5 critical issues Toronto’s new city council will face this term

Toronto’s new 26-member council will be sworn in on Tuesday — then the real business begins.

First, there’s the usual pomp and circumstance, and the election of a speaker and deputy speaker. Next comes the meat of the agenda for the first council meeting of the new term that’s stretching into Thursday. Then, in the weeks and months ahead, Mayor John Tory and the new slate of councillors will begin handling a myriad of critical files, from transit to housing to gun violence.

Here are some of the biggest issues the next council will face:

Restructuring city governance

Premier Doug Ford’s move to shrink Toronto’s council before the 2018 election was met with protests and legal battles. In the end, the province got its way, leaving city staff scrambling to figure out how council will function with fewer councillors and much larger wards.

That’s the topic of the first big report heading to council on Tuesday, which recommends “recalibrating” council’s governance structure on a variety of fronts, from office budgets to board appointments to the number of committees to community council boundaries.

That raises a lot of questions: Will councillors vote to beef up — or even double — their office budgets? Will they also give themselves a raise? Will fewer councillor appointments to boards and committees leave more room for unelected community members to get involved in local government?

And what’s all this going to cost?

Tackling transit in the new Ford era

Getting around the city is always a hot topic, but under the watchful eye of Toronto-focused Ford, the stakes surrounding the transit file are suddenly higher.

A staunch subway supporter, the premier has vowed to take over the TTC’s subway infrastructure, including the building and maintenance of new and existing subway lines. The process will include negotiations with the city and consultation with key stakeholders — and “potentially the public” — according to the terms of reference for the upload.

When it comes to subways, Ford also backs a return to the three-stop Scarborough subway plan, which is currently a planned $3.35 billion one-stop extension. The beleaguered project has been deemed an example of “dysfunctional” transit planning by returning Coun. Josh Matlow, who will likely be a thorn in subway supporters’ side when the file inevitably rears its head again this term, with city staff expected to reveal the latest dollar figure.

More debate is also coming down the pipe on the long-awaited downtown relief line, considered another priority for the province, as well as an upcoming decision on the divisive King Street pilot project which runs its course at the end of December.

Solving a shelter system bursting at the seams

The statistics on homelessness, refugees, and asylum claimants — groups all using a shelter system that’s bursting at the seams — are grim.

The latest Street Needs Assessment results show an increase in the number of people accessing city-administered shelter services, which already operate at capacity. The survey respondents cited migration, lack of money, unsafe housing conditions, or conflicts with spouses among the reasons behind their lack of housing.

Toronto also continues to see 18 to 20 new refugees or asylum claimants entering the system each day. On the day of the latest survey, that meant nearly 6,500 people were staying in city-operated shelters, plus hundreds more in provincial institutions, drop-ins, or on the streets.

So, how will the incoming council handle this ongoing challenge, particularly over the winter months? City staff are calling it an “unsustainable situation,” and Tory is publicly calling for ongoing help from higher levels of government on top of the millions in funding already promised.

Handling the affordable housing crisis

Sky-high rents. Long wait-lists for affordable units. Large demand, little supply. And the aforementioned shelter crunch.

The issues making up Toronto’s so-called housing crisis are well-documented, and it’s the reason why housing was one of the hot-button issues for voters during the municipal election.

Now, the incoming council will be tasked with developing solutions — from following through on Coun. Gord Perks’s innovative rooming house pilot project to answering calls for the city to expropriate unused buildings to considering the implications of the province’s recent move to ditch rent control for new units.

Tory has already made the file a priority, vowing not to waver on a campaign promise to build 40,000 new affordable housing units over the next 12 years by identifying city-owned sites for redevelopment and speeding up the approval process.

Preventing gun violence

So far in 2018, the city has experienced more than 370 shootings that have led to 47 deaths, according to numbers from the Toronto police. It’s a death tally higher than at any time over the last five years.

The crucial question facing incoming municipal leaders? How to prevent this kind of violence in the first place.

Over the summer, following the deadly shooting rampage on the Danforth, Tory announced the city would spend millions on initiatives to tackle the roots of gun violence, including a children’s crisis recovery team and various youth programs.

The mayor is also calling for a handgun ban, which the federal government is exploring alongside a pledge of $86 million to combat gun and gang violence. At the municipal level, Matlow has vowed to demand more funding for the Youth Equity Strategy, a series of council-backed recommendations aiming to support vulnerable youth.

There’s a lot in motion, but advocates have long called for stable funding and outreach — not just promises after a spate of shootings — to stop the cycle of violence before it starts.

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