Your primer to the monthly city council meeting.
In which we highlight key items from the month’s city council meeting, and let you know how you can follow along.
It wouldn’t truly be a council term without talk about a casino in Toronto! That’s one of many topics on tap this month at council. Mayor John Tory, among others, are in favour of expanding the opportunities to gamble at Woodbine Racetrack. Tory earned a narrow 24–21 victory on the Gardiner debate last month, and, despite his uninspired leadership on the file, it showed he can pass a contentious item at council. Can he build momentum? Stay tuned!
Expanded Gaming at Woodbine
Expanded gambling at Woodbine Racetrack is another step closer to the post.
It took an hours-long debate featuring about two dozen speakers, but the executive committee recommended that council approve the expansion of gaming at the Rexdale track. If council passes the motion, the plan would be to add 300 lucrative gaming tables and 3,000 more slot machines on top of the 2,500 already there. Mayor John Tory is a big fan of the idea, as he believes it will bring more jobs and development to the area.
There’s no doubt more jobs would be created with the expansion, but the Board of Health warns of the repercussions added gambling opportunities could have on its customers in the form of mental health issues and addiction. Chief Medical Officer Dr. David McKeown maintains that the best way to prevent these issues is to not increase gambling access, and the official recommendation of the Board of Health is to not allow expansion. However, if council does give it the go ahead—given the mayor’s support, it is likely to pass—then they recommend the casino be open no longer than 18 hours a day, and that the facility maintain all current and planned Responsible Gambling measures.
Expect a lengthy debate on this one, with councillors Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) and Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) vocal in their opposition. Casino votes don’t necessarily follow ideological lines, though, as someone like Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East), a religious conservative, has previously opposed expanded gaming on moral grounds.
Ice Storm Update
There’s nothing else anyone would like more in July than to think about the dark and frigid days of the ice storm that struck the city in December 2013.
In January 2014, Toronto Hydro commissioned an independent review panel to examine its response to the storm and identify what it did well and what it could have done better. The report and recommendations were brought to city council last July, and an update on implementation is due this week.
In addition, the executive committee has nine recommendations for council, including that the Toronto Emergency Management Program Committee (TEMPC) give a yearly report on the previous year’s emergency management activities, that parks and forestry exchange yearly tree trimming data with Toronto Hydro, that Toronto Hydro attempt to increase the resiliency of existing hydro lines, and a request that the provincial government mandate food retailers have backup generators.
As well, there’s a request to the provincial government to legislate how insurance companies deal with these situations by making them provide easier to understand contracts and to increase awareness of flood prevention methods.
Building a Paddle Friendly City
Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) wants Torontonians to have more chances to explore and enjoy the numerous waterways around the city.
In a letter to the parks and environment committee, Layton says the best way to enjoy many of Toronto’s now-clean waterways is to go “swimming, fishing, and paddling”—the city has eight designated Blue Flag beaches.
The hope here is for the city to support the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority Urban Recreational Fisheries Strategy and invite the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority to pitch ideas to the parks committee of how our waterways can become more accommodating and accessible to users. If they’re safe and clean—we might as well be using them.
Union Station Revitalization Project Update
Not to be confused with the completion of the Union Station subway platform and concourse renovation—which was unveiled last week—the City continues with a revitalization of the entire station, including improved retail facilities, updates to the PATH system, restoration of the VIA Rail concourse, and expansion of the GO concourse.
This item is mostly about money as the government management committee wants to get some things in order as this enormous project chugs on. The committee is asking council to revise the capital budget to allow the funding necessary to complete the project (unlike the Union Station subway platforms, this one is over budget) and they need about $4.3 million more to keep moving forward.
As well, they’ll be looking for other ways to pay for some parts of the project, like working with Metrolinx to develop funding options for PATH development. Expect some hand-wringing and grandstanding from opponents of Waterfront Toronto, like Minnan-Wong, and other councillors who are generally opposed to the idea that things cost money.
Construction Delay Costs
Something that Mayor Tory mentioned frequently when campaigning for office last year was holding developers accountable for projects running over their projected construction time, and affecting how the city operates. After this week, one aspect of that could be closer to becoming a reality.
Public Works is asking council to approve “acceleration and delay costs in construction contracts for work within the municipal right-of-way, where the traffic disruption is expected to be significant” as these kinds of projects tend to take a lot of time to complete, making life hellish for us on the streets with our cars, bikes, or feet.
The committee would like to learn the costs and benefits of doing this and get them on track, based on the rules in similar jurisdictions.
Appointment to the Toronto Police Services Board
The civic appointments committee is recommending Andrew “Andy” Pringle be appointed as chair of the police services board. He previously served on the board under former police chief Bill Blair, and this term would last until 2018.
If you’re wondering why his name is so familiar, it may be because of the so-called “fishing trip controversy” of fall 2013. Shortly after Chief Blair expressed his “disappointment” about then-mayor Rob Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North) smoking crack cocaine, Ford’s adult brother, Doug, went on the offensive, claiming a fishing trip that Pringle and Blair went on characterized some sort of conflict of interest. Pringle said these claims had “no merit.”
Other things of note about Pringle are that he served as Mayor Tory’s chief of staff at Queen’s Park, he ran for Tory’s Conservatives in the 2007 election, and donated money to Ford’s successful 2010 mayoral campaign.
His proposed appointment is opposed by a number of groups, a common argument being that Pringle is not the best representative to speak to carding, which is the top issue that the police board currently faces.
Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy
Councillor Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) would like council to “endorse as a moral imperative the goal of preventing and reducing poverty and ensuring that [they] allocate the resources to achieve these goals.”
McConnell points out near the start of the report that in Toronto, one in four children live in poverty, as well as one in five adults. The youth unemployment rate is 20 per cent, for Aboriginal youth it is 25 per cent, and for black youth it is 50 per cent. The following report is packed with important statistics about poverty in Toronto and how it can end. Give it a read.
This week, the hope is that council will adopt the vision—”address the issues, create issues, drive systemic change”—and objectives outlined on page nine of the report. The report—which made it through the executive committee—also recommends that council adapt the interim strategy listed in the report and that it be directed to the powers that be around the city and province.
Watch the Livestream
Follow the Agenda
City Hall Council Chambers (100 Queen Street West)
July 7, 9:30 a.m.