When Jack Layton first became invovled in Toronto politics back in the 1970s there was no such thing as a Cycling Advisory Committee, so councillors simply started their own. Now that the Ford administration has decided not to reconvene the committee, Councillor Mike Layton intends to follow in his father's, er, bike treads, and start one himself.[briefbreak]
"I was talking to my dad and he said, ‘Just establish a cycling committee in your own office. That's what we did,'" Mike Layton said. Jack served in Toronto's government for nine years before moving on to federal politics.
Thursday morning council voted to refer the reestablishment of 22 advisory bodies back to the mayor's office. Many of the committees have been around for years but they have to be reconvened at the start of each council term, and today's vote means that the Cycling Advisory Committee and other citizen panels like the Bring Back the Don Task Force and the Pedestrian Committee are dead, at least for now. They will come back to council in July, but Layton says there's clearly no will at Rob Ford's City Hall to save them.
"They push stuff into a back room, and it never sees the light of day again," he said. "If they wanted to reestablish the cycling committee because they think it's a valuable body, they could have done it."
The Ford administration's move to eliminate advisory boards has raised eyebrows because the people who sit on the committees are volunteers and don't get paid. Cutting them won't save the city any money, but will reduce the chances of Ford having to face dissenting opinions at City Hall.
The potential elimination of the cycling committee comes at a particularly bad time, because the Public Works Committee has just announced plans for a continuous separated bike lane network downtown, the biggest piece of cycling infrastructure Toronto has ever seen and something we'll be stuck with for decades once it's completed. It's looking very much like it will be built without input from the citizens and experts on the Cycling Advisory Committee.
Layton, who sits on the Public Works Committee, plans to reach out to members of the city's cycling community to make sure their voice is heard at council.
"There's no harm of me and cyclists sitting down and talking about what's on the city's agenda," he said. "The Toronto Cyclists Union is serving their purpose really well, but not everyone's a member. We'll figure out a way to reach out to some of the other groups as well."
Layton says he's in a unique position to spearhead an ad hoc cycling advisory board because of his position on Public Works, but he would fully support other councillors forming committees on other issues.
It could be argued that if councillors do start setting up their own advisory groups, it will validate the Fordists' argument that City Hall doesn't need the existing, formal committees. But Layton doesn't see it that way.
"I think what it says is we need these committees, and if council isn't prepared to establish them then councillors will," he said. "The problem is we won't have the benefit of city resources."