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The Last E-Blast: Fighting for Your Voice at City Hall

Last week, my fellow Councillors and I got a jolt in the middle of our final Council session when the Toronto Star broke the story that Premier Ford is drafting legislation for a “Strong Mayor” model in Toronto and Ottawa. Just like in 2018, Doug wants to meddle in our governance system in the middle of election time. Council did a lot of fretting over this, and even moved a motion about it, but I noticed something interesting when I went out in the community the following week. I held three of my trademark Park Pop-Ups and spoke to dozens of neighbours, and the subject of a Strong Mayor never came up.

I always appreciate hearing from neighbours at our Park Pop-Ups.

Understandably, not many folks spend time fretting over the internal workings of City Council. However, the biggest ramification of a new Strong Mayor system has to do with exactly why anyone comes out to a Park Pop-Up in the first place—to have their voice heard. We don’t know exactly what powers will be granted under the Strong Mayor system yet, but there is the potential that they will reduce the voice of Councillors and, in turn, their communities. I want to make sure that no matter how our governance system changes, your voice still has an impact at City Hall.

To provide a brief history, Toronto already has an almost Strong Mayor model. Since the City of Toronto Act was enacted in 2007, our Mayor has functioned differently than those in smaller Ontario municipalities, so much so that the media nicknamed our system a “Robust Mayor” model. Toronto’s Mayor can appoint his own Executive Cabinet, has almost complete control of Council agendas, and is free to express his opinions while decisions are being debated because he appoints a Speaker to chair Council meetings. Our Mayor may only have one vote, but he is in the driver’s seat when it comes to which issues we focus on and how we go about addressing them.

Local Councillors have the power to submit motions to Council, but the speed at which these motions will be addressed depends a lot on how the Mayor feels about it. A perfect example is dangerous and noisy speed racing on our streets and highways. I moved a motion about this in October 2020, when it was clear that the lockdown was emboldening these dangerous highway racers. It was a huge problem for us here in Don Valley North, but not top of mind for the Mayor and most of his Executive. I got the ball rolling, but it took another motion from Councillor Filion in December 2020 and still another from Councillor Fletcher in June 2021 to cause a rising echo and get real action on this at City Hall.

It may have taken several months, but today we’re seeing greater action being taken on excessive noise and danger from street racing and stunt driving by our own Municipal Licensing and Standards (MLS) team, Toronto Police Services, the Ontario Provincial Police, and other GTA services. Hundreds of arrests and vehicle impoundments have taken place and will continue throughout the summer. Action like this is truly driven by Councillors and their communities consistently speaking up on the issues that affect their neighbourhoods the most.

Many in our neighbourhood complained about increased street racing on the 401 and the DVP over the pandemic.

If we move to a Strong Mayor model, the devil will most certainly be in the details of the new legislation. Will I still be able to move a last-minute motion on an emergent issue like street racing? Will the Mayor still need a vote from Council to refer the motion to staff to delay action, or will he have unilateral powers to do so, as is the case in most Strong Mayor cities? Will I still be able to advocate regularly for your property taxes to be invested wisely or, as is the case in New York City, will the City’s finance staff become the Mayor’s staff and only meet with Council once per year to present a finished budget?

If this is what the Premier is proposing, I would ask all of you to think beyond Mayor Tory. He’ll likely be here for the next four years and we all have an idea of how he would react to the new powers, but what about future mayors? What about troubled ones? Corrupt ones? Incompetent ones?

So, while the idea of changing municipal governance rules may seem like inside ball, these changes will have real impacts on how much say you get on what happens at City Hall. If Premier Ford’s idea of improving our local democracy is to take away the power of Councillors to directly advocate for you, then we’ll have a Strong Mayor but not a Strong City.

My fellow Councillors and I discussed the additional changes we'd like to see if the Province decides to change our governance system.

Since the proposed legislation has not been made public yet, Council drafted a motion to suggest conditions under which Toronto City Council might be able to function in a better way under the new Strong Mayor system. I still have grave concerns about this change, but I worked together with councillor McKelvie and Mayor Tory’s staff to help author the motion that passed with a strong majority:

  1. City Council request the Province of Ontario to consult with the City of Toronto on governance prior to granting additional authorities to the City commensurate with Strong Mayor governance models, and request greater autonomy and decision-making authority, including but not limited to:

    1. traffic safety measures;

    2. planning and housing matters;

    3. cannabis and liquor licence application approvals; and

    4. revenue raising measures and budgeting measures, in particular, revenue tools that grow with the economy and are used in every municipal system that includes a Stronger Mayor model.

  2. City Council affirms its position that any changes to Toronto’s local elections or its governance structure should be decisions made by Toronto’s City Council.

It is essential that we not only maintain but enhance your voice at City Hall, no matter what curve balls the Premier throws at us. There has been a noticeable decrease in civic engagement over the course of the pandemic, which is why City staff are hard at work on initiatives to help you have more of a say on local issues. For example, the City is conducting a consultation on how we do consultations. I know that sounds a little crazy, but we need to improve how we hear from you in a rapidly changing city, especially when it comes to virtual vs in-person consultations. Please be sure to take part in this consultation—have a say about how you get to have your say. Councillors and City Staff do their jobs better when you are heard.

It's been a while since we've been able to have in-person consultations. Make sure you share your feedback on how the City can best engage with you.

And what if the Premier’s Strong Mayor governance change comes to pass in September, in the middle of our own municipal election? I say we work together to strengthen local democracy as much as possible.

For instance, Strong Mayors in Chicago and NYC provide local Councillors with $1 million annually to hold Participatory Budgeting exercises, allowing local residents to decide how to spend those public funds on their neighbourhoods’ priorities. In San Francisco, the Mayor and Councillors have been elected by ranked ballot for years and locals love it. In NYC, radical reforms to the campaign donation scheme has cleaned up the election system and made it far more accessible for women and racialized candidates to run for office. It is programs and policies like these that will ensure the local community still has a powerful voice under a Strong Mayor model.

In my view, we should be implementing measures like these regardless of what the Premier decides. After amalgamation, local neighbourhoods began to lose their voice in a mega city. Whatever mayoral model we end up with next term, we need to make sure that your voice still holds power. After years of working with the passionate residents of Don Valley North, I can tell you with absolute certainty that strong local voices are the best thing we can have in our local democracy.

Our Final E-Blast

With the municipal election coming up, this is the last week that I am able to send out my weekly E-Blast.

If you can believe it, this is our 183rd E-Blast of the term. I want to thank each and every one of you who has taken the time to read this column, whether you’ve been getting them for years or you subscribed last week. I truly hope it’s not only helped you get important information when you need it most, but also helped you feel more connected to our wonderful community here in Don Valley North. My office is still available to assist you with any questions or concerns, so please stay in touch and never hesitate to reach out.

- Shelley

Planning & Development Updates

There was one item of local significance that City Council go to on Friday, after last week's E-Blast went out: Land conversion requests. The Province mandates that we undertake what is called a Municipal Comprehensive Review (MCR) of our designated employment lands every five years. Ontario cities have the right to protect their employment lands, but in each MCR the City and the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) also review requests to convert employment lands to mixed uses. It’s important that conversion requests are reviewed all at one time in the context of cumulative impact. Preserving employment lands is critical to the continued economic vitality of this city: there are about 8,000 hectares of land providing 400,000 jobs in Toronto.

During this MCR, over 150 requests for conversion were received, including half a dozen in Don Valley North. Locally, these are concentrated in the Consumers/Parkway Centre Business Park, lands which are subject to the ConsumersNext Secondary Plan. In this first report to Council, only one request is being recommended by City Planning for conversion: 1 Heron’s Hill.

In my conversations with staff and as outlined in their report, there are several reasons why they are recommending this request be approved. Unlike any of the others, this request came in prior to the MCR launch and prior to ConsumersNext Secondary Plan coming into force. This means it’s not fully subject to that plan. Secondly, 1 Heron’s Hill includes a sliver of land fronting along Sheppard Ave E where other residential uses exist and were permitted in the last MCR. Finally, staff reviewed both city-wide and site-specific economic analysis studies around the types of uses and amount of employment that can be sustained on a site.

After all of these considerations, staff make a recommendation. When they recommend approval, they attach conditions as they’ve done for 1 Heron’s Hill. For 1 Heron' Hill, these conditions include the following:

  • Require a minimum of 3,340 square metres of employment gross floor area on the land prior to or concurrent with residential uses;

  • Require the Heron's Hill Way Extension to Boneset Road Connection;

  • Require a minimum of 520 square metres of Privately Owned Publicly- Accessible Space ("POPS") in addition to parkland dedication;

  • Require the majority of car parking to be located below grade; and,

  • Require prescribed rates of affordable housing (7% of units as affordable ownership or 5% affordable rental).

Even though Council has adopted planning staff’s recommendation to convert, this site must now go through a rigorous Community Planning process. I expect there to be another community meeting in the New Year as a status update from City Planning. I will be sure to keep you posted on the timing so that you can come learn more and share your feedback.

What of the other conversion requests in the business park? They don’t have the same mitigating factors as Heron’s Hill, and since they are deeper into the park, they represent a fundamental threat to both the ConsumersNext Secondary Plan that was worked on by the community and to the future employment growth we hope to see there. City Planning will report back on these requests in the New Year and it is my hope that they take a stand for our Secondary Plan. I know that I can count on you to stand with me to do the same.

Park Improvement Updates

There are many exciting projects ongoing and underway in our local parks. My team and I have created a web page with the most recent updates on every project in the ward, which you can view at the link below:

Fourth Doses Now Available for All Adults 18+

Individuals age 18 and older who received their third dose (first booster) five months ago are eligible for a second booster dose. Individuals who have been infected with COVID-19 need to wait three months before receiving their next dose. Appointments cam be booked through the provincial booking system online or by phone:

  • Online:

  • Phone: 1-833-943-3900

For more information on vaccines, visit the link below:

We started Don Valley Northerner of the Week because I wanted to recognize some of the amazing people who make a difference in our community. Over the past few months, I've had the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful residents who have made Don Valley North a better place for all. From offering virtual programming during the pandemic and guided tours of our ravines, to being a voice for fellow students and even making a garden the crown jewel of the block, our communities are truly more vibrant and connected because of their efforts.

Thank you to everyone who graciously accepted the award, and especially to those who took the time to nominate someone in their community who they appreciate.


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