The World Health Organization has issued a travel advisory on Toronto as a result of the SARS outbreak. Toronto is, to say the least, bent out of shape about this, as it affects the tourism industry, business, government and the general populace.
For those who don’t know Toronto, the Greater Toronto Area, or GTA is about 3 million people in one whacking great city. It is about the size of Atlanta, all spread out. Toronto is the media, cultural and financial center of Canada.
From a media standpoint all news in Canada comes from Toronto, so if a parakeet gets a head cold, there are always five news trucks and a bus full of reporters on hand to report breathlessly about sneezes and wheezes. Culturally, Montreal, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Vancouver all outrank Toronto, but don’t say that out loud in the GTA.
Financially, yes, Bay Street is the engine. You don’t pronounce the second ‘t’ in Toronto by the way. It is pronounced ‘Tronno’ as a Canadian, or ‘Tor-on-Toe’ if you are not from here. Toronto is essentially a big American City that actually works.
The rest of Canada, as best I can tell, looks at the SARS outbreak and sums up their feelings with two words: “Fuck ’em.”
There is a hate-hate relationship between Toronto and the rest of the country that is uncharacteristically Not Canadian.
In perspective, there have been 19 deaths from SARS and about 100 folks who have been quarantined. The rest of the inhabitants just go about their daily work as if today was another day. Unlike other cities, where everyone is in masks, gowns, gloves and booties 24-7, Torontonians just shrug and press on.
Toronto is a toxic city from the standpoint of their navel gazing, pomposity, arrogance and swagger, much like New York is not really part of the Continental United States. There is the US and then there is New York City, just like London and the rest of the UK, or Paris and Nothing Else. The same holds true of Toronto.
Toronto is not a toxic city from the standpoint of SARS. To use the WHO criteria, New York City is a hotbed of Hep A, B and C, AIDS, Pneumonia and host of other fascinating and unique diseases, but I don’t see any travel advisories posted about NYC. Nor should there be any kind of travel sanctions regarding the GTA.
It would be like putting a travel ban on Pembroke Ontario, because everyone there is drunk and you will get a hellacious hangover just by driving through it on a Saturday night. Incidentally, Pembroke Ontario is the only town in Ontario that has its per-capita consumption of alcohol decrease when the students go to University. Kingston Ontario, where most Pembroke youth go to school, has its per-capita alcohol consumption figures skyrocket when the Pembroke kids come to town. Pembroke bartenders will serve you if you can see over the counter and have money. I know this to be true, as I lived in Pembroke for five liquid years that I remember many parts of.
Should Toronto be on the World Health Organization list? No. Is the whole thing a media circus that is playing because the War in Iraq is winding down? Yes. It would seem the networks have invested in all kinds of music and graphics they were going to use for Iraq, but the Baghdad Show fell over too quickly and now they’ve got to use this stuff up. Today’s Media Circus: SARS.
Next week: Zipper Injuries on the Rise. Are young people not wearing underwear and mutilating their genitals with zippers? More breathless reporting to come!