As fall comes around, Parliament Hill and Queens Park are set to resume sitting in each of their respective legislatures…as is Toronto City Council of course.
However, this fall session of city Council will be quite interesting, as we have had at least 3 newsmakers this summer.
How will each of these events shape this session? Likely in a disruptive way.
TORONTO’S PARKS & RECREATION DEPARTMENT EMBARRASSED BY A RETIRED MECHANIC
Meet Adi Astl, mechanic extraordinaire retired. After witnessing people fall down an embankment just off of a parking lot near his backyard leading into a park, he decided to do what any sensible person would: report it to the city to get the situation remedied. Perhaps a set of stairs would suffice. After waiting months and months for the stairs to be installed, Adi grew impatient.
What was taking so long? Approvals? Consultations? Design?
All of them. And these would come with a hefty price tag.
What could possibly be this price tag for a set of stairs so small? $10,000? $20,000? How about $65,000? Yes. $$65,000…and that was to start. City bureaucrats were pegging the cost of these steps to be as high as…(wait for it)…$150,000. Yes, you’re reading this correctly.
Any sensible contractor can build a decent home for $150,000, but for steps? No way. There had to be some sort of solution to this, and of course, Adi stepped in.
Hiring a homeless man to assist in the construction, Mr. Astl paid for the materials himself and constructed a set of steps, complete with posts and a handrail for stabilizing. Total cost: $550. For less than 1% of the minimum estimate that the City of Toronto bureaucrats had proposed (or 0.00367% of the city’s maximum estimate).
I explained in detail how this shouldn’t cost more than $10,000 – $15,000. Once these numbers were exposed, bureaucrats and the mayor’s office worked quickly in an attempt to rectify the situation as news of this spread around the world.
Naturally, people asked something along the lines of how could a municipal government estimate a stair project with a minimum price of 100x greater than what it cost a retired mechanic to build? Oddly enough, the city came up with numbers similar to mine after being embarrassed.
This leads to what will ultimately be a couple of hot button issues at Toronto’s City Hall: respect for taxpayers dollars, and eliminating waste and mismanagement.
ACTIVISTS OPEN A “POP-UP” SAFE INJECTION SITE
In response to increased opioid overdoses and deaths in Toronto, volunteers at Toronto Public Health opened up a temporary safe injection site, at Moss Park, fully staffed and functioning much like a permanent safe injection site. Here, users can shoot up safely and freely.
However there has been some push back from local residents, some asking why an injection site, although temporary, is being opened in a public park where children and pets frequent. As well, a lack of public consultation on the injection site opening has some residents concerned.
As initially reported “We are thrilled to be offering this life-saving service to the community,” Dr. Rita Shahin, Toronto Public Health’s associate medical officer of health said
“The very first client that we had when we opened our doors, to us, represents a potential life that we may have saved. We had 36 visits in just five days, which . . . represents a great success. We look forward to more people becoming aware of the service and helping more people in our community.”
This comes as Toronto is preparing to open up 3 safe injection sites around the city, to deal with overdoses. Of course, much like the first case, progress isn’t fast enough, and action must be taken immediately to deal with the situation at hand. This leads to another issue in municipal politics: speed. How quickly can things get done at City Hall?
THE LAND TRANSFER TAX (LTT) IS SET TO LOSE STEAM
As budget season looms (and ultimately another election cycle), councilors are already signaling which way they want to turn as the budget process continues towards 2018.
Some left, some right, and some down the middle there is a flurry of activity at Community councils across the city. But something awaits them that hasn’t happened in Toronto for a while…a dramatic drop in revenue.
For years Toronto councilors have figured the best way to fill the hole in Toronto’s budget gap is to utilize revenues from the Land Transfer Tax (LTT).
The LTT is quite simply put, a cash cow for the city. However, as real estate transactions decrease, (no thanks to Premier Kathleen Wynne’s new regulations on housing) so will the revenue. This has not happened since the inception of the LTT.
So as Council proceeds through the budget process, it’s going to have to answer this question: does it have a revenue problem or a spending problem? Or does it have both? And what would this mean for Toronto residents? A higher cost of living, or lower cost?
We saw a hint of it in the last council session and last year, with new municipal tax proposals, such as tolls on existing roads, a municipal income tax, a tax on empty houses, and the possibility of a municipal sales tax, just to name a few.
Ultimately, with these events, the lame duck City Council is going to have its hand forced by disruptors. Which direction it goes remains to be seen, but as indicated by the first 2 examples, Torontonians are tired of waiting for things to happen…thus taking matters into their own hands. And all the while, embarrassing the municipal government into action.