Ending a streak, then starting another
City Hall Watcher #154: I have news. Eight pounds worth of news.
Way back on February 3, 2017, I started a walking streak. Trying to log 10,000 steps every day is hardly unique as personal challenges go — it’s so cliché it’s kind of corny, honestly — but I quickly came to like the ritual of it.
On days when I had nothing else to do, I at least had this one thing to do: I needed to cross the 10,000-step milestone. I needed to make the Pedometer app I use do its triumphant confetti animation. I needed it to give me a little sense of accomplishment.
At the start, I thought maybe it would be cool to hit 100 straight days. But after I hit 100 straight days, the prospect of stopping seemed unimaginable. I didn’t come this far to only come this far, as the saying goes. And so I kept going: 200 days, 500 days, 1,000 days, 1,500 damn days.
That’s more than four years of hitting this arbitrary daily milestone, no matter what. To make it easier, I developed a list of walking routes around the east side of Toronto that I knew would cover at least 10,000 steps. I walked them even when there was rain or snow or rain mixed with snow. I walked whether it was 20 degrees below zero or 40 degrees above zero. Whether sweat-drenching humidity or bone-chilling cold — whatever. I was walking.
I walked even when I really didn’t want to walk. When the thought of going outside for a walk was the absolute last thing I wanted to do. Because the streak demanded I walk. And I couldn’t disobey the streak.
It got ridiculous at times. When we travelled, I’d make sure to figure out how to fit 10,000 steps — about eight kilometres — within our travel itinerary. It sometimes involved walking circuitous routes around airports or going up and down hotel stairwells. My partner Erin was very patient and understanding of the whole thing, so I got it done, every day, no matter where we were.
And so I logged 10,000 daily steps in places like New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, Winnipeg, Jasper, Calgary, Halifax, Digby, Minden, and probably some others I’m forgetting.
Wednesday, December 15 started as day 1,777.
It had a promising beginning. After a surprising turn of events the evening prior, I had stayed up until 2 a.m. tearing through the dozens of cardboard boxes in our house, putting various things together. That added up to 2,000 steps, somehow. In the morning, I notched another 2,000 steps before noon making a run to Shoppers Drug Mart for supplies: Gravol, Tylenol, a thermometer. Stuff we had planned to buy next week, when we thought we had more time.
But then progress stalled. There were a few harrowing and very loud hours, with just a godawful amount of justified screaming. But good news: around 4 p.m., I picked up another thousand steps, mostly from pushing a wheelchair down a corridor, following a bright blue line, while also carrying a duffel bag, a backpack and a car seat. I feel like I should have gotten extra credit for all that — the degree of difficulty was incredibly high — but the pedometer app disagreed.
Whatever. I was halfway to 10,000 at around 5 p.m., with a lot of time left in the day. The count ticked up with trips back and forth to the nurse’s station to fill up Erin’s water bottle and get some ice chips. I racked up a whole bunch more pacing back and forth across our room at St. Michael’s Hospital. We had west-facing windows on the fifteenth floor that gave a great view of the city. It’s really nice at sunrise, our midwife said. We never got to see it.
The steps stopped when the pushing started. Erin was strong as hell. I did my best. The midwife counted to ten with every contraction and I held my breath each time, waiting, hoping. Until I saw him.
He arrived at 11:11 p.m., squirmy and slimy and immediately staring straight at me with these bewildered, beautiful eyes. We called him Freddie, for no real reason. We just like the name.
Midnight came as I dressed my son in a striped sleeper with a red fire truck on the chest, then held him in my arms. The day ended with 8,202 steps — short of 10,000 for the first time in almost five years. The streak is over.
But Freddie doesn’t need to worry. I’ve got no regrets. Because it turns out his birthday marks the start of a whole new thing I’m going to do every day. I’m going to take care of him. I’m going to help keep him safe. I’m going to do my best to make sure he grows up to be a good and smart and caring person.
I’ve started a new streak, Freddie. It’s being your dad. It’s loving you.
Freddie Matthew Balser was born December 15, 2021 at 11:11 p.m to Erin Balser and Matt Elliott. He came two weeks early but still weighed in at a mighty eight pounds. His hobbies so far include sleeping and eating. Thanks to Kandace at Riverdale Midwives for all the support and St. Michael’s Hospital for the great care.
After this issue and the annual “Year in Charts” special next week, Freddie’s dad is going to take some time off writing this newsletter in January. But you’ll still get your weekly City Hall Watcher fix with guest issues by Neville Park and Glyn Bowerman.
It’s a real good time for you to consider buying a gift subscription for a friend or family member. ‘Tis the season.
Thank you for all your support of this newsletter over the last three years. It’s been a huge part of allowing me the flexibility and freedom to start a family.
— Matt Elliott
What Council Did: casting a net zero, bye-bye parking minimums, hello Ontario Line construction — and Toronto Council, for one, does not welcome our new robot overlords
Toronto Council met last week for the last time in 2021. I didn’t catch a single minute of it, because Erin could have justifiably murdered me if I started watching a Council livestream when she was in active labour. But here a few notable things they decided to do.
IE26.16 - Council gave overwhelming approval to an updated TransformTO plan to bring the city to Net Zero by 2040. The only real opposition came from Councillor Stephen Holyday who moved to remove references to strategies to “discourage vehicle trips” and a potential ban on gas-powered leaf blowers and other noisy lawn equipment. That motion was defeated 2-24, with only Holyday and Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong in support.
PH29.3 - Council voted 22-3 to nix parking minimums for new developments. The opposition was Councillor Shelley Carroll, Councillor Jaye Robinson and Holyday. (Councillor Michael Ford was absent.) I wrote about this in a recent column.
EX28.14 - On an item about the upcoming seven-years of Carmageddon set to result from Ontario Line construction and other infrastructure projects, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam unanimously passed an 18-part motion including a direction that staff “include a Vision Zero commitment and statement as a condition for every road closure related to the Ontario Line.” The road closure plan was adopted 24-2, with Wong-Tam and Councillor Mike Colle opposed.
IE26.12 - On a show of hands, Council voted to ban delivery robots and other so-called “micro-utility devices” from sidewalks and bike lanes. The ban had been requested by the Accessibility Advisory Committee. Councillor Jennifer McKelvie, chair of the Infrastructure & Environment Committee, threw in a couple of sensible motions leaving the door open to robots in the future, with some rules and regulations at both the provincial and municipal level. Consider this the More from Matt section: I wrote about delivery robots for the Star last week. Council also, thankfully, approved the use of cargo e-bikes weighing over 120 kilograms.
GL27.19 - Council stuck to their previous vote to not issue new licenses for Uber, Lyft and taxi drivers until after a training program for drivers is in effect. Mayor John Tory passed an amendment asking staff to consider making licensing contingent on being vaxxed against COVID too. The mayor’s motion also asks for “comprehensive review of Vehicle-for-Hire regulations” which you wouldn’t think would be particularly necessary because these regulations seem to be under a constant state of review and re-review anyway.
IE26.10 - In good news for those who prefer to travel on two wheels, Council voted 20-2 to make the temporary ActiveTO bike routes on corridors like University Avenue and Danforth Avenue permanent. Ford and Holyday opposed. Councillor Joe Cressy tossed in a successful motion calling for an extension of the University lanes southward to Adelaide Street. (Council also adopted the 2021 Cycling Network Plan update, with the exact same 20-2 result.)
EX28.2 - After several interim reports, Council voted 25-1 to finally implement a tax on vacant homes. Only Holyday opposed. Wong-Tam moved to eliminate one of the exemptions I was most worried about — it would have allowed condo boards who ban rentals to skip out on paying the tax — with a sensible motion that carried 23-2, with only Holyday and Councillor James Pasternak opposed.
EX28.6, EX28.7, EX28.8 - The rate-supported budgets for water, garbage and parking are not usually the most-action packed budget debates, but this year was… no different. All three were approved with little discussion.
HL32.1 - Omicron sure sucks, doesn’t it? Council voted via show of hands to extend the mask bylaw to April 2022. Just in time for the inevitable Omega variant.
IE26.4 - After some ace reporting from CBC’s John Rieti raised a lot of questions about a report recommending Council award $1.4 billion worth of snow clearing contracts — and the procurement process that led to that recommendation — Councillor Paul Ainslie moved to send the whole thing back to committee for some more thought. But a staff report warning that “failing to reach an agreement with any of the suppliers would leave the City without the means to provide snow clearing activity” was enough for a majority of councillors to stick with the staff recommendation. McKelvie did pass an amendment adding a review of this whole process to the Auditor General’s 2022 work plan.
MM38.4 - An intriguing motion from Wong-Tam and Councillor Gord Perks calling for consideration of bringing back the Vehicle Registration Tax and introducing a municipal sales tax — the sales tax would require provincial approval — failed to make the agenda after an 11-14 vote. It’ll go to the next meeting of the Executive Committee.
MM38.43 - Lastly, Council voted 25-0 to kick in up to $100,000 to support a legal challenge against Quebec’s Bill 21. Minnan-Wong was absent for the vote.
Council’s next meeting will be February 2, 2022.
In other news
I usually like to try to talk to Mayor John Tory around this time of year for this newsletter, but since I have my hands full I’ll leave that to others. The Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro has a great year-ender with the mayor, talking about the 2022 budget (“…first of all, the people, in my view, cannot afford a significant tax increase”), encampment clearings (“Of course I don’t like those images. I don’t like that reality”) and his failed — so far — attempts to legalize rooming houses.
City Hall Watcher #154
Thanks for reading! If you’ve emailed me recently and I haven’t responded, rest assured it is nothing personal. Time has lost all meaning. Sometime next week I’ll bring you the annual YEAR IN CHARTS special, and then I’ll be taking a break to be the best dad I can be. Hope you all have a very happy holiday season.