THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin
Municipal politics is about to get a refresh in Toronto as newly elected Mayor Olivia Chow prepares to ramp things up with the announcement of her new Executive Committee and key standing committee chairs.
A major appointment was Councillor Ausma Malik to the role of deputy mayor. Malik, representing (Ward 10 — Spadina-Fort York) is a former Toronto District School Board Trustee and is the first Hijabi-wearing Muslim woman elected to public office in Canada. She has quickly grown into a symbol of the diversity boasted in the City of Toronto, and her passion for representing the people shines through in her priorities: climate-based initiatives and affordable housing.
One of the most pressing topics during the recent Toronto mayoral by-election was housing and housing affordability. Councillor Gord Perks (Ward 4 — Parkdale High Park) has assumed the role of chair of the Planning and Housing Committee. Councillor Perks is a strong advocate for affordable and social housing in Toronto, who also has a passion for environmental efforts. Councillor Brad Bradford (Ward 19 — Beaches-East York) who was the Planning and Housing chair under former mayor John Tory, is now vice-chair.
Torontonians remain focused on transit safety. To that end, the mayor appointed Councillor Jamaal Myers as the chair of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). A transit rider who has advocated for increased investments in public transit, Councillor Myers brings a unique perspective on transit service across the city as he represents a Scarborough ward which is an area traditionally underserviced by the TTC.
Mayor Chow named Councillor Jennifer McKelvie as deputy mayor for Scarborough, and kept her in her position as chair of the Infrastructure and Environment Committee, ensuring continuity with the challenge of keeping up with Toronto's growing infrastructure needs, while also maintaining environment as a top priority when configuring solutions. While the rest of the Executive Committee seems to have shifted left, McKelvie, often seen as Tory's right-hand, remains in her place. Given all the changes Mayor Chow made in her appointments, it is likely a conciliatory approach to not only create a smoother transition, but to ultimately gain some allies.
The mayor’s desire to maintain the relationships Tory built may explain why she is adamant not to exercise her “strong mayor powers” awarded to her by Premier Doug Ford’s government. The powers would allow her to pass housing-related bylaws with only the support of one third of councillors, as well as override council’s approval of bylaws that would inhibit the creation of more homes. While Mayor Chow has every right to use these powers, she is not so eager to deal with the implications that come with it.
It is apparent from these changes that Mayor Chow has an agenda in mind, and she wants to make sure she has created the right team to get it done. The changes reflect an intentional attempt to create a more balanced council and maintain relationships with all councillors, while also making a significant enough tilt towards more progressive decision-making.
Generally, every person appointed has at least one common priority: affordability. Toronto is facing a cost-of-living crisis and we need a capable and trustworthy City Council to help create relief. With many city services being promised either an expansion or additional funds, the new Executive Committee has their work cut out for them in trying to successfully maneuver the city’s needs amidst a 1.5-billion-dollar deficit. On Thursday, August 17, the City Manager released the City of Toronto’s much-anticipated Updated Long-Term Financial Plan (LTFP) to be debated at the next Executive Committee. This report calls for the immediate consideration of a graduated Municipal Land Transfer Tax rates for high value residential properties valued at $3 million and above, for implementation January 1, 2024.
In addition, the City of Toronto will also consider the following options:
- foreign Buyer Municipal Land Transfer Tax on residential properties
- commercial parking levy
- review of underutilized real estate assets
- development of a multi-year approach for property tax rates
- increasing the Vacant Home Tax rate from one to three per cent
- removal of the existing non-residential non-ground floor development charges exemption
- feasibility of requiring existing buildings to annually submit building-level performance data and to meet specific greenhouse gas emissions performance standards
- removal of existing on-street parking rate caps.
These options are still up for debate, so it will be important to keep your eyes open as this discussion progresses in the coming months.
Overall, Mayor Chow’s new Executive Committee took a hop left, but definitely not a leap. While her appointments are notably more progressive, she maintained a respectable balance of the old and the new. A more diverse council for a very diverse city. However, one thing is for sure: each person on the council is aware of the budget challenges facing the city in the coming year. The question is, will the fresh minds on City Council be able to do what the previous ones couldn’t?