We hold global in our local hands

On a global scale, cities are becoming the focal point for conversations about competitiveness. After all, they are the locations where population density, economic activity, research, infrastructure and creativity propel entire nations.

As Canada’s largest city, Toronto gets lots of advice about what it needs to do to become a global powerhouse. In recent civic elections, however, international competitiveness did not seem to be on the minds of Toronto voters. Instead it was concerns about municipal performance – city finances, taxes, transportation gridlock, political accountability and the ability to integrate immigrants.

To many, this was evidence of  a preoccupation with local issues and an all-out retreat from world-scale ambitions. Not so fast. This same narrative, viewed through the lens of the Toronto Board of Trade in their report, Pushing the Boundaries: Advancing Civic Leadership for Regional Prosperity, points to problems the city needs to solve to become a preeminent player on the global stage:

  • Fixing the city’s finances by reducing the costs of human resources, cutting the infrastructure deficit and budgeting for the longer term
  • Growing the city as a regional economy by improving governance across political boundaries, leveling inter-municipal business taxes and implementing regional transportation systems;
  • Promoting social cohesion through economic inclusion of of newcomers, regional settlement services and a focus on immigrant affairs
  • Improving civic democracy through municipal political reform, increased transparency and accountability
  • Driving regional innovation by commercializing breakthrough ideas, leveraging leading business sectors and building robust economic clusters

While the words may differ, there are connective threads between the languages of retail politics and macroeconomic analysis. People must see the prospects of their own problems being addressed in order to seriously consider becoming world-beaters.

The challenge of globalization is that it’s irreversible, accelerating in pace and has resulted in massive integration of world economies at all levels.  Today reckless securities trading in New York can jeopardize the savings of pensioners in Reykjavik.  The challenge for Toronto’s politicians, business leaders and civil society is to build an agenda for the future that creates local solutions that are sustainable on a much larger scale.

Another group has also published a report on Toronto and its competitive global identity: The Toronto Story.

Jyoti Singh, one of the report authors, says, “Over the past 25 years or so, Toronto’s unmatched globally comprehensive diversity has unknowingly been cultivating a new global mindset and a unique kind of creativity which can only exist in this city. It is truly a pioneering culture of its own, and if further accelerated, it has the potential to function as an important counterpoint to the economic and social image of this city.”

Review the draft report or synopsis for an in-depth look at the findings and recommendations.

Earl Miller

Earl Miller was the Director, Global Initiatives at MaRS. He led international partnering activities designed to open strategic markets for MaRS technology ventures. See more…