The Cheat Sheet: July 7 City Council

Because we’ve apparently got to re-hash every major debate we had last term, this month’s big item will be expanded gaming at Woodbine. However, there’s many other important things on City Council’s agenda for this meeting before the August break, including the Poverty Reduction Strategy, childcare funding, flood management, new bike lanes, and more.

The Big Ticket

  • Deputy Mayor Pam McConnell is in charge of the City’s interim Poverty Reduction Strategy, which comes to Council this month. I cannot recommend strongly enough that everyone read the staff report, which explains who in our city is poor; why they are poor; the process the City will use to come up with anti-poverty strategies; and more. If you only read one thing I link in this post, read this, and don’t think I won’t know if you don’t. I have analytics, y’all. I can tell what gets clicked on. Just fucking do it.

    Anyway, they write: “Over time, policy choices have made Toronto the most unequal city in Canada. The City and its partners can do things differently. Governments can make ongoing choices that reduce poverty.” I think this is important to emphasize. Our society actively makes and keeps people poor. It is a consequence of choices we make all the time that prioritize the convenience of the powerful over the lives of the powerless.

    The full Poverty Strategy will come to Executive Committee in late October, and to Council in November.

  • No, a downtown casino is not up for debate. What we’re talking is expanding the gambling facilities at Woodbine Racetrack. When bundled with the proposal for a downtown casino, it was shot down; but on its own, and with the mayor’s support, I think it is likely to pass.

    Proponents for a Woodbine casino, like Andray Domise, say that the isolated and neglected Rexdale area needs investment and jobs, and that opponents haven’t provided any other ideas. Opposed progressives like Cllr Mike Layton cite the public health impact of gambling, and argue that a more sustainable strategy is building transit, which would make it easier for people in Rexdale to work outside the neighbourhood. Check out the staff report for yourself. What do you think?

  • Okay, so this childcare funding item is going to be a bit confusing, but bear with me. Right now the province and the City split the costs of childcare services. Various confusing legislative intricacies have resulted in the province not paying as much as it ought, leaving the City to fill the funding shortfall. Up till now, the City has been using reserve funds to supplement what it pays, but the reserves will be exhausted by 2019. Staff recommend gradually phasing out reserve funds and instead using municipal tax revenue. This will let us maintain the current level of childcare services.

    The Province has introduced a new thing where cities that pay more than their fair share for childcare (like us!) get an extra chunk of change, proportionate to what percent of the cost the city covers. Now. You may have seen me ranting about how flatlining budgets without inflationary increases essentially means a budget cut. Well, here’s where the rubber meets the road. If we start paying less, we get less of that extra money. “Keep it the same” and “increase below inflation” both actually mean “pay less”. So we must keep increasing the childcare budget in order to keep provincial money flowing.

    I have a faint hope that perhaps this will be the issue that forces Toronto politicians to grapple with the truth they refuse to face: things cost money. Anyway. Check out the full report, it’s only 8 pages.

Housing

  • The Parkdale LCBO having moved to a new building on Queen St. W., what’s going to become of its old site on Brock? Cllrs Gord Perks and Ana Bailão want the City to buy it and build affordable housing there.

  • Local councillor Josh Colle wants to loosen the red tape in order to speed up the current stage of the Lawrence Heights revitalization. I’m including this not because it’s a terribly significant thing—although the displaced residents waiting for their new homes will consider it urgent—but because, as TCHC carries out major revitalization work across the city and also faces decaying housing stock, motions like these will probably become much more common.

  • It’s a dire time for co-ops and social housing in general. While affordable housing is more necessary than ever, buildings are getting old, co-ops’ operating agreements are ending, and funding is drying up. Check out this report from Shelter, Support and Housing for a good overview of the major problems and what the City can do about them. “City Council request the General Manager of SSHA to thank the boards and volunteers of the more than 240 non-profit and co-operative housing providers for their commitment to affordable housing and their contributions to housing stability for City residents.” Aww, gee, thanks.

  • A dilapidated, under-used TCHC building at 389 Church St., originally a students’ residence, is to be renovated and turned into affordable housing for women and children. (You may recall from the poverty strategy report that 37% of single mothers live in poverty.)

  • So, the TCH Commissioner of Housing Equity. Are they, like, an accountability officer like the Integrity Commish and the Ombud, or what? Don’t feel too bad if you don’t know. This is a relatively new position, created after the 2010 investigation into the death of Al Gosling and reshaped after the Ombudsman’s 2014 report on the eviction of vulnerable seniors. The Commissioner reports to the TCH Board. They are supposed to be independent, but staff have found some snags. For example, the Commissioner shouldn’t have to get approval from the TCH Board chair before responding to media requests or making speaking engagements. You can read all the recommendations in the staff report.

  • Should we license landlords? On one hand, it would allow for inspections by experts, instead of just tenant reports, and might mean tenants are more informed of their rights. On the other hand, there’s other systems that might also work, like registration, accreditation, etc. Staff conclude they need to look into it further and consult with the public before recommending anything to Council.

Environment

  • Nothing makes my heart go pitter-patter like “non-permeable surfaces”. Cllr Janet Davis wants staff to look into ways the City can get people to make their existing residential properties more stormwater-friendly—that is, less likely to contribute to flooding.

  • We’re still learning from the 2013 ice storm. New recommendations from the Executive Committee include requesting Toronto Hydro do a study on adapting to climate change and asking the province to make insurance companies incentivize flood mitigation for homeowners and “provide easily understood contracts”. Good luck with that one, ExComm.

Getting Around

Ethics & Equity

A Part of Our Heritage

  • Did you know about the anti-Greek race riot of August 1918? Now you do. Cllr Jim Karygiannis giveth…

  • “Although the City of Toronto Honourific and Street Naming Policy requires that informed written consent of the named party or the named party’s representative be obtained prior to City Council approval, it is not feasible to do so in this case as William Thornton died over 130 years ago.

  • Related: the City’s policy on street naming has been updated to include (among other things) that Native communities must be consulted and proper protocol used when naming a street after a Native person, organization, or event. I recommend anyone interested in enforcing this policy retroactively to look to Ogimaa Mikana.

God Fucking Damn It

Odds and Ends

  • As the first phase of revitalization comes to a close, Waterfront Toronto is at a crossroads.

  • Cllr Josh Matlow wants free wifi everywhere.

  • This is what City Council being passive-aggressive looks like:

    City Council request the General Manager, Transportation Services and the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning to report with additional information on the potential costs associated with each new Community Mail Boxes on our streets including siting, parking signage changes, curb cuts and landscaping repairs; traffic management; snow clearing, litter collection and other anticipated costs.

  • Blah blah outdoor rinks whatever.

  • I always love it when councillors who resent Big Government meddling have to ask for Big Government meddling.

  • Our Hipster Killjoy of the Month Award goes to Cllr Perks…though there’s still time for councillors to get their motions in.


Anything I missed out or messed up? Leave a comment or drop me a line. I’ll be at Council livetweeting as much as I can!

3 thoughts on “The Cheat Sheet: July 7 City Council”

  1. “Governments can make ongoing choices that reduce poverty”

    The report says how terrible the labour market is and how 46% of recent immigrants live in poverty, and how mid level jobs have disappeared.

    Is this not all because of a choice to have 80,000 or so new immigrants coming to the GTA each year instead of either reducing the number or finding ways to get immigrants to settle in parts of the country where unemployment/underemployment is lower?

    Mulroney changed immigration policy so that we have permanently high levels of immigration – prior to Mulroney immigration levels fluctuated with the unemployment rate and were usually far lower. he whole thing about an aging population and future shortages of labour is a mere rationalisation for a policy created 25 years ago to woo immigrants to vote conservative, rather than Canada having any real strategy that requires high immigration now… births exceed deaths and our population will grow for a few decades before it will decline.

    Generally the symptoms in the report of high unemployment among youth and immigrants (and disabled and workers over 50 and aboriginals….) and low wages and general underemployment is due to a surplus of labour… supply of labour growing faster than the ability of the economy to create good jobs.

    1. I don’t think the facts bear out your theory; check out the [2015 Economic Dashboard](http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2015/ed/bgrd/backgroundfile-76322.pdf) or the most recent [Social Dashboard](http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/viewAgendaItemHistory.do?item=2015.CD5.6) for more information. You may also want to re-read the Poverty Strategy report.

      Unemployment in Toronto spiked during the global financial crisis. While the employment rate has recovered (most recently peaking in 2013), the jobs that have been created are overwhelmingly low-paid, precarious, and temporary. Manufacturing, traditionally a source of good jobs, has been on the decline for a good 50 years or so here, I think; it’s the service sector that has seen the most growth. Many people are working part-time because they are unable to find full-time work. At the same time, the booming real estate market has made housing extremely unaffordable — it is easily the biggest chunk in most people’s budgets. The social safety net (disability benefits, social assistance, subsidized daycare, etc.) has been eroding since the mid-90’s, never having recovered from the Harris government’s cuts.

      Altogether, this means that people — especially young people — have a harder time getting started; little room for advancement; big expenses; and inadequate help to get out of poverty.

      On the federal level, immigration policy has paralleled this polarization, with 1) massive growth in the temporary foreign worker program, and 2) more stringent requirements and a higher bar for skilled immigrants seeking citizenship. While the Conservatives certainly cater to “ethnic” voters *once they’re here*, I think it is a bit of a stretch to say they have deliberately liberalized immigration. It smacks of xenophobia. However, federal politics is not my wheelhouse.

      1. Another source of data is at http://www1.toronto.ca/static_files/economic_development_and_culture/docs/Economic%20indicators/economic_indicators.pdf which shows the City , GTA, province and national numbers.

        In the 1993 election,all 3 major parties had a policy of increasing immigration to 1% of population – it is still in the NDP platform. Jason Kenney of the Conseravtives has certainly been wooing the “ethnic” vote and a lot of policies like opposing gay marriage were targeted at those communities – the Conservatives see many immigrants as being socially conservative.

        Regarding housing – we have a greenbelt which limits/fixes the supply of land and then a growing population – the result is also more demand and a limited supply so that eventually only the wealthy will be able to afford a detached house as prices are driven up. Lower interest rates have also had an impact in all cities.

        If you look at Toronto’s population grwoth, we have about 25,000 people per year leaving the GTA for other parts of the province or country. It used to be that Toronto had a net inflow of people, particularly from Quebec, the Maritimes and Manitoba… like in the movie “going down the road”. Toronto (416) was not that dependent on manufacturing, unlike Hamilton, Windsor St. Catherines and Oshawa. But it used to be that after 10 years immigrants to Canada had incomes above the Canadian average, and unemployment rates below the national average – this was up until about 10-15 years ago. Immigrants used to be able to get jobs in manufacturing (garment industry etc.)or unionised jobs – so with recent immigrants they either do much better than average (educated with skills in demand) or much worse than average – with the latter category dominating.

        A friend of my family is a middle aged somalian, and is one of 10 kids (the parents immigrated and they all came in – only a few were born here) – the fanily has nearly all emigrated to Alberta where they find getting a job much easier than here. If you look at the national unemployment rates by province, all of the western provinces are below the national average, all the eastern ones above the average – so as I said, a part of the problem is that immigrants are not settling where the jobs are most plentiful.

        Our numbers are finally looking better, but since th emid-90s Toronto’s unemployment rate has often been above the national average, and often higher than Montreal. Toronto’s rate is far more volatile – even so, today it is at 7.7% (seasonally adjusted) compared to 6.7% for Ontario and 6.8% for Canada.

        Low wages are not just symptomatic of the types of work available, but competition for jobs. In Alberta even crappy jobs like fast food were paying much higher wages because of the shortages of labour (most of the TFWs were hired there, not Toronto). Employers will pay whatever they can get away with… which is why graduating students ended up doing unpaid internships just to have something on their resume.

        People taking part-time work because they can’t get full-time work proves the point. Some people say “immigration creates jobs” but obviously it creates fewer jobs than the number of people being added to the labour force, or else Toronto would have the lowest unemployment rate in the country.

        But this list of low wages, high unemployment/underemployment, high housing costs and inadequate infrastructure all point to one thing – a population growing faster in the GTA than our ability to absorb it.

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