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City Hall Watcher #240: Olivia Chow has put together her team at City Hall — a look at who they are, and how they might vote on issues like the Gardiner and police funding
Hey there! Mayor Olivia Chow has put her team together. The new-look Executive Committee has eleven members, which seems reasonable because if film franchises have taught me anything, it’s that you need at least eleven people on your crew to pull off a Las Vegas casino heist.
I’m pretty sure that’s not in the mayor’s immediate plans, however. Instead, Olivia’s Eleven will take on a range of challenges like City Hall’s massive budget gap, the future of the Gardiner Expressway, Toronto’s housing crisis, and the sorry state of the TTC.
In this issue, I’ve got an in-depth look at the new team, analyzing the winners and losers of the City Hall appointment process and how they might vote on some critical issues.
🎉 This is the landmark 240th issue of City Hall Watcher. To celebrate, a bunch of you are getting this for free. I really hope you’ll stick around.
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What Council Did: Olivia Chow’s got a really big team
Toronto Council met last week! It was a very special meeting to approve the appointment of a new slate to City Hall’s various committees and boards.
Aside from an incessant (and, thankfully, false) fire alarm that beeped through much of the afternoon session held in City Hall’s Committee Room 1, there was no drama. Council approved Chow’s slate of appointments with no dissent or debate.
Here’s a look at some of the major moves:
Structurally, the biggest change Chow made was to expand the Executive Committee from nine to 11 members. The cabinet-like committee is now nearly as large as it was in the era when there were 44 councillors. Back then, the Executive had 13 members.
The strategy seems obvious. Assuming she can count on loyalty from her executive appointments, Chow now has 11 votes she can bank on. She’ll need to peel off just three others to ensure a majority. She’ll have multiple paths to get there, depending on the issue.
Also notable: there are no signs that Chow is carrying a grudge from the campaign period. Election opponent Councillor Josh Matlow, while not quite in the innermost of inner circles, has landed a spot on the Executive Committee for the first time in his 13-year career at City Hall. Councillor Brad Bradford, who accused Chow of wanting to raise everybody’s property taxes to the moon and back, has kept a spot on the Planning & Housing Committee as Vice Chair.
And Councillor Jennifer McKelvie, who offered a strong endorsement for Ana Bailão in the closing weeks of the mayoral campaign after pledging earlier to stay out of the race, is still a member of the Executive Committee, still the Chair of the Infrastructure & Environment Committee, and still deputy mayor. Note, though, that her deputy role is now honourary, rather than statutory — which means she’d no longer be the one to step in during a mayoral vacancy.
(Another note: the City Hall Watcher style guide mandates that I only refer to the statutory deputy mayor with the deputy mayor title. It’s very pedantic, I know. So Deputy Mayor Ausma Malik will be the only one to be referred to regularly as such.)
Even councillors who are likely to be thorns in Chow’s side weren’t shut out to the degree Tory’s unofficial opposition was. Councillor Stephen Holyday remains on the TTC board and will continue as Chair of the Audit Committee. And Councillor Jon Burnside got himself an appointment to the police board as an olive branch for losing his role as TTC chair.
Speaking of the TTC, in my Star column last week, I wrote about the importance of Chow’s picks for the TTC board. Appointing Councillor Jamaal Myers as Chair is a solid pick. He’s a regular rider of the system and hasn’t been afraid to ask tough questions. And, despite the Scarborough transit follies dominating the conversation over the last couple of decades, Myers will stand as the first TTC Chair from Scarborough since Brian Ashton in 2002. It’s about time.
Winners & losers
This is an imperfect measure, because it treats all appointments as equal when, in reality, a role on the GTA Agricultural Action Committee is not quite as powerful as a spot on City Hall’s Budget Committee, for example. But it still ends up as an interesting — and telling — piece of analysis.
In terms of sheer number of appointments received from the Striking Committee, Councillor Paula Fletcher and Councillor Gord Perks were the big winners. Both have a lot more power than they did under John Tory.
Perks, I think, stands as the biggest winner. Under Tory, he was a member of the General Government Committee and the Board of Health, and Chair of the Heritage Toronto Board of Directors. Basically iced out on major files.
Under Chow, he’s — take a deep breath, this will take a while — Chair of the Planning & Housing Committee, Vice Chair of the Budget Committee, a member of the Civic Appointments Committee, a member of the Board of Health, (still) the Chair of the Heritage Toronto Board, a member of the Toronto Preservation Board, a member of the new Housing Rights Advisory Committee, a member of the Artscape Toronto Board, and a member of the Housing Services Corporation.
The councillors toward the bottom of the list are an interesting bunch. Despite receiving fewer appointments, Councillor Frances Nunziata remains in her longtime role of Speaker, which she values greatly. On the other hand, Councillor Vince Crisanti, Councillor James Pasternak, and Councillor Nick Mantas probably have the most to grumble about, with clearly diminished roles at City Hall.
The opposition becomes the government
Based on Council Scorecard data, the average member of Chow’s Executive Committee voted just 58% of the time with former mayor Tory between 2018 and Tory’s resignation earlier this year. That’s a bit torqued, though, as three members — Deputy Mayor Ausma Malik, Councillor Amber Morley and Councillor Alejandra Bravo — were only around for a brief window under Tory, and probably would have seen their percentages rise a bit had Tory not cut his tenure short.
Still, the general makeup of Chow’s Executive is decidedly tilted toward those who were not Tory loyalists. The only exception is Councillor Jennifer McKelvie, who had a near-perfect record of Tory support.
How does Chow’s Executive Committee feel about the Gardiner?
All but two of the members of Chow’s Executive voted in favour of a Councillor Josh Matlow motion back in May that would have paused work on rebuilding the elevated Gardiner East connection to the DVP to allow for a report on alternatives, like, well, not rebuilding it.
But it may be notable that the two Executive Committee members in opposition were given important — and relevant — jobs. Councillor Jennifer McKelvie, who has been rather ardent in her opposition to any attempt to mess with the Gardiner status quo, is Chair of the Infrastructure & Environment Committee, and would surely have a role to play in stickhandling changes to the Gardiner project. And Councillor Shelley Carroll, who has been open to alternatives to the rebuilding effort in the past but has opposed recent efforts to re-open the matter, is Chow’s Budget Chief — and the Gardiner is a huge part of the budget.
How does Chow’s Executive feel about potentially redirecting police funding to social services?
When it comes to budget priorities, a narrow majority of Chow’s Executive Committee also voted in favour of a budget motion from the special Council meeting in February that would have redirected $900,000 from the police budget toward more respite spaces. That could be a sign of what to expect from this mayor’s approach to budgeting.
More from Matt: on Chow’s new team, a Nova Scotia check-in, and how City Hall’s new balance of power will change Toronto’s energy utility
🎧 The Toronto Star All-Star Opinionator Panel is BACK. Partially. While Emma Teitel was dearly missed, Ed Keenan, Shawn Micallef and I still had a good time getting together to discuss Mayor Olivia Chow’s appointments and the first few weeks of her tenure.
🎧 I also appeared on the latest episode of The Grand Parade — The Coast’s podcast about municipal politics hosted by Matt Strickland in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was a bit of a homecoming for me since I went to school out east. We mostly nerded out about various policy matters.
🗞 In the Star this week, I take a look at an under-the-radar aspect of the new Chow administration — extra accountability for City-owned corporations like Toronto Hydro, especially when it comes to the issue of climate change.
Look for it in your favourite newspaper.
The week at Toronto City Hall
WEDNESDAY: 🏆 Bid Award Panel contract award of the week: $2.2 million to rebuild the TTC track at Dufferin Gate Loop and replace a water main.
🏆 Special Bid Award Panel contract award of the week: $4.7 million for “Modular Transit Platforms, Railings and Flexible Bollards.”
City Hall Watcher #240
Thanks for reading! I’ll be back next week to cover the continuing adventures of Mayor Olivia Chow.
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