We Ranked Toronto City Council's 10 Worst Motions in 2016, and They're Really Bad

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We Ranked Toronto City Council’s 10 Worst Motions in 2016, and They’re Really Bad

Find out which Council motion was the worst of the year, for sheer dunderheadedness.

How do you define what makes a motion “bad”? Is it those terrible Council decisions that will haunt our city forever because they committed us to billions in unjustified spending or rolled back years of policy work? Or those half-cocked ideas that should never have seen the light of day? We’ve created a festive mix of both.

10. The Obligatory Giorgio Mammoliti Budget Motion

NOPE.

NOPE.

Whose fault: Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West)

It’s not often you can get City Council to agree unanimously on non-routine items. But this year, everyone in the room agreed that Mammoliti’s proposal for a zero per cent tax increase was…not a good idea.

This is bad on two fronts. First, freezing the City’s main source of revenue is massively fiscally irresponsible and would wreak havoc on municipal government. Second, this is desperately uncreative compared to previous ridiculous Mammoliti budget motions—a Council-watcher fan favourite is 2013’s casino boat.

9. Toronto’s Own Foreign Buyer Tax

Whose fault: Jim Karygiannis (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt), @norm

All right, let’s walk through this.

  • Karygiannis wants a report on foreign investors, with an eye to create something similar to British Columbia’s new foreign buyer tax.
  • BC’s tax is putting a damper on their real estate market.
  • Toronto is increasingly reliant on the Municipal Land Transfer Tax, buoyed by the real estate boom, as a revenue source.

What could possibly go wrong?

8. TCHC Telecom Towers

Whose fault: James Pasternak (Ward 10, York Centre)

“Many [TCHC] residents have concerns regarding the effects of living in close proximity to so many telecommunications towers,” reads Pasternak’s motion, which calls for TCHC to review the process of approving telecommunications towers on top of their buildings (and for a moratorium on new installations in the meanwhile).

Yes, this is about people’s vague fears of anything that can be described as radiation. No, WiFi (or cell phone signals, or radio) does not cook your brain or give you cancer or any other illness.

A councillor in this situation could allay their constituents’ fears by making sure they’re well-informed about the technology. Or they could try to cut off millions of dollars in revenue [PDF] to score a political point, which could inadvertently make TCHC buildings actually crappier. Pasternak chose the latter.

(Note: this is not a slip-up; Pasternak has previously objected to meter reading fees being charged to people who, for the same reasons, refused Toronto Water’s automated water meters.)

7. Choosing the East Gardiner Hybrid

Whose fault: Nobody’s. Everyone’s.

Toronto is a leading innovator in finding ways to commit billions of dollars to major infrastructure projects rather than opting for the cheaper, more efficient option. So, while major cities around the world are demolishing their urban highways, Council voted to keep ours up—spending an extra half billion dollars billion dollars to save drivers a few minutes.

In March, Council doubled down by voting for the most costly “hybrid” option. Arguably, there was no good choice in this situation. In hindsight, it looks worse and worse.

6. The 3D Toronto Sign

Whose fault: Stephen Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre), Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West)

Installed in Nathan Phillips Square for the Pan Am Games, the big light-up TORONTO sign became an instant social media hit. But maintaining the #brand doesn’t come free. The sign, constantly exposed to sun, rain, ice, selfie-takers, and taggers, needs regular maintenance. It is also synced up with the City Hall towers, lit in different colours for various holidays and events. All of this costs money.

Now, in the context of the City’s $10 billion budget, $150,000 is not a major expense. Compared to the cost of other iconic city sculptures like Chicago’s Bean, the 3D Toronto sign provides astonishing value for money.

But some just couldn’t resist the urge to nickel-and-dime. Holyday suggested auctioning it off. Mammoliti offered to do the maintenance himself. All this only a few months after Council voted to spend nearly a billion on the East Gardiner. Really? Really?

For now, the sign’s fate is in limbo.

5. Taxis Versus Uber

Whose fault: Nobody’s. Everyone’s.

This May, the long, contentious debate on taxis versus Uber culminated in a compromise that rolled back years of negotiation between taxi brokers, taxi drivers, and the City.

Quick recap: under the old system, standard taxi licence owners rented them out to drivers for often exorbitant fees. The introduction of the Ambassador licence in 1998 was an attempt to create an owner-operator model that would cut out middlemen. 2014’s industry review meant only one tier of licence, for everybody: the Toronto Taxi Licence. Taxi brokerages would be phased out. Accessible taxicabs would be phased in.

With the ascent of Uber, all of that went out the window. Council voted to create a new type of licence for “private vehicle-for-hire” drivers. To even the playing field between Uber and City-regulated taxicabs, Council voted to scrap the TTL, convert Ambassador licences to Standard and do away with many regulations that restricted brokerages and gave slightly more labour protections to drivers. It’s all kind of a mess.

Anyway, it has now become apparent that Uber’s business model is not profitable; it’s been kept afloat by a massive amount of venture capital until it dominates markets the company “disrupted.” Welp.

4. Bicycle Licensing

Whose fault: Stephen Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre)

A common failing of newer politicians is to blame current problems on their predecessors without actually learning from their failures. Here’s a good example: starry-eyed first-term Etobicoke councillors Holyday and Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) proposed licensing bikes.

A quick Google search could have told them that licensing bikes or cyclists is a waste of time. The City itself has exhaustively documented why it’s a non-starter. (The page is a little out-of-date; licensing cyclists was also brought up in 2009.) Simply waving your hands and saying “big data!” does not magically make it a good idea this time around.

Public Works Committee member and cycling advocate Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32, Beaches-East York) moved to “defer indefinitely.” So bike licensing is dead…at least until next term.

3. Banning “Distracted Walking”

Whose fault: Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston)

During Council’s debate on the Road Safety Plan, Nunziata proposed asking the Minister of Transportation to ban pedestrians from “actively using a handheld wireless communication device or handheld electronic entertainment device” while on the road. Amazingly, it passed 26–15.

It’s a good thing this motion is completely toothless and non-binding. We’ll reiterate that it doesn’t actually ban “distracted walking.” It’s just a motion to ask the Province to consider it. Council passes countless motions like this, some bigger or more controversial than others. Virtually all of them have no effect whatsoever; it’s the City Council version of signing a Change.org petition.

That said, it exemplifies Toronto’s long-standing tradition of blaming pedestrians for traffic injuries and fatalities. And the idea of banning smartphones is especially rich coming from Nunziata, who is notoriously computer illiterate; she once testified in court that she did not know how to use a computer mouse.

2. Big Grassroots

Whose fault: Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East)

This is just good, old-fashioned, straightforward, James Bond-villain-style evil. This motion, attached to an item about reviewing the lobbying bylaws, asked City staff to look into requiring non-profits, unions, and various union-shaped groups to register as lobbyists.

Minnan-Wong proposed this at Executive Committee, where only two members voted against it: Paul Ainslie (Ward 43, Scarborough East) and Ana Bailão (Ward 18, Davenport). Many non-profits, residents’ associations, and grassroots groups were alarmed by the motion—and by the mayor’s apparent support.

Non-profits and community groups are, by definition, not in it for the money. They don’t have the same resources as the corporations that hire lobbying firms. For lobbyists, registering, going to training sessions, and logging interactions with public officials are just part of the job. For everyday Torontonians, it’s a significant barrier to civic engagement.

At Council, Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) unsuccessfully tried to get the whole thing scrapped. Ainslie’s motion to take out just the part about non-profits and leave in unions passed. Also, Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park) successfully trolled Jim Karygiannis (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt) with this amendment:

That City Council direct that the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, the Manning Institute, the C.D. Howe Institute and the Fraser Institute be required to register with the Lobbyist Registrar.

1. On the Waterfront

Whose fault: James Pasternak (Ward 10, York Centre)

This one, well, does what it says on the can: it would have defined all Toronto’s rivers as “waterfront.” This would have allowed Waterfront Toronto resources to be directed to suburban wards like, say, James Pasternak’s. What a coincidence!

There are a few flaws with this plan, not least that tourists looking for a scenic boardwalk will probably be very disappointed when they get to North York. Waterfront Toronto involves all three levels of government, and “designated waterfront area” has a very specific legal definition—this isn’t something Toronto can change on its own. It would be more appropriate—and worthwhile—to invest in something like the Ravine Strategy.

Anyway, the motion failed to get enough votes to be debated at Council and was referred to Executive Committee, where it died unceremoniously at the hand of noted waterfront hater Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East). So that’s that.

This is our personal favourite. It’s so bad it’s good. It combines chutzpah, poisonous “me too” parochialism, legislative overreach, and sheer dunderheadedness.

Taken from the North York harbour.

Taken from the North York harbour.

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