City Council Recap: February 2016

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City Council Recap: February 2016

We highlight the important (and trivial) matters you may have missed from the latest council meeting.

You read the preview, now here’s the recap. Here’s key happenings from this month’s City Council meeting.

What'd I miss?

Taxi drama
Motion | Staff report

In a nutshell: Toronto’s taxi system is pretty dysfunctional. (Read Marianne Valverde for a good overview of the history. The current system puts taxi drivers, who must work ridiculous hours at rates that work out to below minimum wage, at a serious disadvantage against UberX drivers, who operate outside the rules. Uber’s business model is based on making it incredibly convenient for people to participate in the taxi black market both as drivers and customers.

The debate over Uber is about more than regulations—it involves volatile divides of race, class, and gender. There’s also considerable political weight being thrown around: several city councillors, like Cesar Palacio (Ward 17, Davenport) and Jim Karygiannis (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt), received thousands of dollars in campaign donations from the taxi industry this election. Put it all together and you get…well, chaos. On Wednesday afternoon, an inflammatory remark by David Shiner (Ward 24, Willowdale) kicked off loud protests that eventually culminated in shouting, swearing, and security and police removing several taxi drivers from the public gallery.

I’m sure the fracas got plenty of coverage, but what you really ought to see is Kristyn Wong-Tam’s (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) insightful speech:

The Superior Court previously declined to shut down Uber. However, in the wake of Calgary’s successful injunction, the Licensing and Standards Committee recommended that the City try again. In the end, Council passed an amendment by Mayor John Tory that changed the motion, saying the City should seek an injunction “under the appropriate circumstances”—hopefully vague enough to appease both Uber and the taxi industry.


St. Lawrence Market North

Motion | Report

St. Lawrence Market North, 1831
St. Lawrence Market North in 1831. Source: Wikimedia

As you know, Bob, the old St. Lawrence Market North building is getting torn down and replaced with something new and shiny. It will still include the farmers’ market on Saturdays and the antique market on Sundays, but there will also be city courtrooms and an underground parking garage.

Provincial law requires archaeological assessment and excavation before development proceeds. The place has a rich history: it has been used as a market since 1803 and was the site of Toronto’s very first City Hall. So it’s not a huge surprise that there’s a lot to excavate. Now, it turns out the old building will have to be demolished in order to finish the archaeological work.

The City didn’t want to demolish the building until they knew how much the new one would cost, but in order to get that information they need a construction start date. And a construction start date can’t be set until the archaeological work is done. So Council would have to approve demolishing the building before knowing if the project is over budget or not.

Before passing the motion, Council had a lively debate about the value of archaeology. Admittedly it was entirely pointless because archaeological assessment is legally required, but we got to hear John Campbell (Ward 4, Etobicoke Centre) rant about how spoons and sewer bricks are historically worthless. Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) points out that sewers are extremely valuable to archaeologists. This link ought to take you to the start of the debate.

Muzik

Motion | Report


The Exhibition Place nightclub has been seeking an early 10-year extension on its lease with the City, which currently isn’t allowed under the Official Plan. The councillors on Exhibition Place’s Board of Governors have…differences of opinion on the matter. Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina), along with Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park), who is not on the board, have attempted to get its liquor license revoked. The CNE president wants the club shut down as well. However, Layton is outnumbered by pro-Muzik board members Jim Karygiannis (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt) Mark Grimes (Ward 6, Etobicoke-Lakeshore), and Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West).

While Layton successfully got a clause requesting a public consultation strategy into the motion, the item as a whole passed—it now goes to City Planning, who will prepare a report on how the lease extension would work.


Cheap internet

Motion

So last year, in a bid to weaken the major telecom companies’ oligopoly, the CRTC ruled that Bell and Rogers had to let smaller ISPs share their high-speed internet infrastructure. Bell appealed the decision, and many groups and corporations weighed in, including several mayors. Mayor John Tory, who still owns over $5 million of shares in Rogers, submitted a letter in support of Bell, as did Ottawa mayor Jim Watson. Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, however, supported the CRTC in a lengthy submission (PDF) advocating for more competition and better Internet access. Even though the period for submitting feedback has ended, Mike Layton and Paul Ainslie (Ward 43, Scarborough East) want Toronto City Council—as opposed to just the mayor—to side with Calgary’s position. It’s not only about business competition; improving digital access is part of Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Despite an attempt from Mark Grimes to defer debate until the next Council meeting—by which time the federal government will likely have make a decision about Bell’s appeal—Council overwhelmingly voted to endorse cheaper Internet. John Tory was absent from the debate, as he was traveling to Ottawa.

Aside from “yay, Internet”, it’s also interesting to see who sided with the mayor on this one: Mark Grimes, Stephen Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre), Jim Karygiannis, John Campbell, and Christin Carmichael Greb (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence).

Bonus: It was difficult to choose which dramatic moment by Anthony Perruzza (Ward 8, York West) to highlight. His pugnacious taxi speech was pretty great, but his delivery here is fantastic. Without further ado: Your Moment of Zen.


John Tory’s longest sentence: In this segment, we try to find the mayor’s longest sentence from any point in a council session. (One important rule: he is not allowed to begin a sentence with a conjunction.)

This week’s winner sees him respond to a question from the press about affordable Internet access:

With respect to the overall issue of principle—I would describe it as an issue of principle—I think we have to be very, very careful in saying that on the one hand we want big companies, like Bell and Telus and like Rogers and others to step up and invest millions of dollars in building the kind of broadband internet infrastructure we need to have in this city as a means of both having the best service in the world and attracting jobs and investment, and at the same time, saying that we are prepared to accept a regulatory regime that might just say, well they’re compelled to give that away or sort of really give away parts of their investment to other people, and all we were saying by writing the letter on behalf of Bell was to say that the CRTC adjudicating upon this matter should very seriously take that into account.


(153 words, or six tweets.)


Birthdays!

February 4 was Paul Ainslie’s 49th birthday. Council also wished Speaker Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston) a happy birthday, as she turns 65 on February 12.


Up next: Council debates the City budget on February 17. Be there or be (Nathan Phillips) Square.

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