Let the sunshine in
City Hall Watcher #220: A look at Toronto's sunshine list, with charts. Plus your March 2023 Council meeting preview.
Hey there! Welcome to another fine edition of City Hall Watcher. This marks our 220th issue. As is custom with every issue with a number that ends with a zero, it’s being delivered FREE to all subscribers so they can get a taste of what City Hall Watcher is all about.
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This week: I’m on record as not a big fan of the Ontario Sunshine List, but I couldn’t help analyzing city salaries over the 2019-2022 term. Find out who got the biggest increase, the jobs that saw the biggest salary increases, and the jobs whose ranks on the list grew the most — and least. Collectively, it’s data that tells an interesting tale of the last term at City Hall.
Speaking of terms at City Hall, we’re in one! Kind of. Toronto Council will meet this week without a mayor. I’ll walk you through the agenda as I prepare to provide my usual live coverage on Wednesday.
— Matt Elliott
Walking on sunshine: crunching four years of Sunshine List data for Toronto City Hall
The Sunshine List deserves a lot of criticism. The threshold for inclusion has held firm at $100,000 since the list was legislated into existence in 1996. Back then, $100,000 was a decent approximation of when people crossed from middle-class to wealthy.
That’s hardly true today, especially in Toronto. Had the number gone up with inflation, the cut-off would start at around $175,000.
Still, I can’t help but dig through the list each year. After Friday’s Sunshine List data was dumped, I decided to take a specific look at the City of Toronto and its agencies.
The complete list of employers I looked at, with the number of people on the Sunshine List in 2022, is as follows:
City Of Toronto (8,109 employees on Sunshine List)
City Of Toronto - Police Service (5,198)
City Of Toronto - Toronto Transit Commission (4,804)
City Of Toronto - Toronto Community Housing Corp. (278)
City Of Toronto - Public Library Board (149)
City Of Toronto - Board Of Mgmt. Of The Toronto Zoo (21)
City Of Toronto - Board Of Governors Of Exhibition Place (31)
City Of Toronto - Yonge-Dundas Square Board Of Mgmt. (1)
City Of Toronto - Applegrove Community Complex (1)
City Of Toronto – Ralph Thornton Community Centre (1)
City Of Toronto - Central Eglinton Community Centre (1)
City Of Toronto - Lakeshore Arena Corporation (2)
City Of Toronto - 519 Church Street Community Centre (2)
City Of Toronto - Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre (1)
City Of Toronto - Community Centre 55 (1)
City of Toronto - Toronto Seniors Housing Corporation (2)
I started with the chart above, charting the top salaries at the City and its agencies. TTC CEO Rick Leary takes the top spot for the second year, earning $473,440 — up from $438,495.91 in the prior year, and $361,338.14 in 2020.
The TTC CEO’s perch atop the list is actually a bit of a shift. To start the term in 2019, Police Chief — and now mayoral candidate — Mark Saunders was the highest-paid employee, earning $481,515.21 during his last year on the list in 2020.
Comparing the data across the full 2019-2022 term seemed like it could be interesting, so I started by looking at the individuals on the list with the biggest four-year salary growth.
Turns out: mostly firefighters. Many of them seem to have done pretty darn well for themselves. In fact, of the top 30 — you can click through to Datawrapper for the complete list — all but two of the entries are firefighters or fire captains. The others who cracked the list are Irene E Armstrong, Associate Medical Officer of Health, in the 22nd spot, and Rita Chiu, Manager of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases, at #26.
The increase in firefighter salaries was interesting, so I decided to do some analysis based on job titles.
Again, the increase in fire department salaries is notable, with more than 1,500 names on the list seeing an average 25.5% four-year salary bump.
From an operational perspective, I also thought it might be useful to look at the number of employees with job titles on the list — regardless of salary — and how much those numbers grew over the last term.
Here, the effects of the pandemic are seen clearly. The City needed a lot more people working on communicable diseases because, well, there was a giant outbreak of a communicable disease. Public health nurses and outreach workers were also clearly in demand.
(Routine disclosure: my brother is a City of Toronto firefighter. I don’t discuss municipal politics with him and he’s never involved in the preparation of any articles.)
Council preview: a mayor-less meeting
Toronto council meets this week! With no mayor in the mayor’s seat and registration for the by-election starting next week, it’s unlikely Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie and Toronto Council will be making many big moves.
Here’s a look at the highlights from the agenda:
Outlook not so good
EX3.2 - Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A new report says the City of Toronto faces a major financial crisis where expenses are projected to vastly exceed revenues.
Yes, yes, I know, that’s basically the same conclusion that several reports on Toronto’s financial situation have come to over the last decade or so, but this one — by consulting firm Ernst & Young — does at least take the novel approach of looking at accumulated budget pressures over the next ten years.
One interesting note that may play into recent provincial and federal negotiations regarding bailouts:
On an annual and ongoing basis, the City directly invests approximately $1.1 billion, or 22%, of the City’s annual property tax revenues, in extensions of federal and provincial responsibilities, such as housing, social services, and health services. The City makes such investments in a manner it believes helps to reduce the financial burden for other governments.
However, the City’s ability to continue to fund these services with broad regional application and benefit will be increasingly strained and, if not addressed, might no longer be viable depending on prioritization choices that will need to be made in the near future .
An attached graphic notes that this $1.1 billion that works to extend provincial and federal programs includes $616 million a year related to housing, $247 million related to social services (child care, employment services and youth services) and $256 million related to health services.
This looks a lot like it’s establishing a potential point of leverage from the City in future negotiations. Withdrawing those $1.1 billion worth of services would effectively solve City Hall’s near-term operating budget problem — capital problems would remain — but at the cost of programs and services relied upon by vulnerable people.
It’s hard to imagine Council taking much action on this report given the political timing, but mayoral candidates should take it very seriously and be prepared to offer credible answers.
Moving on from the mayor
CC5.1 - Before the City can officially move forward with the by-election, Council must declare the mayor's office vacant. This is almost a formality at this point, as Council doesn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. Appointing a replacement is no longer an option after recent provincial legislation.
The City Clerk has set a nomination period between April 3 and May 12, with election day on June 26. As you know, basically everyone is running. (I’ll have a full rundown of candidates in future issues once registrations become official.)
Bike Share versus bike couriers
IE2.6 - The Toronto Parking Authority, current overlords of Toronto’s Bike Share system, have proposed a “rate modernization” for 2023 — a fancy way of saying prices are going up.
As part of the change, non-member bike use will move to a per-minute charge: 12 cents a minute for a regular bike, and 20 cents a minute for an electric. Annual members will also now face a ten-cents-per-minute charge for the e-bikes.
The proposed changes — already announced by Bike Share and set to take effect on April 3 if approved by Council — aren’t proving very popular with gig workers who use the e-bikes to conduct deliveries. A letter from Gig Workers United doesn’t mince words:
App employers are disrupting employment standards and profiting off the misclassification of gig workers as well as downloading responsibility on to Toronto’s local infrastructure. The implementation of the proposed $0.10 per minute usage fee for e-bikes says to precarious workers; you’re being fired. The city of Toronto should look to New York which has been consulting with gig workers to end misclassification by putting the responsibility back onto app employers who are not paying their fair share.
Agenda item grab bag
EX3.7 - “Please mute your microphone” and “Sorry, my wifi went out” will become permanent fixtures at Council meetings once councillors pass an item officially amending the Council Procedures to allow for virtual participation at all meetings — both for the politicians and the public. (The report notes that in 2022 the majority of the 744 people who spoke at committee meetings in 2022 did so virtually.) The report does say that Council retains the power to set conditions on virtual participation for elected officials, like only allowing virtual participation for specific reasons.
EX3.9 - SmartTrack, the John Tory campaign’s 2014 transit platform, remains an active thing at City Hall, even after Tory ceased to be the active mayor. The plan has been reduced to five Toronto GO stations, funded by City Hall. The costs have exceeded the $1.463 billion budgeted for the project, so staff are asking City Hall for permission to seek approximately $243 million from Queen’s Park. Also, all five stations have been delayed. The Star’s Alyshah Hasham has a great look at the twists and turns SmartTrack took to get here.
PH2.11 - Planning staff continue to sort through the implications of Bill 23. To deal with changes the provincial government has made to the heritage protection process, staff recommend Council delegate some powers to Chief Planner Gregg Lintern.
CC5.3 - A report from Ombudsman Kwame Addo finds that the City screwed up in many ways with the violent clearing of encampments in the summer of 2021. “The City showed a lack of commitment to honouring its pledge to a human rights approach and to serving this vulnerable population with the dignity and respect they deserve.” Whether this will report will lead to any change — or consequence — in the City’s approach toward encampments remains to be seen. The City has told Addo they will provide an update by June 30, with quarterly updates to follow.
CC5.5 - The City still doesn’t have the $97 million they’ve budgeted for refugee shelter services this year. But there’s hope that the federal government will deliver. Staff want Council to push hard for more predictable, sustainable funding for refugee programs. Council should get a report with more information ahead of their meeting.
MM5.31, MM5.32 - A pair of precedent-setting member motions from Councillor Alejandra Bravo will ask Council to call on the next mayor to reject strong mayor powers and to commit to never pass an item without a majority vote in support on Council. The votes on these items from expected candidates Councillor Josh Matlow and Councillor Brad Bradford will be interesting. However, there is the possibility both items will get referred to the Executive Committee.
MM5.33 - Speaking of the election, Councillor Josh Matlow - who has already announced his bid for mayor — has a motion to pause new contracts related to the Gardiner East project to allow for a report on other options.
Not joshing around
CC5.4 - Integrity Commissioner Jonathan Batty is recommending Council dock Councillor Josh Matlow ten days of pay after investigating complaints about two of his tweets from last summer.
You don’t typically see Financial Impact Statements in City reports that read like this: “This report has no financial impact on the City of Toronto. It has a potential financial impact on Councillor Matlow.”
The Star’s Ben Spurr has more detail on the specific tweets and the fallout.
For City Hall Watchers, the most interesting part of the 51-page Integrity Commissioner report is definitely the appendix that starts on page 49, showing text message conversations between Tasnia Khan, Tory’s Legislative Affairs Advisor, and Janie Romoff, GM of Parks, Forestry & Recreation. A mayoral staffer asking for “good data that paints PFR positively” is an interesting glimpse at how the sausage is made.
Council will kick off at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday. I’ll have coverage on Twitter at GraphicMatt and Mastodon at GraphicMatt@Mastodon.social.
More from Matt: on the TTC’s low value on safety, Toronto’s busted garbage bins, and an easy litmus test for serious mayoral candidates
📰 For the Star last week, I made A1 with a story about what the TTC offers in special compensation for employees who fill out safety reports. Would you believe it’s $2.10?
📊 I’m also at Torontoverse this week, with a special look at 311 complaint data related to Toronto’s busted (and ugly) on-street litter bins. As always with Torontoverse, a super cool display of data.
🗞 For the Star this week, I get you set for the mayoral election, with a simple litmus test for candidates. If you want us to take you seriously, show us your budget.
Look for it in your favourite newspaper.
The week at Toronto City Hall
MONDAY: 🏗️ The CreateTO Board met today. Alas, five of the eight items on the agenda include reports that are being kept confidential for now, including the item updating board members on the status of the Housing Now program.
Separate reports on two of the Housing Now projects reveal a glimpse of some of the challenges facing the program, however.
On a project to deliver 217 affordable housing units at Bloor & Kipling, the report notes: “While the proponent has been diligently advancing their site plan application, several economic factors have impacted the proponent’s proposal.”
Similar issues have bedevilled 50 Wilson Heights Boulevard, which is to deliver 383 affordable rental housing units: “While the Proponent has been diligently advancing their subdivision approvals and site plan applications, significant cost inflation in construction and financing since 2021 have substantially reduced the proponent’s projected returns from the original proposal.”
In both cases, the board approved confidential strategies designed to put the projects back on track.
📚 The Toronto Library Board meets tonight. A neat tidbit from the agenda: last year, the library started renting our Raspberry Pi Kits and Audio Recording Kits. “the Raspberry Pi Kits consist of a Raspberry Pi computer with a monitor, keyboard and mouse used to complete coding/electronic projects. The Audio Recording Kits consist of a digital audio recorder and microphones.” Nerdily, very cool.
The Board will also review the always-interesting annual report on “Intellectual Freedom Challenges” — requests received from the library to ban books or cancel events.
Books challenged in 2022 include The Shepherd’s Grandaughter, Asterix at the Olympic Games and Stephen King’s Apt Pupil. Events challenged include a Drag Queen Storytime event, a room booking for a group called “National Self Determination of Oppressed Nations in Pakistan,” and an event on “alternative paths” to treat breast cancer, which was cancelled after the library determined the scheduled speaker lacked proper medical credentials.
TUESDAY: No meetings scheduled.
WEDNESDAY: 🏟️ Council meets.
🏆 Bid Award Panel contract award of the week: up to $1.4 million for ASL translation and interpretation.
THURSDAY: Council rolls on, probably.
FRIDAY: A third day of Council? Let’s hope not. You know how I feel about Council meeting on Friday. (I’m against it.)
NEXT WEEK: Nominations for mayor open on Monday. Passover and Good Friday make for a quiet week otherwise.
City Hall Watcher #220
Thanks for reading! Hope you’ll join me on Wednesday for my live Council coverage. And if you’re not a paying subscriber yet, I hope this issue makes you consider giving it a shot. Support from readers is always appreciated.