Day 1 | Opening: Setting the Stage and Why Downtowns Matter to the Canadian Economy

Day 1 | Opening: Setting the Stage and Why Downtowns Matter to the Canadian Economy

Downtowns are the heart of a city—and having a healthy downtown is essential to having a strong city and region. Canada’s downtowns generate a huge percentage of our country’s economic wealth and cultural vitality. Canada’s eight largest metropolitan areas generate 55% of Canada’s GDP and are hubs of activity for commercial, cultural, educational and civic institutions. What are the key challenges facing downtowns as we recover? And what actions need to be taken to address them? 

Full Panel

Note to readers: This video session was transcribed using auto-transcribing software. Manual editing was undertaken in an effort to improve readability and clarity. Questions or concerns with the transcription can be directed to with “transcription” in the subject line.

Mary W. Rowe [00:00:05] As I said, I am Mary Rowe from the Canadian Urban Institute. I happened to be in Toronto today and on a beautiful as someone has just said in the chat. Sunny, snowy day, which is lovely. We’re appreciative of this weather. We need some hopefulness and I’m joined by Councilor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who’s a downtown councillor who lives the downtown story every day. And I can see some sunshine behind you, Kristyn, which is appreciative. I bet you’re like me. Glad just to see the Sun. 

Councillor Kristyn Wong Tam [00:00:29] Absolutely, and I’m just thrilled to be here and to join you and all of the viewers who are tuning in. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:00:35] Yeah, well, it’s a really important topic and Toronto is the traditional territory of many First Nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, now home to many, many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Metis across Turtle Island. We have treaties that are covered here. Treaty 13 was signed with the Mississaugas of the Credit and the Williams Treaty, signed with multiple Anishnabeg nations and we at CUI for the last two years. As we’ve been broadcasting live on these shows, city talks have been talking openly about our own struggles with the legacies of exclusion that urbanism has continued to perpetuate from colonial and pre-colonial times. And here we are trying to understand and create, recreate cities that are inclusive and welcoming of everyone and come to terms with the legacies that we have to bear. But also, Kristyn I know you live this day in and day out in terms of you are actually on a corridor of a historic main street, Young Street, which has a storied history, and I’m sure we’ll have a remarkable future. But before we go to you, because I appreciate your joining us in between the budget and I just want to acknowledge that this is a really busy time across the country. The federal cabinet is meeting caucus meeting. Provincial governments are frantically trying to make sure that they’ve got their budgets in shape, and almost every municipal government is either in budget or in some kind of hearing process to try to figure out how are they going to actually pay for the resources that have the resources to pay for the services that basically allow us to have civilization. So we appreciate you taking time, and I’m going to just turn quickly to a greeting that we received from the Government of Canada. So I’m going to ask Jamie to queue that. As they say, queue that video. 

Minister Mary Ng [00:02:21] Hello, it’s Mary Ng here. Canada’s Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development. It’s my pleasure to join you for this year’s Summit on the City: Recovering Canada’s Downtowns. I want to begin by thanking Mary and the entire Canadian Urban Institute team for your invitation and for your continued efforts throughout the pandemic to support our communities. I want to start also by thanking the incredible small businesses and entrepreneurs at the heart of our main streets and downtowns. You have shown incredible resilience throughout the pandemic and now with the Omicron variant and renewed lockdowns. I want to assure you that our government will continue to have your back and be there to support you, as we have for the last two years. Supports that include the Extended Canada Recovery Hiring Program and the Expanded Worker Lockdown Benefit, as well as new programs for hardest hit businesses like those in the tourism industry. I also want to give a shout-out to the chambers of commerce in the boards of trade, who helped to work with us and businesses to get over 15 million rapid tests to our workplaces across Canada. We’re directly supporting Main Street businesses, including through the innovative My Main Street Program for Southern Ontario, led by the Canadian Urban Institute and Economic Developers Council of Ontario. This $23 million investment from Minister Helena Jaczek and our government will support downtown revitalization. We’re going to continue to work to ensure that our main streets remain vibrant and strong. As the Minister of both Small Business and International Trade, I know that downtowns are not only hubs for us thriving small businesses, but they’re dynamic ecosystems that are key to driving Canada’s innovation and supporting our country’s long term growth and our competitiveness. This is why we’re taking a Team Canada approach, working with provinces, municipalities and industry to attract talent, to market our thriving cities as leading global investment destinations and ensure that our innovators and entrepreneurs have the resources to start up, to scale up and to access those international markets. Supporting our innovators and entrepreneurs and our main streets will ensure that we drive a strong, sustainable, inclusive recovery and for growth for years to come. I want to know. I want you to know that our government will always have your back. Thank you and have a terrific conference. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:04:50] That’s good to the minister to just signal an important commitment from the government of Canada. And we invited many ministers and as I suggested, there are various scheduling conflicts but just want everybody to be aware, you know, we do, these are really public conversations. And what we’re trying to do is surface the biggest challenges and then the solutions that you all collectively have in mind. So those of you on the chat? Those of you watching, if you haven’t checked into the chat, please check into the chat and you can correspond with us there in that function over the next two days and log ideas and ask questions and lots of people in the chat and up chatting to each other. But it’s a way for us to make sure that we’re collecting all the smart ideas and that we’re benefiting from the intelligence you’re bringing and the imagination and the solutions that you’re bringing. So if you’re not on the chat, come on the chat. And it would be great if you could tell us where you’re coming in from. People will see now there are people coming in from different parts of the world, different cities across the country, different communities of all sizes. So really valuable for us to have the chat and we encourage you to use it. And the other thing is that this session is available for the next two days. We’re working on Francais en anglais. So if you go to the bottom of your screen, you’ll see an option for you to be able to choose the language that you would prefer to hear in. So you toggle that, and if you’d like to hear in French, toggle French. If you would like to hear an English, toggle English, the translators have already said to me, Could I speak more slowly? Which I will, of course, try to do, because when I speak French, I need people to speak slowly to me. So as I suggest that this is really about dialogue and we have a number of folks that have come on that are coming on over the two days, but there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of others who could have taken those spots. So what we’ve tried to do is curate conversations for people to be able to hear one another and be able to offer perspectives that are unique to them. But there will be, as we know, many, many others that have other views. And so I’m hoping that we’ll have a real opportunity to have candid, frank conversations with one another about what are, why are downtowns significant? And one of the reasons we started this topic was because I used to quote Mayor Daley, the first Mayor Daley. Kristyn I don’t know if you’ll remember him, but you’re too young, probably. But he said an apple rot… He was questioned as to why he was spending so much investment in downtown Chicago. And he said because an apple rots from the core. And so that’s part of what we’re trying to suggest here and why we want. It’s important that Minister Ng has signalled that the Government of Canada is listening, and we know that their office, the various staff of the various ministers and cabinet members are actually listening to these conversations. We, as you know, copy them, we record them and then we will repackage them and try to continue the advocacy through 2022 about why downtowns need to be treated in a particular kind of way and that we need a particular kind of strategy. So I might turn to you for a minute, Kristyn, and then I see that the mayor in our other session, participants are coming on. But I want to go first to you, Kristyn. Just give us a perspective. As I suggested, you actually are smack dab on one of the most famous downtown streets that we’ve got in the country. What’s your perspective about the challenge that faces downtowns? 

Councillor Kristyn Wong Tam [00:07:49] Mary, thank you for the question and thank you to everyone here today. The biggest challenges that we have right now in the downtown core and you’re right, Mary, I’m right off of historic Yonge Street, the busiest major arterial road in this city but also Ontario and Canada, is that we are seeing the flight of businesses. We went from being locked down to locked out and I’m struggling personally struck me as I see friends lose their business a long time business owners, major employers and contributors to the city. And it just seems that the pandemic has number one continued on and persisted. A lot of unknowns still in the future. But perhaps the biggest challenge I’m hearing from my constituents that the business operators and owners is that they feel that government support programs haven’t gone enough. So we know that downtowns have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. As you’ve noted, we were the first to be locked down, especially in urban centers, especially for those of us who are visitor destinations and will probably be the last to reopen. So when I have about less than 10 percent occupancy in the financial district, major bank towers and service towers all empty. It also means that I don’t have the commuters, I don’t have the visitors, I don’t have the workers coming in to support our local economy. That means also that the regional lag of how Ontario will recover is going to be slow. So if governments really want to support the downtowns, then they need to be able to invest deeply and proportionately on those areas and the businesses that were the hardest hit, the first hit. And if they want to bring back better and they’ve talked about building back better, then they’re going to have to reinvest downtown and help us reopen safely as soon as possible and make sure that they’re consistent in their messaging. And that’s one thing I would offer as a first oversight of what I’m seeing. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:09:46] Mhmm. It’s interesting, isn’t it, because you know, a lot of what we’ve been to talking about generally with Covid is that it exacerbated preexisting conditions, right? So if there were things that were underlying in a community, they were challenging and I’m sure we’re going to hear that from people again and again. They just have become much worse through Covid. And I think that again, I remember Young Street has had many, many stages, many, many state lives of Young Street, right? And it’s just sort of an indication not every street is the same and not every street experience is the same. I guess that’s part of the point. But there are, as you’re suggesting, there are opportunities now for us to address some things in a much more systemic way than we might have before. Right? 

Councillor Kristyn Wong Tam [00:10:29] I mean, that’s right. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:10:30] Yeah, go ahead. 

Councillor Kristyn Wong Tam [00:10:31] Yeah, I was going to say that’s a brilliant observation. And I think that would be a colossal missed opportunity if governments don’t learn from what we didn’t act on before. And I think that most who are in those who are invested in downtown living in downtown commerce will be more will have told you that we already knew the answers. We know what we need. We’ve known it for decades now, but it’s getting the orders of government to particularly invest in the core of the city. I work in an amalgamated city council. I’m quite struck by how fractured it is politically at times. And I think that if this is just an example, is that you know there’s oftentimes suburban-minded councillors and urban-minded politicians who represent perhaps the North and the rural that just don’t understand the needs of the downtown. So we’re oftentimes seen as the folks who get everything, but they don’t recognize that City of Toronto, for example, in the downtown, we occupy by three percent of the landmass. We generate fifty-one percent of the GDP. And that’s just for the area. So if we want to bring back better and to build jobs and to rebuild our vibrant main streets, which then become healthier neighbourhoods, more inclusive and more vibrant neighbourhoods, then those investments have got to come. And I think that we can make the case that an investment in the downtown core is actually going to have multiplying effects everywhere, whether it’s in culture or the or perhaps in the financial sector, which of course Toronto is known for. But those vibrant retail space, those vibrant environments means that you have an area that can then attract visitors and tourists alike. And that’s something that I also want to speak to is that we’ve got to start to think about reopening the economy, including the borders, in a way that will allow us to just learn to live with the COVID pandemic, which we know is not going to go away, including the variants and do it safely and do it as soon as possible. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:12:24] Mm-hmm. I guess it’s a real test for resilience, isn’t it? It’s really how are we making ourselves more resilient to whatever the challenges are ahead? And if we continue to congregate, we continue to draw, if money continues to aggregate if people continue to aggravate, I said aggravate, aggregate and if we continue to live lives that are shared lives, as you say, it’s part of it. Just answer some questions in the chat. First of all, yes, the recordings are made public. They’re made available. They’ll be posted on the canurb website in a couple of days, depending on how long it takes us, and we encourage you to share them with folks. All of the CityTalks over the last two years. There are lots of professors using the classes, lots of school teachers using them, lots of community groups still using them? Really, a really interesting trove of information. And what I heard the councillor just say, which I think is so important. We’re going to have to try to find a way to really learn because we’ve done all sorts of things really well over the last two years and we’ve done things not so well. So we’re going to have to try to steal ourselves to really take whatever we can to be reflective about what worked and what didn’t. And all these recordings are really valuable for that. So thank you for joining us, Councillor. I know you have to rush back, but I hope you’ll stay for whatever portion you can in the next couple of minutes. We’ve now got three venerable. I bet they don’t like being called venerable because it’s kind of code for age, but three folks who have occupied various roles and positions and have seen it from both sides now, shall we say, particularly Mayor Sohi, you have seen it from both sides now. So we’re delighted to have you and Goldy and Michael with us. And I’m going to go to you first Mayor Sohi just give us a picture from I don’t know whether it’s sunny today, sunny Edmonton, but just give us a sense because just for the benefit, we’ll put in the chat, the bios for each of these folks. But as people probably realize Mayor Sohi before he was a mayor actually was a Federal Minister and Minister of Infrastructure and Communities. So as I suggested, lots of years of experience, over to you Mayor Sohi so nice to see you. Thanks for joining us. 

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi [00:14:16] Nice to see you, Mary, and nice to see some other familiar faces and Goldy, nice to see you again. Some folks that I had a chance to work with in Ottawa. And you’re right, I have seen things from both sides. And I can tell you coming back to local government is really refreshing because this is where you can get some good work done in a nonpartisan way and still have a decent private life where you get to go home at the end of the day to your family and not travelling back and forth to Ottawa from Edmonton. You know I was listening in to Councillor from Toronto, a Councillor Wong Tam about the importance of downtown. I can tell you, like our downtown landmass in our downtown is about one percent and downtown contributes about 10 percent of the tax base. And we actually as a city council, not just city council then, I was back on City Council than from 2007 till 2015, we really understood the importance of downtown for economic growth, but for social vibrancy and also building an inclusive, welcoming places and applying that equity lens to do the work that we do. During Covid downtown has been devastated. Our downtown has been devastated. We have, you know, our house houseless population has doubled over the COVID. We are facing a serious crisis of opioid crisis, deaths and every day we experience, you know, people dying on the street. And we have huge safety issues in the downtown. So Covid has really highlighted some of the weaknesses in society. In the how, we have not done enough to support the most vulnerable and have not dealt with some of the structural challenges on inequities and that we have faced. Now they’re having severe consequences for recovery of downtown and other business districts. So that is the challenge that we are facing. So it is directly linked to our ability for small businesses to do business in a safe way and grow business. The inability for us to attract investment because of those challenges. And if we are unable to meet this challenge, then we will now be able to revitalize downtowns. So there’s a big role for coordination and collaboration with provincial governments and the federal government. Absolutely. So that’s one thing I want to do. Let me know when you want me to stop Mary because there are other panellists who want to weigh in on this and we can get into the discussion. But there’s hope on the horizon. There is hope on the horizon because people do realize that if you’re downtown is not thriving, your community will not be thriving. You will not be able to attract the investment that we need to attract. So we are working very closely with Downtown Business Association, with the provincial government and the federal government to put together some ideas we have done. We have put our money where our mouth is by having money allocated for the vibrancy task force for Edmonton’s downtown. And yesterday we reaffirm our commitment to having a potential of 5000 people moving to downtown through a new development that is in the works for over the few years that we’ve confirmed that commitment or reconfirmed that commitment yesterday. So things are happening, but hoping that soon this Covid will be behind us, that we can actually start focusing on the recovery and start bringing back people into the downtown to work here, to live here and to enjoy themselves. I think one closing remark I want to make Mary is that one thing I notice is that there’s so much potential for us to tap into other multiculturalism and other Indigenous cultures and organize more festivals and entertainment downtown and bring more people to enjoy themselves in downtown. So there’s a lot of work that we can do, so I’ll stop here. We’ll continue working on it later on? 

Mary W. Rowe [00:18:55] Thanks, Mayor Sohi I mean, I think you’re right, these underlying conditions is exactly what we’re hoping we can get to the heart of. Part of what we’re trying to do over the two days is zero in on an action plan. What needs to happen? Who needs to lead it? What’s the role of local government? What’s the role of provinces? What’s the role of the feds and what’s the role of all of us? So I’m going to go next to Goldy Hyder if I may have from the Business Council. I know Goldie, you’ve been travelling the globe on this, and you and I have had a few conversations about an apple rotting from its core. So can I get your perspective on downtowns then we’ll go to you, Michael? And then we’ll have a conversation with the three of you. Go ahead, Goldy. Nice to see you. 

Goldy Hyder [00:19:27] Likewise, thank you so much, Mary, for your leadership throughout this pandemic and Mayor Sohi congratulations, belatedly. Great to see you again, my friend. Appreciate it. Michael, good to be on with you. Look, some of this is going to be redundant, but I think it has to be said right? Downtowns are like the lifeblood to a city. They help define the characteristics of the city. They are the magnet for the talent, they’re the magnet for the investment, they’re the magnet for the entertainment. All the things that even if you live outside, you’ve got to drive into go and enjoy. Are you going to take a train down to go and enjoy? So I have a lot of optimism about downtowns because this is where the concentration of our public is and we are by nature, social creatures. And so despite all the anxieties that people face about it will never be the same again, and life will forever change, and we’re never going to go back to the office and all of that. My master’s thesis was actually on policymaking in times of crisis, and what it showed was a couple of things. One is don’t do it, don’t make policy changes in times of crisis, including operational changes to your business and things because all crises end. And when they end, you will find in this point, too, that the field has been littered with people who forecast about how much people have changed and how life will never, ever be the same again. And then shockingly, even with 50 million people dying in the Spanish flu, life actually goes back to being the same because we haven’t changed any. We are social creatures. We need social interaction. We need the entertainment. We need the culture. We need the arts. We need the jobs. We need the things that downtowns are known for. So I’m extremely optimistic that it’s going to come back. The question is, how long will it take? When will it happen and what will the consequences be if it drags on too long in terms of economic carnage? I think we frankly owe our SME communities a lot. With all due respect to the public sector and the private sector, most of whom, which is why we had relatively low unemployment, the unemployment didn’t get that high. We’re able to pivot. They were able to work from home, as I’m doing today because of our lockdown here. We have been able to, you know, people have been able to do their jobs, they’ve been able to save money. They haven’t had to go and get a parking spot. They haven’t had to use the transit in any of that. But those SMEs don’t have that choice. Those SMEs and all those frontline workers and all the people who have to keep the essential services going and all the things that we have to rely on didn’t have that luxury. And I spoke with, you know, Mayor  Sohi’s counterpart here in Ottawa, Mayor Watson, on a few occasions and he said, Look, well behalf my workforce, if not more doesn’t have the luxury of not coming to work. They come to work. They have no choice. They’re ambulance drivers. They’re, you know, they’re policemen, they’re all these things. So I think we have to recognize that we actually owe a little something back to those who didn’t have that choice. The SMEs who, you know, missed, fortunately, took a bank loan in December 2019 to open up that bakery they’ve always wanted to open up. You know how many people whose mortgages are exposed here, how many livelihoods, livelihoods are exposed here, and you can’t subsidize that there’s only so much you can do of that, the minister I mean, the mayor sat at the minister’s table, you know, there are limits to that and we probably arrived at that. Now we have to start micro-targeting even more. So I think we need some leadership. I’ve been aggressive on this thing. I’ve long believed that we have to coexist with this thing. It’s a competitive disadvantage to Europe and Asia if their economies take off and their cities take off because talent and capital has never been more mobile than it is today. So if you don’t give a reason for people to come, it’ll just go somewhere else. And it’s not like desperate to come to Toronto or to Edmonton or Calgary. So we’ve got to be mindful of that. I think the other opportunity here is really about improving the experience of being in downtown and as a transitory exercise. It’s depressing if you go down knowing if the PATH is closed, if the +15, as we call it in Alberta are locked up. Like it’s you got to make this worthwhile for people to say, come back and we’ve got to do our part to make sure that can happen. And a lot of that starts with people returning. And I can tell you in the privileged position that I have of interacting with CEOs of Canada’s largest businesses representing over two million employees or so forth, they want their people back. I’m sure we’ll discuss one day here or one day there or whatever the case might be. But at the end of the day, we believe in the importance of collaboration, of learning, of sharing, a co-creation of incidental learning and hearing that goes on in a hallway or whatever the case might be. That is all being lost, and we’ve got to bring that. We’ve got to bring that back. And I think that when we come out of this situation with Omicron, I’m extremely optimistic that this thing is, at least for now, killing itself, and we’re going to be OK. Let’s not wait too long. And that brings me to my sort of my final point, and that is simply this confidence is the key here. We have really pummeled away at the subconscious of Canadians to say, you know, like, you’re going to die, you know, you’re exposed, you’re going to risk your family risk risk, risk risk. Excuse me. We take risks every day, we take risks every day and we have to recalibrate that, that we can coexist with this pandemic. We have to build confidence and we’ve been very proud to launch a program we have perhaps, prematurely but in May of 2020 called the Post-Promise and the city of Edmonton is aware of it. And basically, it stands for people outside safely together. But the keyword being “post” implies that we’ve been through this, we’re going to be able to get to the other side. And what it really is is about helping SMEs and the federal government has been a major supporter. The Honourable Mary Ng and others to help get businesses to be able to showcase to their customers. We’re doing what we need to do to keep you safe. There is no business whose fiduciary duty it is not to keep their employees and their customers safe because if it is, they’ll be out of business. So of course, it’s a priority for businesses to keep them safe. How do you communicate that in a world in which people have been told to be scared? And how do you communicate that in terms of an identifiable way of how you’re going to be able to say, Oh yeah, this place is practicing good hygiene and good public health measures. So I think we have to turn our attention to how to restore public confidence and how to make the downtown experience a positive one and start the process of reviving and resuscitating. And I’m not touching some of my other remarks saving them for your Q&A, but I think there are public policy opportunities around climate change and infrastructure and smart cities and those kinds of things. Let me leave it at that Mary. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:25:41] Thanks, Goldy, let’s go to you, Michael, and then we’ll hopefully, we will have some time for a bit of exchange between the three of ya. Go ahead, Michael. Let’s hear your perspective from downtown, your downtown office. I can tell from what’s behind you. 

Michael Emory [00:25:52] Well, I’ll be uncharacteristically brief. Two comments Goldy made that I would like to pick up on. One is confidence. The second is business. Maybe I’ll start with business. Mayor Sohi and Councillor Wong-Tam spoke about the government’s role and they’re critical. And I am of the view that the governments have by and large served Canadians well through this period of crisis. Nobody got everything right. Nobody didn’t make mistakes. But I think our governments seriously encountered and engaged and did their best for the citizens of this country. And I, for one, am grateful. Number two, I think business has a very big responsibility as well. And whereas Canadian business did a good job of, shall we say. Leaving the concentrated areas at the onset of the pandemic, Canadian business has not done a good job, in my opinion, in returning to the environments where work can optimally be performed. I’ve spoken about the chartered banks. I think they have been somewhat delinquent in getting their people back to work, populating the downtown cores in a way that would allow those small businesses to reopen and would allow the men and women employed by the small businesses to actually contribute going forward to the recovery. Turning to confidence, there is no doubt in my mind that Canada’s major urban centers will recover. The forces of intensification are so great in Canada, the concentration of talent so profound, the diversity of the population so significant that I don’t think there’s anything that will fundamentally alter the ongoing intensification of Canadian cities. That doesn’t mean we can be passive and just allow the cities to return to the kind of buoyancy we saw pre-pandemic. I think we all have to make an effort as members of a large and complex community. But I can tell you, as the CEO of a public entity that raises capital globally, Canada is not a significant player for global investors. That’s nothing new. But this is what’s interesting. Canadian cities are on the radar screen of every global investor we have ever met with. In Europe, in Asia, in the United States and elsewhere. Our cities are extraordinary success stories. Our cities are more diverse than most. Our cities benefit from immigration and capturing more than our share of the world’s talent pools than most. And we should have confidence in their recovery, and those of us in business must discharge our responsibilities to the communities and get back to work and get back to optimal collaborative enterprise. If we don’t, we will lose competitive ground to other countries who are maybe more proactive in dealing with the situation that we all face and we all need to be respectful of. So those would be my thoughts for what they’re worth. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:30:08] Thanks, Michael. Go ahead, Goldy you want to jump in and then I’d like Mayor Sohi.

Goldy Hyder [00:30:11] Of course, I do. He goaded me, so I have to say something here. Look, all Canadians are responsible for following public health guidelines, and throughout this process, we’ve been exposed to public health guidelines from every level of government, and compliance has been at the core of it. So obviously, you know, here in a lockdown, you sent your people home, you want them back. Believe me, when I say they want them back, I know I talked to them. The challenge has now become that people have gotten comfortable. People like this idea, I don’t have to drive, I don’t have to take a train, I’d have to do this and I don’t have to do that. We have a severe labour shortage in this marketplace. That’s a supply and demand problem here. You need a lot more talent here. And so the power has shifted a little bit over to the employee side. And I will tell you that this is not a global phenomenon. It is largely a North American phenomenon. It is not happening in Europe and it’s not happening in Asia. It’s actually happening here. And the reason is happening multiple things. We have larger homes. So we’re not suffocated here. We’re able to live and spread out and do what we need to do. You know, we have tougher commutes to some extent, longer commutes than places that have high speed rail and all those other countries. We had very generous support programs. All kinds of things created a scenario where people thought, Well, this working from home thing works for me, right? And so that is a part of the challenge. And I’ll tell you candidly that many companies are really being run by their H.R. departments and their legal counsels today because of risk management. But at some point, I can tell you that when people want their workers back, it’s in their workers interests to come back. Second me, I’ll just say that from a risk management perspective, businesses went out of their way to make sure of safety. Right. So we drove the rapid screening program. Many public health officials across the country didn’t want you to use rapid screening as businesses who said, look, rapid screening can be a tool to help allow for safe return. Members of ours have PCR tests done onsite for their employees. The problem has become we can’t get the worker back, and I think that’s a fundamental issue. And part of that is the experience. And part of that is this whole hybrid. And, you know, I want to work from home thing. Yeah, maybe for a while. But I think as I said, as things change there, probably we will look pretty much the same. So just something to keep in mind. And then the last point just very quickly, is our health care system was really exposed here. And that’s where I tell you, you’re looking at the guy who helped shut the economy down. I can’t believe I would ever be running a business council, putting out a letter with a hundred and somewhat CEO saying, Shut the economy down. Why did we do that? I got a phone call, several phone calls on the weekend from some of our members who all serve on boards of hospitals, saying ff we don’t do this now, the hospital system will collapse. We’re two years into this thing and we’re still whacking a mole with ICU beds like we spent around $350 billion, we couldn’t improve the ICU capacity? It’s the only reason we’re locking down. It’s the only reason we’re not able to come back to work. So we have to get to the root of the matter and some of these public policy questions. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:33:00] You know, I appreciate that. You know, the conversation can get very big, very quickly there. And so I’m going to try to take it back if I can, just for the people in the chat that are saying, Hey, I thought this was about downtowns. You know, it’s about cities. It’s about downtowns. Downtowns are proxies for cities, and I’m sure that the Mayor has a perspective on that because he was actually a federal minister for communities. But I think, Mayor, I’m interested in your perspective about the specific challenges downtowns may be facing, which may be quite different for the largest cities than the smaller ones, right? And do you have a sense of how the federal government could take a more holistic approach to this? I mean, how you only have so many levers. We have a constitution. But at the same time, what you’re hearing from your colleagues on this session here is that so much is at stake in terms of how we recover as a country is visible here in how we’re going to build downtowns to be productive and inclusive and all that stuff. Thoughts?

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi [00:33:55] Yeah. First of all, I agree with Michael and Goldy about confidence. I portray their confidence. Absolutely. But, when we talk about post pandemic world, I think why my worry is that we actually may go back to the conditions that existed before COVID on things that were holding us back. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:34:22] Before. 

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi [00:34:23] Particularly on houselessness, on mental health and addictions like those are not new problems. Those problems have existed for decades. And we have not properly tackled them. So I think that’s my worry that in that optimism and that hope for the new future and coming out of Covid that we might forget, there are structural challenges in our cities. And if we don’t tackle them properly, then we would not be living up to the potential, particularly the potential of downtowns, because they’re interconnected. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:35:00] I mean, we have sessions following here that are going to deal with all this and housing and mental health. 

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi [00:35:04] And on the question about what federal government can do? 

Mary W. Rowe [00:35:06] Yeah. 

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi [00:35:06] There are models that the Federal government can follow they announced during the pandemic rapid housing initiative directly working with municipalities to build more housing. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:35:18] Right. 

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi [00:35:19] I think that is a model that Federal government can follow. I think another thing that Federal government can do is really focus on indigenous-led housing and indigenous-led business development, as well as indigenous-led support systems that are necessary because in my city, 60 percent of the people who are struggling with houselessness are from indigenous communities, and there are not proper, culturally appropriate support systems available for them to recover from trauma and recover from the pain that they’re going through that’s just one. I think that another is there are things that Federal government can do about the opioid crisis. Safe supply for example, harm reduction and other things that are rarely available, tools available to the federal government that can be actually explored in partnership with the municipalities. And the third one is through infrastructure. When I was a Minister of Infrastructure, we actually directly dealt with the municipalities on transit funding. We designed a plan so the money actually directly went to municipalities instead of going through a provincial allocation of per capita or other formulas. And I think there are new programs like sustainable modes of transportation or the Main Streets program that federal government is announcing. I would announce or that it has been announced.

Mary W. Rowe [00:36:46] We’ve announced that we’re administering it. So we know that one, My Main Street. 

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi [00:36:50] Right and I think those are the opportunities for the federal government to directly work with big cities and major urban centers to bring more life back downtown.

Mary W. Rowe [00:37:01] Mm hmm. Yeah. So just for the three of you with the five minutes, we’ve got left, I mean, I appreciate your call to action, both Michael and Goldy saying to your fellow business leaders, Come on, guys, let’s get ourselves back at it and let’s do it safely. I want to acknowledge this.  

Goldy Hyder [00:37:15]  Just to make sure you remember, I also said public service. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:37:17] Yes, I understand. Yes, but no, no. 

Goldy Hyder [00:37:19] This country represents a big part of our downtowns, in some cases, like Charlottetown, they’re a large part of downtown we need them both back. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:37:24]  Or the city of Ottawa. Sixty-five percent of the tenant base. Yes, I appreciate that. So it’s up to all of us. And you heard the mayor just reinforce that in him. From his vantage point, his previous vantage point, he thinks there’s an opportunity for the Government of Canada to take a more holistic approach. And as you just suggested, Mayor, I wonder if in terms of the mental health piece, because health and Goldy, you highlighted this because health is traditionally a provincial jurisdiction that the federal government funds. The question is going to be could we see a different kind of leadership come from the Government of Canada around downtown recovery? Could it include health, housing and transit?

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi [00:38:01]  I think particularly related to the mental health of the Indigenous commitment because there’s a link, is the responsibility for the federal government for urban Indigenous population that we have really, really fulfilled, right? And I think this is an opportunity for that partnership on mental health as well. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:38:24] I guess partnership is the word. Michael, when you’ve been at this. You’re working in. I don’t know how many cities, ten, probably, right? 

Michael Emory [00:38:31] I think about that. Many, yes. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:38:32] Yeah and appreciating that no, downtown is the same and no city is the same. But in terms of the sort of priorities that you would be having for 2022, do you have a sense of assuming that we move into a new kind of normal, whatever that’s going to be. Do you have a sense of the priorities that you’re going to try to engage your stakeholders in thinking about? 

Michael Emory [00:38:55] I think the priorities are not dissimilar to those that existed pre-pandemic and during the pandemic. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:39:03] Right? 

Michael Emory [00:39:03] I think the real estate business has evolved in a way that most owners recognize. Their buildings are part of a much larger ecosystem, and they need to contribute not just to the well-being of the men and women who use the buildings, but actually to the well-being of the surrounding community. So I would say our view in 2022 is to make sure that our concentrated portfolios of property in all of the major cities we’re in Canada contribute in a meaningful way to the recovery of the community at large. And this really is part of the ESG evolution that’s occurring globally and in the business sector, among many others. So for us, the priority is to serve the men and women who use our buildings as effectively as humanly possible and to allow our communities which are mixed, use urban communities to recover as meaningfully as possible. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:40:15] I mean, it seems to me that part of the downtown challenge is to create more mixed-use to use buildings differently. And not that so that we’re not as vulnerable if we have to adjust all of a sudden, right? Goldy do you have… Go ahead, Michael. 

Michael Emory [00:40:27] I was just going to say that’s the beauty of how our cities have evolved since the mid-90s. Now we have these mutually reinforcing uses. People live downtown, people work downtown. Retailers come in to serve the burgeoning populations downtown, entertainment, food. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:40:45] Right. Councillor is just saying, and what about childcare? Like, maybe some of these buildings are going to be adjusted for childcare services as we provide more and more ranges of services in these downtowns. Goldy, last comment to you and then a last comment to the Mayor. And then we’re going to move out of the next session. Go ahead Goldy. 

Goldy Hyder [00:41:01] Let me take a different tact. I would say the first thing is leadership and partnership is an opportunity for the federal government on a variety of different issues, and it has a convening power. And I think Canadians, Canadians deserve to see all of our levels of government work intimately together. I don’t disagree with Michael at all. I think, all in all, all said and done, our governments did a pretty good job of getting us through this pandemic. But nevertheless, there are times where Canadians were frustrated with the idea that they were a municipal Canadian and a provincial Canadian and a federal Canadian. And we’ve got a really, you know, stop that and start working together in our national interest. And so I think leadership and partnership could go a long way in setting the right opportunity for a conversation and a dialogue to get the solutions on the table. I think what people like Michael and the Mayor and so many people know what to do is create the political will and the opportunity to do it well. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:41:52] And just to interrupt you, Goldy, and just say, though, one of the things I’m aware of is that you know, there are only men on this session. I’m holding my own as best I can. But, you know, we’re…

Goldy Hyder [00:42:00] It’s an even battle actually three to one. We feel like it’s even. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:42:02] I know yes, but we’re not as diverse as we need to be. This program, of course, doesn’t reflect as much diversity as it needs to, and this has to be a partnership across different kinds of folks. Different experiences, different racial backgrounds, different perspectives, right? That’s one of the great challenges, I think. 

Goldy Hyder [00:42:17] And I just my second point very quickly because it’s an area where I think there’s untapped potential still in at least one of us on this panel had a responsibility and directly and indirectly, and that is, we’ve really got to use our infrastructure bank better. We’ve got to get that money out the door. They’re sitting on $25 billion worth of it, which is probably 50 to 75 billion dollars. When people like Michael and others jump into it and markets get involved in public, private partnerships happen. Let’s reimagine some of our cities. Let’s make them smart. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:42:43] Huge opportunity. 

Goldy Hyder [00:42:45] Let’s have some of those conversations. You know, I mean, we sent a signal to the markets on Sidewalk Labs, where he said, Oh, Canada is not for innovation, Canada’s not for trying anything. We’ve got to make sure that we figure out what to do, how to do it. I’m not commenting on that previous saga, but just we’ve got to start thinking differently. And I think infrastructure money not only for housing but beyond that is going to be key to revitalizing our downtowns. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:43:05] Thirty seconds to you, Mayor Sohi and then we’re going to go to the next session. 

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi [00:43:09] Well, just to follow up on that, I think let’s use that infrastructure bank to help, you know, retrofit some of the buildings in the downtown to repurpose them and also bring them to better energy standards. I take this is about jobs, it’s about climate change, it’s about affordability. And all those things can be tackled through that change alone. If there is a will do to do so. The second is that I hope if one thing that pandemic has taught us is that Canadians want us to work together they don’t care what order of government you belong to. They want us to work together. I hope that carry that on into the future. 

Mary W. Rowe [00:43:53] Thank you. On that happy note, I just want to thank Mayor Sohi and Michael and Goldy and Councilor Wong-Tam for joining us in this opening session, we always say this isn’t the end of the conversation, it’s just the beginning. So you’ve given us a really good list of things and we have people in the wings here who are pulling all these ideas and actions. And at the end of each day, we’re going to do summaries and hopefully, by the end of tomorrow, I’ll have a good sort of the beginning of an action plan. So thanks for joining us you three and the councillor. And now we’re going to go to hear some specifics about what is how Canadian cities actually do. Compared with cities around the world is sort of echoing some comments and concerns that Goldy aired and Michael reiterated. 

Full Audience
Chatroom Transcript

Note to reader: Chat comments have been edited for ease of readability. The text has not been edited for spelling or grammar. For questions or concerns, please contact with “Chat Comments” in the subject lin

From Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at

Canadian Urban Institute: Welcome to the Summit on the City: Recovering Canada’s Downtowns

00:57:08 Andrew Peck: Hello from Ottawa!

00:57:23 Canadian Urban Institute: Please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” or to “everyone” so that all can see your comments.

00:57:29 Elizabeth Lawrence: Hello from St. John’s, NL, economic development

00:57:39 Clint Wensley: Ye, the music is great. Hi Mary from sunny Central California

00:57:47 Canadian Urban Institute: We encourage folks to share the traditional territories on which they reside.

00:57:48 Angela Macdonald: Hello from sunny Bloor West Village, West Toronto!

00:57:50 Michael Phair: From Edmonton, Michael Phair

00:57:51 DARAMFON Morgan: Hello from Halifax, NS, Economic Development

00:57:56 Debi Croucher: Hello from Downtown Windsor

00:57:57 Betsy Hogan: Hi from Halifax 🙂

00:57:58 Canadian Urban Institute: Attendees: where are you tuning in from today?

00:58:12 Rhiannon Hayes: Hello from Downtown Winnipeg!

00:58:15 Clint Wensley: Near Fresno California

00:58:17 Lindsay Dandeneau: Hello from Winnipeg

00:58:19 Philippa Von Ziegenweidt: Love Mary’s infectious enthusiasm!

00:58:20 Meg Marshall: Meg with the Queen Street West BIA! Hello!

00:58:24 korine deol: Hi From Surrey British Columbia

00:58:24 Canadian Urban Institute: HOUSEKEEPING:

A friendly zoom reminder, you can see and hear us but we can’t see or hear you.

00:58:34 Donald Goertz: Good morning from Calgary

00:58:37 Anneke Smit: Hello from Windsor Law’s Centre for Cities at the University of Windsor!

00:58:38 Rylan Graham: Hello from the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George

00:58:42 Tanishah Nathoo: Hello from Toronto and the Environics Analytics Team!

00:58:43 Vikranthbalaji Vijayan: Hello From Toronto Ontario

00:58:51 Canadian Urban Institute: Our summit is being offered in both French and English. Please click on the globe at the bottom of your screen and select your preferred language.

We are recording today’s session and will share it online at

00:59:01 paul mackinnon: Enthusiasm yes, but not sure we want to hear the word “infectious

00:59:04 paul mackinnon: LOL

00:59:16 Diego Almaraz: Hello from what is known today as Waterloo, Ontario:  traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples, and includes part of the land granted to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River.

00:59:56 Frank Murphy: Good morning from Nanaimo!

01:00:09 cowboy dallas: COWBOYDALLAS.COM



01:00:28 fredrica walters: Good morning from the Pickering, Ajax area

01:00:31 cowboy dallas: 1-416-474-2357


01:00:52 Zelda Brown: London (The Forest City), 🌳🌲🍃, Ontario, Cheers!

01:00:56 cowboy dallas: I am a general contractor

01:01:11 cowboy dallas:

01:01:16 Tasha Morizio: Hello from Montréal!

01:01:30 Chantal Larmond: Hello from Sault Ste Marie, I am a student at Algoma University

01:01:30 Bashar Al-Hussaini: Hello from Mississauga

01:01:44 Taylor Jaehrling: Hello from CityStudio Sault Ste. Marie!

01:01:45 Shannon Bowler: Hello from sunny Tkaronto! Here with Culture Days and looking forward to all the sessions.

01:01:53 Jennifer Findlay: Kenora

01:01:58 Stephen Watt: Port Coquitlam, BC

01:01:58 Annie MacInnis: Hello from Kensington BIA in Calgary

01:02:11 Laura Ispas: Hello from Duke Heights BIA, Toronto

01:02:44 Kay Matthews: Hello from the Ontario BIA Association, representing more than 310 BIAs across Ontario, 96% of which represent neighbourhood, community and main streets,

01:02:48 Canadian Urban Institute: We hope this summit is as interactive as possible, so please feel free to share comments, references, links and questions in the chat.

01:02:53 Andrea Steenbakkers: Good afternoon from Ottawa

01:02:56 Emma Harper: Hello, Environmental Planner in Kitchener ON

01:03:05 Anne Poirier Basque: Hello from Downtown Moncton, NB

01:03:07 Michelle Warren: Good afternoon everyone from sunny Toronto!  🙂

01:03:07 Katie Cassin: Hello from Oshawa ON 🙂

01:03:11 paul mackinnon: Mary, will you be selling some of your jams and jellies and preserves later?

01:03:12 Sueling Ching: Hello from the Ottawa Board of Trade. Thank you for hosting, Mary et al!

01:03:13 Mary Chevreau: Hi Everyone, CEO Kitchener Public Library

01:03:13 Anthony Haddad: Good morning from Penticton, BC!

01:03:17 Sandra Severs: Good morning.  Hello from Victoria and the Downtown Residents Association.

01:03:19 Erwin Dreessen: Hello from Ottawa. Hoping Ottawa’s new Official Plan will come up — con- or destructive of Ottawa’s downtown?

01:03:20 Catherine Deegan: Hello from Leslieville Toronto

01:03:22 Dinesh Burad: Hello from all of us, Architects Orchestrating Architecture, here in Edmonton AB at sa-i,ca,

01:03:25 Rhonda Jessup: Hi! CEO, Whitby Public Library in Ontario

01:03:25 Amy Malyon: Hi! From Cornwall Ontario.

01:03:26 Dawne Taylor-Gilders: Hello from Uptown Waterloo BIA

01:03:29 Canadian Urban Institute: Our summit is being offered in both French and English. Please click on the globe at the bottom of your screen and select your preferred language.

01:03:30 Angela Evans: Good Morning from Vancouver – Collingwood BIA

01:03:30 Jose Fernandez Garcia: Jose – City of Vancouver, Planner

01:03:35 Purshottama Reddy: Hello, from Durban, South Africa.

01:03:44 Kiran Chhiba: Hello from Dillon Consulting in Oakville – Urban Designer and Planner

01:03:44 Louroz Mercader: Hello from the York-Eglinton BIA in Toronto!

01:03:48 Catherine McKenney: Hi from City of Ottawa.

01:03:53 Kent Roberts: Good afternoon from the Halifax Chamber of Commerce.

01:03:56 Suzan Prett: Good morning from Vancouver!

01:04:01 Suzanne Kavanagh: Hello from the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood, Toronto

01:04:02 Sue Uteck: Hello from the best coast- Halifax!

01:04:02 Samantha Staresincic: Hello from Downtown Kitchener, Ontario!

01:04:02 Jayne Engle: Bonjour and greetings from the island of Tiohtià:ke! Also called Montréal. Grateful to be a conscious steward on these unceded traditional homelands of the Mohawk and other Indigenous Peoples.

01:04:03 Kelly Haussler: Hello from Ottawa

01:04:13 Celia Smith: Hello from Luminato Festival Toronto – looking forward to seeing you out in the streets, parks and plazas across the region in June!

01:04:23 Donald McConnell: Hello from Sault Ste. Marie

01:04:25 Janice Solomon: Hello from Toronto Downtown West BIA

01:04:35 Neil Betteridge: Neil from Gooderham and Worts Neighborhood Association — Distillery District in downtown Toronto

01:04:43 Gay Stephenson: Good morning from the west coast of Canada!

01:04:43 Jeff Hrynkiw: Hello From Nipawin Saskatchewan

01:04:45 Arto Keklikian: Greetings from the National Capital Commission in Ottawa.

01:04:47 Canadian Urban Institute: A friendly reminder, please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” or to “everyone” so that all can see your comments.

01:04:55 Jade Williams: Hello from City Place/Fort York BIA!

01:04:55 Stephanie McCracken: Hello from Church-Wellesley Village BIA in Toronto. Great to see you Councillor!

01:05:04 Paul Bedford: Or as my partner likes to say “As the main street goes, so goes the community.”

01:05:05 Debbie Chapman: Hello from Kitchener.

01:05:09 Adrian Cammaert: Hello from Newmarket

01:05:11 Craig Walker: Hello from St. Albert, Alberta.

01:05:12 Chiara: Hello from Downtown Tkaronto!

01:05:13 Canadian Urban Institute: This Summit would have not been possible without the incredible support of our partners and sponsors. Please visit for the full list of sponsors.

01:05:18 Pilar Martinez: Hello from downtown Edmonton!

01:05:19 Richard Mahe: will the recordings be made available? I would like to have access and not have to make too many notes today.

01:05:25 Clint Wensley: There are many proven ways to redevelop city cores through innovated shows that bring tourism at levels you would never believe. We at Media Façade created the largest City Scape show on earth in Shenzhen China, drawing millions of people annually. We are working on a few projects in Canada now

01:05:27 Wendy Pollard: Good morning from Prince George, BC

01:05:33 Samar Chandra: Hello! from Whitby

01:05:37 Canadian Urban Institute: CUI’s Case for the Core: Provocations for the Future of Canada’s Downtowns affirms the critical roles of central business districts to our national recovery after the pandemic. Read the report here:

01:05:50 Paisleys Contracting: good morning from Regina SK

01:05:57 Maryam Mahvash: Hello from Vancouver!

01:06:07 Alia Abbas: Hello Everyone, Its Alia Abbas from Toronto Global.

01:07:37 Max Williams: Hello from Sarnia ON

01:07:49 Jane MacCarthy: Good morning. I’m a communications consultant joining from foggy North Vancouver/traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations

01:08:31 Canadian Urban Institute: Please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” or to “everyone” so that all can see your comments.

01:08:37 Clint Wensley: This is what we can do for your cities

01:08:39 Clint Wensley:

01:08:49 Al Smith: Hello from the St Lawrence Market Neighbourhood in Toronto

01:08:54 Terry Skidnuk: Hi from Edmonton

01:09:05 Terry Guiel: Mental health, homelessness and addictions are easily more of an issue Councillor Tam


01:09:05 Patrick Farrar: Tuning in from the Halifax Innovation Outpost in Nova Scotia – supporting food security and climate action!

01:09:10 Inara Awadia: Will the recording be made available later?

01:10:16 Scott Cluney: Hello from Downtown St. John’s Newfoundland. The most easterly BIA in North America

Canadian Urban Institute: COMING UP: Why Downtowns Matter to the Canadian Economy (12:15pm – 12:45pm ET) with Amarjeet Sohi Mayor, City of Edmonton and former Minister, Infrastructure and Communities, Government of Canada; Goldy Hyder (Ottawa), CEO, Business Council on National Issues, Ottawa; and Michael Emory, President and CEO, Allied REIT.

01:10:27 Inara Awadia: Can you share the link here?

01:11:20 Cherie Klassen: Yeah! Our Mayor in Edmonton!

01:11:57 Terry Skidnuk: Hi Mayor Sohi – great that you are here!

01:12:29 Canadian Urban Institute: Mayor Amarjeet Sohi is a Canadian politician who is currently serving as mayor of Edmonton, recently elected in October 2021. Sohi previously sat as a member of Parliament (MP) and served in the federal Cabinet from 2015 to 2018 as the minister of infrastructure and communities, and from 2018 to 2019 as the minister of natural resources. Sohi was born in India and is the first visible minority to serve as mayor of Edmonton.

01:12:39 Canadian Urban Institute: Goldy Hyder is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Business Council of Canada. He is chair of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada’s Asia Business Leaders Advisory Council, a board member of the Business + Higher Education Roundtable, an executive committee member of the Century Initiative and co-chair of Canada’s World Trade Organization Business Advisory Council. He sits on the advisory boards of two leading organizations promoting advancement of women leaders: Catalyst Canada and the 30% Club (Canada).

01:12:56 Canadian Urban Institute: Michael Emory founded Allied REIT, where he serves as President and CEO.  Prior to entering the real estate business in 1988, he was a partner at the law firm of Aird & Berlis LLP, specializing in corporate and real estate finance.  He is also a Director of Equitable Group Inc. and Equitable Bank.

01:13:19 Cathy Quinton: Hello from Little Portugal Toronto!

01:13:43 Gwen Bang: Hello from Kensington Market, Toronto!

01:14:04 Terry Guiel: YES, Mayor Sohi, that is what needs to be dealt with or their will be no recovery

01:14:36 fredrica walters: Thank you Mayor Sohi for addressing the issues such as homelessness.  Some cities think by ignoring it, it will go away.

01:14:38 Terry Guiel: You can’t vacinate away homelessness, mental health, addiction and crime.

01:14:51 Jamie (she/her), Canadian Urban Institute: We have enabled closed captioning for the audience.  If you do not require CC, please click on the button at the bottom of your screen and disable.  Thank you!

01:14:58 Paisleys Contracting: Trudeau is incompetent

01:15:36 paul mackinnon: Interested to hear from Mayor Sohi how we can get the Fed government to tackle urban issues more holistically. All of the key challenges seem to be concentrated in our downtowns.

01:15:45 Jennifer Findlay: Have attended the Edmonton Fringe Festival and fell in love with the downtown area

01:16:11 Roland Dorsay: Hi, from the Federation of Citizens Associations of Ottawa.

01:16:23 Terry Guiel: You won’t bring people back to downtown until it is safe.  Until the homelessness and addiction and crime issues are not dealt with.

01:16:41 Cherie Klassen: Awesome to hear Jennifer F. Fringe is our home grown festival in Old Strathcona. We’re the south-side downtown in Edmonton.

01:17:07 Rino Bortolin: Amazing to see how similar the issues are. Even more evidence that at any level municipal leaders need to be at the heart of all these conversations.

01:17:27 Shiv Ruparell: Great to hear the Business Council’s/Goldy’s voice on this issue

01:18:04 Angela Macdonald: ^Agree – Goldy’s voice on this issue is essential!

01:18:08 Terry Guiel: Downtown’s are the center for the homeless, the addicted, those with mental health crisis and those who are criminals.  I wish Covid was all I worried about.  

01:19:21 Canadian Urban Institute: Please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” or to “everyone” so that all can see your comments.

01:20:18 Terry Guiel: Working from home ( Municipal staff and elected staff) is part of the problem.  They are needed to work in the downtown (lunches, vibrancy) and to actually SEE the homeless and addiction issues.  Working from home makes our municipal leaders blind.  Some not even in the same city when they work from home.

01:21:23 Janet Rodriguez: Substance use disorder is  public health matter and political decision is needed to include a line in the budget for this and for housing

01:21:24 paul mackinnon: It’s a chicken/egg issue – vibrancy and great businesses, events, etc, will draw people back. But how do we attract biz and events without people?

01:21:35 Janet Rodriguez: No need to dehumanize people who live disabilities

01:21:56 Tim Kocur: SRRA’s Toronto Office Occupancy Index just emailed now. 

7% in downtown core right now.  

Highest since pandemic had been around 15% in last quarter of 2021.

01:22:07 Purshottama Reddy: People are working from home – which is fine. What about those large office towers and neighbouring coffee shops – what are the financial implications for municipalities looking specifically at their rates base. ?

01:23:11 Shiv Ruparell: Will recordings of each panel be available after the summit? @CanUrb

01:23:46 Jamie (she/her), Canadian Urban Institute: Hi Shiv! Yes, recordings will be made available at

01:23:48 Sandy Craik: In the GTA, there is approximately 180 million square feet of office space- 90 million in the suburbs, 90+million downtown- vacancy in the suburbs is +18-25% versus sub 10% – suburbs are cities too. ESG will dictate diversions from long commutes- 2.5- 4hours per day are not uncommon. This should not be us or them- shouldn’t it be about people and planet?

01:24:15 Patrick Sullivan: As Goldy suggested Confidence is so important. POST provides a great kit to assist in confidence building.

01:25:11 Wesley Reibeling: We do have to make a point though that some can still die. Immunecomprimised people are still a very high risk. I think it is a balancing act between safety (and confidence) and finding ways to really actually support SMEs.  Are their other cities around the world that we can look up to on their own recovery, at their own placemaking, at their own ways to bring culture and people back to downtown?

01:25:42 Stephanie McCracken: That’s a hopeful message, Michael.

01:25:48 fredrica walters: Thank you for being honest Mr. Emory. Businesses were more concerned about what they could get that what would ultimate benefit the overall good of our citizens.

01:25:48 Terry Guiel: Government was not ahead the crises before the pandemic ( mental health, addiction, homelessness ) so when Covid came they really failed downtowns because they couldn’t deal with the massive increase the pandemic created. 

01:27:15 Terry Guiel: I thought this was about downtowns…not cities

01:28:29 Canadian Urban Institute: Please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” or to “everyone” so that all can see your comments.

01:28:47 Graham Singh: We’ll be picking up @Michael’s point about overseas investors later this afternoon @4pm, as we look at the faith communities of new Canadians and how our traditional church properties respond.  Our challenge is making sure that good urban planning + social impact finance, gets to these questions before overseas funded REITs do (@Michael, we’ll need your help with this!)

01:31:32 Gwen Bang: I really agree with what you just said  Mayor Sohi

01:31:57 Duncan Maclennan: Goody is right that labour shortage has been mainly North American but working from home and shifts to well-connected suburbs and small towns s not. A major issue in Europe and Australia, and it has predated Covid-19 and has a lot to do with young people rationed out of city cores by housing up affordability.

01:32:19 Angela Macdonald: Pandemic put incredible pressures on capacity of inefficient Health Care System.

01:32:19 Terry Guiel: The Mayor is on point.  The others, not so much.

01:32:52 paul mackinnon: Some impacts are delayed. Downtown Halifax’s assessment base is down 6.4%, mostly due to re-assessments for large hotels. The other shoe will drop as office leases end or get re-negotiated. Not sure municipalities are forecasting for this sort of drop, and curious as to whether this is common in other Cdn cities.

01:33:06 Janet Rodriguez: @Mayor Sohi, Ontario is supposed to be fully accessible by Jan 1 2025, that’s less than 3 years.

01:33:07 Mark van Elsberg: All levels of government have to start focussing infrastructure funding from on our downtowns in a similar way that we have invested in recovery efforts rebuilding our highways and bridges after the natural disasters.  Our Cities have experienced a human flood of people leaving the cores, and with this exodus we are undermining our competitive edge.  All levels of govt must start investing in those who chose to STAY in the downtown.  Investing in our cores entice businesses, residents and tourists is good for each sector and the same investment improves all.    We are getting the private sector to invest in the private land, but 50% of our cores are PUBLICLY owned.  Michael is correct, the world is investing in our private property in our cores, but the investment in public properties is not keeping up.

01:33:45 paul mackinnon: Right on, M van E!

01:34:30 Janet Rodriguez: Since 2005 when the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability) was enacted, little has effectively happened to have more accessible and deeply affordable housing.