Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

City Council Scorecard: Emergency shelter debate, sanctuary city & enemies on executive

By: Metro Canada Published on Thu Feb 28 2013

Toward the end of last week's meeting of Toronto City Council, I tweeted this:

That pretty well sums it up. The meeting last week was marked by a few items that took an extraordinary amount of time, sparked heated debate and then — as councillors started to worry that they'd need to come back for a third day — a mad rush to get things finished. It's a weird way to do business.

Still, some important items did come up for debate and some of them even got the consideration they deserved. I've added three votes to the City Council Scorecard from the meeting, covering items relating to homeless shelters, Mayor Rob Ford's executive committee appointments and the city's undocumented worker policy.

The votes added, from left to right:

CD18.9 was actually a procedural motion by Coun. Adam Vaughan, promised after the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty tried to turn the mayor's office into a makeshift homeless shelter a couple of weeks ago. It would have given councillors an opportunity to debate and make motions relating to the city's shelter systems and the recent rash of homeless deaths.

The mayor very decidedly did not want to debate homelessness last week. His office even sent out a set of talking points indicating as much. His argument, summarized: There are available beds at shelters each and every night, so, hey, come on, what's the problem?

I didn't think the mayor's points were very good — a problem that you can solve without even talking about it is a rare one — and a majority of councillors apparently agreed, voting in favour of having the debate. But council procedures require a two-thirds majority vote to add an item to the agenda, and so Ford got his wish. It'll be another month, at least, before council is able to talk about homelessness. (Note that Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong said after the vote that he had pressed the wrong button and meant to be recorded as voting with the mayor.)

Coun. Joe Mihevc's motion on ST19.1 was a ridiculous gambit by some on council's left-wing to stick Vaughan on Ford's cabinet-like executive committee. The councillors championing the move were making some good points — there is no representation from downtown on Ford's committee — but Vaughan wasn't the right choice, owing to his status as Ford's nemesis. I would have gone with someone like Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam. Still, the resulting vote, which saw council vote 30-14 in favour of sticking with Ford's original appointee, Coun. Vince Crisanti, was closer than I thought it'd be.

Last, we have Minnan-Wong's motion on CD18.5, the item that's become known as “sanctuary city” in the media. As a whole, the decision made by council here wasn't particularly monumental. Councillors merely affirmed the previously-held policy to provide access to city services to all residents, regardless of their immigration status. The alternative, I guess, would have been to create a bureaucracy responsible for checking citizenship status every time someone wants to get a library card.

But despite the agenda item being well-intentioned and reasonable — it ultimately passed nearly unanimously — the debate took a weird turn. Minnan-Wong made a speech referring repeatedly to “illegal immigrants” and implying that newcomers come here just to take advantage of welfare programs. He then presented his amending motion, which suggested that council “endorse and support the Canadian government’s efforts to facilitate the legal admission of immigrants and the removal of illegal immigrants.” That amendment failed on a 8-32 vote, which only a handful of right-leaning councillors and, yes, the Mayor of Toronto in favour.

No major movement this month in terms of alignment, though keep an eye on Coun. Paul Ainslie. The right-of-centre representative from Scarborough has been a steady vote for the mayor up until recently, but has displayed a change in attitude ever since he was seemingly passed over for the job of Ford's budget chief.

This post was originally published at on 2013-02-28T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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