Don’t mess with Toronto

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(Host) Commentator Mary Clancy says Canadians may feel more warmly toward Toronto after the recent SARS scare.

(Clancy) Americans aren’t expected to know this, but the real glue that keeps Canada together is not our famed social programs or our love of hockey. What really keeps the Confederation together is hating Toronto. Every Canadian who does not live in Canada’s largest city has always had a perverse delight in watching misfortune befall Toronto, probably because it happens so rarely.

Let’s face it, Toronto is a large, beautiful, clean metropolis. It has superb restaurants, gorgeous parks, great theatre, excellent institutions of higher learning, etcetera, etcetera. In other words, everything a world-class city needs.

So are other Canadians small minded, jealous and spiteful? No, we just can’t stand the fact that Torontonians remind us at every turn that they are world class and we’re not. Some years ago, Toronto suffered a snowfall which, in the words of one wag, was “about the amount of snow that most Canadian cities receive on any given Tuesday in February.” The city government called in the army. To say that Canadians rejoiced is to understate the case. Comedians, talk shows, columns, Internet jokes. I mean it was pitiless; and it went on forever.

Until last month, when Dr. Gro Brundtland, head of the World Health Organization, blew her cool and slapped a travel advisory on Toronto. Then Canadians sat up and took notice, and they were pretty upset.

In Canada, whose government, by the way, had just stood up for the U.N. in a major way over the Iraq war, there was shock and dismay that WHO would slap a no-go on Toronto without any consultation with Canada’s Minister of Health. WHO has subsequently sort of admitted that they may have sort of overreacted about Toronto, but it may be too late – certainly for half-hearted apologies.

Canadian and U.S. librarians due for one of their joint conventions, which would have brought 30,000 delegates to Toronto, are rethinking their convention. So are literally thousands of other organizations. Toronto accounts for 20% of Canada’s economy. Obviously, this is a major problem. And it isn’t necessary. Yes, SARS is a serious and world-wide problem. However provincial and federal health authorities acted quickly and competently to contain these problems. Indeed, the day that Brundtland went over the top, Toronto was on its nineteenth day without a community outbreak. Some thanks we got for sticking with our friends at the U.N.!

So please tell your friends and colleagues. Toronto is dealing effectively with the SARS outbreak. Ontario and Canadian public health standards are among the highest in the world. Community outbreaks have been held to a minimum; and of course on April 29 the WHO lifted the travel advisory.

Visit Toronto – you won’t regret it. Because it is a world-class city and a simply smashing place to visit. But more important, your Canadian neighbors need your help. Not just to rescue Toronto’s faltering economy but to get us back to normal. We’re not used to standing up and defending Toronto. It just isn’t normal. So for heaven’s sake, get up there and spend some money, so they can go back to bragging about being world class, and the rest of Canada can go back to making fun of them. It’s the least you can do for a friend.

This is Mary Clancy, a Canadian living in Burlington, Vermont.

Mary Clancy is the president of Burlington College and a former member of the Canadian Parliament.

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