Two hundred issues, more lobbyists
City Hall Watcher #200: A milestone spectacular, with LOBBYIST WATCH featuring Tim Hortons, factory-built homes, a golf course, and hovercrafts
Hey there! Welcome to City Hall Watcher #200.
When I started this newsletter in January of 2019, I was not confident I’d make it to the 20th issue. Making it to the 200th feels really good. Thanks to all paid subscribers for your support over the years. It means a lot.
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Enough with the sales tactics! In this week’s issue, I’ve got a brand new LOBBYIST WATCH featuring appearances by Tim Hortons, Therme Spa, golf, and hovercrafts.
Let’s get into it.
— Matt Elliott
Lobbyist Watch: Navigator tees off, Tim Hortons wants to revitalize downtown, factory-built homes
Lobbyist Watch is City Hall Watcher’s monthly summary of activity on Toronto City Hall’s Lobbyist Registry. In October 2022, I reviewed 260 registered lobbyist communications and 192 new registrations.
Disclaimer: Toronto’s Lobbyist Registry requires lobbyists to register and record all communications they have with politicians and staff, but it does not require them to provide much detail about the extent of those communications. As a result, a meeting noted below could be a long conversation with some deal-making, or it could be a passing chat of no real consequence.
Navigator tees off
Don Valley Trails Park Holdings Inc, a holding company created by developers Tercot Communities, Cityzen Development Group and Greybrook, has hired lobbying and crisis PR firm Navigator to lobby about the “repurposing of Flemingdon Park Golf Course.”
The Globe & Mail’s Alex Bozikovic got the scoop last month that Flemington, a 9-hole course in the Don Valley, is the subject of a development proposal that would see 2,500 homes and a 40-acre park.
Navigator’s Mitchell Stein is on the file. Stein logged a Microsoft Teams meeting with Edward Birnbaum, Mayor John Tory’s Director of Legislative Affairs, on October 26, with an email follow-up on Halloween. Stein was also in email communication with Tory’s Chief of Staff Luke Robertson earlier in the month.
Should this development go forward — trading a golf course for homes — it could set a precedent for the redevelopment of other golf courses in the city, including Toronto’s publicly-owned courses, which were the subject of a Council debate earlier this year.
Always fresh lobbying
Tim Hortons, also known as TDL Group Corp, has hired Loyalist Public Affairs’ Dan Mader to lobby about the “revitalization of downtown Toronto.”
It’s unclear what the coffee and donut chain feels their role is in the downtown revitalization process. Still, on November 3, Mader sent an email to Courtney Glen, Deputy Chief of Staff in Mayor John Tory’s office. He followed up with another written communication to the mayor’s office on November 4.
There are dozens of Tim’s locations downtown.
Let’s hope this becomes an active lobbying file so I can make a lot of coffee and donut puns. I’ll double double down on puns.
Intelligent City, a Vancouver-based company that recently opened an “automated urban housing factory” in North Delta, BC, has registered to talk to City Hall about “housing policies, development policies and bylaws, green building incentives.”
Intelligent City’s process uses mass timber to create mid- and high-rise residential and commercial buildings. They’ve got some neat robots. All this may have some utility for the City’s Housing Now and modular supportive housing programs.
Intelligent City CEO Oliver Lang is on the file. No communications yet.
Telus takes the lobbying crown with VR pitch
Telus’s Senior Account Manager for Municipal Government Anthony Fernando was the busiest lobbyist in October, logging a mighty 46 communications as the telco giant continues an effort to “discuss potential opportunities with city staff that could lie outside of existing business including: wireless services, vehicle tracking, traffic management, and other innovative uses of wireless technology known as the ‘Internet of Things.’”
One that caught my eye: on October 26, Fernando logged a meeting with Toronto Zoo Manager of Computer & Telecom Services Michael Squires. Also logging the same meeting was Khaled Shariff, CEO of Winnipeg-based VR company Project Whitecard.
Telus and Project Whitecard announced a partnership earlier this year to “provide services for VR and a related ecosystem to customers across various use cases, including corporate, health and public projects.”
The announcement suggests Telus sees potential for VR as part of their “Connected Worker” offering to companies managing remote workforces that can “track, monitor and manage the well-being, effectiveness, and productivity of workers in real-time through a digital workflow.”
Whitecard also provides VR programs for things like Safe Driving Programs and an “immersive experience” that lets people check out the northern lights. Presumably, the Zoo’s interest in VR would be similar — letting people get close to, and maybe even holler at, some virtual animals.
In addition to the Zoo, Fernando was in touch with staff from the Toronto Parking Authority, the TTC, Technology Services, and Transportation Services.
Spa days continue
Lobbying about Therme Group’s mega-spa plans for Ontario Place continued through election day and after.
Therme Canada’s new VP of Communications & External Relations Mark Lawson — who formerly served as deputy chief of staff to Premier Doug Ford — logged a meeting with Councillor Mike Layton on October 4. He then met with Edward Birnbaum, the mayor’s Director of Legislative Affairs and Chief Planner Gregg Lintern on October 13. On October 18, he met with CreateTO CEO — and former principal secretary to Mayor John Tory — Vic Gupta and CreateTO Director of Waterfront Business Planning Scott Pennington.
It’s becoming a bit of a tangled web of lobbying, with both a former senior staffer to the premier and a former senior staffer to the mayor involved.
Also entangled: lobbyists with StrategyCorp, hired by Therme to represent their interests. StrategyCorp’s Aiden Grove-White also logged a meeting with Layton on October 4, while John Perenack logged a meeting with Gupta on October 18.
Lobbying on behalf of the acrobats and contortionists at Cirque du Soleil, TACT’s Stéfanie Tougas logged a phone call on October 18 to Tasnia Khan, Mayor John Tory’s Legislative Affairs Advisor. Tougas’ registration says, “Cirque du Soleil would like to explore different sites in the city of Toronto for their future shows.”
In the past, Cirque has hosted shows in tents in the port lands and at Ontario Place, but both locations will be challenging (if not impossible) for the foreseeable future due to construction. It’s hard to think of other available locations for a show like Cirque. Maybe Downsview?
Lobbying grab bag
Hoverlink Ontario, a company with grand plans to offer hovercraft passenger service between Niagara and Toronto, has hired NATIONAL PR’s Stephen Adler to talk up how their hovercraft service — promising to take passengers round-trip between their Port Weller terminal and Union Station in 60 minutes, with ticket prices between $50 and $60 — will be “seamless, accessible, fun and environmentally friendly.” They’d like to start this summer. I’m definitely a skeptic on this one. But if they pull it off, I promise you this: I will absolutely ride this hovercraft.
Lobbyists with MLSE logged meetings on November 1 with Economic Development & Culture staff to talk about plans for Toronto to host World Cup soccer matches in 2026. MLSE Chief Venues & Operations Officer Nick Eaves and President of Toronto FC & Toronto Argonauts Bill Manning logged meetings with Economic Development & Culture General Manager Cheryl Blackman and Manager of Event Support Matt Ootes.
Accenture, the Presto farecard tech developer, has hired former TTC Chair Paul Christie to lobby about “Fare collection for TTC.” Christie logged an email to CEO Rick Leary’s office, requesting a meeting.
Lobbying on behalf of the Toronto Police Association, Aleem Kanji logged phone calls with Councillor Gary Crawford and Councillor Mark Grimes on October 12, a zoom meeting with Councillor Frances Nunziata on October 13, a phone call with Councillor Michael Thompson on October 13, and a call with Councillor Rose Milczyn on October 14. Kanji also logged a handful of calls to councillors on behalf of another client, CUPE 416.
The Toronto Region Board of Trade has opened a new lobbying file to discuss City Hall’s procurement practices. TRBOT Director of Stakeholder Relations Matthew Kofsky, Policy Director of Innovation Reid McKay and Senior Director of Sales & Engagement Robert Golen are all on the file.
Whitby-based Phoenix Conferencing Solutions has registered with a “Proposal for AV Improvements to Council Chambers with Automated Camera control and Hybrid meeting capabilities.” Phoenix’s Gerardus van der Kley is on the file. Phoenix says their tech provides the AV for parliaments in Ireland, Mexico, India, Hungary, Lichenstein, and Monaco.
Tech 4 sale
Urben Blu, Quebec-based makers of “smart, automated, self-cleaning toilets,” has registered to talk to City Hall about our “lack of public washrooms available to the citizens.” Toronto’s lack of public washrooms was a frequent topic of conversation during the election campaign. These look pretty spiffy.
Teleperformance, a company that provides outsourcing services, has registered to pitch 311 Toronto on a bunch of things, including, “Opportunities around Contact Center Services, Omnichannel Customer Experience, Video, Customer Care and Support, Chat, Text and Bot services, AI operations, Analytics and Data Integration, Trust and Safety, Accounting, Translation Service.” Teleperformance Assistant VP President of Business Development Christina Morano logged emails to Director of 311 Toronto Gary Yorke and Director of Digital Government & Modernization Marco Palermo on October 25. Teleperformance recently made some headlines for contract clauses that would have required remote employees to let the company install “AI cameras” in their homes. (Yikes: “If the system detects no keyboard stroke and mouse click, it will show you as idle for that particular duration, and it will be reported to your supervisor. So please avoid hampering your productivity.”)
The City hosted a meeting of the Vehicle-for-Hire Net Zero Working Group on November 1. Based on lobbying records, attendees included reps for Chargepoint and Uber Canada. The City’s side of the meeting had people from Municipal Licensing & standards, Environment & Climate, Transportation Services and the Atmospheric Fund.
Montreal-based CANN Forecast, developers of an AI Platform that monitors e-coli levels in beach water, has registered to pitch their software. Account Manager Laird Greenshields is on the file. This comes after the Star’s Ben Cohen reported last summer about the City’s struggles with using AI Predictive Modeling to measure water quality at beaches.
Lobbyist Watch will return in December
Hope you enjoyed LOBBYIST WATCH! Remember, you can get more news and analysis like this every week by signing up for a paid subscription. To celebrate 200 issues, annual subscriptions are currently 20% off.
More from Matt: on rental replacement, and photo radar
📰 For the Star last week, I wrote about what I see as the most alarming part of Premier Doug Ford’s newest housing bills — it opens the door to weakening or eliminating City Hall’s rental replacement requirement. Bad news for renters, who have had to deal with a whole lot of bad news over the last decade.
🗞 For the Star this week, I look at some new data from the photo radar camera on Parkside Drive. It shows a lot of speeding, and a lot of tickets — so why is City Hall still moving so slowly to make infrastructure improvements that will slow down traffic, for good?
Look for it in your favourite newspaper.
In other news
The City has revealed its plans for the shelter system this winter. One way they’re increasing capacity? Beds will be pushed closer together. “Where increased capacity is needed, changes in bed separation will be adjusted from 2 metres laterally, to 1.25 metres. This work will be implemented through a phased approach, following rigorous infection prevention and control measures, and is estimated to increase capacity by an additional 500 spaces.”
The week at Toronto City Hall
MONDAY: 🏚 This morning’s Toronto Preservation Board meeting was notable for containing comments from staff and the board on changes to the Ontario Heritage Act included in Bill 23, Premier Doug Ford’s newest housing bill.
The reviews weren’t great. In a presentation, staff noted there are 3,973 properties listed — but not yet designated — on City Hall’s Heritage Register. Many have been on the list for decades. These are properties that have been identified as having some heritage value but may not necessarily need full heritage protection.
Being listed merely means developers and property owners need to give City Hall notice before they proceed with demolition. Council can then either negotiate the protection of some heritage elements or proceed with designation.
The new bill, however, puts a time limit on listing properties. Once a property is listed, it must be designated within two years. If not, it comes off the list and can’t be listed again for five years.
The staff perspective is that this will likely lead to more heritage designations, not less, as designation is now the only long-term tool for protecting old buildings. The new rules “compel designation,” staff told board members.
In addition, several initiatives to respond to the opioid poisoning crisis included in the 2022 budget in the hopes that the federal and provincial governments would provide funds have been removed from the 2023 budget. The funding never showed up.
THURSDAY: 🐕 The Dangerous Dog Review Tribunal considers muzzle appeals for Labrador mix Max, Siberian Husky/Akita Anubis, and Siberian Husky Carol.
FRIDAY: Remembrance Day.
NEXT WEEK: The new Council term starts, for real, on November 15.
City Hall Watcher #200
Thanks for reading! Both this issue and the 199 before it. It means a lot.
I’ve got lots of stuff planned for the next 100 issues, including more contributions from other writers, new frontiers of analysis, and — of course — a whole lot of charts.
It starts next Monday, with City Hall Watcher #201. See you then.