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Hey Toronto Media - Time to get with it:
The “City of Toronto” is not the “Greater Toronto Area”

By: Frank Clayton

July 12, 2017

There is no question that the city of Toronto is an important city. It is Canada’s largest city by far and there are just two U.S. cities that are bigger in terms of population – New York City and Los Angeles. However, the city is only one of 23 municipalities, albeit the largest one, that constitute the Toronto economic region, or what Statistics Canada calls the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (CMA). The Toronto CMA takes in most of the population and economic activity found in the more familiar geographic entity known as the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) which includes the regions of York, Durham, Peel and Halton (the 905 areas) as well as the city of Toronto (the 416 area). It matters little whether the economic region centred on the city of Toronto is termed the Toronto CMA or the GTA.

In terms of the regional economy and housing market, political boundaries like those for the city of Toronto are not very germane. What determines an economic region are the linkages between where people live and work. The reality is that the city of Toronto and its 905 neighbours are interconnected parts of the same economic region - it is not “them versus us.”

It may be tough for hardened Torontonians to accept but the 905 portions of the Toronto CMA are actually more important than the city in key metrics. For instance, the city’s mid-2016 population of 2.73 million accounts for only 46 percent of the CMA’s population of 5.58 million. And while the high-rise condominium construction boom has renewed Toronto’s population growth, the city accounted for just 34 percent of the CMA population growth between mid-2011 and mid-2016.

It is common for Toronto media to mix-up the city of Toronto and the Toronto region in their reporting. The most frequent mistake is to give the city of Toronto credit for GTA-wide phenomena. This buttresses the Toronto-centric view that the city is where all the action is and the 905 portions of the region are really not very important, which of course is incorrect.

You think I am wrong? Let’s look at how the Toronto media misrepresented Statistics Canada’s May 3rd release of 2016 Census of Canada data on structural type of housing units occupied in the Toronto region. This is just the latest of an ongoing litany of mistaking the city of Toronto for the GTA.

Statistics Canada was very clear the structural type data it released is for CMAs not individual municipalities

Here is what Statistics Canada stated in its May 3rd release of data from the 2016 Census of Canada for occupied private dwelling units by structural type:

“The previous census release found in The Daily of February 8, 2017 emphasized the high concentration of Canadians in Canada's 35 CMAs. The high-rise apartment building (five or more storeys) is perhaps the most noticeable symbol of this urban intensification.

In 2016, the CMA of Toronto was the urban centre with the largest share of dwellings in high-rise buildings. In that CMA, nearly 3 in 10 dwellings were in buildings of this size. London was second on this list, with 16.8% of dwellings in buildings that have five or more storeys, followed by Vancouver, with 16.7%.”

Despite the explicit mention that the data provided pertained to the Toronto CMA, media reports we examined all proclaimed the data are for the city of Toronto. The media includes the four Toronto newspapers, the CBC and Huffington Post.

What the media reported about the housing mix in the city of Toronto and the Toronto CMA

A representative article starts by reporting that apartments (44 percent) outnumber single-detached houses (40 percent) as home to Toronto residents in 2016 and that Toronto had the most dwellings in high-rise apartments – nearly one in three – of major cities across the country. Erroneously, these numbers are for the Toronto CMA not for the city of Toronto.

The proper data for the city of Toronto show that 64 percent of its dwellings in 2016 are apartments and 24 percent are single-detached houses – and 44 percent of its dwellings are high-rise apartments. Since the number of apartments has exceeded single-detached houses in the city of Toronto for decades, the 2016 Census provides nothing new in this regard.

Bottom line

The media does a disservice to the sizable portions of the Toronto economic region outside the city of Toronto by attributing region-wide data as being city of Toronto data. This inflates the importance of the city and downplays the importance of the 905 areas.


Frank Clayton is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development at Ryerson University.