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Council votes against emergency debate on shelter beds

OCAP protesters in the gallery at Toronto City Hall, Feb. 20, 2013. CITYNEWS

A vote against holding an emergency council debate on shelter beds prompted heated discussion and shouts from activists in the gallery at Toronto City Hall on Wednesday. Debate about increasing facilities for the homeless will instead happen at a committee meeting in March.

The first day of what’s expected to be a two-day council meeting began Wednesday with a last-minute motion put forward by Coun. Adam Vaughan for councillors to debate the shelter beds issue immediately. The motion was defeated 24-20.

Council had a jam-packed agenda with debate on a wide array of issues, including capping the land transfer tax, reviewing youth anti-violence strategies in the wake of a string of murders of teenage boys, proposed term limits for councillors, the shark fin ban, a review of the city’s taxi industry, rules for cyclists and human trafficking. The majority of the issues were held over until Thursday.

Vaughan introduced his motion calling for an emergency council debate on the crisis within the city’s shelter system instead of waiting for a staff report on the matter that’s due before the Community Development and Recreation Committee in March.

He said the city’s shelters are “packed to the gills,” and illustrated his point by outlining one Peter Street housing referral centre’s dilemma of evicting homeless people and sending them to local churches to be fed. The place can normally handle 37 people on a typical night but is now home to almost 70, he said.

“We’re failing to meet the needs of people living on the streets on an ongoing basis,” he said.

Councillors who supported Vaughan’s motion included Mike Layton, Josh Matlow, Kristyn Wong-Tam, Janet Davis, Shelley Carroll, Sarah Doucette and Gord Perks, among others.

Perks said he had a sister who once lived on the street but “she’s no longer with us,” and urged council to have the debate now and find a solution “so nobody sleeps in the cold tomorrow night.”

Davis said the city is seeing increases in homelessness and fewer resources to address it.

“We have a responsibility to get the answers before spring,” she said, adding that council should lobby the provincial government to provide more resources.

Coun. Jaye Robinson, chair of the Community Development and Recreation Committee, and other councillors, including Doug Ford, Mark Grimes, Giorgio Mammoliti, Gloria Lindsay Luby and Norm Kelly, urged council to wait for all data before making any decisions.

“I really question the timing of this motion,” Grimes said, suggesting it was put forward only after the anti-poverty group OCAP began stepping up its presence at city hall. The group set up a makeshift homeless shelter in front of the mayor’s office last week.

Robinson stressed there have been no cuts to the city’s shelter system in 2013 and she’s keeping a close eye on the 96 per cent capacity rate.

Coun. Ford said an extra 172 shelter beds are made available during extreme weather events and suggested the city needs to find out how to help people who don’t want to go into shelters. Some fear assault and thefts, he said.

OCAP activists shouted in the city hall gallery after the vote, forcing Speaker Frances Nunziata to clear the council chamber and call an early recess.

Homeless shelters were not the only issue to draw heated debate in council chambers during day one of the meetings.

The mayor’s supporters raised their voices after Coun. Joe Mihevic nominated Coun. Adam Vaughan for the empty position on Mayor Ford’s executive committee. The striking council had recommended Coun. Vince Crisanti for the position.

The mayor, along with Nunziata and Del Grande openly disapproved of the nomination, stating that because Vaughan’s policy views were so contradictory to Ford, had no place on the committee.

“The executive committee is there to move the agenda forward,” said Ford.

He added that Vaughan would only disrupt the committee should he become a member.

Del Grande informed council that during David Miller’s time in office, he was told that because he did not agree with the mayor’s policy, he was not allowed to serve on the budget committee and he had to accept that.

“Be a man, suck it up. That’s what I had to do, I sucked it up,” said Del Grande.

He added that those who supported Miller in those times, don’t like it when the tables are turned and they have to face the same walls he had to face when it came to disagreeing with the mayor.

“Suck it up, that’s what we were told – that’s what I was told. Those were the comments that were used but you don’t like to hear it when it flips on the other side,”

Coun. Davis pointed out that 44 per cent of the population is not represented on the executive committee and therefor do not have a voice on the mayor’s executive committee. She added that those living in those wards made up the majority of those who did not vote for the mayor.

To which the mayor responded “That’s politics.” He added that councillors from all wards were welcome to come to the meetings and have their voice heard.

“Would you not agree that having a vote is different than having a voice?” asked Coun. Davis.

Vaughan was one of the last to speak and said he wanted to serve on the executive committee simply because of geography, not to contract mayoral policy. He said that during the G20, having someone on the Toronto Police Services Board who was able to voice the concerns of those living in the downtown core was imperative.

In the end council voted to appoint Coun. Crisanti to Mayor Ford’s executive committee and Coun. Nunziata to budget committee.

However it wasn’t all back and forth in chambers. Ford’s section item on the agenda was to rename Don Jail Roadway to Jack Layton Way. After Davis spoke in favour of the mayor’s decision to put this item so high up on the list, council passed the motion with a unanimous vote.

Here’s a look at some of the other issues council is expected to tackle during this week’s meeting:

The land transfer tax

Mayor Rob Ford promised to end the land transfer tax during his 2010 election campaign but is facing resistance from other councillors and finance staff.

The tax has brought in approximately $350-million annually since it was implemented on Feb. 1, 2008, according to city figures.

Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong is proposing that the city place a cap on the amount the tax can bring in.

If the city meets the goal, Minnan-Wong said, the amount would be lowered the following year.

Ford wants to reduce the tax by 10 per cent.

Term limits

Coun. Mary-Margaret McMahon will propose a motion limiting the number of years elected officials, including the mayor, could service in public office.

McMahon is asking the city solicitor to look at other municipalities in North America and to consult with Toronto residents about term limits.

If approved, the term limits would be written into the City of Toronto Act.

Earlier this month, the city’s executive committee discussed a possible term limit for councillors to serve on city boards.

Coun. Paul Ainslie introduced the motion, saying the membership should be “refreshed” for Toronto’s agencies, boards and commissions.

Ainslie asked the committee to recommend sending the proposal to the city manager, who will then make a full report.

Tougher licensing rules for salons, tattoo parlours

The city will also consider tougher licensing rules for beauty shops, tattoo parlours and other businesses offering “personal services, saying it is targeting blood-borne infections like hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

Toronto’s Board of Health has already approved the tougher licensing rules and if council gives its approval, the licensing fees would come into effect on July 1.

Among other measures, businesses would also have to post health inspection results on windows, similar to restaurants under Toronto’s DineSafe program.

Shark fin ban

Last year, an Ontario Superior Court judge struck down Toronto’s ban on shark fins, saying the bylaw went  beyond the city’s jurisdiction.

City council must decide whether to come up with a narrower bylaw, or drop the ban altogether.

Human trafficking

Earlier this month, the city’s executive committee – led by Mayor Ford – recommended that the city look to reduce human trafficking in Toronto.

The committee recommended the city’s executive director of social development, finance and administration ask the city to work with community groups as well as municipal, provincial and federal agencies.

The motion calls for a city policy on placing ads in publications that “could contribute to human trafficking,” such as escort ads. The item was adopted with amendments and will be considered by city council.

Single file bike lanes

Coun. Karen Stintz is seeking to repeal a bylaw that requires cyclists to ride single file at all times on city streets.

The current bylaw “restricts cyclists from riding in any configuration other than single file, at any time of day, on every Toronto street.”

The motion, backed by Coun. Josh Colle, argues that “in certain cases it is possible for road users to reasonably share the road, without creating congestion or road safety issues.”

Taxi cab industry review

Toronto is looking at making the city’s fleet of taxis more accessible to all residents, especially those with disabilities, including mobility issues.

The city’s Disability Issues Committee is calling for all of Toronto cabs to be fully accessible by 2025.

As taxis wear out, they should be replaced by accessible vehicles that work for “people with disabilities and nondisabled people alike.”

In the meantime, the committee recommends that there should more competition for services targeting people with disabilities.

Youth violence

Coun. Josh Matlow is asking for a report on the effectiveness of a joint Ontario-Toronto program targeting youth violence.

The Roots of Youth Violence report came out in 2008 and Matlow wants to know what the city has done since then, and if it’s been successful.

The motion, seconded by Coun. Michael Thompson, is also looking for recommendations from the city manager to address the roots of youth violence.

– with files from Christine Chubb