What's on Council's Agenda: June, 2013
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What’s on Council’s Agenda: June, 2013

Here's what city council will be focusing on this month.

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 on June 11 and 12. Here are a few items from this month’s agenda that are in the news, or should be.

City council will weigh whether or not to:

Make all sorts of voting reforms.
An issue that has been brewing for a long time, largely due to activist work spearheaded by the groups RaBIT (Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto), Fair Vote Toronto, and I Vote Toronto. Council will debate whether to learn more about several changes to the electoral system, all designed to increase participation rates—to get more people out to the ballot boxes. The measures they may decide to explore further: holding elections on weekends; extending voting rights to permanent residents; switching to a ranked ballot (rather than the current first past the post system); and allowing voters with disabilities to cast ballots online.

Appoint new board members to Build Toronto, in defiance of Doug Ford.
Build Toronto is an arm’s-length agency created by the City to manage its extensive real estate assets; its purpose is to manage the ongoing sale of those assets in a way that helps the municipal government meet urban planning needs while also generating substantial revenue. Build’s board is in turmoil—half its seats are vacant—and council will decide at this meeting who they are choosing to fill those seats. The list of recommended candidates is confidential, but the Star obtained a leaked copy; conspicuously absent from it: Michael Kraljevic. Kraljevic is currently chair of the Toronto Port Lands Co., which Doug Ford had wanted to take over development of the Port Lands with a new plan for that neighbourhood. (Remember the Ferris wheel and monorail? That plan.) Essentially, Kraljevic is the administration’s preferred candidate, and his absence from the list of recommended new Build board members means there will be a fight over whether they can get him appointed. That fight will be behind-the-scenes though: debates about all board appointments are confidential.

Let Astral Media put electronic ads on transit shelters.
Right now, only non-electronic advertisements (that is, printed posters) are allowed on the sides of transit shelters, but Astral Media, the company that pays for those shelters (in exchange for the right to profit off the ad space on them) wants to change that. Council will decide whether to allow Astral to install digital screens on transit shelters. These screens would display several different digital ads, one by one—sort of like a slideshow. Astral is also seeking permission to do something it already does from time to time: “creative advertising enhancements” (meaning, they want to be able to glue three-dimensional elements to shelters to make ads more eye-catching). If this item sounds familiar, that’s because it was on the agenda of last month’s meeting: council didn’t get to it in time, and deferred it until now.

Revamp the City’s anti-discrimination policies to target Pride.
In what is becoming an annual tradition, two councillors—James Pasternak (Ward 10, York Centre) and David Shiner (Ward 24, Willowdale)—are upset about the appearance of a small protest group, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, at the Pride parade. Their concern is with the term “Israeli apartheid” and their strategy has been to try and make Pride’s funding contingent on them keeping this group out of their events. There is, however, no current basis on which they could do so: City staff has examined the issue at length, and have concluded that the term does not violate any human rights or other policy—it’s a bit of language people find uncomfortable, but it isn’t hate speech. To try and get around that, Pasternak and Shiner are trying to rewrite those policies to target “Israeli apartheid” specifically. They also want to limit the City’s funding of Pride so that it specifically does not go to the parade. That last thing is an empty move—the City doesn’t currently fund the parade at all—but expect a major debate about the optics of council declaring that Pride’s funding should be vulnerable.

Study the possibility of changing the boundaries of the City’s wards—and maybe even getting rid of a few.
Every few years the municipal government is required to review its ward boundaries. As the city develops and changes, populations don’t grow evenly—some parts of the city become more dense, and others less so. There’s a policy in place which states that different wards should have roughly equal numbers of residents; it’s a way to try and ensure a fair balance on council, and to give each city councillor a similar number of people to represent. The City will commence its regular review of the ward boundaries shortly, but at this meeting council will debate a particular direction: that they look not just at adjusting the boundaries but reducing the overall number of wards—a campaign promise made by Mayor Rob Ford.

Tell the Toronto Community Housing Corporation to handle evictions in a more reasonable way.
The Toronto Community Housing Corporation, a City-owned provider of social housing, has occasionally come under criticism for evicting vulnerable tenants. In a recent investigation, the City’s ombudsman found that TCHC is still sometimes making questionable evictions, despite earlier promises to reform its process. Council will decide whether to endorse the ombudsman’s recommendations for TCHC, which call for the corporation to be more sensitive to the needs of all its tenants—even those who don’t pay rent on time.