Live Blog: Council Debates the East Gardiner
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Live Blog: Council Debates the East Gardiner

It’s another big debate at City Hall, so it’s time for another live blog! Council will decide the future of the Gardiner east of Jarvis, with two main options:

  • The so-called hybrid option, which will mostly rebuild the east Gardiner as-is, and add two off-ramps by Cherry Street. The long-term cost is $919 million, it would create over 700 jobs, and travel times are projected to increase two to three minutes. This option is favoured by the mayor and his closest allies.
  • The removal option would take down the elevated expressway east of Jarvis to Logan Avenue, and would replace it with an at-grade boulevard similar to University Avenue. The long-term cost is just more than half of the hybrid, at $461 million. The staff report considered removal a better option for jobs (2,800 new jobs), the environment, public health, and unlocking potential development. However, travel times under the removal scenario are projected to increase four to five minutes, a two to three minute difference for the 5,200 drivers who use it in the morning rush hour.

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City Hall Council Chambers (100 Queen Street West)

June 10, 9:30 a.m.
Staff Reports [PDF] [1], [2], [3], [4]

4:28 PM: It’s official: the hybrid plan won out. The boulevard option failed 19-26, although it looks like Davis meant to vote the other way, which would have made it 20-25. After rejecting the boulevard, an overwhelming majority votes for the hybrid rather than seeing nothing pass. It’s the first major victory for John Tory, albeit one that was likely more divisive than necessary. In addition to seeing council moderates stand up to him, there were also four members of his cabinet-like executive committee (Ainslie, Bailão, McMahon, and Thompson) who voted in favour of the boulevard. And some City staff, particularly chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat and medical officer of health Dr. David McKeown, saw their work dismissed by the mayor and his allies.

Politically, the victory came at a cost. And the hard work has just begun—there is a chance that there will be legal challenges from local developers, who might seek a healthy settlement. The issue requires further study, and even then, requires approval from the ministry of the environment; councillors Perks and McConnell warn it could be rejected there for not meeting the terms of reference. In a best case scenario, construction will start in 2020, and travel times will go up regardless.

But after 12 hours of council debate, it’s the path council chose.

4:17 PM: Councillor Jaye Robinson (Ward 25, Don Valley West) in favour of the hybrid option. This approach, she argues, is the best representative of “urban fundamentals,” which maybe means something. Her reasoning? That removing the Gardiner will just spill traffic over into residential streets. Fundamental indeed.

Now it’s voting time. The first vote, to maintain the Gardiner as it currently stands, fails 1-44 with the former mayor, and current Ward 2 councillor, the single vote in favour.

It’s looking very likely that the hybrid option will win out. We’ll be back momentarily with further updates. Maybe hankies too.

3:40 PM: Cars are so over, says Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park), who has pointed out that the boulevard option meets more of the Gardiner’s environmental assessment terms of reference than the hybrid option. Besides, why pour money into a piece of overpriced infrastructure when we have more pressing issues to invest in (like, uh, social housing)? We would like to give him a hug.

Meanwhile, Norm Kelly (Ward 40, Scarborough-Agincourt) calls the Gardiner “the heart of the city” and gets a little sentimental at the notion that so many of his colleagues would deign to smother its precious heartbeat. He seems like he could use a hug too, actually.

Councillor David Shiner (Ward 24-Willowdale) puts forth a motion to get a report on tolling the Gardiner for non-residents. Someone on Twitter calls him a “dingleberry;” maybe no hugs for him.

3:15 PM: Following Mary-Margaret McMahon’s (Ward 32, Beaches-East York) impassioned plea to “Be bold! Be brave!” and rip the Gardiner out like a hateful infrastructural dandelion, Councillor Mark Grimes (Ward 6, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) says the timing is not right for the Gardiner to come down. “Transit in our area is absolutely horrific,” he says, reasoning that of course downtown councillors don’t mind having a few minutes added to their commutes because they can just hop on down to the subway and go wherever they want, whenever they want to. This nearly gives Councillor Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East) an aneurism.

2:55 PM: We’re back, with a shift change (Kelli Korducki here) and a truth bomb from councillor John Filion (Ward 23, Willowdale), who says voting for the hybrid option demonstrates an attempt by suburban councillors to impose out-of-downtown culture on the downtown core. He adds that for suburban councillors to impose their culture on a downtown decision is “just wrong.”

12:29 PM: We are now breaking for lunch. Council will re-convene at 2:00 p.m.

12:24 PM: Crisanti says more greenhouse gas emissions would be created by the removal option. Actually, the City study says the removal option would decrease emissions by 12 per cent. He also says the hybrid option would offer more economic productivity. The City study says the opposite.

Construction of the Gardiner
Premier Davis cancels the Spadina Expressway
Crombie Commission recommends full removal of the Gardiner
Planning for removal of section east of the Don River
Removal of section east of the Don complete

March 2009
Environmental Assessment process starts for Jarvis-to-Don segment
September 2009
Design competition for various Gardiner options launched
Summer 2010
Design competition completed
Fall 2010
Municipal election; work on EA stopped

May 2013
Council approves resuming work on the Environmental Assessment
February 2014
Waterfront Toronto recommends removal
March 2014
Unilever site developer First Gulf puts forward “Hybrid” proposal, council defers decision until staff can study the plan
April 2015
The new environmental assessment comes without recommendation. The “Hybrid” proposal cannot be done as originally envisioned, and costs half a billion more
May 2015
The mayor comes out in favour of the “Hybrid” option
June 10- 2015
Council debates Gardiner proposals

12:22 PM: Vincent Crisanti (Ward 1, Etobicoke North), a hybrid supporter, says it is a “truly balanced approach.” To clarify, the hybrid preserves the status quo, but adds two off-ramps at Cherry Street.

12:10 PM: It’s storytime! Paul Ainslie (Ward 43, Scarborough East), who supports removal, says he was at Union Station recently, and a family from the Bronx was looking to visit the Gardiner Expressway. Ainslie was surprised—of all the things in Toronto for a family to visit, why the Gardiner? Well, the parents explain, they want to show their child how ugly the Bronx looked before it took down an elevated expressway and replaced it with a boulevard. There is nervous laughter in council chamber.

12:03 PM: Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth), who supports removal, shows images of east Gardiner traffic in the morning rush hour. It is mostly empty.

11:43 AM: Burnside says former chief planner Paul Bedford showed him images of the 5,200 cars who use the east Gardiner during the morning rush hour. He says no one showed him images of what 5,200 cars would look like on an eight-lane boulevard. But we do have a comparable example—University Avenue accommodates over 4,000 cars during its morning peak.

11:41 AM: Jon Burnside (Ward 26, Don Valley West), a newbie councillor who Tory endorsed, says his heart says removal, but his head says to keep it up. He’s going with the so-called hybrid.

11:28 AM: Cesar Palacio (Ward 17, Davenport) brings up the so-called St. Clair Disaster, as is his wont. Everyone take a drink!

11:20 AM: Maria Augimeri (Ward 9, York Centre) says the existing version of the Gardiner brings up images of a Canadian version of Stonehenge. This is an apt analogy, because in many years people will come here and ask, “How did they build this thing?”

11:16 AM: Raymond Cho (Ward 42, Scarborough-Rouge River) asks Colle whether he showed his motion to the mayor. Colle says yes. The context here is that Tory has long resisted tolls.

11:03 AM: Let’s call Colle’s motion for what it is. Some politicians lack the political courage to implement revenue tools themselves, and this is essentially a means to outsource that decision. Leadership!

11:01 AM: Ford is in the council chamber, and brings lots of attention to himself. He says he will only vote to maintain the expressway, and he adds he supports carding. Rob Ford’s gotta Rob Ford.

10:48 AM: We have a new motion, this one from TTC Chair Colle. He wants City staff to study selling the Gardiner to a private company, with the proceeds going to transit. As Perks questions him, he concedes that this would likely mean a private company would toll the Gardiner.

10:37 AM: A joke motion! Janet Davis goes full Howard Moscoe (the longtime councillor famous for his troll motions), and proposes a fantasy causeway to build extra road capacity. She adds that she would like to name it after Toronto Star columnist Edward Keenan in honour of his column this morning, where he argues that the mayor has led council in weird and contradictory directions to pick up a couple of stray votes. The end result is a contradictory mishmash of a proposal that says, “Hybrid, yes! Also, tunnelling is cool, let’s look at that *winks at Jim Karygiannis*!”

10:31 AM: Chin Lee (Ward 41, Scarborough-Rouge River), a key vote, says he will support the hybrid option. He reasons that “until we can get better transit” the elevated Gardiner is needed for its additional capacity.

10:25 AM: Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) says choosing to re-build an elevated waterfront expressway would be to go backwards. Budget Chief Gary Crawford (Ward 36, Scarborough Southwest) says to remove the elevated waterfront expressway would be to go backwards. In conclusion, the Gardiner debate is a study of contrasts.

Day One

7:59 PM: Council is breaking for the day. We will do this again tomorrow, because that’s our lot in life.

7:50 PM: McConnell is delivering a speech as impassioned as she ever has. She explains that the community has worked on the waterfront area for 20 years through consultations and community-building. And now it’s all going to be thrown away, she says, all for a measly two to three minutes for drivers.

7:43 PM: Pasternak on removal: “It would create a boondoggle and an albatross” for years to come.

7:38 PM: Stephen Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre) is making the case that the rail corridor is the real barrier by the east Gardiner. He contends that Toronto will be a laughingstock if it removes the expressway. He earns a round of applause from the mostly conservative (and pro-hybrid) section of council to the speaker’s right.

7:33 PM: Referral, which would delay until September, does not carry. It loses 15-29. On we go.

7:31 PM: We are voting on referral. The first two amendments have won, 25-19, and 26-18.

7:11 PM: Pro-removal councillors are lining up behind Karygiannis’s motion to refer the debate to September. It’s a sign that they likely don’t have the votes to win, but think they might be able to flip a few votes given some more time. But as Councillor Robinson (Ward 25, Don Valley West) points out, City staff say a decision is required imminently.

7:02 PM: McConnell claims that if the hybrid is selected, the City could wind up in the court system for “eight or nine years.”

6:57 PM: Karygiannis has put forward a motion that includes both tunnelling and tolling. While Tory may give a nod to Karygiannis’s desire to tunnel in order to win his vote, tolling is likely out of the question. After all, in 2003 the Tory campaign set up a website accusing David Miller of being a “highway robber” for potentially supporting tolls.

6:56 PM: Out of context Mammoliti quote: “I’m just a labourer from Jane and Finch.”

6:51 PM: Cressy invokes Bill Davis, John Tory’s political hero, for stopping the Spadina Expressway. Tory is not in the room to hear it.

6:47 PM: Tory is done, and Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) is now up. He frames the question as what kind of city Toronto is building: one for tomorrow, or yesterday. (In this argument, elevated waterfront expressways are things of the past.)

6:39 PM: Atmospheric tweets; it is Gardiner Day.

6:22 PM: Procedural madness! Tory’s motion says that if the maintain option (a) fails, the removal option is council’s preferred alternative. If the removal option (b) fails, then the hybrid option (c) is the preferred alternative. Within the hybrid option is a request for staff to study tunnelling the Gardiner, and to re-visit the original First Gulf proposal.

But Perks points out that motion “c” is contradictory—it asks staff to both prefer the hybrid option and explore tunnelling, which are two different directions. Speaker Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston) rules it in order, and after a challenge from Perks, the motion stands.

The strategy here is to include enough language to get Ford, Mammoliti, and Karygiannis on board, who might otherwise vote against both the hybrid and removal (in Ford’s case, he wants to maintain the Gardiner in its current alignment, and in Mammoliti’s and Karygiannis’s case, they are interested in tunnelling.) Effectively, the mayor’s team has structured the motions in an unorthodox manner to get the votes on board that they need.

6:15 PM: We are at recess, which is not nearly as fun as it sounds.

6:10 PM: Perks says he wants a recess so that the mayor’s motions can be circulated, so that councillors can ask informed questions on what has been tabled. It also buys time for both sides to strategize, and consider what lines of questioning and amendments they can introduce to tilt the debate one side or the other.

6:07 PM: Tory says he looked at all available options, and all the facts, and came to the conclusion that keeping the east Gardiner elevated is in “the broader public interest.”

6:05 PM: Among the people and publications Tory cites: Toronto Life contributor Phillip Preville, a Toronto Sun editorial, and independent planner John Von Nostrand. He does not cite the City’s study.

6:03 PM: Motions! John Tory is up to speak, and he supports the hybrid. But he puts forward motions (which you can read at the bottom of this page) for all three options: maintain, hybrid, and remove.

5:51 PM: In questions to staff, Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East) diminishes the value of the potentially lost 12 acres of downtown development, arguing that the City is developing 800 acres of the Port Lands anyway. This is the same Denzil Minnan-Wong who once posed for a Toronto Sun article decrying spending $600,000 on a public washroom in the Port Lands.

5:40 PM: Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park) asks the Dillon consultant which option best matches the terms of reference laid out for the study. After asking the question at least four times, the consultant finally answers that his report says that for every metric in the terms of reference, removal is the better choice.

The terms of reference is an important document, as Spacing explains. Essentially, the ministry of the environment will see if council’s choice matches the terms of reference when they decide whether or not to approve the environmental assessment. If it doesn’t, the province could choose to reject the application.

5:06 PM: Frank Di Giorgio (Ward 12, York South-Weston) asks if there are other cities that have managed to keep their capacity after removing elevated expressways. But he instructs staff not to mention New York. Or San Francisco. One might think Councillor Di Giorgio is trying to lead staff to a certain conclusion.

5:05 PM: City staff say that even if council makes a decision today, construction won’t begin until 2020, because additional planning and studies are required.

4:50 PM: Developer Alfredo Romano has been spotted in council. He’s purchased a lot of waterfront real estate, and supports removal as a means of unlocking development in the area. Romano sits down next to Waterfront Toronto CEO John Campbell, who is not the undecided Ward 4 councillor of the same name.

4:40 PM: Open question for those doing a vote count: what about Mark Grimes (Ward 6, Etobicoke-Lakeshore)? The Etobicoke councillor co-owns a trucking company with his brothers. The company links to the Ontario Trucking Association on their website, although they don’t indicate whether they are a member. The OTA has lobbied on the issue, arguing that the hybrid option would be beneficial to their members. Councillors are not supposed to vote on items on which they or their family members have a pecuniary (financial) interest. So is there one less vote on the table?

4:25 PM: Christin Carmichael Greb (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence) speaks! This might be the second time the new councillor has spoken in council? What a day.

4:16 PM: We haven’t really heard too much new in questions to staff. What we have heard is councillors who know how they are going to vote asking questions that support their side. In a way, it’s a performance to try to win over the few undecided councillors who remain, because one vote either way could swing the balance.

3:57 PM: Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) asks which option is preferred from an environmental lens, and Dillon says it’s the removal option. It would reduce greenhouse gases by 12 per cent over the hybrid option. Despite this being included in the study at hand, last week Michelle Berardinetti (Ward 35, Scarborough Southwest), the chair of the parks and environment committee, argued the opposite. Berardinetti supports the hybrid option.

3:55 PM: Answering a question from Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale), a representative from Dillon Consulting, which conducted the City study, says that cities are no longer building elevated expressways.

3:50 PM: James Pasternak (Ward 10, York Centre), a hybrid supporter, mocks the idea of cafes lining the Gardiner. He says he’s only familiar with one cafe along University Avenue with a patio, a Timothy’s. Chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat corrects him: there are nine.

3:40 PM: Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West) picks up exactly where Karygiannis left off, because they basically have melded minds. They are officially one of City Hall’s power couples, although in a Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag sort of way.

3:34 PM: Jim Karygiannis (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt) asks about a prospective tunnel, which almost no one thinks is a good idea. It would cost $2.5 billion to tunnel the 1.7-kilometre section of the Gardiner that’s under debate. But! Karygiannis, always the source of creative thinking, asks what if the City dug a tunnel for the entire Gardiner. Livey interjects. He does not like where this is going.

3:21 PM: Cressy asks Livey a hypothetical question—if there were no elevated expressway today, would you build one? He says it’s difficult to answer hypotheticals, and he would give a different answer in the 1950s than he would today. But Livey says that today, “It would be very difficult for anyone to recommend an elevated structure.”

3:17 PM: Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) asks acting city manager John Livey about the developable lands under each option. Livey says that the boulevard option opens up 12 more acres over the hybrid option, and that is worth $100-150 million.

3:10 PM: Questions to staff have begun! Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) has chosen to ask questions of chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat, who has been criticized by the mayor’s allies for speaking her mind too often. McConnell’s questions mostly centre on the City’s legal liability, how the City may not be meeting its terms of reference if it chooses the hybrid, and how it might sacrifice affordable housing units in the area. Presumably these are topics council discussed in its private session this morning, where they asked legal staff what the City’s liabilities might be.

Fact-Check: John Tory Goes Full Ford in his Gardiner Expressway

We fact-checked John Tory’s Gardiner speech to the Empire Club, and it was a lot of work. We found 36 false or misleading statements, a total that’s only challenged in our fact-checks by Rob Ford.

Photo by Brian Cameron from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Photo by Brian Cameron from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Jennifer Keesmaat on Why She Wants the East Gardiner to be a Boulevard

At a conference of planning professionals and landscape designers, chief city planner Jennifer Keesmaat came out in support of removing the elevated east Gardiner in order to build a University Avenue-style grand boulevard, and we transcribe her pitch here. There have been hints that Tory’s team has muzzled the civil servant, and media requests for Keesmaat are now re-routed to the mayor’s office. And that’s not all—Tory campaign strategist Nick Kouvalis recently took to Twitter to lambaste Keesmaat for a positive tweet about ravines that she sent out just before a Tory speech about the Gardiner.

Twitter is weird.

john tory

John Barber: A Basic Truth of John Tory

Longtime city hall columnist John Barber offers his assessment of John Tory’s nascent mayoralty, and writes that it leaves much to be desired. Looking at how the mayor has handled the three main issues this term (carding, the Gardiner, and the Scarborough subway), in damning terms Barber writes that we all knew that this is who Tory is.

From the article:

For all the hope he might lead Toronto out of its civic wilderness, his handling of the Gardiner and other issues reminds us of a basic truth of the man: there isn’t a bear trap in the woods John Tory can’t sniff out and fall into.

Steve Munro: The Transit Perspective in the Gardiner Debate

Torontoist contributor and longtime transit advocate Steve Munro weighs in with the transit perspective in the Gardiner debate. He argues that there’s a significant opportunity cost by spending limited City money on excess road capacity when so many transit needs go unfulfilled.

Jennifer Bonnell: How to Learn from History and Build the Waterfront Toronto Deserves

Jennifer Bonnell, a historian who wrote a 2014 book on the Don River Valley, lends her perspective to Toronto’s east Gardiner debate. With the context of city council’s previous Don River Valley decisions, Bonnell argues that council should seize the rare chance to fix its mistakes, and build a great waterfront.