Just a Quick Announcement

I’m moving on from Torontoist.

I’m incredibly grateful I had the opportunity to contribute to a great publication. Torontoist’s editors (and I mean copy editors too! ilu guise) have improved my writing immensely. And a shout-out to the many Torontoist Flickr pool photographers whose work has enriched my articles.

However, I deserve to be paid fairly. And Torontoist doesn’t have the budget for that.1

I’ll be reaching out to other publications that may be a good home for my municipal politics coverage. In the meanwhile, my City Council previews (and everything else) will appear here.

  1. As you know from Who Pays Writers, Torontoist pays freelancers $15 per article. I believe a fair amount would be about $150-300 per article (depending on length and work involved) and $20 per hour of liveblogging. 

Toronto City Council Agenda Preview: March 2017

Photo by Jae Yang from the Torontoist Flickr pool.

City Council convenes this week for yet another Scarborough transit debate. But there’s much more on the agenda, including energy drinks, the Great Lakes, landlord licensing, the inexorable spread of Shoppers Drug Mart, and more. Read on for our picks.

Read more at Torontoist.

Toronto City Council Preview: December 2016

From road tolls to water rates, we read Council’s agenda so you don’t have to.

The rate-supported budget—water, waste, and parking—will be passed this meeting. But it’s a regular Council meeting, too! Try to contain your excitement! The Big Ticket The water, waste, and Parking Authority budgets get passed today. (These are separate from the tax-supported budget, which comes to Council in mid-February.) Read our discussion of the rate-supported budget. […]

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What You Need to Know About Toronto’s 2017 Water, Waste, and Parking Budget

Toronto actually has multiple City budgets! Think of this as the secret one that no one talks about.

When people talk about the City budget or the budget process, they usually mean the tax-supported budget. But there’s another budget—or, rather, there are three. The water, waste, and parking budgets are funded by people paying fees for the services they use (and only the services they use). They make up the rate-supported budget, which […]

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Toronto City Council Preview: November 2016 (SmartTrack, Ward Boundaries, and Flood Protection)

Every month, Torontoist reads the Toronto City Council agenda details so you don’t have to.

On this month’s busy agenda: SmartTrack, redrawing Toronto’s wards, service animals, skate parks, and more. The Big Ticket The people want SmartTrack. SmartTrack, SmartTrack, SmartTrack. A major transit report on the City’s commitment to a development process and funding for SmartTrack comes to Council this month. There are many unknowns, untruths, and potential snags. Read […]

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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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