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Council unanimously approves TransformTO to reduce emissions

Toronto city council has unanimously approved a plan that would see the city reduce green house gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. If adopted, this would affectively transform Toronto into a low-carbon city.

The motion itself was for city staff to go forward and create a business-case analysis of the various recommendations presented that day. The idea is to determine a carbon reduction per dollar ratio, decide which projects would be funded municipality or cost-shared with other levels of government, and to examine whether the recommendations would align with federal plans to reduce greenhouse has emissions.

“TransformTO provides a path forward that will allow our city to make decisions that lead to a low-carbon city that is healthy, prosperous, strong, and equitable,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a statement. “Together, we are going to build more transit including the Relief Line, make sure our social housing is viable for the long-term and that our buildings are energy efficient.”

This ambitious plan, entitled TranformTO: 2050 Pathway to a Low-Carbon Toronto, includes 23 different strategies and acceleration campaigns that will help reduce carbon emissions drastically over the next 30 years.

Some of TransformTO’s highlights include:

  • Having all new buildings produce near zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030
  • Having 100 per cent existing buildings retrofitted to achieve on average 40 per cent energy use
  • Having 100 per cent of all transportation using low-carbon energy sources
  • Having people walk or cycle for 75 per cent of trips less than five kilometres

The report also stresses the importance of engaging communities and neighbourhoods. Education campaigns and local support will be critical to the success of TransformTO.

This biggest point of discussion was the price tag of this plan, $6.7 million for 2018. City staff estimated an annual cost of $8 million following 2018. While this doesn’t seem like much considering the other projects council has approved, the number is bound to increase as projects are added. However, as certain councillors said during the debate, there are times where going cheap will hurt the city. This is one of them.

TransformTO is led by a collaborative team made of the city’s Environment and Energy Division and the Atmospheric Fund, an organization that looks for urban solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

“We applaud today’s decision by Mayor Tory and City Council to unanimously approve TransformTO and renew Toronto’s climate leadership role,” said Mary Pickering, TAF’s VP for Programs and Partnerships and project co-chair for TransformTO. “Implementing TransformTO will not only cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 but also boost public health, local jobs, and social equity in our city.”

It is rare that city council votes on anything involving a high price tag unanimously, but hopefully this is a trend that will continue — especially when it comes to the King St. Pilot Study, a transit plan that will ultimately help spearhead a low-carbon corridor.

The King St. Pilot Study will be discussed Thursday morning at city council.

Will the province step up to fund the relief line?

Toronto Mayor John Tory is doing his best, but it doesn’t seem to be enough to convince his fellow members of council, the province, and the federal government of the basic facts — the relief line is necessary.

The mayor’s pleas seem to rest on deaf ears. While city council did push forward the preferred alignment for the Yonge Relief Line, the actual construction of this much-needed transit project is still years away. In fact, it will never be built unless the province and the federal government step up.

The problem is that politicians are too wrapped up in the next election to do what needs to be done today. Experts all agree the relief line must be built prior to 2031 when the TTC Line 1 reaches capacity. With other subway extensions and Go Rail projects bringing more people into the downtown core, the relief line becomes even more of a necessity.

And yet, the provincial government hasn’t committed to more than $150 million for the planning of the relief line.

Toronto knows the relief line is going to be expensive. With a current price tag of $3.6 billion, it’s all city councillors can talk about.

Tory came up with a possible solution early on — revenue tools. Instead of raising property taxes, he would support the tolling the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway. The money collected from these tolls would be dedicated towards transit. But, the province said no.

In addition to denying Toronto the ability to make money off of their own roads, the province said they would not be putting any new money into municipal projects for two years. This is a big blow to Toronto and an obvious election tactic on behalf of the Kathleen Wynne government in hopes of gaining support from the 905 communities.

What the province is forgetting is the universal benefits of a relief line. Those living in the 905 area may be able to get into the GTA thanks to the subway extensions and rail lines, but once they get here they will be trapped in the same congestion and gridlock as the rest of us. Revenue tools like tolls would be the perfect solution — drivers will pay to help support transit infrastructure so that those who do use public transportation get better service. Those drivers will then experience less congestion on major roadways.

It’s a win-win; or it would have been if the province approved it.

Without these revenue tools or financial support from both provincial and federal governments, the chances of the relief line being built by 2031 is incredibly low. Toronto needs the province to step up and put politics aside.

If the province won’t let us toll roads, then they have to give us funding for the relief line. Toronto’s mayor shouldn’t have to stand at subway station handing out leaflets to get the government’s attention, only to be scolded by the Minister of Transportation for doing his job. This project is too important for such silly and juvenile politics.

Toronto has waited about 100 years for the relief line. Do we need to wait another 100 before someone decides to be an adult and pay for this thing?

Toronto city council approves relief line alignment

Toronto City Council voted to approve the Carlaw alignment for the southern section of the Yonge relief line, but not before a lot of debate that proved councillors still don’t understand the necessity of this incredibly important project.

Councillors threatened to hold off this project if their transit project of preference, made generalized statements about how little relief the “relief line” will have in their riding, and argued about the price tag attached.

As the province of Ontario moves forward with high-speed rail connecting Windsor to Toronto and a transit line that connects northern 905-ers to Finch, there has been little provincial support offered for the relief line.

The relief line is necessary if the city of Toronto wants to relieve congestion and unlock gridlock on major roads. It becomes even more necessary as these other transit lines are built to connect to the already overcrowded Line 1.

City staff have already said that Line 1 will be at capacity by 2031. At this moment, if councillors, staff, and the province keep bickering, it doesn’t seem like the relief line will be built by then. In fact, Toronto Mayor John Tory sent a letter to Toronto Transit Commission CEO Andy Byford asking for creative solutions to address short-term subway capacity issues.

“I want to make sure we are doing everything we can now to make the ride better for riders,” Tory wrote.

Meanwhile, the provincial government is still refusing to contribute to the relief line. In a statement released as a response to Tory’s press conference Wednesday morning, Steven Del Duca, Minister of Transportation, released a statement saying they have already pledged $150 million towards the planning of the relief line and have been an active partner in Toronto’s transit planning.

They have not committed any further funding towards the building or design of the relief line, and have indicated that the province will not be making further commitments for another two years.

Tory, on the other hand, is saying that the province needs to step up and commit to helping fund the downtown relief line, especially since the Kathleen Wynne government shut down his plan to toll the DVP and Gardiner Expressway for dedicated transit funds.

“I’m not asking for a blank cheque,” Tory said. “I’m asking for a commitment.”

The relief line alignment passed 42-1. Amendments to the original motion include an exploration into cost-sharing for the Yonge extension and the promise that the Yonge North subway won’t open unless the relief line is built and funding is made available.

Laneway suites as sustainable housing solution in Toronto

Laneway housing has been all the buzz in Toronto as a way to create more housing in high-density areas. With an eminent housing crisis and very low availability for housing in the city, stakeholders are desperate to find a solution, and find new places to put homes could be the answer. So what exactly is laneway housing?

Think of it as a basement suite, but on top of your existing property. A laneway house is an additional suite on the same property as an already existing house. It is typically built on top of a garage or at the back of the house near a lane or alley. It would function similarly to a basement suite in the sense that it relies on services on the main house, but would be above ground instead. According to Cofounder & Architect of Lanescape, Craig Race, “There are a lot of cities with framework for laneway housing, with Vancouver as a leader for this. The laneway suite gets all of its servicing and mail delivery from the main house, they are always on the same property and must work in tandem with the main property. Through a pretty intense public consultation process, we are trying to build something suitable for Toronto as well.”

Previous city councillor Adam Giambrone killed laneway housing in 2006 when a report condemned the practice because homes would to be provided with external services such as water and hydro from the laneways rather than the main house on the property, and this was seen as untenable by the city. As a result, the city over-regulated laneway housing and made it extremely difficult to build at all. The process to build a laneway suite is covered in red tape and can take months to approve. “It is a difficult process and very expensive. It is necessary to go through the Committee of Adjustment or the Ontario Municipal Board, which is a long process and takes a lot of expertise,” Race says. “It is very prohibitive for homeowners today.”

Since then, laneway suites (as opposed to independent houses) have grown in popularity in urban centres across North America, and would rely on the main house for water and electricity. “When the city looked at this before, it was assumed that the laneway would need to provide services, but the services could be provided at the front of the home. It is just a matter of taking it underground.” Race explains. “You would take it from your basement and dig a rear trench to the laneway house.” Once the trench is constructed, the laneway suite would use the same water and electricity as the main home.

In conjunction with Evergreen, Lanescape has been involved in public consultations across the city educating people on the importance of laneway housing. The involved parties have been actively engaging with city councillors, meeting with technical staff who will be affected by the changes and hosting presentations for the public to be involved. The public consultation process ramped up after Ontario Minister of Housing Chris Ballard announced last fall that every municipality should begin developing legislation for laneway housing across the province.

Allowing laneway suites would ultimately be a positive development for Toronto because it responds to the need for housing in high-density neighbourhoods and is also a sustainable approach to housing. “Laneway suites and sustainable living go hand in hand. They allow for visible density because people can co-habitat on existing structures and makes better use of what we have,” Race says. “These structures are designed to be environmentally conscious. There is also a point to be made about the health component of living above ground, and not in a basement.”

In order to develop a cohesive report to present to council in the spring, Lanescape is accepting responses to a public survey as a part of their consultation process. From there, the report will be delivered to city council and they will begin debating to see if laneway suites can become a part of the housing development landscape in the city.

If you are interested in supporting laneway housing, take the survey and help push forward the agenda for more affordable housing initiatives in Toronto.

City council votes in favour of Scarborough subway

After an entire day of debate, Toronto City Council voted Tuesday to approve the alignment and procurement model for the Scarborough subway.

The 6.2 kilometre subway will extend from Kennedy Station on the Bloor Line to Scarborough Town Centre along McCowan, as recommended by city staff. Council also approved the building of a new bus terminal that is meant to help create a “dynamic hub” that will attract businesses and build communities.

This is one of the final steps towards the actual construction of the subway. Staff will report back once procurement is at 30 per cent completion. It is currently sitting at five per cent.

All of city council agreed that having a transit system that connects Scarborough with the rest of the GTHA was necessary. As Toronto Mayor John Tory said while presenting this item to the rest of council, “in my respectful opinion, we need to move on.”

“The time for debate is over. It’s time to actually start building transit in Scarborough.”

The motion passed 26-18.

Why did this decision take a whole day? It’s because of the price tag. Councillors were shocked to find out that at just 5 per cent procurement, the Scarborough Subway had a price tag of approximately $3.56 billion, much higher than originally expected. When asked about this balloon in cost, the CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission noted the time that had passed since council originally decided to go forward with a subway. The longer council waits, the more expensive it will get.

Council came close to passing another motion that would have required staff to submit another report showcasing a business-cost analysis between the Scarborough subway and the seven-stop LRT alternative. According to city manager Peter Wallace, council had never asked for a comparison like this before. The motion was rejected 27-17.

Tory said that asking for another study will simply lead to another study, and then another. He pressed the need to start designing and building transit in Scarborough.

“I know in 30 years no one will question this decision,” Tory said.

Green Party hopes to woo voters with honesty and revenue tools

The Ontario Green Party is working on a comprehensive revenue tool package that will help fund infrastructure and transit projects throughout the province. The package will include a plethora of options for drivers and transit users, including the use of tolls and congestion charges in addition to uploading the cost of maintaining and operating the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Express back to the province.

“One of the biggest challenges facing the GTHA is gridlock,” says party leader Mike Schreiner. “It affects our economy to the tune of $6 billion in lost productivity.”

According to Schreiner, the Green Party is willing to do something other political parties are not — explain honestly and openly what it will take to improve transit and quality of life in cities across Ontario.

“This is a situation where political self-interest is trumping the people’s interest,” he says. “There is a myth that somehow all this infrastructure is going to be built. Imagine if our great grandparents hadn’t paid for dams in Niagara Falls that generates electricity … or hadn’t agreed to pay for the cost of the 400 series highways that enabled us to ship goods to province and the US. It’s time for our generation to step up to plate and fund transit infrastructure desperately needed.”

As part of this plan, the Green Party is supporting dynamic tolling, where drivers are charged a larger cost for using certain roadways like the Gardiner and DVP during on-peak hours and less (or not at all) during off-peak hours. The hope is that this will encourage those who can use transit, to do so, and those who must drive, to carpool.

“A toll taxes people regardless of time of day when real problem is rush hour,” says Tim Grant, Green Party shadow cabinet minister for transportation. “The dynamic road pricing – although it sounds harsh at first glance – is really fair and equitable. It acknowledges that there is a higher cost to discourage drivers in rush hours.”

The money collected from these tolls would be dedicated to transit, ensuring that those who choose to use alternative modes of transportation are able to use a modern and well-maintained system. It’s a win-win scenario — the challenge is to convince people the long-term benefits are worth the cost.

“If you reduce traffic congestion, people have a higher quality of life,” Grant says. “Air pollution is reduced, fuel economy is reduced, which leads to higher air quality and more time on [drivers] hands.”

Grant says the problem with the current funding provided by both the provincial and federal governments to municipalities for infrastructures is that it only pays for the initial planning and construction of a transit project, but not to operate or maintain it. This results in poorer service and low ridership.

Another aspect of the Green Party’s revenue plan is to upload the costs of operating and maintaining the DVP and Gardiner Expressway back to the province, something that was promised over 10 years ago. This would free up a couple billion dollars worth of funding the City of Toronto could use to build better transit infrastructure and maintain other roads within the city.

The key, both Schreiner and Grant say, is to actually listen to experts and communicate that information honestly to the public, without political agenda.

“Part of the problem is that political parties prepare their platform and policies based on a calculation of what voters think – and it’s a sad state because the alternative is for a political leader to go out and be honest and say, you won’t like this, but you will love it afterwards,” Grant said. “It needs political leadership willing to get out in front of all this and say we are doing this because people will get to work faster, kids will have better transit, and this will be a benefit. Vote for me or not – but I will try to make life better.”

The Green Party will discuss their platform and comprehensive revenue package in May in preparation for the 2018 election.

Toronto city council approves budget in light of tolls

City council voted to approve a “low-tax budget”, as described by city manager Peter Wallace during his presentation on the floor. It wasn’t an easy decision, and councillors spent about 15 hours debating and arguing the minutia details of each motion presented.

At the end of the day, the budget was approved nearly as-is 27-16.

In total, Toronto homeowners can expect an increase of 2 per cent on their residential property taxes, equalling 3.29 per cent, or $90 on average per home. While some councillors tried to introduce motions to decrease or increase that number, most saw it as a compromise for homeowners.

City staff frustratingly had to explain to councillors how taxes worked and that “budgets aren’t just about numbers. They are about the reality of city services.” When councillors tried to argue for more reduction in the budget or for lower taxes, staff had to remind them that property taxes were still well below inflation, and that over the past 19 years, city council has approved a property tax at or below the rate of inflation 15 times.

“The budget is consistent with Council expense policy and service direction and remains neutral in terms of overall revenue burden as a share of the economy,” said City Manager Peter Wallace. “I encourage Council to continue to address the cost drivers for City services and agencies, and look at stable revenue options to strengthen our fiscal sustainability.”

The new budget includes some investment in Toronto Community Housing, Toronto Transit Commission, and overall capital projects. At the same time, many reductions had to be made in order to balance the budget, including dipping into reserve funds in order to accommodate an extra $2 million in street sweeping.

“Today, City Council approved a balanced, responsible budget that invests in the needs of the people who live and work in Toronto,” said Mayor Tory in a statement released around midnight. “This budget delivers significant new funding for transit, child care and housing. Through the City Building Fund, we will begin to make much-needed investments in transit expansion and major infrastructure repair.”

Critics of the 2017 budget have called it a band-aid solution. Without the introduction of new revenue tools, the city will be forced to continuously reduce services while increasing taxes. Wallace pointed out that without the options of tolls — an option the provincial government squashed last month — it will be very difficult to maintain the services within the city. Before next year’s budget, Wallace says Toronto will have to ask itself how it will replace the approximate $5 billion tolls could have brought in to fund capital projects.

Toronto 2017 budget continues to rely heavily on property owners

The executive committee pushed forward the proposed 2017 $10.5 billion budget on Tuesday, and leaves many in Toronto divided on how satisfied they are with the results.

Here are the highlights:

The budget includes a two per cent increase in residential property taxes, will allocate $80 million more to TTC, and $37 million to  Toronto Community Housing. The city will also be providing 200 more shelter beds this year and Mayor John Tory has thrown his support behind supporting more daycare subsidy spots — there are currently 18,000 children on the daycare subsidy waitlist— though provincial aid is needed to help foot the bill.  Unfortunately, recreation fees will still be increasing.

Other revenue tools that have been approved include a hotel tax of four per cent (10 per cent for short-term rentals) that is expected to bring in an extra $5.5 million in revenue. There is also a plan to harmonize the Ontario Land Transfer Tax with the Municipal Land Transfer Tax, which is estimated to raise $77 million.

The city will have to use $87.8 million from reserves to make up the rest of the budget.

The property tax hike, hotel, and municipal land-transfer tax were met with criticism by many Toronto citizens because these revenue tools put even more pressure on locals to meet the budget needs of the city. Relying so heavily on the inflated housing market is also an unstable revenue measure because if the housing bubble pops, the municipal land transfer tax and property tax rates could financially destroy homeowners.

Instead of consistently relying on property owners to pay for Toronto’s services year after year, more creative revenue tools need to be adopted in future city budgets. Road tolls, recently shot down by Premier Kathleen Wynne and the Ontario Liberals, is a solution that would directly fund transit by charging not only the 905 commuters coming into the city for work every day, but all Torontonian downtown drivers a small fee. Using road tolls as a revenue tool would relieve pressure on property tax hikes and raise much needed funds for transit and community housing that desperately need to be built.

The budget fills gaps on some city services, but falls short of adequately shortening the affordable housing waitlist, not to mention many other items on the agenda that desperately need funding.

City council votes to support tolls

“You rarely have to ask permission to do the right thing.”

This quote comes from an open letter released Tuesday morning, with the signature of five different Canadian mayors attached to it. The letter calls for more municipal power to create city revenue, so that municipal leaders can match infrastructure funding provided by the provincial and federal governments.

In essence, Canada’s biggest cities, including Toronto, were asking for the power to do their part to expand and grow.

This sentiment was much needed prior to the city council meeting Tuesday, where councillors discussed how they would be paying for city services for the foreseeable future.

After much debate, city council approved staff recommendations by staff to generate revenue by using various taxes and tolls. The implementation of tolls is a brave new step for the city – proof that politicians understand the need to create revenue and alleviate congestion on city roads.

Toronto Mayor John Tory proposed the use of tolls on the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Express over a month ago, and since then it has received a mostly positive response. The money would be directly funnelled into maintaining and funding transit-related projects, which works to both alleviate congestion on roadways and expand Toronto’s transit network.

City council ultimately voted in support of the mayor’s proposal. Nine councillors opposed the motion.

These tolls, which could be implemented as early as 2020, would affectively alleviate congestion, unlock gridlock, and help pay for the much-needed transit network being built throughout Toronto. A win-win scenario.

Council also agreed to look into a 0.5 per cent levy on property taxes, a four per cent tax on hotels, up to a 10 per cent tax on short-term rentals like Airbnb, and harmonizing and/or increasing land transfer taxes. The city will also be asking the province for a share of the harmonized sales tax.

The debate on tolls will continue in the new year, when city staff will present options for implementation, including cost.

City Manager Peter Wallace made it clear in his presentation on the city budget that council had to approve of some of the proposed revenue tools — if they didn’t, they should be prepared to provide solutions to the $33 billion in unfunded projects the city is undergoing.

“I think it comes down to what level of public service does city council want to endorse,” Wallace said bluntly. He also made it clear that by voting to take tolls to the next level, council can rest assured that city staff will proved thoughtfully.

Other councillors were not so thoughtful. Many ignored the fact that people pay for the use of public transportation and that user fees are popularly used in large cities. However, at the end of the day, even the wary councillors understood the need to make a firm decision or risk being left with a large revenue gap to fill.

And to that brave majority, Toronto thanks you.

What’s the deal with Toronto’s revenue tools?

The City of Toronto is facing a budgeting crisis with over $91 million worth of funds to find by City Council. Several revenue tools were presented by city manager, Peter Wallace in an effort to find money to fill the gaps and pay for all of the projects that are much-needed in Toronto.

Terms like ‘property tax’, ‘municipal land transfer tax’, ‘parking levy’, and ‘expressway tolls’ , are being thrown around like crazy, and it is easy to get lost in the world of financial terms. Understanding the inner-workings of the various revenue tools is the best way to decide which financial tools should be adopted by the city and which of them should be discarded. That’s why Women’s Post has created this guide, to help our readers understand the ins and outs of the revenue tools presented in the executive committee, and what terms will be flying around next week at city council.

Property Tax

Property tax is a commonly used revenue tool and is most often brought up in city council. A property tax is a levy on a property the owner is required to pay. It is set by the governing authority of any given area, which in this case is the municipality of Toronto. Property taxes in Toronto are a hotly contested issue because Toronto property tax rates are the only metropolitan tax that is lower than the surrounding area, the GTHA, and politicians don’t want to raise them. The city has proposed a two per cent property tax hike, but Toronto Mayor John Tory vows to raise the property tax no higher than half a per cent. Instead he is pushing for alternatives instead of pushing more tax on property owners.

Municipal Land Transfer Tax

Municipal land transfer tax has been a popular option for Toronto in the last year and helped keep the property tax inflation rate at bay in last year’s budget. The municipal land transfer tax is a fee that is paid by the person who purchases the home to the municipality that is charging it. There are rebates for first-time home buyers and other jurisdictions, such as Vancouver, have imposed a foreign land transfer tax to help lower inflation in the real estate market. It is a useful tool, but was used in the 2016 budget so may not be a viable option when looking at other options for 2017. City Council will discuss harmonizing the Ontario land transfer tax with the municipal option, which would require legislative changes but would streamline the process in the long-run.

Personal Vehicle Tax

The personal vehicle tax has been a revenue tool that was presented in the past before at City Council and was not a popular option. Council will consider the re-introduction to tax $120 per vehicle annually, but Tory has stated he is not a big fan of this option. The rejection of the personal vehicle tax has angered environmental groups who want to see people choosing to drive vehicles in the city pay extra taxes. The personal vehicle tax is also an easy and quick tax to implement because it doesn’t require any extra infrastructure.

Hotel Tax

The hotel tax revenue tool is being hotly contested by the tourism and hotel industry, which has already seen slowed growth due to the increasing popularity of air bnbs and other short-term stays. By placing an extra tax on the hotel industry, it may put more pressure on hotels to pay when they can’t afford to do so. Tory rebutted in the executive committee though that the annual subsidy supplied to hotels would help pay for the hotel tax if it were approved. This revenue tool would require provincial legislative and regulatory reforms, and is not a popular option in regards to fairness, efficiency, and is low in revenue quality according to Wallace’s presentation.

Expressway Tolls

Expressway tolls are the newest revenue tool to be introduced by Mayor Tory and is a popular option. The expressway tolls would require vehicles to pay a fee when they use the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway. If the city charged $2 per trip, the annual revenue would be $166 million per year. The start-up cost to build the expressway tolls would be an estimated $100-$150 million and have ongoing operational costs of $50 to $60 million. The expressway tolls would require provincial legislative changes, but could be implemented in the 2017 budget. City Council will be focusing heavily on tolls next week.

There are many other revenue tools that were presented including an alcohol beverage tax, a parking levy, a third party sign tax, graduated residential property taxes, and a municipal sales tax. From the climate of the executive committee meeting, it would be surprising to see any of these options be approved. They have not been given the same amount of attention as the hotel tax and expressway tolls. A graduated residential property tax and a municipal sales tax in particular require provincial legislation changes and were listed by Wallace as aspirational changes to be further discussed in 2018.

In order to fully grasp the many revenue tool terms that will fly around at City Council next week, focus on the most important options that are available. Also remember to bring popcorn. Even though discussing financial tools can be a bit of a bore, City Council is sure to get lively when discussing the various revenue tools that were presented for debate.