Weekend Newsbrief: May 5, 2018
What happened at Toronto City Hall this week
By Arianne Robinson
Candidate nomination for the 2018 municipal election begins. Tuesday was the first day that candidates for mayor, city councillor, and school board trustee could submit their nomination papers to run for office. The nomination period lasts for almost three months (until July 27). There are 47 wards in the upcoming election and a number of changed ward boundaries (map here).
New ward races are on, and one involves two very different incumbents… both on the mayor’s executive committee. As of Friday night, less than half of Toronto city councillors had registered to run in Toronto’s October municipal election. One race of particular interest is between two incumbents whose wards have overlapped and merged with the new ward boundaries. Ana Bailão’s west-end ward (bordered by Dovercourt, Dupont and the rail tracks that run from near Annette to King) has merged with Cesar Palacio’s ward just north (running from Ossington to Dufferin, along Eglinton, and back along the rail line). The new ward has similar western and northern boundaries, but with a new southern border of Bloor Street, and an eastern border of Oakwood, Dufferin and Dovercourt.. Both councillors are on the mayor’s executive committee. Incumbent Councillor Gord Perk’s new ward will extend northeast into Bailão’s current ward.
Wong-Tam registers to change ward neighbourhood, moves south. Incumbent Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam is registered to run in the new ward that encompasses Toronto Island, the financial district and city hall (this part overlapping with her current ward). The new ward’s north boundary is College and Carlton, meaning Toronto’s only openly gay incumbent councillor is no longer running to represent the neighbourhood at Church and Wellesley.
Layton keeps mayoral option open. On the first day candidates could register their nomination papers to become candidates, incumbent Mayor John Tory registered to run for mayor, along with five others (one accompanied by former potential mayoral candidate Desmond Cole who announced last weekend he he will not be running for mayor). Councillor Mike Layton was also present at the elections office at city to support candidate Ausma Malik for a new ward, but stayed vague when asked if he is considering a run for mayor. (Read the story)
City report says bicycle tune-up stations in parks will cost more than a five-night all inclusive trip to the Caribbean . A report to the Parks and Environment Committee on the feasibility of installing bike tune-up stations in city parks estimates the cost per unit over a thousand dollars. “Currently, the typical prices range for a reasonably durable unit is from $1,000 – $2,500 plus installation costs.” The report also says that challenges with stations have included vandalism and high incidence of theft. Signal Toronto contacted the author of the report on Friday requesting a breakdown for the amount provided, but was passed along to a staff in another department who could not account for the quote. Liz Sutherland, Interim Director of Advocacy and Government Relations at Cycle Toronto endorsed, writing in an email, “we are comfortable that, through the city’s request for quote process, they obtained a reasonable price range for the bike tune-up stations, given that the equipment needs to be durable and high-quality.” However when asked about the figure, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker wasn’t so sure. “That sounds high to me because my bike repair station is literally a pump at my spot downstairs [at city hall] so it might have cost $50. I have to look at the report. Maybe [city] staff are trying to over-engineer things because they’re trying to [build it to mitigate theft].” De Baeremaeker said he thinks the city should figure out a way to do it for next to nothing. The councillor rides his bike to city hall three days a week, to and from Scarborough (about an hour ride each way).
Laneway housing delayed at community council. On Wednesday afternoon, councillors on the Toronto and East York Community Council sent the item back to staff for more consultation work with communities. (Read the story)
Good to know
The Toronto Marathon will begin Sunday at 6 a.m. and last until 3 p.m. Some ramps on the Gardiner Expressway, Lake Shore Boulevard, and Don Valley Parkway will be closed.
The race route:
COLUMN: Forget the mayoral race, it’s Toronto’s council races that will determine the shape of our city
By Matt Elliott
For all the talk of visions and long-term plans and catchy slogans, the two prominent buttons on the council chamber desk of every city councillor – one green, and one red – are what really shape the future of our city. These buttons determine everything.
Why, for instance, is the city rebuilding the eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway when it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars (reports say more than a billion) more than alternatives presented to council earlier this term? It’s not because of compelling reports or the wisdom of experts. Not really. It’s because two councillors pressed a button in favour of that decision.
Had two of the city councillors in attendance during the Gardiner debate in June 2015 – seriously, just two – pushed the other button and voted the other way, the city would be on an altogether different road.
But of course, that didn’t happen. Instead, Mayor John Tory led council to vote 24-21 to keep the expressway.
A two-vote margin. If two measly votes had gone the other way, the result would have been 23-22 in favour of removing the highway.
With Toronto’s government structure, it’s not about the bulleted lists of promises included in mayoral platforms. It’s about electing coalitions of people that represent enough votes to win on the issues you care about.
It’s worth thinking about that tiny two-vote difference and what could have otherwise been this week, as Toronto’s municipal election season officially kicks off. Even if Tory doesn’t face a high-profile challenger to the mayor’s office, Toronto’s weak mayor system — where council, not the mayor, calls the shots — means there’s a hell of a lot at stake.
The mayor is ultimately just one vote, after all. With new and expanded ward boundaries creating three new seats, there are 47 other city hall elections taking place this year, in addition to the mayoral race. And the winners of those elections will be responsible for voting on hundreds of items.
Just a few different button pushes over the last four years could have changed the long-term direction of this city. Billions of dollars could have been devoted to other things. People’s lives could have been different – maybe better.
As an example, consider this: had just five councillors in attendance voted differently – or been different people altogether – Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s motion in December to request use of the federally managed armouries as shelter space for the city’s homeless population would have passed. The armouries could have (with federal approval) opened before it got bitterly cold out.
Five changed votes and maybe someone out in the cold finds a warm place to sleep.
Similarly, six council votes made the difference in the city’s decision to keep pursuing the ever-more-expensive Scarborough subway project. Four votes made the difference in council’s decision to stop pursuing ranked ballots as a form of electoral reform. Nine votes ensured that council stuck to Tory’s desire to keep residential property taxes below inflation. One vote – one damned vote – meant that industrial companies continue to get subsidies covering some of the cost of the wastewater they produce.
Toronto’s municipal election needs to be thought about in these terms. With Toronto’s government structure, it’s not about the bulleted lists of promises included in mayoral platforms. It’s about electing coalitions of people that represent enough votes to win on the issues you care about.
To that end, the apparent lack of a high-profile challenger to Tory could be a good thing. Without a showy mayoral race sucking up all the oxygen in the city, Toronto voters have an opportunity this year to focus more on the council races that will actually make the difference.
The opportunity is huge. Those new ward boundaries have created several vacant seats, and the number of vacancies could be further bolstered by councillors attempting to win jobs at Queen’s Park — if they win. Additional momentum could come from advocacy groups who are preparing to put resources toward defeating some of council’s most notorious incumbents.
If, for example, four or five new progressive-minded councillors are elected, a bunch of city-building initiatives that seemed just out of reach during this term of council could suddenly become attainable. But conversely, if some or all of these vacant seats are filled by politicians who like the sound of the mayor’s pledge to keep property taxes at or below the rate of inflation, then, well, the next four years will probably look a lot like the past four. Forget it, Jake, it’s Tory Town.
Don’t sleep on this election. In its own sneaky way, with new boundaries, three new wards and extra attention on council seat races, it might be the most critical since amalgamation. Take the time to figure out who is running to be your councillor. And when you talk to them, don’t let them get away with handing you platitudes about their folksy hardscrabble roots or passion for volunteering. Instead, ask them how they’ll vote.
Remember the stakes, the votes, the implications. Remember the buttons. One green. One red. In the margins: one city’s future.
Matt Elliott is a columnist, blogger and City Hall watcher in Toronto. After starting out as an independent blogger, he later became the city columnist for Metro News. He mostly writes about local issues, often with a nerdy focus on municipal budgets and urban policy. The winner of two Canadian Online Publishing Awards for his writing, the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale has called Matt “one of the best political columnists anywhere.” You can follow Matt on Twitter at @GraphicMatt.