As growth in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area moves outside of Downtown Toronto, and manufacturing gives way to other forms of economic activity, the regional planning debate has less to do with whether these changes will happen than how they will be accommodated.

That, at least, was the perspective shared by Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie, Kitchener mayor Berry Vrbanovic, Greater Toronto Airport Authority CEO Howard Eng, and Index Exchange vice president Drew Bradstock in their shared panel at the CityAge conference on Thursday morning.

“The race is on for how to attract that talent to your community,” Crombie said. “Why would they come to Mississauga rather than be in Downtown Toronto, that’s my challenge.”

A Mississauga Transit bus, image by Forum member The Mississauga Muse

In that respect, the regional knowledge economy and infrastructure is being built out at the same time.

“We’ve had a lot of hiring challenges to get anyone from Toronto to work in the Kitchener-Waterloo area,” said Bradstock, whose company has offices in Kitchener. “We’ve lost a number of candidates because there isn’t that feeling that they can get across the city rapidly.”

The challenge of attracting job candidates is not limited to the Golden Horseshoe, however. “If we want to compete in a global economy where talent so easily moves from country to country, we need to make these critical investments,” Vrbanovic said. This, the sessions’s participants agreed, adds an impetus to regional planning initiatives.

“The key that we need right now is getting the connectivity between Toronto and Waterloo region with two-way, all-day GO,” Vrbanovic said. “What we’re hearing from tech-innovation sector in particular is need for high speed rail.”

Passengers head for a GO Train, image by Craig White

Crombie shared Vrbanovic’s desire for GO Transit to not simply ferry commuters into the City of Toronto. “Our municipal budgets are not designed for those large capital projects,” she said. Federal spending, she added, “will help assist us do that and really get the fundamentals right.”

The need for transit, however, is not limited to tech sector workers. While the area around Pearson airport serves as a major employment zone, the airport itself also counts about 40,000 employees who must also get to work. Their presence powers many of the corridor’s current and future linkages.

“I have staff working at the airport that are 30 years old, they don’t own a car. They’re living close to a subway station and if there isn’t transit to the airport they can’t work at the airport,” Eng added. “Our young people are changing we have to provide transit infrastructure that supports the way they view the world”

Satisfying all of these interests one at a time risks creating isolated nodes that don’t work well together. For that reason, the session participants called for approaches to planning that would keep the big picture in mind.

The Union Pearson Express is just one part of connecting the airport

“Because (Pearson) is under federal jurisdiction, there’s been a lot of transit planned around it, but not into it,” Eng said. He called for the creation of a ground transportation hub to serve the airport, which was largely of a piece with the mayors’ visions for the region.

“We’ve built a BRT right to the Airport Centre but many of those companies have created their own shuttles,” Crombie said. “We need SmartTrack to get built and then we need to go north to the airport.”

“Once you start looking at that rail connectivity,” Vrbanovic said, “ you now have the potential of moving people between flights coming into the country and doing secondary flights.”

The various governmental bodies representing the region have worked in increasingly close proximity in recent years; big plans like this will see how much of that closeness can be turned into action.


The CityAge event continues on Friday, October 7. A complete event schedule is available in our preview editorial, as well as the CityAge website, which includes a full itinerary of speakers and discussions. This year, UrbanToronto is CityAge's official media partner, so keep an eye out for our reporting from the conference.