It’s Not A Mess . . . It’s Under Construction – Ward 33 E-Blast June 8th

Last week, Mayor Tory, held another photo op with the media to announce that for the second time this year he was pleased to announce that 2 major road projects were completed ahead of schedule.

Now, I am a busy person who drives a fair bit, and all over town. I’m as happy as the next person that the new accelerated projects plan is going well for major road repairs in the core business district and roads leading to it. That part of the city that economists like to call  ‘the CBD’ is important to us all. However, there is an infrastructure mess playing out in Ward 33, for the third year in a row, that could also use some of that laser focus the Mayor is famous for.

Back in 2013, we got a letter from Toronto Hydro that it was time to replace the underground hydro distribution wires in the subdivision of Henry Farm. We got all sorts of maps and copies of community notices and a large in-person meeting to help us understand what would be happening. As often happens in projects of this scale, it didn’t always go smoothly. We’ve had additional group meetings to keep the community informed and to gather up any unaddressed individual homeowners’ issues. My staff and I have also spent countless phone hours advocating for individual property fixes.

This year, we held another meeting for the community because post-Hydro project, there have been telecommunications companies tearing into the ground and we still have a phase two of hydro to come. At our recent meeting, residents were able to question representatives from Toronto Hydro, Toronto Transportation for roadwork, heads of Engineering Services and Infrastructure Coordination and even Bell Canada. Guess what never came up? Less than a month after that community meeting, in spite of all that is underway in the community of Henry Farm, the City has also contracted out a watermain flushing and re-lining project.

Now, I am told that some of the Mayor’s staff are fond of reading my weekly eblast. So here goes, I’m talking to you guys. You can arrange all of the photo ops you like for our Mayor on major projects downtown or on highways. These good news stories fall on deaf ears when we can’t do a better job of coordinating the invasive state of good repair projects on the subdivision streets where people live.

I served a motion at Council last week and it will be considered at the Mayor’s Executive Committee on June 19th. The title of the motion is ‘Getting Back To Normal.’ My motion seems to make city staff nervous which is a clear sign to me that it’s necessary. All the motion asks is that staff put a policy in place that makes someone accountable for the duration of a disruption on a street.

When a capital project comes in to a residential area of a certain size, I’m suggesting 250 homes or more, if the project is expected to disrupt the neighbourhood for more than one year then staff should be required to hold a community information session once a year to update the affected residents. Most importantly, whether the work is being done by the City or by a private sector utility, some fairly senior city staff member should be accountable for that neighbourhood ‘Getting Back To Normal’.

This isn’t rocket science. It’s fair, reasonable and cost effective. The amount of staff time being spent on dealing with residents who haven’t received basic information about the work in front of their homes is off the charts. The amount of Council staff time being spent cajoling staff into having a community meeting when folks are upset is wildly different from district to district, councillor to councillor and that’s inequitable. The ‘Getting Back To Normal’ motion should sail through Executive Committee easy peasy. If not, you can assume that executive members are fine with inequitable service standards and a waste of cash and human resources.

In the meantime, my staff and I have met with the contractor coming in to do the water project and the senior infrastructure coordinator. The contractors were awarded the job before we were notified so the City would pay a substantial penalty if we were to postpone the work. We have made it sufficiently clear that these contractors are moving into a neighbourhood suffering from severe infrastructure fatigue. They now understand that this job needs to be the most organized, efficient and expedited job they have ever done for Toronto. Shawna and Katherine will be monitoring almost daily and we are hand delivering communications to the residents ourselves to make sure these go to every home. We shouldn’t have to. The City should have a policy that ensures the best possible coordination and communication when the trucks pull on to your street.

On a happier note, I want to say a few words about a wonderful event that happened at City Hall on Tuesday night. We had our first Toronto City Hall Iftar, organized by our newest councillor, Neethan Shan. Iftar, as many Muslim residents in Ward 33 know, is the daily breaking of fast that happens throughout Ramadan.

Sponsoring organizations, Islamic Relief Canada and the National Council of Canadian Muslims, provided wonderful speakers to explain to the greater community how very much Ramadan and its traditions of Zakat and Iftar are about sharing with community, giving back to community. Once we fully understood it, we asked ourselves why this has not been a part of City Hall tradition for much longer. It certainly will be from now on.

Ramadan continues until June 24th this year. In this year when islamophobia led a young radicalized white supremacist to murder 6 Canadian Muslims just for being in their place of worship, please think about reaching out to your neighbours. Let’s add to our neighbourhood vocabulary, Ramadan Kareem, Ramadan Mubarak and now more than ever, Assalamualaikum which means ‘peace be upon you’.