Each week, we round up the latest news, views, and rumours from City Hall.
Bags be gone
Toronto became the first major Canadian municipality to pursue a ban on plastic shopping bags Wednesday in the most unlikely of ways. At the start of the day, it looked like the only debate would be between Mayor Rob Ford's proposal to rescind the 5-cent bag fee, and Councillor Michelle Berardinetti's (Scarborough Southwest) plan to keep the levy but divert its proceeds to protect Toronto's tree canopy. Then, out of the blue, Councillor David Shiner (Willowdale) tabled a motion to outlaw the polyethylene pests altogether, and to everyone's surprise it passed by a vote of 24-20.
The merits of the prohibition notwithstanding, the speed with which council approved it raises serious questions about how, and even if, it can be implemented. Although it will quite literally effect all Toronto residents, the city has drafted no reports on the issue, and has conducted no consultations with anyone. It will be months before we even know what the ban will look like, because the city solicitor won't be able to put the final bylaw together until the fall. Ford and his allies have suggested the city has no authority to ban plastic shopping bags, but then again council has already outlawed shark fin soup, pesticides, and smoking near parks. If those prohibitions didn't overreach council's authority, it's hard to see how this one does.
Pride gets paid
Taxpayer money will be going to Pride this year, even though inflammatory pro-Palestinian group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid has registered to take part. Council approved a $124,000 grant to the LGBTQ festival Thursday in a 33-0 vote. The dispiriting spat over QuAIA's Pride participation is a yearly drama at City Hall, but there are signs even Israel's fiercest defenders on council are growing tired of it. Councillor James Pasternak (York Centre) backed off a threat to try to withhold funding until after the festival to ensure QuAIA didn't cause a disturbance, and instead convinced council to endorse a symbolic motion condemning the phrase "Israeli apartheid." The move succeeded in defusing the Pride funding flap for now, but some councillors warned the condemnation smacks of censorship.
- If council approving a bag ban on Rob Ford's watch wasn't proof enough City Hall slipped through the looking glass this week, on Thursday our car-loving mayor accepted a Bicycle Friendly Communities award on behalf of Toronto
- John Tory, chair of the advisory panel that will decide the fate of Ontario Place, showed he heard the objections of local councillors Tuesday and announced the panel has ruled out recommending a gaming complex on the waterfront site
- Bike activists are on alert after Cycle Toronto released, and then retracted, a statement claiming the Dupont bike lanes are being targeted for removal by the mayor's office
The makeover of Queen's Quay won't be finished until 2014, but you can take a virtual tour of the lakefront of the future by perusing this presentation Waterfront Toronto released on Wednesday. Plans include ample pedestrian space, an off-road bike trail, and relocating the streetcar corridor to the south side of the street from its current position running down the middle. The artist's conceptions certainly look pretty, although apparently by 2014 all Torontonians will be creepy and transparent.
MEETINGS, MOTIONS, AND MINUTES
This week's council session stretched into three days and resulted in no shortage of important decisions. Aside from Pride funding and the plastic bag ban, council also:
- voted unanimously, as expected, to rename the Toronto Island Ferry Terminal after Jack Layton
- asked for two reports by March 2013 on the possibility of hosting the 2024 Olympic Games and the 2025 World Expo
- approved an environmental assessment to widen the bridge at St. Clair and Weston/Keele, a traffic choke point and as much a cause of the "St. Clair disaster" as the infamous streetcar right-of-way
- reinstated funding for 17 of 29 Youth Outreach workers whose positions helping at-risk young people access city services were to be eliminated
- agreed to use donations to keep the High Park Zoo and Far Enough Farm open until at least the end of 2012
- asked for an urgent review of background checks for city employees, following the revelation that Eaton Centre shooting suspect Christopher Husbands held a job as a part-time rec worker while under house arrest for an alleged sexual assault
- allocated $250,000 to re-start the bed bug eradication program for vulnerable tenants in city-owned housing and shelters
- approved the construction of 77 km of off-road bike trails over the next 10 years, and enhanced separated bike lane projects on Wellesley and Harbord/Hoskin
- increased the TTC budget by $2.1 million so that commission can increase service and meet a higher-than-projected ridership of 512 million people this year
COUNCILLOR OF THE WEEK
The honours this week can only go to Councillor David Shiner (Willowdale), who by tabling the shock plastic bag ban joined a growing list of Ford allies who've turned around and stuck the mayor in the eye. That intriguing list includes Josh Colle, Jaye Robinson, Michelle Berardinetti, and Karen Stintz, but as a strict fiscal conservative and usually loyal Fordist, Shiner's defection is by far the most surprising.
CITY SOUND BITE
"It's the people's fault. Honestly, sometimes I get so frustrated because the people are just sitting back listening. They don't pick up the phone, they don't go down to city hall, they don't ask questions... It's frustrating."
- Rob Ford, on the John Oakley Show, placing the blame for his botched attempt to repeal the 5-cent bag fee squarely on the shoulders of the taxpayers. An unorthodox strategy for a populist politician, to say the least.
NEXT WEEK'S AGENDA
On Wednesday, bike activists will take over Jarvis street in the latest push to stop the removal of the street's bike lanes.