What's on City Council's Agenda: February 2013
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What’s on City Council’s Agenda: February 2013

In which we highlight key items from the month’s city council meeting. You can also watch it live.

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City council is meeting today (February 20) and tomorrow (February 21). Here are a few items from this month’s agenda that have been in the news, or should have been.

City council will weigh whether or not to:

Do whatever it can to help curb human trafficking.

Human trafficking isn’t exclusively a Toronto problem, but it’s a problem that affects Toronto. Council has a few modest remedies at its disposal, mostly along the lines of requesting reports and asking other levels of government for help. It will consider whether to use them.

Build a library branch on the former site of Canada’s first parliament building.

Canada’s first parliament building used to be located on the property now known as 271 Front Street East. The plot was on the verge of becoming a condo when the City stepped in and negotiated a land swap with the developer. Council will decide whether to allow Toronto Public Library to build a new branch on the first parliament site, provided the land swap goes through.

Give Toronto’s undocumented workers a break.

The U.S. isn’t the only country with undocumented workers who have trouble accessing public amenities because of their lack of immigration status. Council will decide whether to authorize a report on the possibility of allowing workers without papers to access City services “without fear.”

Make some broad commitments to “accelerate economic growth.”

This is one of Mayor Rob Ford’s favourite items on today’s agenda. It calls for council to endorse a number of broad policy goals—along with some specific actions—aimed at making Toronto friendlier to business. It also recommends the creation of a new economic advisory committee, to be led by the mayor.

Save Far Enough Farm, on Centre Island, by leasing it to a private operator.

Far Enough Farm, the little zoo next to Centreville, was in danger of closing down after the City cut its funding in 2011. Now, council has the opportunity to lease the farm to William Beasley Enterprises, Centreville’s private operator, as part of a deal to extend Beasley’s lease on Centreville itself. Putting the farm in private care might be the only way to save it, so council should (and probably will) jump at the opportunity.

Reconsider the shark-fin ban.

City council banned the possession, sale, and consumption of shark fin in 2011. Politicians were motivated by compassion for the sharks, but the ban has turned out to be a bad idea, at least in the legal sense. In November, an Ontario Superior Court ruled that the fin ban was outside council’s jurisdiction. Now, council will consider some confidential legal advice about how to proceed. Councillors could decide to fight the court’s ruling, probably at some expense, or they could decide to repeal or amend the bylaw. So, option one: potentially costly, potentially unwinnable. Option two: free, easy. What do you think the City’s lawyers are telling council it should do?

Give Mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug Ford each a slap on the wrist.

On an April edition of their weekly radio talk show, Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Doug (Ward 2, Etobicoke Centre), said some disparaging things about David McKeown, Toronto’s medical officer of health. Councillor John Filion (Ward 23, Willowdale) filed a complaint with the integrity commissioner, who found that the Fords’ comments violated council’s code of conduct.

Councillors haven’t been able to consider the matter before now, for legal reasons related to Rob Ford’s conflict of interest lawsuit. (Because the suit hinged on the question of whether Ford was within his rights to speak and vote on an integrity investigation about himself, council put all integrity votes on hold until the courts could offer some clarity.)

Now that the lawsuit is over, council will decide whether or not to agree with the integrity commissioner’s finding that both Fords broke the rules. Because both Rob and Doug have since apologized to McKeown, the commissioner isn’t recommending any stiffer penalties.

Make sure it stays legal for cyclists to ride side-by-side.

Somehow, in its efforts to harmonize the traffic bylaws of all the former municipalities, Toronto made it illegal for cyclists to ride in any formation other than single file, even though this had previously been allowed on most Toronto streets. The prohibition on side-by-side riding has yet to go into effect, though, and this member motion by Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton Lawrence) aims to ensure that it never does. If the item gets the two-thirds vote it needs in order to make the floor, council will decide whether to repeal the single-file bylaw.

Start thinking about imposing term limits on councillors and mayors.

If this no-hope member motion by Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32, Beaches-East York) gets the two-thirds vote it needs in order to make the floor, council will decide whether to ask City staff to report on the possibility of implementing term limits for councillors and mayors. It’s hard to imagine a roomful of career politicians voting to harm their job security.

Explore ways to curb youth violence.

If this member motion by Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) gets the two-thirds vote it needs in order to make the floor, council will revisit a major provincial study issued in 2008, called the Roots of Youth Violence. That report was a wide-ranging examination of the systemic and environmental factors that might contribute to youth violence, and included a number of recommendations for both the provincial and municipal governments. Matlow’s motion calls on staff to see how many of those recommendations have actually been implemented, and also to explore a range of other measures to help tackle the poverty, racism, and other contextual issues that play a role in youth violence.

Cap the Land Transfer Tax.

Mayor Rob Ford vowed to abolish the Municipal Land Transfer Tax during the 2010 election, but the tax makes so much money for the City, at the moment, that it’s virtually indispensable. If this member motion by Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East) gets the two-thirds vote it needs in order to make the floor, council will consider ordering a report on the possibility of capping revenue from the tax, possibly as way of weaning the City off it once and for all.

UPDATE: February 20, 2013, 11:35 AM We’ve added an item (the one about a plan to “accelerate economic growth” in Toronto) to the list.