Monday, April 28, 2014
Public Works Minister Diane Finley lost in wilds of Downsview Park
The history of leadership, especially political leadership, gives us reason for skepticism. Everywhere we look, even up in Downsview Park, the lack of political intelligence is glaringly obvious.
A recent instance involves federal Public Works Minister Diane Finley who announced late last year that Ottawa was taking back the reins of Canada’s “first national urban park” from the organization set up to create it. Though there was not a lot to show for two decades of work, progress had been made; a park was built, development deals signed and a subway under construction.
But Stephen Harper’s regime has never liked the scheme and not even his late Toronto minister, Jim Flaherty, objected when the rug was pulled out from Parc Downsview Park.
Though Finley’s office insists it’s business as usual, that’s hard to believe. How can nothing have changed when the Tories have changed everything?
Meanwhile, the city has declared its interest in Downsview; leading the charge is Ward 9 Councillor Maria Augimeri. She has watched the project from the beginning and isn’t impressed.
“They have a proven history of hiding the truth from the citizens of Downsview,” Augimeri told the Star. “Who knows what’s in the works behind the scenes right now?”
That’s a good question. But as Finley’s spokeswoman, Alyson Queen, made clear last week, Toronto isn’t included.
“The federal government will not consider transferring responsibility of Downsview to the city,” she told the Star.
Mention Downsview to Finley and her cabinet colleagues and they see only dollar signs. They look at the 231-hectare site in the big city and think about all the money it’s worth.
This bottom-line mentality is so ingrained it overpowers any better judgment. There were no cooler heads on staff to sit the minister down and explain the nature of urban development. And from within the Tory bubble, Toronto is a long way away — so is Canada for that matter — and what do you do with real estate but sell it?
But not only is Downsview part of a city, it is surrounded by millions of people, many with strong feelings about what happens there. Because Ottawa has primacy, it can technically ignore the city and do what it wants. However, in a battle between the Tories and the NIMBYs, it’s the Tories who lose.
Already, Finley and her entourage look bad. Taken by surprise, their response has been a deadly mix of arrogance and ignorance. In the months and years ahead, the federal government will take a beating over Downsview, one brought on entirely by its own clumsiness.
Arm’s-length works both ways, don’t forget. Finley and her friends might want to study some successful Toronto revitalization efforts, projects implemented by intergovernmental agencies with local input, not administered by distant Tory apparatchiks who don’t have a clue what they’re doing.
Waterfront Toronto and Regent Park have achieved levels of excellence that would stand out anywhere. In neither case was land sold off for a quick buck; each site was planned, zoned and sold to developers ready to go. Many different players are involved, but their efforts all form part of a larger city-building exercise.
This sort of thinking is easily lost on a government as unsophisticated as Harper’s, or Toronto’s for that matter. Like Regent Park and the waterfront, Downsview needs government to approve the rules not to apply them. That’s best left to grownups.
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