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E-BLAST: 2023 Was Quite the Year

We're in the midst of our last Council session of the year. Rest assured I'll be providing a full rundown in this column next week once we've concluded all our business. In the meantime, I want to take a look back at 2023.

I can say with certainty that this was one of the more interesting years of my career as a City Councillor. If you had told me last January that I would once again be Budget Chief by August, I would've laughed. None of us could have predicted the many twists and turns that came to City Hall this year. Through all the craziness, I was always guided by you, the wonderful residents of Don Valley North. You've trusted me to keep working hard to build a city that we can be proud to call home, and one that our kids and grandkids can still call home in years to come. Let's take a look back at everything that happened in 2023 and think about what we want to see in 2024.

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When 2023 began, I was serving as the Chair of Economic & Community Development Committee (ECDC) under Mayor Tory. I joined him and Councillor Pasternak to announce one of the first major decisions of 2023: Investing in community safety and emergency response times by budgeting to hire 200 firefighters, 200 police officers, and 250 paramedics this year. As Chair of ECDC, I also had many opportunities to connect with the businesses, entrepreneurs, artists, and agencies that are the very backbone of our city. 

Of course, Mayor Tory resigned in February. That marked the start of some very uncertain months here at City Hall. My focus, and the focus of Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie and the rest of my Council colleagues, was to make sure there was no interruption to the services you rely on every day. That was our guiding principle in the months leading up to the June mayoral by-election. 

I continued to serve as Chair of ECDC until August of this year, when our new Mayor Olivia Chow appointed me Budget Chief. In addition to my role as Budget Chief, Mayor Chow made me her Economic Development & Culture Champion. Through this role, I've been able to continue much of the essential work I started as Chair of ECDC, including co-chairing the Action Plan for Toronto's Economy and the Action Plan for Toronto's Culture Sector. Both of these plans will be presented to Council in fall of next year, and will guide the City as we work to uplift our economy by supporting our entrepreneurs and artists, businesses and cultural organizations, both large and small.

As Budget Chief, the first thing I tackled was our new Long-Term Financial Plan. This document plainly spelled out our structural financial deficit and outlined a number of routes we can take to set our city on a path to long-term financial sustainability. While there are steps our city can take to improve our fiscal position, the Long-Term Financial Plan made it clear that our city also needs greater support from other levels of government or the tools and powers to raise funds that grow with the economy. 

As I shared in this E-Blast last week, the New Deal secured by the Mayor is a major milestone for the city, but it doesn't solve all of our financial woes. In the short-term, we need to see the Federal government step up and pay their fair share. There are a number of funding promises from the Province that are tied to matching contributions from the Feds, and it would be an absolute shame to never see those dollars materialize because of Federal inaction. 

Of course, the work to make Toronto truly financially independent and sustainable will be ongoing over my tenure as Budget Chief. I'll touch more on some of my more recent work as Budget Chief at the end of this column, but there were a number of other notable decisions made at Council this year that are worth shouting out:

  • We approved the Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods initiative to allow the construction of low-rise, multi-family housing in neighbourhoods across the city. This will help increase housing choice and make our neighbourhoods more accessible for newcomers, young families, seniors aging in place, and more.

  • The Toronto Community Crisis Service, which was piloting in four areas of Toronto, will be offered city-wide next July. I'm very excited and proud to see this non-police response to mental health crises become accessible to every Torontonian next year.

  • We also expanded the Multi-Disciplinary Outreach Team (M-DOT) program, which connects those sheltering on transit with a wide variety of health social supports, including shelter and housing, mental health services, and much more.

I spoke on the importance of Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods when Council considered the initiative in May. I always say, I don't want to drive three hours to visit my grandkids. I want them to be able to build a life here in Toronto.

I also moved a number of motions at Council aimed at tackling prominent issues here in Don Valley North and across the City:

  • City Council finally voted to move forward with a ban on leaf blowers and other two-stroke lawn equipment. Dedicated E-blast readers will know that this has been a long time coming, and I look forward to the bylaw being implemented next year.

  • We also saw The Peanut added to the Neighbourhood Streets Plan program. This means that City staff will work with the community to create a comprehensive traffic safety plan in the area next year.

  • I moved a motion to include small businesses located in strip malls in our Small Business Property Tax Subclass. These mom-and-pop shops are vital to our neighbourhoods in the inner suburbs, and should have access to the same city supports as the small businesses on our main streets.

  • I also worked with local tenants to put forward a motion to create an adequate temperature bylaw that protects tenants during our hottest months. Staff will be bringing back a report on this in the first half of 2024, and I'll keep working hard until we have this vital health and safety measure in place.

Many of these motions came about because residents like you reached out to my office and advocated for the changes you wanted to see, whether they be in your home, your neighbourhood, or the whole city.  I want to thank each and every one of you who has taken the time to share your most pressing needs with me and raised your voice to help make these changes come about.

There were also a number of exciting changes in our local neighbourhoods here in Don Valley North this year. Our brand-new

Ethennonnhawahstihnen' Community Recreation Centre & Library opened in July, and I can't wait for the official grand opening in March of next year. We also saw new playground equipment added to Bellbury Park, Clydesdale Park, Elkhorn Park, and Leslie Park, and renovations begin at both Fairview Library and Pleasantview Library. We completed a very successful Participatory Budgeting process in Bayview Village that will see exciting new amenities come to the neighbourhood in the years ahead.

There are also a number of changes coming to Sheppard Avenue East. City Planning staff continue to work on the Sheppard Secondary Plan that will guide growth along the corridor, and North York General announced their plan for a new, state-of-the-art Long-Term Care and Seniors Health Facility at the intersection of Sheppard and Leslie. City Council also approved the Sheppard Reconstruction, which will help us update the road to meet the needs of our community now and decades into the future. 

We also saw the Province announce their plans for the Sheppard Extension. I'm disappointed that Metrolinx is not committing to making this extension a subway. Since Premier Ford took office, I've been very vocal that we need a subway along Sheppard to accommodate the pace of intensification and population growth in the corridor. I've heard the same from many residents and I hope you'll all join me in calling on the Provincial government to commit to this critical subway infrastructure.

Photos from some of my favourite community events this year.

We also had some great events in the ward this year: a Community Safety Town Hall, Community Environment and Clean-Up Days, Park Pop-Ups, and the return of Summer Celebration. It was great to get back to these in-person events and celebrations after the challenges of the past few years. 

I also recently wrapped up a city-wide tour for our Pre-Budget Consultations. When I agreed to be Budget Chief, it was because I knew that Mayor Chow and I shared an understanding of just how important it is to engage openly and frequently on our budget process. Most importantly, we have to start the conversation before the Budget is set. It was such a pleasure to travel across the city and hear your vision for our city. I very much look forward to continuing these conversations when the Budget launches in the New Year.

It has been one jammed-packed year at the Hall. To end with a fun stat, this is our 48th E-Blast of the year, and next week's will be the 49th. Thanks to each and every one of you who takes the time to read my column every week. It's a pleasure and a privilege to keep you up-to-date on what's happening in our neighbourhoods and our city, and one I look forward to continuing in 2024.



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