A landmark conference at Ryerson University takes the first steps towards helping forge a new partnership between Toronto and Montreal.
As the two largest metropolitan areas in this country, Toronto and Montreal are home to a total of nearly nine million residents and are key focal points of economic activity in eastern North America. Traditionally, the relationship between the two cities has been characterized by a spirited rivalry wherein a gain by one has often been perceived as being a loss for the other. However, in the interest of promoting a new type of relationship, a recent conference hosted by Ryerson University focused attention on examining the key challenges that the two cities face in common, and exploring opportunities for collaboration that offer the potential to benefit citizens of both.
Organized by the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson, the Toronto-Montreal Business Rendezvous 2007 provided a unique forum at which leaders of the two cities’ business and academic communities came together to discuss important issues and debate alternatives for future action. Over a two-day period in mid-May, participants heard from high profile speakers such as Bernard Landry, the former Premier of Quebec who now teaches at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM); Ken Greenberg, a noted architect and urban planner; Isabelle Dostaler, a Concordia University professor and aerospace industry expert; and Albert Sieverdink, a partner with accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers and author of a highly acclaimed report on Power Cities. Senior officials from Toronto and Montreal also provided an overview of the economic development strategies the two cities are now working to implement.
The finale of the event was a plenary session during which Mayor David Miller of Toronto and his counterpart, Gérald Tremblay of Montreal, spent a morning reviewing the highlights of the previous day’s sessions and discussing a variety of issues and ideas with the participants. In their remarks to the audience and afterwards to the media, both mayors reaffirmed the benefits that Toronto and Montreal stand to gain by working together more cooperatively, and pledged to devote attention to supporting specific initiatives that will contribute to helping build a renewed sense of partnership between their respective cities.
A key highlight was a series of informal discussion sessions involving small groups of participants. Individual groups were composed of a mixture of decision-makers drawn from both cities; each group was asked to identify issues that needed to be addressed to strengthen the relationship, and come up with ideas for proposed solutions.
Collectively, the discussions touched on a wide variety of topics and produced some interesting recommendations for action. Examples included the notion that both cities should concentrate on waterfront renewal as a key component of their economic development strategies, and that the construction of a high-speed rail link between Toronto and Montreal would contribute much to building greater synergy. Similarly, it was noted that significant benefits would derive from the adoption of a common strategy to retain corporate head offices. Participants felt that such an approach would help both safeguard their employment and tax bases, and preserve their status as important decision-making centres for business.
Among the other larger themes that emerged from the various group discussions were the following:
Opportunities for co-marketing: Traditionally, Toronto and Montreal have tended to compete with each other in terms of promoting themselves to a global audience, with the end result that both cities have many interesting advantages to offer that are not well known or understood in other countries. It was suggested that valuable opportunities might be present to co-brand the two as “Twin Cities” that share resources and expertise to raise their profiles internationally. An obvious case in point is tourism. Participants felt that by joining forces to market themselves as being attractive places to visit, Toronto and Montreal would reap the dual benefits of increased tourist traffic and greater overall visibility in the global marketplace.
Importance of human capital: There was unanimous agreement that the ability to cultivate a high-quality labour force would be an essential component of both cities’ future economic competitiveness. In this regard, numerous suggestions emerged with respect to initiatives to gain an edge in the global war for talent. One of the most important of these focused on the need to devote greater attention to helping new immigrants assimilate into Canadian society more quickly, and to expediting the processes through which educational and professional qualifications earned in other countries can be recognized. In addition, participants strongly urged that more be done to align education and training programs with the emerging needs of the business community, and stressed the importance of improving success at all levels of the educational system.
Infrastructure renewal: Delegates noted that one of the biggest potential impediments to future economic prosperity is aging infrastructure that is becoming increasingly incapable of supporting continued growth. There was widespread consensus that accessing greater funding for infrastructure renewal and upgrading has become an urgent priority that both cities need to address. Participants concluded that the principal challenge in this regard will be more effective mobilization of diverse groups of stakeholders to lobby for the required funding with a stronger and more coherent voice.
Industry cluster synergies: Presentations by economic development professionals highlighted the fact that Toronto and Montreal are both staking an important part of their respective futures on the potential offered by strategic industry clusters. While it is clear that the growth of industry clusters is not something that can be planned and directed by municipal administrations, experience suggests that these clusters can be successfully nurtured through the implementation of appropriate policy and fiscal initiatives. Given that in a number of cases both cities are looking to similar clusters to drive economic growth, significant benefits could be gained by fostering, on a selective basis, a greater degree of inter-city collaboration within specific clusters. This type of collaboration was viewed as being most beneficial in situations where it would confer advantages of size and scope that individual clusters in either city would not otherwise be able to attain, and it was suggested that a variety of stakeholders should be involved in any efforts directed towards promoting more extensive collaboration on this front.
Institutional partnerships: A final theme that emerged from the group discussions focused on the significance of stronger and more comprehensive partnerships between post-secondary institutions. While universities in Toronto and Montreal have invested considerable effort in developing relationships with foreign institutions, it was felt that placing greater emphasis on building domestic partnerships would offer important benefits in several areas, including promoting bilingualism, increasing cultural awareness and sensitivity, and facilitating more extensive networking between key constituencies in both cities. Several possibilities were discussed, most notably involving suggestions for student and faculty exchanges and joint