Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Matt Elliott: Toronto City Council is pushing pause on our future

A proposal to overhaul Yonge Street in North York was among those delayed last week by Toronto politicians.
A proposal to overhaul Yonge Street in North York was among those delayed last week by Toronto politicians.

Here’s what your Toronto City Council did last week: They delayed some stuff.

On two of the most significant items to come before them, Mayor John Tory and councillors decided the best course of action was inaction. Why make a decision today when you can make one tomorrow?

Up first was the question of the city’s long-term financial plan. The plan provides some much-needed direction Toronto’s fiscal future, essentially asking Toronto’s elected representatives to choose one of three doors.

Door 1 is the status quo. It keeps service levels where they are. Door 2 would cut city services. Door 3 would find new revenues and engage in what the report calls “a broader city building agenda” where the city would proactively build infrastructure and invest in public services.

Choosing one of the doors is one of the single most important decisions Toronto’s government will make. It literally impacts everything.

But despite the monumental importance – or maybe because of it – there was little appetite among a majority of council to make any decisions, or even really talk about it. All attempts to bring the report forward to council for debate were quickly defeated.

And so the report was returned to city bureaucrats, who will write more reports about this report, and the whole thing will return to council next year.

The same fate befell the other major item council was faced with last week, a plan to revitalize Yonge Street in North York.

The plan is years in the works – the street has not been reconstructed since 1975 — but the road configuration endorsed by transportation staff calls for removing two of Yonge Street’s six traffic lanes and replacing them with wider sidewalks and separated bike lanes.

Some people don’t like that.

In recent weeks, a more car-friendly alternative emerged and quickly gained Tory’s support. It costs more, but keeps six lanes of traffic in place while shuffling the bike infrastructure off to a parallel roadway.

After a few hours of contentious council debate, it became clear that the vote on the issue was going to be really close. So when Coun. Joe Cressy introduced a motion calling to get more reports and put off making the decision, a majority of council — including the mayor — were happy to take the out.

Another delay.

And while this delay may end up helping proponents of the original Yonge Street plan — they will live and fight another day — it remains disappointing that council wasn’t able to make the right choice now. With all their talk about Vision Zero and pedestrian safety over the last year, this council should have no hesitation about endorsing the plan that best addresses pedestrian safety.

And yet when presented with a clear opportunity to take action to make a main street safer, the choice was to wait.

These delays, of course, need to be viewed in the context of this being an election year. But I reject the notion that election years are not the time to have hard debates and make big decisions. Election years are precisely the time incumbent politicians should be demonstrating their principles, their vision and their value — through action, not words.

Because, seriously, if the hard work of building a better city is always being pushed off until tomorrow, what exactly are they doing today?

This post was originally published at on 2018-04-01T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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