Summertime, and the lobbying is easy

City Hall Watcher #130: A special FREE milestone issue, with a brand new LOBBYIST WATCH featuring Airbnb, the island airport, Presto competitors & more!

Welcome to a special milestone edition of City Hall Watcher. Around here, we consider a milestone to be any number cleanly divisible by ten. To celebrate, the paywall is down. This issue is a free-for-all.

And good timing, too. Today I bring you a brand-new LOBBYIST WATCH, with a look at recent moves by Airbnb, the island airport and a handful of companies vying to replace Presto.

If you’re not a paying subscriber to City Hall Watcher, this will offer a good glimpse at what you’re missing. This is the longest-running and only newsletter focused exclusively on Toronto City Hall. About 1,000 people read it each week. While they learn stuff, they also support independent journalism. Subscribers also get access to a bunch of other great content each week, including:

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@GraphicMatt /

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Lobbyist Watch for June 2021: Presto’s successors, Airbnb’s big push, the island airport, streetcar cameras & more

Lobbyist Watch is a monthly feature in which I scour the XML files of Toronto’s Lobbyist Registry to track the activity of City Hall’s many lobbyists.

There were 831 lobbyist communications at Toronto City Hall in June 2021.

Disclaimer: Toronto’s Lobbyist Registry requires all lobbyists to register and record communications they have with elected officials and City Hall staff. It does not, however, require them to provide detailed information about the nature or subject of these communications. For example, a meeting noted below could be a substantial conversation, or it could be a passing chat.

Letting the Airbnb out

Airbnb Canada pumped up their lobbying effort significantly in June. The short-term rentals company hired Hill + Knowlton Strategies’ James Lin to make the rounds. Lin emailed every member of council requesting meetings. In total, he logged 57 lobbying communications.

He logged chats with Councillor Stephen Holyday on June 21 and Councillor Jennifer McKelvie on June 24, along with meetings with staffers for a handful of other councillors.

The lobbying file doesn’t provide much detail on why Airbnb is renewing their lobbying push, but it’s a pretty safe bet it has to do with a move by the Planning & Housing Committee at their June 11 meeting to request a report on measures to address landlords who have skirted the city’s new short-term rental rules by flipping their listings over to a category called “28 night plus.” 

Listings that require a minimum stay of 28 consecutive nights are currently exempt from the city’s rules. As I’ve noted in my past explorations of Airbnb data, there are a lot of landlords that have made this shift — so many that you’d seriously wonder where they’re finding demand for such long-duration stays.

Councillor Mike Layton and Councillor Joe Cressy, who together have a huge proportion of the Airbnb listings in Toronto, wrote a letter to the committee noting over 8,000 properties have moved to 28 night plus status since the regulations took effect and called it a “problematic loophole.” They supported the request for a staff report on the issue.

Airbnb is pushing back against any additional regulations, with Airbnb policy associate Nathan Rotman penning a letter urging the city give the existing bylaw more time to work.

The report on potential changes to the Airbnb rules to address 28 night plus listings is due back in September. Expect a bunch of lobbying before then.

Competitors come for Presto

The TTC’s contract with Presto expires in 2027. The marriage hasn’t been a happy one, really, with all kinds of technical issues and an incredibly slow roll-out of features that were table stakes for other farecards more than a decade ago.

So a divorce is being publicly contemplated. I’m not entirely convinced the TTC is serious about moving to a new fare system. This could just be a negotiating ploy. I’m also not convinced that the provincial government wouldn’t just find a way to block any switch, just as Queen’s Park forced the TTC to adopt Presto in the first place by attaching it as a condition for project funding.

But lobbyists smell an opportunity. Three new players in the fare payments space ramped up TTC-focused lobbying efforts in June.

The highest profile new entrant was Masabi, a company offering “Fare Payments as a Service” software. They recently inked a deal with Saskatoon Transit that includes a partnership with the popular Transit app. They count 47 deployments so far.

Masabi has hired lobbying firm Sussex Stategy Group, working with Lauren Goethel and Angela Drennan. Goethel and Drennan were in touch with every councillor on the TTC board, with Goethel logging a meeting on June 23 with Councillor Jennifer McKelvie, a TTC board member. Goethel also logged several emails to senior staff at the TTC.

Masabi has also registered a team of in-house lobbyists, including VP of Business Development Zach Ascher and CEO Brian Zanghi.

Also hoping to gain some mindshare was Cubic, a San Diego-based company that owns the Nextbus platform that manages predicted transit vehicle arrival times. Director of Business Development Jennifer Besenski has registered to pitch council on “insights and information to the government based on international best practices in transit fare management and related services in transit IT.” Cubic has also hired Rubicon Strategy’s Jan O’Driscoll. Both Besenski and O’Driscoll logged meetings on June 2 with Louis Tsilivis, the mayor’s director of budget and finance.

Another new player is STraffic, a South Korea-based company spawned from Samsung. They’re being repped by prolific lobbyist Kim Wright, who kicked off the lobbying effort by sending several emails to TTC senior staff.

All three companies were listed in an May report as vendors who responded to an RFI issued by the TTC and York Region transit about fare payment provider services.

Meanwhile, Accenture, original developers of the Presto technology, continue to make their own pitch. They’ve now hired former TTC Chair Paul Christie to lobby about fare collection.

Ready for their close-up

After the provincial government passed legislation in April allowing the TTC to put up cameras on streetcars to catch drivers who illegally blow past open doors, technology company RedFlex was eager to talk to the TTC and show off its tech. Canadian Sales Exec Agnes Loder, Solutions Specialist Patrick Woods and Client Services Manager Joel Smith logged meetings on June 3 with TTC senior staff.

Redflex offers a camera designed to be mounted on school buses, but it looks like their product would work just as well on streetcars. Just paint it red.

Redflex won the contract to provide Toronto’s photo radar machines in 2019. In June, the company was purchased by Verra Mobility.

The war for Billy Bishop

Intrigue abounds at the island airport. Nieuport Aviation, owners of the terminal building, are keeping up a busy lobbying effort. On June 30, Nieuport CEO Neil Parkey and COO Jennifer Quinn logged meetings with Tory chief of staff Luke Robertson and deputy chief of staff Courtney Glen. The Nieuport reps wanted to talk about ways to ensure the airport “works with the City to be a good neighbour and community asset while contributing to the mitigation of impacts from airport operation.”

In another interesting twist, Nieuport has hired Edelman’s Leah van Houten to lobby about “Toronto Islands park expansion and decisions around land use for Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport” with a wish for “collaboration on decisions around park and open spaces.” No meetings yet.

Nieuport opening a lobbying file to talk about parks is notable, as the 2033 expiry date of the tripartite agreement governing the airport has ignited new interest in the possibility of giving over the airport lands to green space in the not-too-distant future.

There are still ongoing efforts to expand the airport, of course. In a separate lobbying file, Nieuport has retained Edelman’s Marsha Seca and Victoria Jordan to lobby about the United States customs pre-clearance area that was previously announced as coming to Billy Bishop. I’m told there is a serious dispute about who, exactly, should pay for the necessary terminal upgrades. Nieuport lobbying registration says they “want the city's support in order to be ready for re-opening and economic recovery.”

Meanwhile, Thomas Scott Brownrigg, a senior advisor for Waltzing Matilda Aviation, reached out to Glen in Tory’s office via email on June 3. Waltzing Matilda has grand designs on launching Connect Airlines, a new service for the Island Airport, in October. Because it’s a small world, Brownrigg was formerly Director of Public Affairs for Nieuport, leaving the position in June to take the new gig.

The island airport has been closed to commercial flights for more than a year. But Porter announced today they plan to take to the skies again starting in September.

Cup of St. Joe’s

St. Joseph’s Communications, publisher of Toronto Life and nearly every other magazine in Canada after their recent acquisition of a bunch of titles from Rogers Media, has registered to lobby to “present a development plan for mixed use zoning for 3-15 Benton road.” SJC’s corporate offices are at 15 Benton Road. 

CEO Tony Gagliano is on the file. He logged a meeting with Councillor Frances Nunziata on June 18.

Lobbying grab bag

  • Mizrahi Development Group has hired Strategy Corp to request “a change to the existing height/density at One Bloor Street West.” Strategy Corp’s Ana Salvagna sent an email on June 15 requesting a meeting with Acting GM of Economic Development & Culture Cheryl Blackman, while John Duffy logged emails to Tory chief of staff Luke Robertson on June 24 and City Manager Chris Murray on June 23 and Aidan Grove-White was in email and phone communication with Tory’s Director of Legislative Affairs Edward Birnbaum. The developer applied from a height increase from 85 storeys to 94 storeys earlier this year.

  • The Islamic Society of Willowdale has hired Jeremy Beamer of GTA Strategies to lobby about the potential redevelopment of their property at 3551 Victoria Park Avenue. The site was the subject of some controversy almost a decade ago after nearby residents complained the mosque didn’t have enough parking. Beamer had a meeting with Councillor Nick Mantas on June 15.

  • Strategy Corp’s Kailey Vokes is working with March of Dimes Canada to represent concerns the charitable organization has about Metrolinx’s plans to build an Ontario Line storage facility right next to their offices in Thorncliffe Park.

  • Mayor John Tory and Councillor Brad Bradford were logged as meeting with Terry Mundell, President & CEO of the Greater Toronto Hotel Association, on June 26 to talk about COVID and the impact on the hotel industry.

  • It’s the end of an era (for now): after dominating several editions of Lobbyist Watch, Bird Canada registered just seven new communications in June. The e-scooter debate has stopped rolling. It’s doubtful they would have been able to outpace the Toronto Region Board of Trade anyway. The board logged a mighty 189 communications, as they continue to work with City Hall on economic recovery plans.

Tech 4 sale

  • AirMatrix is a company that “builds digital infrastructure necessary for drone services.” They also say, “Essentially we map and build highways in the sky.” I guess somebody’s got to do it. AirMatrix is concerned Toronto isn’t prepared for the coming onslaught of drones that will soon be delivering our packages and food and just generally buzzing about. They would like to help. CEO Bashir Khan, VP of Sales Matt Collaton and Head of Technology Ayaan Haider are on the file, with no meetings yet.

  • Apple Canada has opened a new lobbying file to pitch City Hall on their computers and iThings. Public Sector lead Jacob Mksyartinian and Enterprise Account Executive Shereen Sawaya are on the file, with no meetings yet.

  • Red Meat Games, an app developer of titles like Cube Samurai and First Impact: Rise of a Hero, has registered to pitch their products and talk about possible grants and funding. CEO & President Norma Rossler is on the file, with no meetings yet. Maybe they could do something like Candy Crush, but you’re trying to process permit applications.

  • Moveworks, a Mountain View, California-based tech company, has registered to push “for the use of trusted artificial intelligence to more efficiently run technology processes and facilitate a hybrid working future.” Strikes me as kind of odd they felt like they needed to throw the word “trusted” in there. Now I’m worried about untrustworthy AIs. Sales director Yash Shrestha is on the file, with no meetings yet.

Familiar faces

  • Will Fleissig, former CEO for Waterfront Toronto, is now lobbying about the redevelopment of the Woodbine race track and casino. He became Woodbine’s Chief Development Officer last December. Fleissig logged meetings with several senior staff from City Planning, including two meetings with Chief Planner Gregg Lintern on June 7 and June 24.

  • Stephen Diamond, Chair of the Waterfront Toronto Board, logged a meeting with Councillor Mark Grimes on June 23 to talk about a Diamond Corp plan to redevelop 25 The West Mall, which is the street address for the Sherway Gardens Mall. The lobbying file lists Diamond’s Whitecastle New Urban Fund as a beneficiary.

  • Former councillor Peter Milczyn logged several emails and phone calls on behalf of the SoFra Federation of Toronto, an umbrella group representing the city’s sororities and fraternities near UofT’s downtown campus. Sororities and frats have recently been raising concerns that new rooming house rules would negatively affect their student housing arrangements.

Lobbyist Watch will return in August.

More from Matt: on vaccination progress, and ActiveTO’s passivity

📰 Building on a previous piece published in this newsletter, my Toronto Star column last week looked at the data behind Toronto’s vaccination effort, and how it’s hard not to be impressed with the progress.

🗞 For the Star this week, I look at some data from the spring 2021 iteration of ActiveTO. People still love it, but the program should have been expanded, not scaled back. While it’s good to hear the City is finally moving to beef up the program again, I’m a bit frustrated that it took so long.

Look for it in your favourite newspaper.

In other news

The week at Toronto City Hall

MONDAY: 🚧 The Infrastructure & Environment Committee met this morning. They adopted a new Net Zero emissions strategy for Toronto’s buildings. Collectively, the city’s existing buildings are responsible for about 55% of total city emissions. The new strategy requires annual emissions reports and provides supports for retrofits.

The committee also considered an item about water fees and charges, which served as an opportunity for another City Hall debate about the merits of a stormwater charge that would levy a fee to property owners based on the amount of impermeable surface they have. Councillor Mike Layton’s motion authorizing staff to consult this fall on the implementation of a stormwater charge failed 2-3, with Layton and Councillor Mike Colle in favour, while Councillor Jennifer McKelvie, Councillor James Pasternak and Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong were opposed.

A motion from McKelvie calling for a report ahead of the Council meeting on July 14 that will lay out timelines for a potential consultation on a stormwater charge carried unanimously, so I’d expect another stormwater charge motion from Layton next week.

🐕 The Dangerous Dog Review Tribunal had a very special meeting to consider an appeal of a muzzle order for mixed breed dog Wilbur.

TUESDAY: ✍️ Mayor John Tory’s Executive Committee gets together. Their big item is a report recommending the City move forward with a process for renaming Dundas Street and other city assets (including Yonge-Dundas Square) bearing the name of Henry Dundas, who work to delay the abolishment of the slave trade.

The item has many supporters, like the Black Business and Professional Association. But there are also some calling for the City to pump the brakes, including the Grange Community Association.

Perhaps the most out-of-the-box suggestion comes from Max Allen, President of the Grangetown Condominiums. In a letter, he argues that the City should take a cue from the Latinx nomenclature:

Similarly, the name Dundas (Street) could be respelled instead of demolished. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission said that history should not be demolished or hidden, but renovated and reinterpreted. Suppose Dundas were subjected to what I’ll call an Orthographic Solution. It might be redesignated DundasX – on the model of Latinx. But even better would be XDundas, which is easier to say and is full of significance.

The committee will also consider a report with updates on Toronto’s design for a vacant home tax, which is still planned to launch in 2022. They’ll also tackle a new report on revenue tools, which I wrote about last week.

WEDNESDAY: 🔎 The Audit Committee meets to review Toronto’s audited financial statements.

🏗 The CreateTO Board meets to get an update on the progress of the Housing Now plan.

🚈 The TTC Board meets. Their agenda includes a technical presentation about the near-collision on June 12, 2020 between subway trains near Osgoode Station.

🏆 Bid Award Panel contract award of the week: $489,102 for traffic control components.

THURSDAY: 👉 The Civic Appointments Committee meets to consider new members for the Toronto Parking Authority Board, the Toronto Atmospheric Fund Board, the Toronto Zoo Board and the Toronto Music Advisory Committee.

🥖 The Francophone Affairs Advisory Committee meets. They’ll hear a presentation from Chief Communications Officer Brad Ross about the city’s strategy for reaching out to Francophone communities in Toronto.

FRIDAY: 🌬 The Board of Directors of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund meets. They’ll hear about a new partnership between the TAF and TCHC to do energy retrofits on TCHC buildings.

🎭 The Board of Directors of TO Live have a very special meeting to go over their strategic plan.

NEXT WEEK: Council holds their final meeting before the summer break. It’s scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. If it extends to Friday I’m filing a formal complaint with the Integrity Commissioner.

City Hall Watcher #130

Thanks for reading! For those of you who have decided to become subscribers, either today or way back when I started this thing in 2019: thank you. This is the best job I’ve ever had.

I’ve got big plans for the summer, and even bigger plans for the fall. If all goes well, I’ll be looking to bring on some additional writers to contribute material to this newsletter. Having space in Toronto where new writers can get some experience (and get paid) writing about the city is incredibly important to me, so I’m excited to see how City Hall Watcher can help do that, with the support of readers like you.

So stay tuned! But first, we’ve got to get through next week, and the coming Council meeting. I’ll have my usual in-depth preview ready for you on Monday. Be there.