Four Ways that SmartTrack Could See More Problems

It has political support, but it’s still an unfunded plan with billions in questionable assumptions.

After Executive Committee unanimously approved the recommendations in the key transit report released earlier this week, the item will go to City Council for debate next week. If it passes there as well, does that mean SmartTrack is a done deal? No. This is just the first step in a long process, and through the […]


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We Annotated Toronto Council’s Transit Report So You Can Follow Along

We make sense of the report with billions of dollars’ worth of implications for Toronto’s transit future. (You can suggest your annotations too!)

Dang, Toronto’s transit planning is confusing. Unfortunately, the language in staff reports that’s used to inform decision-making doesn’t always help, either. Sometimes it can be verbose, or you need lots of institutional knowledge to appreciate the context and underlying issues they’re referencing. So we here at Torontoist have annotated the recent staff report on the […]


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Mammoliti Sent a Stupid Press Release, So We Added the Annotations it Needs

Giorgio Mammoliti’s press releases are a joy to open. The colourful councillor will say and do anything for attention, whether it’s acting like a raccoon, capitalizing on Rob Ford’s death, or going shirtless at city hall to protest a nude beach. The press release he sent Monday at 3:06 p.m. was simple enough, even if…


Read more at Torontoist.

The City Manager’s 2016 State of Toronto Address: It’s Time to go Cold Turkey

Crossposted from Torontoist.


In his annual address, the city manager lays out some of the challenges that Council should confront.

Photo by Neville Park.

Photo by Neville Park.

We went to the city manager’s address so you didn’t have to.

Every year, academics, wonks, politicos, and other assorted nerds assemble at U of T to listen to the city manager hold forth on the City’s financial situation. Yeah, we know you’re already bored, but this is important! It’s a rare opportunity to hear directly from Toronto’s top civil servant with more candour, less political spin.

City Manager Peter Wallace is fond of metaphors. During his talk, we saw the triumphant return of the $29 billion Unfunded Capital Projects Iceberg1. He also likened the City’s lack of a long-term operating budget plan to speeding down a gravel road with only parking lights on.2 But this was the winner:

There is a little bit of complacency. There’s a little bit of comfort…basically, “Well, it’ll always work out.” And I’m going to draw an analogy here: smoking. Doctors will bother people about smoking and suggest that maybe smoking isn’t a good idea, and a lot of smokers…have the idea, “I’m still here. I was here last year, I’m here this year, then smoking is okay because it hasn’t killed me yet.” And the reality is…these things are risky behaviours, and they might well catch up. As a public servant I take risks with great seriousness; I advise that risks should be mitigated, managed, and minimal. And right now, we are very heavy smokers in the City of Toronto.

This risky behaviour is, of course, Council’s long-standing habit of voting to improve public services and embark on new projects while simultaneously restricting its means of paying for them. There is an ever-widening gap between Toronto’s vision, expressed in policies and grand projects, and actions—expressed in what the City actually funds.

The city manager was quick to clarify that it’s not just a matter of the structural deficit, which dates back to amalgamation. It’s also a challenge for the immediate future. (The 2017 budget gap will be around $607 million; in 2018, $438 million.) He also repeatedly expressed concern for the long-term consequences of Council’s years of nickel-and-diming. Constant cuts to City administration have kept it stuck in the past. “I’m signing attendance slips,” Wallace exclaimed in frustration at one point. “I should never be signing attendance slips.”

In the short term, the results of budget cuts—crappy transit, crumbling housing, underfunded social services—are shunted off to individuals. In the long term, this has a generational impact, reinforcing systemic social issues like poverty and segregation that once again become the City’s responsibility. Much of this could have been mitigated, Wallace implied, if Council had actually increased property tax revenue to keep up with the cost of living in the past. But Council has consistently found raising property taxes to be unacceptable, and “recommending the unacceptable is not a great way for a public servant to make a living.”

The alternative is harsh. Wallace is preparing to force a chain-smoking Council to go cold turkey. No fruitless appeals for provincial funding; no “aspirational” revenue tools that the City can’t actually implement; no committing to shiny new projects while existing gaps go unfilled. If Council refuses to raise property taxes, they’re going to see what it actually costs. December, when the 2017 budget proposal gets launched at city hall, is going to be fun.

The city manager discussed much more in his speech; if you’re really interested, you’ll be able to watch it for yourself. The event was recorded, and we’ll add a link to the webcast when IMFG makes it available.

Past City Manager’s Addresses


  1. By the time the budget launches in December, we may pass the $30 billion threshold. I WANT TO BELIEVE. 
  2. He’s already made this criticism [PDF] of the budget process. 

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Toronto City Council Preview: October 2016

Crossposted from Torontoist.


We read Council’s monthly agenda, so you don’t have to.

Photo by YihTang Yeo from the Torontoist Flickr pool.

Photo by YihTang Yeo from the Torontoist Flickr pool.

Council returns from its summer break to a busy agenda. At this month’s meeting: Rail Deck Park, shelter NIMBYs, condo world problems, and more.

The Big Ticket

  • The first step in the ambitious Rail Deck Park: creating a project team to strategize how to build and fund it. Staff now say it could cost over $1 billion, which sounds about right. Meanwhile, a group of developers are claiming they, not the rail companies, own the air rights to the proposed site, which will further complicate an already challenging project.

Gimme Shelter

  • An interesting item comes from Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32, Beaches-East York): City Council is still voting on where to put new shelters [PDF], though the OMB told them to stop doing it 12 years ago. What gives? (The response of the deputy city manager, who oversees Shelter, Support and Housing: the OMB found that requiring Council approval was inappropriate because it was redundant, not because it was discriminatory.) Here’s more historical background.
    Related: strategies to fight NIMBY resistance; the latest on the emergency men’s shelter at 731 Runnymede.
  • The feds tossed Shelter, Support and Housing Administration some $3 million as part of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy. Sweet.
  • We’ve previously covered how the Province has changed the Residential Tenancies Act to let domestic violence survivors break their leases safely. The Province is also giving the City $3 million for a new pilot project called the Portable Housing Benefit, which will provide financial assistance for domestic violence survivors on the social housing waitlist. It will be $500 per month, plus a one-time $2,500 “start-up” benefit upon getting a new place. Staff estimate the project will help 355 people.

Urban Planning

Recreational Pursuits

Homes

  • As condos take over Toronto, could their residents use extra support from the City? Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East) wants to emulate Chicago alderman Joe Moore’s condo workshops, which educate owners, tenants, and board members about governance issues. City staff: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • Down with glorified closets windowless bedrooms!
  • The Friends of High Park Zoo are “looking to repair and upgrade key heritage structures to improve the quality of life of the animals…This includes the Zoo’s widely acclaimed peacock and capybara residents.”
  • Local councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) wants an investigation into the recent CityPlace power outages.
  • Surveillance state mired in red tape.

Exhibition Place and Environs

  • Thanks to the efforts of Toronto’s Ukrainian-Canadian community, Exhibition Place is getting a memorial of the Holodomor, the famine, primarily a result of Soviet policies, that killed millions in Ukraine between 1932 and 1933.
  • The quest to free the Greek gods from Muzik nightclub, postponed last meeting, continues.
  • The latest giant billboard eyesore proposal: Strachan Avenue, just next to Fort York. Multiple previous violations, complaints from Liberty Village residents, twice as bright as permitted, would become third biggest in city, yadda yadda, you know the drill.

Getting Around

I Only Smoke When I Drink

  • Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston) and Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38, Scarborough Centre) want Municipal Licensing and Standards to start cracking down on hookah lounges and animal cruelty, respectively.
  • Should licensed establishments be responsible for cleaning up cigarette butts around their premises?
  • Most hipster liquor licence application objection this month: the new Parkdale outpost of temple to masculinity Rod, Gun & Barbers, where old-fashioned wet shaves come with bourbon and cigars.

Miscellaneous

  • The City is taking steps to modernize its relationship with non-profits and community groups. As budget cuts continue forcing the City to “download” social services to the non-profit sector, having a formal policy framework in place is just a good idea.
  • Raymond Cho, formerly representing Ward 42, Scarborough-Rouge River, has finally levelled up. Council must decide to fill the vacant seat through by-election or appointment.
    Related: it seems like newbie Michael Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North) will get to be on the Government Management Committee.
  • Way back at amalgamation, Council decided that councillors’ staff who left their jobs and got severance packages couldn’t be re-hired by the City or other councillors for two years. This was meant to prevent “double-dipping”—receiving a severance while getting paid by the City at the same time. But times have changed, and now most councillors’ staff get nine months or less of severance. Thanks to the two-year rule, many people are ineligible for re-hiring for longer than they even worked for a councillor. This motion attempts to make things a bit more fair.
  • Contract out all the things!! This time around, it’s Fleet Services.
  • Obligatory technology buzzword members’ motion from Michelle Holland: smart roads. Our chief concern: what will we call a smart stroad? “Strmoad”?

Did we miss anything worth paying attention to? Let us know in the comments. And if you want to support more City Council coverage like this, chip in at Patreon. It makes a difference.

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