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Remembering five non-Ford stories from city hall in 2013

Earlier this week I took to the radio airwaves with host Edward Keenan and other smart opinion-havers for a panel discussion. The topic: the Toronto year in review. You can listen to the show here.

The show was structured so that we’d do a segment discussing the stories related to Mayor Rob Ford, and then another segment discussing the non-Ford stuff. But, of course, we got caught in Fordlandia, and ended up with just a few minutes to talk about non-Ford topics.

I have no regrets. To talk about the last year in Toronto and not talk about Ford is impossible. Even though I’m feeling a ton of Ford fatigue these days, he was undoubtedly the biggest newsmaker of 2013.

But it's important to remember he wasn’t the only newsmaker. It’s easy to write-off 2013 as a year in municipal politics where absurd stuff happened and most of us fell into a pit of total despair. But there were events that happened beyond Ford. Good things. Important things. Here are five non-Ford examples from 2013.

1. Progress on electoral reform, including ranked balloting

In June, council voted 28-15 to request that the provincial government approve the use of ranked ballots in municipal elections. By doing so, they took a major step toward making democracy in this city better. With ranked ballots, voters wouldn’t have to worry about the vote splitting that comes with first past the post voting. It’s a game-changer.

And it wasn’t the only game-changing reform approved that day. During the same debate, council also voted 21-20 to request the province to extend municipal voting rights to non-citizen permanent residents, potentially enfranchising thousands of people who live in the city and pay taxes but aren’t currently able to vote.

It took a long time for advocates to get council to approve both measures. And unfortunately we’ve had to wait even longer for Queen’s Park to get around to reviewing council’s requests. Maybe in 2014?

2. Council designates Toronto a “sanctuary city”

In February, after an acrimonious debate in which some councillors worried about “illegal immigrants” and their nefarious ways, council voted 37-3 in favour of a set of recommendations that allow undocumented workers to access city services without fear of reprisal.

Similar policies are already in effect in dozens of American cities, but Toronto was the first Canadian city to jump on board what advocates call the “sanctuary city” movement.

3. Baby steps on affordable housing

The state of affordable housing in Toronto is still pretty terrible, but there were at least a few positive signs that things might one day get better over the last year. No big steps, but some notable little ones.

There was the Close the Housing Gap campaign, led by Coun. Ana Bailão and a variety of representatives from Toronto Community Housing and other groups. They’ve been working to advocate for increased federal and provincial funding for affordable housing in Toronto.

More concretely, there are signs that the city is finally getting wise to the idea that condo development can help create cost-effective opportunities for new affordable housing. In November, councillors voted in favour of integrating affordable units into a condo building planned for the city’s waterfront.

4. Rejection of a waterfront casino

Speaking of the waterfront, with their decision in May to reject a plan to put a casino resort on water’s edge, councillors gave us two reasons to be proud. First, they demonstrated they wouldn’t be strong-armed into making major decisions without comprehensive data. It still blows my mind that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation tried to get council to consider a casino without first revealing how much revenue the city could expect to take in from the deal.

Second, the casino rejection was indication that a majority of councillors aren’t interested in simply selling our waterfront to the highest bidder. Unfortunately, it looks like the strength of that conviction will be tested against next year.

5. Hints that things might be getting better for cyclists

I called 2012 a lousy year for Toronto cyclists. The last 12 months were a little bit better. That might be because the bar was already set so low, but at last there are a few good news stories I can point to for two-wheeled travellers.

In May, council withstood a Ford-led campaign to get rid of a planned bike station to be located underneath Nathan Phillips Square. Then there was a months-long bipartisan effort to save the BIXI bike share program, which ended up paying off — the program is safe for now. Finally, in November, councillors came together to overwhelmingly vote in favour of continuing an environmental assessment for bike lanes on Bloor Street, something that would have been unthinkable last year.

Should more have been done? Yes, absolutely. Just like more should have been done on all these issues. But with the fractured political climate and the constant distraction from the mayor’s office, I’ll take what I can get.

Here’s hoping for more good news — and less Ford news — in 2014.

This post was originally published at on 2013-12-20T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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