Why Doug Ford’s plan for 25 Toronto wards is an attack on local democracy

Ridings and 47 Wards.jpgMap of Doug Ford’s proposed 25 wards and the City Council-approved 47 ward boundaries

Late last week, the newly elected Ontario Progressive Conservative government announced that they would be imposing a new electoral map on the City of Toronto, a decision that would eliminate the new 47 wards approved by Toronto City Council, replacing them with the same 25 boundaries used by the federal and provincial governments.

It’s very clear that Premier Doug Ford’s plan, which requires a new piece of legislation, ironically titled the “Better Local Government Act,” is vindictive and mean-spirited because it only affects the City of Toronto, which rejected Doug Ford’s 2014 mayoral bid. It quashes the hopes of many young, racialized, and progressive candidates looking to change the make up of a council that has generally supported Mayor John Tory’s agenda. It is unfair to candidates that ran in good faith, started campaigns, raised funds, and spent money hiring staff, purchasing materials, and renting campaign offices.

But most of all, Ford’s actions are an attack on local democracy because of the haste with which they are being made, at the end of the nomination period for those approved 47 wards. They ignore the years of study by independent experts and several rounds of public consultations. They also benefit Toronto’s suburban areas, which are growing at a far slower rate than downtown Toronto, North York Centre and Etobicoke’s waterfront area, which will be disproportionately affected by this arbitrary decision.

Each new ward was designed to have an average population of 61,000, with a population range of between 51,800 and 72,000 (+/- 15%). They were designed to last for four election cycles, to be re-drawn before the 2034 election.

It is worth noting that the independent experts looked at using the 25 federal/provincial boundaries twice. In the first study, they were rejected early on because they would not “meet the tests of effective representation.” The federal boundaries, which are also adopted by the province of Ontario, are based on population counts from the 2011 Census, and are already seven years out-of-date, while the consultants were tasked with developing new ward boundaries to last 16 years. Even a 50-ward solution (which mimics the old 44 wards based on the 22 federal ridings that were established in 1996 and came into effect with the 1997 federal election) would result in severe variations in population.

Ridings and 2026 pop variation.jpgHow the 25 ridings, if used for Toronto’s ward boundaries, will vary in population by 2026

After Tory’s Executive Committee tasked the Toronto Ward Boundary Review team to re-examine options that would see fewer than 47 councillors elected in 2018, they re-examined using the 25 ward boundaries. They found that in 2026, three of those wards — Toronto Centre, Etobicoke-Lakeshore, and Spadina-Fort York — would have populations over 30% higher than the ward average in 2026. Willowdale and University-Rosedale would also have had much larger populations than the city average.

The review team also looked at a 26-ward option that mostly maintained the riding boundaries but added a new ward downtown out of the Toronto Centre and Spadina-Fort York constituencies and adjusted boundaries in southern Etobicoke. Even then, Etobicoke Centre and Etobicoke-Lakeshore would still have populations over 20% higher than the city-wide average. Despite making some adjustments for population growth, this option would have not have corresponded with some ridings, and was also not recommended.

26 Wards and 2026 pop variation.jpgHow the modified 26 ridings, if used for Toronto’s ward boundaries, would have varied in population in 2026

For those reasons, and to support local representation, the 47-ward solution was once again recommended, and was approved by City Council in November 2016. Councillors Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5) and Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7) then appealed the new boundaries to the Ontario Municipal Board, but they were dismissed. The 47-ward solution has survived despite it all.

Mayor Tory may have brought back decorum to the mayor’s office after an embarrassing period under Doug Ford’s brother Rob, but he has pushed an austerity agenda, and has failed to show leadership on police reform, wasteful infrastructure spending, and safe streets for pedestrians and cyclists. His initial reaction, to call for a referendum on Ford’s plan to cut Toronto’s council, was a characteristically weak response; he was later pushed into supporting a legal challenge by an angry public. Meanwhile, some of Tory’s allies, like Di Ciano, David Shiner, and Glenn De Baeremaeker, support Ford’s actions.

Ford’s attack on local democracy is an insult to candidates who have already put their names forward for election and launched their campaigns. It undermines the City of Toronto’s legislated responsibility to decide its own ward boundaries. And it will only exasperate existing disparities in council representation.

Posted in Election, Maps, Politics, Toronto | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Two-hour transfers are finally coming to the TTC

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At its board meeting on July 10, the Toronto Transit Commission finally approved two hour transfers for passengers paying by Presto. This is great news that has been a long time coming.

The TTC expects that the new policy will cost $21 million a year by 2020, but it will also boost ridership by 5 million passengers. The new two-hour transfer policy will allow a passenger using a Presto card to board any vehicle or enter any subway station within two hours of the first tap without paying a second fare. This will allow anyone to make a short return trip on one fare, or make a stopover before transferring to another route. Customers of most suburban transit systems such as MiWay, Brampton Transit, and YRT have enjoyed the same privileges for over a decade.

The policy takes effect Sunday, August 26.

I’ve argued here before why two-hour transfers are necessary. If a passenger taps onto another vehicle on the same route, a common occurrence due to delays, short-turns, and diversions/shuttles, the Presto Card will deduct a second fare. That has happened to me several times, even when making a valid transfer between a bus and Union subway station. It’s often confusing when the TTC tells its passengers to take a paper transfer when a diversion takes place, or tells its customers not to tap again on a bus or streetcar when they’re short-turned. The new policy finally fixes those errors for good.

However, the transfer policy does not apply to customers paying by cash, tickets, or tokens, so the old archaic paper transfer rules will still apply to many TTC customers.

The TTC is slowly phasing out paper media and passes, but still has yet to implement daily, weekly or monthly caps that will effectively replace day, weekly and Metropasses. There will also need to be a paper Presto card equivalent developed for occasional and one-time customers, such as tourists or anyone who doesn’t want to pay the $6 fee for a plastic card. Hopefully the details of how these will be implemented will be decided and communicated in the near future.

Posted in Toronto, Transit | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Mapping the 2018 candidates for Toronto’s 47 wards (Updated)

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September 10, 2018
This morning, the Ontario Superior Court ruled against Bill 5, finding that the bill  “substantially interfered with the municipal candidate’s freedom of expression that is guaranteed under [Section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.]”

Barring a successful provincial appeal (or invoking Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, also known as the Notwithstanding Clause), this is once again the map of council candidates for the October 22 election.

September 12, 2018
Oh, never mind. We’re back to the 25 wards because its not as if Doug Ford has anything better to do than override a judicial finding with the Notwithstanding Clause and re-introducing the vindictive legislation. And we may not even get to vote in advance polls.

Once the new law is passed, there will be two days for council candidates to sign up to run in the 25 wards.



August 15, 2018

Bill 5, the so-called “Better Local Government Act,” passed third reading on August 13, 2018, and was given royal assent on Tuesday August 14, despite vigourous opposition from the New Democratic Party. Bill 5 passed without any public consultation that usually takes place with any government legislation, as the Progressive Conservatives used procedural tactics to push through the bill as quickly as possible.

(A new map of the 25 wards can be found here.)

This means that legally, the City of Toronto must follow the province’s edict and elect only twenty-five councillors, with wards based on the current provincial riding boundaries. Scarborough Councillor Glenn De Baremaeker has already announced that he will no longer seek re-election.

I have no intentions of removing the map below, but I will be creating a new 25-ward map and populating it once nominations re-open. I suspect that many council candidates will not re-register, and that there will be many more incumbents facing off against each other.

There’s a faint hope that a legal injunction could suspend Bill 5. Council candidate and lawyer Rocco Achampong is seeking one, the courts will hear arguments by the end of the month.

Continue reading

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Requiem for Ontario’s regional malls

IMG_8782-001Shoppers World Brampton, 2016, before the Target store was replaced by smaller stores, including Giant Tiger

Recently, I wrote about the history of Ontario’s downtown malls. Most of these shopping centres, built in the 1970s and 1980s in the downtown cores across the province, failed by the end of the 1990s. The collapse of the Eaton’s department store chain and competition from larger, suburban malls and new big-box retailers drove customers away from Ontario’s downtowns. Only in Toronto and Ottawa, with large downtown office employment, residential development, and good urban transit, did these major shopping malls thrive.

But that does not mean that all suburban shopping centres are doing well, especially after the loss of Target in 2015 and Sears Canada in 2017. For TVO, I wrote more about how smaller regional malls in Ontario are re-positioning themselves.

The Brampton house that I grew up in was a ten minute walk from Shoppers World, which, in the 1980s, had a full line department store, Simpson’s, as well as Marks and Spencer, K-Mart (where I had my first paying gig, delivering shopping carts back to the store abandoned in nearby parks), a Pascal hardware store, and two supermarkets, Food City and A&P. Larger, more popular malls like Mississauga’s Square One and Bramalea City Centre were one bus ride away, but Shoppers World held its own, even if it was second tier. By the 1990s, though, it was clear that the mall was in decline: national retailers were leaving and there was a noticeable lack of investment in the property.

When RioCan REIT purchased Shoppers World in the late 1990s, it made some improvements and attracted big-box retailers like Canadian Tire, Staples, and Winners. Zellers took over the K-Mart store, which was expanded. But The Bay (which replaced Simpson’s) was closed down and the store later demolished. I had left Brampton in 2006, but I was still sad to see my one-time local mall decline. Now RioCan has talked about downsizing the mall, and redeveloping part of the property. Competition from larger, stronger shopping malls, newer retail power centres, the mismanagement of several retail firms, and internet shopping have all taken their toll. Shoppers World isn’t a dead mall, but like many smaller malls, it will be adapting to changing times.

In the TVO article, I take a look at a few other malls, like London’s Westmount Mall, in similar circumstances.

ShoppersWorld.jpgShoppers World, 2018. Despite many store vacancies, it’s still a community hub.

Posted in Brampton, Development, Ontario, Urban Planning | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Major improvements are coming to Scarborough’s waterfront

IMG_8897-001The Scarborough Bluffs will soon become more accessible

Over the last few years, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) has been working on an environmental assessment for improvements to much of the Lake Ontario shoreline in Scarborough. Today, the TRCA announced that assessment is now complete, and it calls for major improvements between Bluffer’s Park and East Point Park.

A new multi-use trail is planned for the bottom of the Scarborough Bluffs, with access points at Bluffer’s Park, the Doris McCarthy Trail, Guild Park, and East Point Park, connecting with the existing path across Highland Creek and the Rouge River to Pickering. In addition, pedestrian and cyclist access down to Bluffer’s Park on Brimley Road will be greatly improved.

When my partner and I tried to walk along the Scarborough Waterfront in 2016, we found the Waterfront Trail lacking, and the section along Brimley Road quite dangerous. These changes, along with the new seasonal TTC bus service to Bluffer’s Park, will help to make Scarborough’s wonderful waterfront safer and easier to access. 

The plan also calls for improved erosion control measures, along with interventions to improve land and aquatic habitats, helping to protect one of Toronto’s most spectacular natural features while protecting the natural environment.

If you were looking for some good news in Toronto, especially with the many recent stories of violence on our streets, this is it.

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Toronto’s Transit Secrets

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Earlier this week, I attended a book launch at the Spacing Store at 401 Richmond Street West here in Toronto. While I have been to numerous book launches, often to support friends and colleagues, it was the first time it was for a book that I contributed to.

As some of you may know, I am an occasional contributor to Spacing Magazine and Spacing’s website. My writing has allowed me to think and learn more about Toronto, and meet fellow engaged Torontonians. Spacing’s latest book, 25 Toronto Transit Secrets, contains stories, photographs, and maps that detail both the history and the operations of the TTC. For my part, I wrote about the ghostly reminders of abandoned streetcar routes, the history of the convoluted Harbord Streetcar, and what happens to the TTC’s streetcars when they’ve reached the end of the line.

There are many other great stories as well. Read about the TTC’s safety mascot, Barney the Beaver, Toronto’s two ghost stations (Lower Bay and the lesser-known Lower Queen) and a history of the ferry service to Toronto Islands.

25 Toronto Transit Secrets is edited by Dylan Reid and Matthew Blackett, who both deserve a lot of credit. Any writer knows that their work is dependent on editors not only proof-reading their work, but also providing guidance and support. I am always grateful for their encouragement and providing the opportunity to be published.

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Where, exactly, is Northern Ontario?

29496350986_0f43c86857_k.jpgThe French River at Highway 69, where Northern Ontario truly begins

Last week, the leaders of the three major provincial parties (Liberals, Progressive Conservatives, and the New Democrats) met in Parry Sound, at a debate dedicated to issues specific to Northern Ontario. It was the second of three debates scheduled ahead of the June 7, 2018 general election.

But is Parry Sound, a town that’s only a two hour’s drive north of Toronto (when free of weekend Cottage Country traffic) really a part of Northern Ontario? That depends on who you ask. Even government agencies disagree. In my opinion, though, Parry Sound isn’t in Northern Ontario, even though the district it’s located in shares some characteristics of this vast part of the province.

Despite living my entire life in the Greater Toronto Area, I have an affinity for Northern Ontario, particularly the northeastern part of the province. My father’s hometown is Timmins, one of my siblings lives in Sudbury, and I have visited both cities many times. I made a trip up to Sault Ste. Marie to ride the Algoma Central Railway passenger train between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst and back before it was cancelled, and I still lament the loss of the Northlander, Ontario Northland Railway’s passenger train between Toronto and Cochrane that was terminated in 2012. I even made it all the way to Moosonee, on the James Bay coast.

The northern part of this province covers a huge area — over 800,000 square kilometres, larger than France, Belgium, and the Netherlands combined — but has a population of just over 750,000. It is even crossed by a time zone boundary. Despite my connection to the region, I still have to yet to make a proper visit to Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario.

The North includes many First Nations communities accessible only by plane or ice road. Other communities, with names like Dryden, Kapuskasing, Iroquois Falls, and Kirkland Lake, were established to serve mines or pulp mills — resulting in a very different economic landscape than the agricultural and industrial south. In recent decades, many of those mines and mills have closed, eliminating many towns’ only major employer.

In a province dominated by the urban centres in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Ottawa, and London, it’s too easy to ignore the North.

So how do people actually define Northern Ontario?

Traditionally, Northern Ontario begins at the French River, Lake Nipissing, and at the Mattawa River. North Bay, which calls itself the “Gateway to the North” sits right on this line. For administrative purposes, this includes the entirety of Sudbury and Nipissing Districts, which extend south of the French and Mattawa Rivers, and includes most of Algonquin Park. It also includes Manitoulin Island, which can only be reached year-round from the north, through Sudbury District.

The Canadian Shield, the defining landscape of most of Northern Ontario, starts further south. Driving north from Toronto on Highways 400 or 11, the shield starts about where Simcoe County ends and Muskoka District starts. But the Canadian Shield also encompasses large sections of the City of Kawartha Lakes and Peterborough, Hastings, Frontenac, and Lanark Counties and the entirety of Haliburton County.

NOntario.jpgThe various definitions of Northern Ontario, including the county, regional and district boundaries. 

But the provincial and federal governments both have special economic development funding programs whose boundaries take a more liberal definition of Northern Ontario. FedNor, the Government of Canada’s economic development agency, includes Parry Sound and Muskoka Districts. The Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, a provincial agency, includes Parry Sound District, but not Muskoka District.

Whether Parry Sound and Muskoka are considered part of Northern Ontario is very much a political question. In 2004, the newly elected Liberal government chose to remove Muskoka from the areas eligible for provincial grants meant for northern communities — Muskoka being a reliable Progressive Conservative seat, and the riding of the previous PC premier, Ernie Eves.

Parry Sound District, while not, in my view, part of Northern Ontario, at least shares some similar characteristics with neighbouring Sudbury and Nipissing Districts. It includes many isolated communities, and apart from the Town of Parry Sound itself, it has a very sparse population. Muskoka, on the other hand, is more urbanized with three larger towns, and is much more popular for recreation, particularly during the summer. Muskoka also has a regional government — the District Municipality — while much of Parry Sound District’s land is unorganized — meaning lands without any municipal government.

And if one considers Muskoka to be part of Northern Ontario, why not also include Haliburton County, which also has a sparse population and is relatively isolated from the urbanized south? A line needs to be drawn somewhere, and there is no valid reason why Muskoka should ever be considered a part of Northern Ontario. There might be a case for Parry Sound District, but definitely not cottage country.

Posted in Ontario, Politics | Tagged , , | 4 Comments