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Council highlights and lowlights

Day Two of our November City Council session is wrapping up, so I thought I'd summarize some key developments for you here. I've received lots of positive feedback from readers about the last couple of "Council highlights" e-blasts, so I will make this a recurring monthly series after each Council session.


Here's what you need to know:

 

Council agreed to move the Toronto Surface Transit Network Plan (STNP) along to the City-wide consultation phase. At the meeting, however, it sounded like a number of Councillors aren't feeling much like going along for the ride.


The STNP is led by the City's General Manager of Transportation Services to evaluate key avenues throughout the inner suburbs to determine if any could be redesigned to accommodate dedicated bus lanes.


Almost every avenue being reviewed would need alteration, widening and more to accommodate dedicated or rapid bus lanes. Staff will continue to review their potential, including looking for more minor improvements such as queue jump lanes for buses and improved signalization. Then, they will reach out to you for your opinion.

There were a number of councillors who claimed this would be impossible in their areas, even though we haven’t even seen completed designs. I voted to continue the preliminary design work and do the consultations. I think you will be able to form your opinions better once you can actually see what is being suggested.


Avenues that are considered first priority are Jane Street, Steels Avenue West, Finch Avenue East and Dufferin Street. All could proceed, depending on community input, as early as 2024. Future corridors beyond these would be consulted on in a few years' time.

 

I've talked about ranked ballots in-depth already. As you may know, I moved a protest motion when Premier Ford removed the right of municipalities to determine whether or not they wanted to have ranked choice voting in their local city elections.


The motion passed quite handily in Council yesterday. It bears repeating that, once again, I was able to count on the Mayor’s influential support. John Tory has consistently supported this democratic reform since he was first elected.

 

The Toronto Medical Officer of Health was stuck in her office, answering endless questions from us Councillors while drama unfolded in Etobicoke. While a restaurant owner made a very public show of defying the Premier’s order to shut down indoor dining, we discussed how to turn around this very dangerous resurgence of the virus.


In answer to my question, the good Doctor de Villa confirmed her public health team are constantly reviewing their communications strategy to find more forceful and impactful ways to express the need for everyone to follow these new directives.

 

There is some good news at last on the Fair Pass, our transit discount program for low-income Torontonians. While the program launched in 2018, funding will ultimately be required from other levels of government to fully implement it.


The program is currently offered to anyone who receives OW or ODSP. Clients receive a specially-programmed PRESTO card to access discounted TTC fares. The cost is calculated based on actual ridership data, and when you swipe the card, the discount is noted and subsidized by the City.


Lower TTC ridership during the pandemic has left the City with additional funds for the program. As a result, City Staff are recommending adding the next phase in the 2021 City Budget, which includes eligibility for any working Torontonian who qualifies for childcare subsidies or who meets the low-income measure plus 15 per cent. This program is going to be vital to getting people back on their feet post-pandemic.

 

For this item, I am including a link to City Staff’s very easily-digested slide deck. The presentation clearly lays out the issues our Children's Services department has with the provincial government's recently proposed changes to the child care system. Whether you use child care or not, this is an issue for all of us.


Right now, parents are desperate for child care centres to just be open. Due to the pandemic, they are not able to organize and protest changes that might be unhealthy for their kids - I suspect this is why the provincial government has chosen this moment to embark on changes that would really challenge our ability to deliver quality child care with our many not-for-profit partners.


Pooling together age groups while simultaneously raising the ratio of adults to children in the room is ill-advised. Parents, grandparents and future parents should let their representatives know that “Building Back Better” after the pandemic means helping parents go back to work, safe in the knowledge that their kids are being well cared for.

 

This report shows we are grossly under-investing in the state of good repair for our roads, both major and local. However, we can look at it in a good news way: it shows we have seen City staff improve in their ability to spend capital dollars on roads when they have the right tools.


Transportation capital staff now have their own equipment to quickly and affordably assess the conditions of roads across the city. This allows them to put the dollars into the repairs themselves. They further submit that it may be possible to be even faster and more affordable if they allow in-house City crews to do local road improvements and leave the major repairs to the big-gun private firms.


While all the recommendations passed, I find it amazing that five councillors voted against the recommendation that staff further study the in-house option to make sure savings are truly possible. To me, the issue here is savings and more roads getting repaired. This should be the least ideological item of the day.

 

This Ombudsman report is worth a good read-through. Over the years, many Don Valley North residents have made liability claims, particularly after our most traumatic storm on August 19, 2005. If you are one of those people, you will appreciate the Ombudsman’s recommendations.


Councillor Nunziata has moved that the report be brought to the next meeting of the appropriate Standing Committee in January so that residents will have the ability to speak to the report if they wish. When that meeting is scheduled, I’ll announce it in this e-blast.


We are lucky in Don Valley North to have been amongst the earliest basement flood mitigation projects. I’ll confess to being a bit of a raging Councillor back in 2006 to make that happen. These days, significant sewer backups and basement floods have become a rare occurrence. You should still remember to call my office if this happens to you, though - my team will gladly help you and suggest the best steps to take.

 

This one is crucial to any Don Valley resident who is a fan of our spectacular natural ravines. Our local ravines are the main reason I stepped up to sit on the Board of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). This is the multi-governmental body appointed to provide stewardship over watersheds and ravines.


The TRCA Board includes councillors from all of the applicable municipalities but also citizen members, appointed based on environmental expertise. This balances out some of the politics that might otherwise dominate.


TRCA staff play a very important role in protecting against over-development of our naturally significant lands. We have two coming up in Don Valley North alone, where TRCA has the authority to determine where the top-of-bank is on a ravine. For example, they can require an applicant to push development back 10 metres.


But what happens when a developer applicant and the municipality band together and decide to proceed with a project against TRCA advice? Currently, the TRCA can register an appeal to the same provincial tribunal known as the LPAT, which residents and cities appeal to when they disagree with a development.


The provincial government has introduced a Bill that would remove citizens from the Board as well as the ability of Conservation Authorities to appeal developments or even register to be a party to LPAT. The City of Toronto is joining other member municipalities in registering our disapproval of this Bill. Read TRCA's statement on their website here, which goes in-depth about how the approval of this Bill would endanger our precious ravines.


That's all for the November Council session. Our next and final session of the year will be on December 16 and 17, where we will be discussing the 2021 rate-supported Budget. Stay tuned.

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