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Toronto's first virtual Council meeting


BY SHELLEY CARROLL

Last week I sent out my e-blast first thing in the morning to remind you about our telephone town hall happening that night. While my team and MP Han Dong's office were getting ready for that, I headed down to City Hall for the first time in weeks to attend Toronto's first-ever virtual City Council meeting. The set-up Our City Clerks have been dreading the thought of managing such an undertaking. We are a lively bunch representing the largest city and Council in Canada. So while other cities held virtual meetings earlier on, Toronto’s promised to be much harder to pull off. In the end, the session went on without a hitch, thanks in no small part to the preparations of the City Clerks and our wonderful IT support.

The virtual Chambers consisted of Speaker Nunziata in one room with Clerks assisting, senior staff answering questions in another, me in yet another room in case I was needed as alternate Speaker, Mayor Tory in his office and lastly, 23 more councillors at home. It wasn’t as entertaining as a virtual Saturday Night Live or Stephen Colbert At Home but then the topic was more serious. Our agenda was dominated by items about guiding Toronto through the remainder of the lockdown and into re-entry. The agenda We immediately adopted more rules for virtual participation so Council can slowly begin to hold regular meetings, even if physical distancing continues and live audiences are prohibited.

We unanimously extended Mayor Tory’s authority under the State of Emergency rules but not without asking lots of questions — all councillors had a chance to provide input into a group-crafted motion moved by the Mayor. This omnibus motion listed actions Council would like to see incorporated into the pandemic response. Two items on the agenda have been in the works for some time to help deal with housing affordability and homelessness. This was the City’s biggest challenge pre-pandemic; now, we can expect that the virus and its economic impact will plunge housing-insecure Torontonians into further crisis for a long time. First, we approved the implementation of a grant that will be available for people who have been on the subsidized housing waiting list for a long time and who fall into certain priority groups (ie people with disabilities, Indigenous people and those who have experienced domestic abuse). Eligible households will receive portable rent supplements to stabilize their situation.

Council also gave the go-ahead to construct modular supportive housing. This type of housing can be constructed in half the time, sometimes less, than conventional social housing and can quickly turn lives around by having social supports available on-site. Successful projects in Vancouver, Calgary and other cities are already seeing great results. The TTC The next opportunity for a live-streamed public meeting will be the TTC Board on Wednesday, May 13th. As a TTC Commissioner, I am shaken by the numbers every day: we are seeing only about 15 per cent of our normal ridership on buses, streetcars and subways. This makes distancing easier but it also means that, financially, our transit system is bleeding. Toronto taxpayers contribute a little over 30 per cent to the cost of running the TTC each year with the rest of the revenue coming from fares.

TTC CEO Rick Leary announced he would be asking the Board for permission to temporarily lay off 1,200 employees at our meeting next week. Now, only seven days later, we are seeing announcements that some retail workers will be returning to work just as the TTC Board is considering laying off some of theirs. If the layoffs must proceed, I will be moving motions to require specific benchmark ridership numbers to guarantee a return to work of all employees to keep the system safe as the economy recovers. North York Some of you have asked why we are not having virtual North York Community Council meetings since we had a full Council meeting. That's because many City planning staff have been redeployed to work on the City's pandemic response. This seemed like a good department to call upon for extra hands since many parts of the planning process have been closed due to the lockdown. LPAT hearings, application counters, permit counters, the Committee of Adjustment, City Council, etc. are all unable to consider planning matters right now.

Getting all of this machinery back up and running will take much of the month of May. Once the picture becomes clearer in a few weeks' time, I will give you a walk-through of the planning delay impacts for Don Valley North. Did you miss the town hall? If you missed last week's telephone town hall, don't fret — I have the full audio and a Q&A on my website. It's worth a listen — MP Han Dong and I answered many questions about government actions and Dr. Tepper of North York General Hospital provided great insight to your health and lifestyle-related concerns.

It's important to note that the government response to COVID-19 is changing every day. Just yesterday, the province announced it is relaxing some restrictions by allowing retail stores to open for curbside pick-up, among others. Remember to frequently check trusted, reliable sources of information like Toronto Public Health and Ontario Public Health for the most recent updates and guidelines. For your convenience, my team is updating my website with information from all levels of government daily. Of course, if you have any questions that you can't find answers to, you can always send my office a message and my team will be happy to help you out.

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