Here's some of the items you'll want to keep your eye on this week.
It’s that time of the month—City Council will meet this week for its May session. Amidst a climate of challenges facing Toronto—an increasingly dire housing crisis, the continued severity of the opioid epidemic, and political intractability surrounding budgets and transit among them—tensions are mounting. This month’s Council session is likely to be no different. With a number of key items set to be debated that will frame Toronto politics heading into the final year of Tory’s first term, expect both tense, and likely lengthy, debate.
The Big Ticket Items
It’s hard to pick just one of the key items being discussed this month, but the one that will likely attract the most attention is the debate around the Yonge Subway Extension and the Relief Line. Last week, Executive Council pushed ahead with both plans—which, much like the Scarborough Subway Extension and the Eglinton East LRT, are being considered as part of a transit bundle.
A quick summary of what Council is being asked to approve for the Relief Line:
- The Queen-Carlaw alignment, which would see the Relief Line running south from Pape Station along Carlaw, and then west along Queen Street East;
- Directing City staff to negotiate a funding agreement with Metrolinx and the federal government;
- A cost-benefit analysis between the Relief Line and—*sigh*—the Sheppard East Subway Extension;
- An initial business case for the extension of the Relief Line North to Don Mills Station.
Many of the same matters are up for debate about the Yonge Subway Extension that would see the subway extending into Richmond Hill and Markham. At Executive Council, the mayors of Richmond Hill and Markham spoke alongside Mayor John Tory, expressing collective support for the plan. (Mayor Tory had previously not supported the YSE, but has effectively done an about-face on the matter.)
The second big ticket item, one that is likely to raise tensions, concerns the zero-increase budget direction for 2018. At this month’s Budget Committee meeting, a zero-increase budget was approved, despite stern objections from councillors like Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park), Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina), and Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East). As City Manager Peter Wallace noted at the committee meeting, the success of a zero-increase direction will hinge largely on whether or not the TTC and TCHC will be able to meet those lofty goals. With TCHC expected to close nearly 1,000 units in 2018, expect a large amount of pushback from Council’s left wing; a number of motions at the committee meeting sought to exempt crucial social services, like housing and shelter, from the budget freeze, but none were passed.
Council will also be asked to find about $178,000 to fund Toronto’s overdose action plan for the rest of 2017, at the request of Councillor Cressy. As became apparent at the Board of Health meeting, provincial funding is not expected to arrive this year. With the overdose crisis worsening in Toronto, finding the money to fund the OAP independently should be a fairly agreeable measure.
There’s a glut of second-tier items that are important in the long-term politics of the City on the agenda for this week. Among them:
- Council is being asked to explore options to tackle the crisis of affordable housing in the rental market. The agenda item is fairly toothless—it mostly is looking to get more information—but it at least acknowledges that the rental market in Toronto is (to be blunt) terrible.
- Council is also being asked to approve a number of climate-change related targets in response to the TransformTO report. (You can find the stats and targets here.)
- Council will debate the creation of a new City agency responsible for management of the City’s real estate holdings. This would centralize the more than 24 agencies that have some responsibility for real estate matters under one umbrella agency. This agency would launch in 2018, and would be fully phased in by 2021.
- Council is set to approve a swath of cultural funding grants allotted by the Economic Development Committee—but likely not before the Courageous All-Lives-Matter Crusader John Campbell (Ward 4, Etobicoke Centre), who is perennially insulted by the notion that Pride have some sort of say over who participates in their own political action, has something to say about it. Campbell is widely expected to put forth a motion to deny Pride $260,000 in funding from the City. Torontoist‘s Alex Verman wrote about this issue last week; read it here. For another perspective, try Rinaldo Walcott’s argument that Pride would be better off not taking the money anyways. (Disagree with the way this all went down last summer to your heart’s content; if you can’t see that Pride is fully within its rights to ask uniformed police not to attend, there’s not much I can do for you.)
As I’ve written before, my favourite part about Council are the member motions, which often provide a wealth of the bizarre and amusing. (City-wide lottery? Sure, Councillor Nunziata!) With that said, this month is pretty light, as far as member motions are concerned.
Councillor Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West) has a motion called “Standing Up Together for Toronto – Torontonians Unite in Campaign Calling on the Ontario Government to Live Up to its Obligations to Support Toronto’s Infrastructure.” The motion seeks to put together a campaign, on both social and conventional media, to ask the Province to live up to the promises they’ve made. It’s a bit unclear what this means—a Twitter bot that trolls Kathleen Wynne, perhaps?
Councillor Shan (Ward 42, Scarborough-Rouge River) has a motion that would support initiatives for young cricket players in the city. Cricket, he notes, is one of the fastest growing sports in the GTA, and the City could do more to support the sport through partnerships with school boards and the private sector.