political observers who droppedin on Monday's meeting of council's economic development committee were given cause to wax nostalgic for a time when Toronto had a mayor who could actually articulate a vision for this city.David Crombie has a knack for sparking such longings in people who can recall the days when the economic engine of Canada had what seemed like a full tank of gas and someone behind the wheel with a real sense of direction.
It's been more than two decades since Crombie left the helm at City Hall to seek what undoubtedly had the look of greater fame and influence in the ranks of Brian Mulroney's federal Conservative cabinet.
Heck, there's a new generation of voters out there who probably didn't take any notice when the once "Tiny Perfect Mayor" came back from Ottawa to recharge and refocus. But they can get a sense of what promise the future must have held back then when they listen to the old reformer make a pitch for it now.
Crombie appeared before the economic development committee this week to lend his considerable support to the tidy little document called the Waterfront Culture And Heritage Plan.
Toronto's waterfront has been central to the former chief magistrate's post-political career. Crombie's passion for the lakeshore was honed during his recent years as chair of the Waterfront Regeneration Trust. And the knowledge he amassed there was key to his being chosen to chair the city's shoreline-based bid for the 2008 Olympics.
Crombie had hoped that a successful quest for the Summer Games would provide the needed financial catalyst to spur rejuvenation along Toronto's stretch of the Lake Ontario strand. But with the Olympian route now set to bypass the Centre of the Universe on its way to Beijing, he is concentrating on other means of attaining that goal -- even if it takes several generations to get there, in many small steps.
On Monday, Crombie joined Rita Davies, managing director of the city's culture division, to proclaim the need for development of a "high-profile cultural zone that will enrich the lives of Torontonians and become a major tourist attraction."
The heart of the city would be reconnected to the water's edge by a series of "corridors" developed around cultural, heritage and natural resources. The Exhibition grounds would be "reinvigorated as a year-round attraction," Ontario Place would be "revived (in) a marriage of art, architecture and family fun," and the foot of Yonge Street would be transformed into a site for big public celebrations.
"All the great and potentially great cities of the world are investing very, very strongly in the heritage and cultures of the places they are from," advised the man who also holds the post of president at the Canadian Urban Institute. "They know the need for people to have pride of place in where they are. Pride allows people to make an investment -- personal and collective. It allows them to make a contribution beyond their own. And that," he said, "is an investment in economic development."
"We have not done what we should have done and are not doing what we should do to allow a new generation, in a new century, to be able to take this great city -- and the city is now the world, but small -- and show what it means for the future of Torontonians."
Mayor Mel Lastman has been doing his damnedest to take ownership of the waterfront redevelopment plan in order to sell it as his vision of the city's future. Back when the 2008 Olympics still seemed within Toronto's grasp, Lastman was determined that a sparkling aquatic playground would be his political legacy. And the water would finally be free of the dread "two-headed fish" he took some delight in dropping into his waterfront speeches.
But these days, the mayor's enthusiasm for the lakeshore is on the wane. Hey, you might think that a character who's had a public square named after him while he's still alive (never mind still in office) could wait a couple of generations for a little more recognition. Forget it.
These days, no one's quite sure where Lastman stands on waterfront redevelopment. He couldn't even be bothered to show up when the city's chief planner first presented his creative blueprint, with its potential $12-billion price tag. The next chance the mayor had to comment, he dumped all over a related proposal to demolish the Gardiner Expressway. Never mind that the initiative had his enthusiastic support when preparation of the waterfront plan began.
Alas, Lastman is all over the map on major issues these days. Witness his impersonation of a landed bass at last week's meeting of the police services board.
For the past several years, the mayor has been a fanatical supporter of police helicopters. One would never be enough, he said. The cops would need several. And Lastman suggested that he might even increase property taxes if that's what it would take to get local law enforcement airborne.
But when the matter came before the PSB, the mayor stunned the assembly with the revelation that he'd shown up to kill off a privately funded pilot project intended to prove the worth of cop choppers.
"We've written off the helicopters a long time ago, and we said we're not going to renew them because we didn't feel they were serving any purpose," Lastman told reporters going into the meeting.
But when he emerged a little later, the mayor was suddenly back onside. What follows is his explanation for the remarkable flip-flop:
"I didn't have my report (on the issue) in front of me and I didn't go through it and I didn't have a chance and this time is the first time I didn't and notes were handed to me and this survey, which said a lot, and when people started using machine guns and stuff like that and with what happened on September 11, maybe security is important, but we don't have the money."
And people expect this guy to define what lies ahead for the city of Toronto? Fat chance. Better we go back to Crombie's future.