Worth Understanding

A number of local Residents’ Associations, including SAHRA, have come together to bring you a series of short informational pieces that are designed to summarize activities at City Hall in order to build context and stay informed about decisions and conversations that have an impact on our local neighbourhoods.

Today’s feature is the first of three articles by Freelance Journalist Maryam Siddiqi – please note that any views expressed are Maryam Siddiqi’s and they do not necessarily reflect the views of SAHRA. We hope that this short summary inspires you to read more about important things happening in our city.

We’d also love to hear what you think and what you’d like to see in future newsletters! [email protected]

Brief Honeymoon or Refocused Council? Time will Tell…

By Maryam Siddiqi

It’s been two and a half months since Olivia Chow was sworn in as our new mayor. The news cycle of late has been overwhelmed with headlines coming out of Queen’s Park, so you’re forgiven if City Hall hasn’t been top of mind.

How will Chow’s mayoralty be different than John Tory’s? These two quotes likely sum it up. Leading up to the election, she was interviewed on CBC Radio and asked how she’d be different as a politician now compared to the last time she was an elected official at City Hall in the 1990s. “I have less patience,” she said. 

In a Toronto Star story about former Mayor Tory’s delayed endorsement of Ana Bailao during the election, a source told the newspaper: “John has always been someone who can’t make any decisions, and then he needs to be forced into making any decisions. And then when he finally makes a decision, it’s like it’s a compromise of compromises where he makes no one happy.”

What we’ve seen over the past few weeks is a lot of decisions being made – many made quickly and without debate.

Some were no brainers. With a steamy forecast ahead for the start of September, the City announced it was keeping several pools open until much later in the month (typically they shut on Labour Day). That day, Mayor Chow headed to one of those pools and swam with some local kids. 

Some were related to safety. Mayor Chow backed a report that proposes using funds earmarked for the now-delayed Eglinton and Finch LRTs to hire almost 200 front-line staff to monitor the TTC for safety. “TTC riders, we want you back. We don’t want you to feel anxious,” she said at the press conference about the announcement.

And some required her getting a council that is divided on spending priorities to back her plans to get the city back on track – something many City Hall watchers weren’t sure was possible. After the first council meeting in September, things seem to be going her way. 

Most had to do with figuring out ways for the City to raise money so that it can deliver services to the standards we all expect. Council voted to adopt higher land transfer tax rates for homes over $3 million; remove the $5/hour cap on street parking; begin a plan to launch a commercial parking lot levy; and request from the Province that City Hall be able to launch a municipal sales tax (though Doug Ford has said he’s not a fan). Council also voted in favour of establishing a plan to build 25,000 rent-controlled homes.

Under the provincial Municipal Act, Toronto has limited options to raise money so these decisions are crucial to a healthy future for the city. So are productive relationships with the provincial and federal government. Mayor Chow had a meeting with Doug Ford and the two said they are working on a new funding model for the city (Ford’s plummeting support because of the Greenbelt scandal may work in Toronto’s favour as he tries to win fans). And in late September she headed to Ottawa to do the same. 

There’s plenty to fix in the city. First impressions from Mayor Chow are that she’s aware, and she’s on it. Time will tell if this is actually the case.