A leap year Lobbyist Watch

City Hall Watcher #60: Sidewalk Toronto, developers and hovercrafts in a new edition of LOBBYIST WATCH, plus a mini Council recap & more!

Hey there. Welcome to the milestone 60th issue of City Hall Watcher. I celebrate milestones with FREE issues, sent to all subscribers whether you’ve paid or not.

You’re in for a treat with this one. I’ve got a brand new edition of LOBBYIST WATCH, with updates on Sidewalk Toronto, a couple of mayor’s office meetings with developers looking at land near transit sites, and more. Also: the guy who wanted to put hovercrafts on Lake Ontario is back.

I’ll also recap last week’s bite-sized meeting of Council, and provide your regular dose of municipal government news.

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Lobbyist Watch for February 2020

Every month I comb through Toronto’s Lobbyist Registry to find notes of interest. Here are my findings for February 2020.

Disclaimer: lobbyists are required to register all communications — email, phone calls and in-person meetings — via the Lobbyist Registry, but the registry does not record any information about the nature of those meetings. A meeting noted below could be a tedious three-hour affair with a platter of weird-tasting sandwich wraps, or it could be a brief conversation after a chance encounter in a hallway.

Mayor’s office meets with developers with plans for land near transit stations

Cadillac Fairview render of East Harbour

Let’s start with a couple of notable meetings between the mayor’s office and developers with an interest in land near transit stations.

On January 31, John Sullivan, President and CEO of the Cadillac Fairview Corporation, recorded a meeting with Mayor John Tory. The meeting was held to discuss the “East Harbour Development lands.”

Those lands, located where the Gardiner Expressway meets the Don Valley Parkway, have been of longtime interest to Tory. His SmartTrack plan was initially proposed to be funded via revenues largely extracted from development on the site. The commercial site is planned to include a GO Station/SmartTrack Station and a stop on the Ontario Line.

The lands were initially controlled by First Gulf, before Cadillac Fairview purchased them last fall.

3266 Midland

Then, on February 21, senior staff in Tory’s office were recorded meeting with lobbyists working on behalf of East Urban Properties, a developer working on a transit-oriented development project at 3266 Midland in Scarborough.

Lobbyist-for-hire Amir Remtulla and Goodman LLP’s Ian Andres are working on the file. They both recorded meetings with Tory legislative affairs staffers Daniela Magisano and Edward Birnbaum.

3266 Midland is located in very close proximity to the Finch-Kennedy Station planned as part of the SmartTrack stations project.

Forget buses and trains, the future is a hovercraft

Bruno Caciagli has a vision: a ferry connecting Toronto’s harbour with Saint Catharines and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Also: that ferry could be a hovercraft. Caciagli registered as a lobbyist on February 24 to talk up the merits of his $25-a-trip Lake Ontario Express passenger ferry service that would operate seven days a week, 365 days a year — weather permitting — and use “fast ferry” vehicles like hovercrafts or catamaran.

Caciagli first made some headlines in 2017 for proposing the service, but it didn’t seem to get high off the ground. This new effort already seems a bit more successful. In December, Niagara-on-the-Lake town Council voted 7-2 to approve the project in principle, subject to Parks Canada giving the notion a green light.

In an article by Niagara Now’s Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Caciagli is quoted about the importance of getting Toronto Council to approve a dedicated dock in the harbour for his ferry service: “If Toronto says no, there will be no project, that’s it. You will never see me again.”

👑 Crowded Sidewalk

Sidewalk Toronto Quayside rendering

Sidewalk Toronto spokesperson Keerthana Rang emailed last month to let me know I’d be seeing a lot of “large meetings” involving City Hall staff and Sidewalk staff in the weeks ahead. “These meetings are the ‘new government task forces(s)’ that was outlined in the October 31 alignment between SWL and WT,” she wrote.

She was right! Sidewalk recorded the most lobbying activity in this month’s edition of Lobbyist Watch.

On January 31, a big contingent of Sidewalk staff recorded a meeting with Toronto Chief Building Officer Will Johnston, Deputy City Manager in charge of infrastructure Tracey Cook, Waterfront Secretariat Director David Stonehouse, Fire Chief Matthew Pegg and other senior staff from Toronto Fire Services. The meeting was held to discuss fire testing procedures for the “tall timber” construction Sidewalk intends to use for their buildings on the waterfront.

There was a follow-up meeting with several of the same people in attendance on February 21.

On February 6, another sizeable Sidewalk crew was back meeting with City Hall staff to talk about affordable housing with Cook, Stonehouse and Acting Housing Secretariat Valesa Faria in attendance.

There was another meeting on February 7 with a focus on community services, tech services and health services. Cook, Stonehouse, IT staff and a rep from the Clerk’s office met with a Sidewalk squad.

A Shotspotter sequel?

Athena Security Canada

Athena Security Canada has signed up to pitch City Hall on technology they say provides “real-time gun detection and alert notification” using “computer vision technology” over existing CCTV cameras. They’ve yet to record any communications after registering on February 6.

Their tech seems similar to ShotSpotter, technology the police planned to purchase that was touted for its ability to detect and report gunshots. That purchase was ultimately scuttled over privacy concerns.

Modular housing boom

NRB

Purveyors of modular housing seem to sense an opportunity at Toronto City Hall. After January’s registration of Guelph-based Now Housing, February saw Bernice Brinke, Strategic Sales & Business Development Specialist for NRB, register to lobby about NRB’s “modular buildings for affordable housing or commercial projects as an alternative to site built construction.”

There was also a new registration from a company dubbed officearchitecture inc, who signed up on February 7 to “present an illustrated power-point presentation on an approach to modular housing.”

Tech 4 sale

eSight

  • eSight, who make electronic glasses for people who are blind, has registered to pitch City Hall on how their specs can “help employers develop a more inclusive work environment.” No meetings recorded yet.

  • Artan Technologies has registered to talk up their AI technology that they say can separate types of garbage.

  • Photoshop-maker Adobe has hired lobbyist firm Capital Hill Group to “meet with City Officials to talk about digital content management, analytics and geotagging.” Maybe also about how to make some hilarious memes. No communications recorded yet.

  • California-based MoovIt registered a couple of in-house lobbyists on February 10 to pitch their software they say could “be used to integrate all mobility options in the Toronto Metro Region to simplify access to information.”

  • Doppl is pitching Solid Waste staff on their tech they say “can eliminate overflowing sidewalk waste bins.”

  • BC-based PlanX, a micromobility company, is pitching their services to Transportation Staff. In-house lobbyists recorded a meeting with Manager of Transportation Policy & Innovation Ryan Lanyon on February 19.

  • Via Mobility has registered to lobby the TTC and City Hall about their “on-demand transit” product. Hamish Campbell, Via’s Canada Manager, recorded emails to Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and TTC Chief Customer Officer Kathleen Llewellyn-Thomas in February.

Lobbying grab bag

  • Pot company Canopy Growth Corporation has registered two in-house lobbyists to have what will probably be some very chill conversations about “Cannabis consumption spaces”

  • StrategyCorp’s Bob Chant is lobbying on behalf of Etobicoke’s Club Coffee, who have been working to convince the City that their coffee pods can go in Toronto green bins. Chant called Chief of Staff Luke Robertson in Tory’s office on February 27. Last July, Councillor Michael Ford tried to introduce a last-minute item at Council designed to help Club Coffee, but it was referred back to staff. I recounted the saga in City Hall Watcher #30.

  • Ahead of Council’s budget meeting, lobbyists for the Toronto Public Library Workers Union recorded a few meetings with left-leaning councillors. CUPE Local 4948 Prez Brandon Haynes and VP Gobishankar Sooriyakumar met with Councillor Shelley Carroll and Councillor Gord Perks in January, then Councillor Paula Fletcher and Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam in February.

  • Lobbyists for Razor Scooters look to be ready to zip into the city’s upcoming debate over e-scooter regulations. Three in-house lobbyists, including Razor Prez Daniel Simon, registered to lobby about “Micro-mobililty and e-scooters” on February 14.

  • In-house lobbyists for tobacco company Rothmans, Benson & Hedges — remember when they sponsored a big fireworks show? — have registered to push for “Revisions to license requirements for the sale of tobacco and vaping products in the City of Toronto.”

  • Humber College has hired Bousfields to lobby on an application related to their Lakeshore campus. Disclosure: I teach a class at that campus. Bousfield’s Caitlin Allan and Emma West recorded an email to Councillor Mark Grimes on February 12.

  • Garbage company Wasteco has hired Sussex Strategy Group to lobby MLS staff about the noise bylaw. Picking up trash can be noisy. Sussex’s Lauren Goethel is on the file, sending several emails over the last few weeks.

  • Tridel’s Justin Van Dette has registered to have “a conversation regarding name of trail in park after Mr. DelZotto.” Jack DelZotto founded Tridel in 1934. The park trail would be in G Ross Lord Park at 4801 Dufferin. Van Dette met with Councillor James Pasternak to discuss on February 4.

  • Sport on Sand Inc, who operate beach volleyball courts at Caledonia Park, have registered to inquire about putting in an “air structure.” No meetings yet.

Familiar faces

Former councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker in a dog costume

  • Former councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker is lobbying on behalf of the Toronto Wildlife Centre. He recorded an email to EA Dee Dee Heywood in Tory’s office on February 9, requesting a meeting with the mayor and/or staff.

  • Former Rob Ford staffer Brooks Barnett, now Manager of Government Relations & Policy for REALPAC, is working the lobbying beat, “advocating for the continuation of the development charge exemptions on commercial properties and working with staff on potential further amendments to the DC bylaw as applied to commercial property types.” Barnett and RealPAC CEO Michael Brooks logged a meeting with senior staff in Corporate Finance on February 11. Barnett also registered meetings with staff from Ec Dev, the Office of the Controller, and City Planning, plus logged a bunch of email, telephone and written communications.

  • REALPAC has also registered to talk about “policy development for a water and/or 'stormwater' runoff and management charge that would apply to commercial properties and property owners.”

  • Former councillor Cesar Palacio is lobbying on behalf of Jason Silva, owner of Silva Groceries and Joe’s Garden Centre & Grapes, at 1921 Davenport Road. He met with a staffer in Councillor Ana Bailão’s office on February 4. Palacio is also repping developments at 100 Union, 189 Old Weston, and 119 Benny Stark Street.

  • Former councillor and ex-MPP Peter Milczyn is helping car wash biz Auto Groom deal with business licenses for locations at 120 Adelaide West,18 Wellington West, 200 Front West, 230 Yonge, 1 Mount Pleasant and 4100 Yonge Street. Milczyn has also opened a file on behalf of Auto Groom to seek changes to the municipal code to permit more car washes in parking garages.

  • Former Rob Ford Chief of Staff Amir Remtulla is lobbying for First Capital on the subject of a bridge that’d connect 1100 King West and 85 Hanna Avenue in Liberty Village. Remtulla is also working on the development at 2699 Keele, and a development at 25 Liberty Street, among other files.

Lobbyist Watch will return in April


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What Council did: a mini recap of a mini meeting

Toronto Council met last week. Councillor Mark Grimes brought donuts. He was very proud of them. The meeting had an abbreviated agenda, and was wedged into the schedule to allow Council to deal with some pressing matters now, instead of waiting until their next full meeting on April 1.

Here’s what they did.

Zoning approved for North York Housing Now site

PH13.1 - On a voice vote, Council approved necessary zoning amendments to move forward with a Housing Now site at 50 Wilson Heights Boulevard. Currently a parking lot for Wilson subway station, the development will feature 1,464 residential units, 488 of them designed affordable rental. It’ll also have a child care centre.

HousingNowTO’s Mark Richardson praised the project in a letter to the Planning & Housing Committee, noting that the City actually increased the density of the development and added more units during the public consultation process. That’s the opposite of how it usually goes.

The only wrinkle to the debate came via a motion moved by Councillor Mike Colle on behalf of Councillor James Pasternak, who was absent. Pasternak has been concerned about the loss of commuter parking stemming from this development, and wanted to add conditions to help preserve parking spaces. The amendment was voted down 3-20, with just Colle, Councillor Michael Ford and Councillor Stephen Holyday in favour.

Supportive housing plan draws support

PH13.5 - A plan to create 600 new units of supportive housing this year wasn’t very controversial.

Noting that Toronto draws shelter and housing clients from all over the GTA, Councillor Mark Grimes successfully added an amendment calling for the development of a regional strategy to tackle homelessness.

The plan only gets Toronto a third of the way to their goal of building 1,800 units a year for ten years. The provincial and federal governments need to get on board for the rest.

Permit parking is a go for Scarborough

SC13.19 - Shame on me. I wasn’t expecting a prolonged parking debate at this meeting. I should know by now that parking debates are inevitable.

Anyway, Councillor Cynthia Lai got a bit of pushback from her desire to change the rules so that residents in her ward can petition for the addition of on-street permit parking, but ultimately prevailed. Her motion effectively brings the same system used in downtown area neighbourhoods to Lai’s ward in Scarborough. On-street permit parking won’t be implemented unless there’s neighbourhood demand reflected through a petition and poll.

As part of the debate, Councillor Gary Crawford successfully moved the same motion for his ward.

Vacant storefront tax moves forward

MM16.9 - Councillor Brad Bradford’s request for a report looking at the merits of a vacant storefront tax carried 16-5. The motion got some pushback from Councillor Josh Matlow and Councillor Mike Colle, Eglinton-area councillors who worried about what a tax like this would mean for businesses and property owners affected by major construction projects.

Legal staff also indicated they don’t believe the City of Toronto Act currently allows for a tax on vacant commercial units. That could be a problem.

Just how serious is homelessness?

PH13.6 - The last item of the meeting was about a new intergovernmental working group that will get together to talk about homelessness. The working group will include Deputy City Manager Giuliana Carbone, Assistant Deputy Minister of Housing Joshua Paul, and Acting CMHC VP Brett Dietrich. They are set to meet for the first time this month.

Councillor Gord Perks wanted stronger action. He moved to declare homelessness an emergency and convene a task force of elected officials. Mayor John Tory opposed the motion, calling it “political theatre.” Perks was voted down 7-15. A motion by Councillor Wong-Tam to develop a “Six-Month Action Plan to accelerate, coordinate and triage resources to quickly move people out of homelessness” carried on a voice vote.


More from Matt: on struggling storefronts and Uber safety

For the Toronto Star last week, I looked at why it sucks to be a retailer in Toronto these days, with some ideas on how to fix it.

In the newspaper tomorrow, I’ll have a piece about Uber and Lyft driver training — and why pedestrians like me would really like to see more of it.


In other news


The week at Toronto City Hall

MONDAY: It’s a quiet week at the clamshell. The schedule has been cleared for Federation of Canadian Municipalities board meetings in St-Hyacinthe, Quebec. Apparently St-Hyacinthe is known as the “agricultural technopolis of Canada.” That sounds fun. Council’s FCM Board reps are Councillor Mike Colle and Councillor Ana Bailão.

TUESDAY: 🎳 Speaking of FCM, the Striking Committee meets to consider which councillors to appoint to the FCM Board for 2020-2021. The new term starts with the FCM AGM in June. Both Bailão and Colle have expressed an interest in continuing, but five other councillors would also like a turn.

The committee will also recommend two councillors for the new Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Two-Spirit (LGBTQ2S+) Advisory Committee, and swap out Councillor Michael Ford with Councillor Frances Nunziata as the mayor’s designate on the TCHC Board.

WEDNESDAY: 🏆 Bid Award Panel contract award of the week: $6.9 million for waste-activated sludge thickening.

THURSDAY: No meetings scheduled.

FRIDAY: No meetings scheduled.

NEXT WEEK: A busier week! The General Government & Licensing Committee meets Monday. Economic & Community Development goes Tuesday. Infrastructure & Environment is up on Wednesday. Community Councils get together Thursday.


City Hall Watcher #60

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See you next week! I’ll be bringing back the COUNCIL SCORECARD, with a look at how voting records changed during the budget meeting.