Discover more from City Hall Watcher
Settling scores before the budget
City Hall Watcher #110: celebrating a milestone issue with a COUNCIL SCORECARD update, calculating the Holyday-Perks singularity, previewing the 2021 Council budget debate & more!
Whoa, time flies, huh? It feels like just yesterday I was sending out free-for-all issue #100. Maybe I dreamed it, but I could have sworn there was a weird comic book cover featuring me in a robe and the premier as an alien.
Anyway, there’s none of that kind of nonsense this time around. Today, in the milestone 110th issue of City Hall Watcher, I’ve got a spreadsheet. It’s time to check in on the COUNCIL SCORECARD. I go deep into the latest update, with a focus on the fall of Councillor Stephen Holyday. Then things get a bit cosmic with some talk of what I’ve dubbed the Holyday-Parks singularity.
Also: Council meets this week for a VERY special meeting. It’s budget debate time. I’ll get you set for it with a preview.
Every tenth issue of City Hall Watcher (like this one) is sent FREE to all on the email list. If you like what you see, you can sign up for a paid subscription and get this kind of content each and every week — it costs just $5.65 a month, or $56.50 a year. (Price includes HST.) That’s a bargain and a deal.
Since I launched City Hall Watcher two years ago, almost 900 people have invested in a subscription — it’s a smart purchase for anyone who wants to keep tabs on their municipal government.
It’s a no-risk proposition. I’m not going to make you call some kind of 1-800 number to negotiate a cancellation. If you ever want to jump off, you can cancel with one click on your account page. No questions asked. (Though I will, of course, be sad to see you go.)
Organizations can purchase group subscriptions. With this kind of subscription, one email address acts as the administrator. The admin can add and edit subscriptions within your group whenever someone joins or leaves your team. It’s groundbreaking thought-leading technology that can offer your business synergy through new paradigms vis a vis blue ocean strategy and the Block Chain. Uh, anyway. I even offer discounts for large groups — get in touch with me to make a deal.
Gift subscriptions are also available if you, for example, forgot about Valentine’s Day. But please make sure your partner wouldn’t prefer chocolates or flowers before buying them a newsletter subscription.
Lastly, the support of regular subscribers has meant I continue to offer FREE subscriptions to students, aspiring journalists and anyone else who might not be able to afford the cost. If that’s you, don’t hesitate to fill out the form.
Okay, enough with the sales pitch. Let’s get into it. And if you like City Hall Watcher, tell a pal.
If this post gets cut off in Gmail, be sure to read it on the web.
— Matt Elliott
Council Scorecard: Holyday plunges but Tory gains support from left
The Council Scorecard is my running tally of how often members of Council are voting with Mayor John Tory. I have maintained versions of this Scorecard going back to 2011.
The scorecard includes only significant votes, determined through a subjective process based primarily on newsworthiness.
For this update, I’ve added votes from the November 2020, December 2020 and February 2021 meetings of Council. Votes added included a pair of votes on transforming Yonge Street, a vote on non-police response to people in crisis, a vote on whether the province should be mandating paid sick days, and a particularly contentious vote on the notion of expropriating hotel rooms and apartment units for emergency housing.
There are also new votes on the spreadsheet about sidewalk snow clearing and ranked ballots. With the ranked ballots vote, the mayor was marked absent, which typically means I don’t include the vote in the Scorecard. But because the mayor spoke in favour of the item and made his view very clear, I made a call to include it and count “yes” votes as aligned with the mayor.
The mayor was on the winning side of all votes. He hasn’t been on the losing end of a vote in the Scorecard since January 2019 and has won 98% of all votes I’ve tracked.
The full Scorecard is available on Google Sheets.
And here’s a look at where councillors stand in terms of Team Tory Score — the measure of how often they vote with the mayor — after this update:
Movers & Shakers
Biggest gains in Team Tory percentage since last update:
⬆️ Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, +3.38
⬆️ Councillor Josh Matlow, +3.30
⬆️ Councillor Gord Perks, +2.93
⬆️ Councillor Joe Cressy, +2.61
⬆️ Councillor Mike Layton, +2.57
⬇️ Councillor Stephen Holyday, -3.31
⬇️ Councillor James Pasternak, -2.01
⬇️ Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, -1.71
⬇️ Councillor Michael Thompson, -1.43
⬇️ Councillor Cynthia Lai, -1.18
That’s some pretty impressive grouping right there. Tory did very well with downtown left-leaning councillors this update, but lost ground with suburban conservatives. Holyday, in particular, deserves some special attention. We’ll get to that in a sec.
⚡️Councillor Shelley Carroll crossed the 70% threshold with this update, which means she now falls into the “aligned with mayor” category and not the “swing vote” category. We’ll see if that holds up.
👋 Councillor Nick Mantas makes his first Scorecard appearance, replacing Jim Karygiannis. Replacement councillors share a score with the councillor they replaced in the main spreadsheet, but I also track scores individually. Mantas’ score so far, across three votes, is 100%, but it’s way too soon to say if that means anything.
👑 Wearers of the crowns
Councillor Jennifer McKelvie continued to reign as the (non-replacement) councillor with the most consistent pro-Tory voting record. She’s voted with him 95% of the time.
On the other end, Councillor Gord Perks remains the thorniest thorn in the mayor’s side, with the low score at 53%.
I don’t normally include this chart in these updates, because graphing 26 lines on a line graph is a dangerous game, but I think it’s worth showing it this time.
That’s all 26 members of Council with their Team Tory score plotted over the course of this term. Most are flat, or trending upwards. But then there’s Councillor Stephen Holyday. See if you can spot him. His line diverges from all the others in a pretty consistent downward slope.
The conservative Etobicoke councillor has consistently voted against Tory in recent months, even though Tory still counts Holyday as one of his deputy mayors. In this update, Holyday voted differently than Tory on sidewalk snow clearing, the vacant home tax, both plans to transform parts of Yonge Street, and on the matter of whether Council should ask the province to mandate paid sick days.
The result is a voting record that is decidedly out-of-step with the Council average, and trending against it.
Holyday’s Team Tory score decline comes at a time when left-leaning councillors are trending upwards. His score of 62.63% is now about five points below that of Councillor Paula Fletcher, one of the city’s more progressive politicians. It’s only a few points above the score of Councillor Mike Layton, son of former NDP leader Jack Layton.
Because of this trend, I can plot something I’ve called the Holyday-Perks singularity: the point at which Holyday’s score will converge with Perks’ score — currently the low mark. If and when that happens, it would likely make Holyday the strongest anti-Tory vote on Council.
Based on simple linear projections of their scores since February 2019 — the first update after the initial batch of Council votes this term — Holyday and Perks will converge in July 2022. Mark your calendars.
The Council Scorecard is available on Google Sheets.
Hope you enjoyed this Council Scorecard update. This kind of analysis isn’t available anywhere else. If you want this kind of spreadsheet goodness on the regular, become a subscriber.
CAN YOU HELP? During the last municipal election I worked with Gabriel Eidelman at UofT’s Urban Policy Lab on a project to integrate Scorecard data into things like CBC’s Vote Compass. We’d to love to build off that work and find ways to transform and expand the Scorecard to make it more useful for people. If you’re in a position to fund or help with that kind of project, please get in touch.
Council preview: Budget debate 2021
Toronto Council meets this week for a very special meeting to consider the 2021 operating and capital budgets.
The budget is not balanced, and isn’t likely to be balanced upon Council approval, unless Premier Doug Ford and/or Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plan to surprise us all with a sudden funding announcement.
But there has been some decent news of late. A briefing note to the Budget Committee confirms that the projected COVID-related budget gap has been reduced from $860 million to $649 million. The decline comes from an additional $33 million in confirmed transit funding, $59 million in secured public health funding, and $115 million based on a preliminary review of year-end actuals for 2020, which show strong performance for the Land Transfer Tax.
Still, $649 million remains a massive gap. And it’s not the only hole in this budget. The City is also short $61 million from the federal government needed to cover shelter costs for refugees and asylum claimants, and $15 million from the provincial government to pay for supportive housing operating costs.
The plan appears to be to approve a budget without this money confirmed and continue negotiations. If money does not materialize to pay for the COVID costs, staff have put together this table showing the potential capital budget cutbacks that could occur.
The cuts would come from so-called “Capital from Current” (CFC) — money that flows directly from the operating budget to the capital budget without debt financing — and Provincial Gas Tax (PGT) funding. The gas tax typically goes to the TTC capital budget, but it would be redirected to operating expenses along with planned CFC expenditures if provincial and federal funds don’t materialize.
There are a lot of important projects at risk under this scenario. But Tory and Crawford seem relatively confident the money will come. Again, it’s the waiting game, and it remains way less fun than Hungry Hungry Hippos.
The budget did not merit a ton of debate at Tory’s Executive Committee meeting last week. The most notable thing was the mayor adding $8 million in spending to the budget, funded by a draw from the Toronto Parking Authority, to fund programs related to youth jobs, mental health, shop local campaigns, and internet access in low-income areas.
What Council is likely to fight about
Despite the major challenge of pandemic-era municipal finances, the budget process has been light on drama. Because Mayor John Tory has a very strong base of support on Council and across virtually every city hall committee — refer back to the Council Scorecard — there’s little opportunity to agitate for major budgetary amendments like we saw in the years under Mayor Rob Ford and with the early Tory budgets.
Still, I expect a few attempts to amend things. Here’s a few issues to watch:
The Land Transfer Tax: A briefing note to the Budget Committee laid out the revenue potential for a new luxury housing tax that would raise the Land Transfer Tax rate charged to hopes valued at more than $2 million. Increasing the rate charged at that threshold from 2.5% to 3.5% would raise between $18.6 million and $26.8 million, according to estimates. At the final Budget Committee meeting, a motion by Councillor Mike Layton to immediately implement the new tax rate and use the revenue for affordable housing was defeated. But Councillor Gary Crawford, the budget chief, did request a report with more information about the implications of the tax, setting the stage for a Council floor debate.
Policing: Layton was also unsuccessful with a motion directing City Manager Chris Murray to begin the process of transferring responsibilities from the police budget to other City divisions and agencies. But given police reform remains a much-talked-about issue, it seems likely we’ll see another attempt at this move at Council.
Emergency & Supportive Housing: The Budget Committee also gave the thumbs down to a motion from Layton to increase the operating budget by $15.4 million to cover the gap needed to fully fund supportive housing under the emergency housing plan. Crawford and Tory have argued that including this money in the budget would weaken the City’s negotiating position when it comes to requesting this funding from Queen’s Park. But housing is a life-or-death issue, and some councillors aren’t going to like the idea of the uncertainty. The Star’s Victoria Gibson has more on what’s at stake.
Trails & Toilets: For the Toronto Star a few weeks back, I wrote about how a very small increase to the budget could fund more year-round washrooms and increased snow clearing of park trails. The committee rejected a Layton motion to add this funding, but why not have another go of it at Council?
The Council debate will start at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday. I’ll have full coverage on Twitter at @GraphicMatt.
More from Matt: on the Scarborough subway, and the Gardiner Expressway
📰 I’ve been playing all the old hits lately. For the Toronto Star last week, I wrote about the Scarborough Subway debacle, and who’s to blame.
🗞 I followed that up this week with a piece about the Gardiner Expressway, and how it looms large over the budget process, even though few seem to really want to talk about it.
In other news
“I can’t say for sure that it was a Super Bowl party, but I know it was a house party and 18 tickets were issued for $1,000 each.” For Toronto Life, Courtney Shea talks to MLS Executive Director Carleton Grant.
The Toronto Star’s David Rider untangles the details behind the big Downsview debate at the last meeting of Council.
The week at Toronto City Hall
MONDAY: It was Family Day. Spent it playing a lot of Hitman 3. It’s really a puzzle game, like Tetris but with rat poison and disguises.
TUESDAY: 🔎 The Audit Committee met today. The big item on their agenda was the Auditor General’s continued investigation into the productivity of the crews responsible for pruning trees. Following up on a 2019 investigation, the AG found that workers are still spending a lot of their time not working.
In response, GM of Parks, Forestry & Recreation Janie Romoff presented a “plan of action” to improve productivity and oversight. it starts with “physical surveillance of all tree maintenance crews for an indefinite period of time.”
The findings of the AG are definitely serious and improvements are absolutely required, but I was glad to see this nuanced take from John Lorinc at Spacing pushing back a bit against what he calls “policy-by-surveillance.” There’s something unsettling about all the blurry-faced long-lens photos of workers.
WEDNESDAY: 🏚 The Preservation Board meets. They’ll consider heritage aspects of the plan for replacing the Scotiabank movie theatre and its generally-broken escalators:
THURSDAY: 🏟 Council meets to debate the budget.
🐕 The Dangerous Dog Review Tribunal meets to consider muzzle orders for Husky Lizzy, Belgium Malinois Rocky, German Shepherd Network, and American Bulldog Bodhi. (These meetings can be so heartbreaking. Just one example.)
FRIDAY: 🎢 The Board of Governors of Exhibition Place meet. They’ll consider extending the lease for their giant windmill for another eight years. There’s also a report on complaints received in 2020, which includes this charmer: “A member of the public accidentally crossed through an active driving Indy track area (PITL Performance Driving Event – Lot 852). The race course was stopped for safety. Event staff yelled and berated the complainant to direct them off the track.” To be clear, the person complaining was the person who drove through the race track area.
City Hall Watcher #110
Thanks for reading! If you want more stuff like this every week, you can become a subscriber with a few clicks.
If you do subscribe, next week you will get a complete recap and analysis of Council’s budget debate. You’ll also get updates to ongoing features like OPEN DATA CHALLENGE, LOBBYIST WATCH and more. You won’t want to miss it.
Thanks for reading! I’ll be back next Monday with more news.