Mayor John Tory calls for Toronto to declare a climate emergency

City Council set to vote on declaration adoption on October 2

Mayor John Tory calls for Toronto to declare a climate emergency

On September 20, Mayor John Tory announced that Toronto will declare a climate emergency, which the Toronto City Council will consider at its October 2 meeting.

According to a series of tweets from Tory, the climate crisis “poses a major risk to our city’s residents and businesses.” The purpose of his declaration is “naming, framing, and deepening Toronto’s commitment to protecting [the city] from climate change.”

Tory’s announcement coincided with the first round of Global Climate Strikes and follows an open call by more than 50 community organizations for the City Council to declare a climate emergency. It also follows in the footsteps of increasingly severe weather events in Toronto, according to the city’s Resilience Strategy.

If the City Council adopts the declaration, Toronto would be joining over 800 local governments that have already declared a climate emergency around the world. However, the declaration is largely symbolic, and includes no new program or initiative proposals.

Words are great. Symbolic politics is important. But the declaration of a climate emergency has to be reconciled with real climate conscious policies,” wrote Professor Teresa Kramarz, Co-Director of the Munk School’s Environmental Governance Lab, in an email to The Varsity.

Kramarz added that individuals have to “push the Mayor and city council… [to define] clear mechanisms of accountability that connect words of emergency to deeds that are commensurate with such a designation.”

Tory’s announcement also highlighted TransformTO and Toronto’s Resilience Strategy, which are two ongoing initiatives the city is using to address the climate crisis.

By 2050, TransformTO aims for an 80 per cent reduction in Toronto’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 1990 levels. Its strategies include ensuring that constructing new buildings produces less GHG emissions, increasing renewable energy sources, instigating more walking and cycling by Toronto residents, and diverting waste from landfills.

On September 26, Tory asked that the City Council commit to accelerating the goals laid out by TransformTO, including achieving net zero GHG emissions before 2050. This, alongside the declaration of climate emergency, will be considered on October 2.

Toronto’s Resilience Strategy is a broader initiative designed to help Torontonians adapt to a number of issues, specifically the effects of the climate crisis.

“Declaring a climate emergency will only be helpful if it’s backed up by aggressive policies to reduce emissions in the city of Toronto,” wrote Jessica Green, an associate professor at the Department of Political Science and the School of the Environment, in an email to The Varsity.

She suggested that the city should start with “more public transportation at low to no-cost, congestion pricing, and zero-emissions standards for all new buildings.”

“It will seem radical to many, but inaction will be worse,” noted Green.

Leap UofT, a climate justice and activism group on campus, was one of the signatories on the open call sent out to the City Council.

“I think we can get very focused on what we’re doing on campus and not look outward into the city as a whole,” said Julia DaSilva, a co-founder of Leap UofT.

DaSilva believes it’s important for university students to get “involved in community-wide organizing as well.”

On the shifting of language surrounding “climate change” to more urgent terms such as “crisis” and “emergency,” semiotics professor Marcel Danesi said that, “Every time you change a word you’re labeling a new reality, you’re bringing it into focus.”

“If it’s a crisis then it’s something different than a change, it’s a change for the worse and therefore we need to take action. Yes, words do matter,” Danesi explained.

U of T receives $100 million donation for innovation advancement

Largest-ever donation to fund 750,000-square-foot innovation complex for AI, biotechnology research

U of T receives $100 million donation for innovation advancement

U of T has received a $100 million donation to fund a new innovation research complex that will support artificial intelligence (AI) and biomedical research. The donation, from the Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman Foundation, is the largest that the university has ever received. U of T President Meric Gertler, Toronto Mayor John Tory, and Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains were among the speakers who lauded the donation at U of T’s March 25 press conference.

“Today we enter an incredibly exciting new chapter in this history of generosity, signalling a new era of world-leading innovation and progress at the University of Toronto,” Gertler said.

Gerald Schwartz is the founder and CEO of private equity firm Onex. Heather Reisman is the founder and CEO of book retailer Indigo.

Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre

The new 750,000-square-foot Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre will be located at the corner of College Street and Queen’s Park. U of T expects that the building will host thousands of researchers, investors, industry partners, and international visitors annually. The building will also house the new Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society and the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

Gertler told The Varsity after the announcement that the centre will provide opportunities for graduate and undergraduate U of T students from a variety of disciplines, including the humanities and law. “All of these disciplines are really trying to understand this incredibly tumultuous time that we’re in, both [with] the advances of technology and their applications but also what it means for society,” Gertler said. “Students will be fundamental for this.”

U of T will appoint a director to lead the new institute, who will oversee the development of programming and research initiatives, as well as the creation of new fellowships and a research fund. The institute will research digital surveillance laws and the ethical and societal implications of AI and biotechnology.

U of T Professor Emeritus, winner of the Turing Award, and leading AI researcher Geoffrey Hinton said, “My hope is that the Schwartz Reisman institute will be the place where deep learning disrupts the humanities.”

Construction will begin in the fall.

The donation

Reisman said that the donation was inspired by an article that the billionaire couple had read about U of T’s plans to further tech-driven entrepreneurship, business partnerships, and artificial intelligence leadership. She praised U of T for creating “a foundation upon which true greatness can be built.”

“At the end of the day, what stirs us most is the opportunity to supercharge the university’s ability to recruit and inspire the best,” Reisman said. “We are grateful to be part of something so pregnant with possibility.”

The gift is the largest donation ever made to the Canadian innovation sector.

“A testament to our excellence as a city”

Tory praised the donation as further evidence that Toronto is a powerhouse in international innovation. He said that continued public, private, and philanthropic investment are needed to succeed academically and commercially and that he hopes the donation will encourage further donations to Toronto’s innovation sector. “It is vital to our ability to finance the things that are very human, whether it’s education or whether it’s support for those who are struggling,” Tory said. He added that the gift will attract more researchers and academics to the city.

Bains also emphasized the importance of an “all hands on deck” approach in furthering the federal government’s long-term vision to “build a nation of innovators.

“I think it’s a great day not only for Toronto — I think it’s a great day for Canada. The investment… will make sure that Canada will leave its mark on the world,” Bains said.

Hinton added that the donation “will further cement Toronto’s leadership as a thriving industry for innovative applications of AI.”

— With files from Srivindhya Kolluru

The Breakdown: John Tory’s campaign for re-election

From taxes to transit, here’s the platform for the incumbent mayoral candidate

The Breakdown: John Tory’s campaign for re-election

Mayor John Tory will be up for re-election in the municipal elections on October 22. Tory, who is currently leading in the polls, was a graduate of Trinity College and the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario from 2004–2009. Following the late mayor Rob Ford’s drug abuse controversy and subsequent leave of absence for rehabilitation, Tory was elected in October 2014 as Mayor of Toronto.

Taxes, jobs, and affordability

Basing his platform on past accomplishments, such as funding the Poverty Reduction Plan and expanding the Student Nutrition Program, Tory’s campaign website declares his “commitment to keeping Toronto affordable.”

This includes promises to keep property taxes at or below the rate of inflation for four more years — a mainstay from his campaign in 2014 — and implementing a Poverty Reduction 2.0 plan.

The plan would address “Housing Stability, Service Access, Transit Equity, Food Access, Quality Jobs and Livable Wages, Systemic Change,” though no detailed funding and execution plans are available.

Tory also touts his success, claiming that 200,000 jobs were created during his current term, and hopes to push for more from the tech, film, and banking sectors. He plans to do this by keeping commercial property taxes low.

He also hopes to expand youth employment through his Partnership to Advance Youth Employment program, which aims to reduce youth unemployment by half.

One of his major criticisms of Jennifer Keesmaat — the former Chief Planner, and Tory’s biggest challenger, according to polls — is her willingness to create new taxes and raise existing ones, claiming that the move would “make Toronto less affordable for Toronto residents.”

Keesmaat’s proposed taxes include one on luxury homes over $4 million and another charge for stormwater management.

Affordable housing and homelessness

With nearly 100 homeless deaths in Toronto in 2017 alone, Tory was called out this past winter for his delayed decision to expand winter shelters into city armouries for the homeless. He was also criticized for not attending a mayoral forum on affordable housing and homelessness held at U of T on October 15.

In this election, Tory has put affordable housing at the centre of his second term, calling for 400 new spaces for Toronto’s homeless population to relieve the often overcrowded shelters.

Tory’s affordable housing platform is based on building 40,000 affordable rental units over 12 years, which is mainly a continuation of his current work.

He hopes to attract “social impact investors” to create new affordable housing, and to appoint an “Affordable Housing Secretariat to coordinate the City’s activities on Affordable Housing.”

Transit and traffic

Tory’s transit plan is largely a continuation of his work as mayor, including the controversial one-stop Scarborough subway plan, which was voted for by City Council over light rail transit but criticized for being poorly planned. During his current term, Tory struck a fare agreement with the provincial government for $3 GO fares and secured a $9 billion downpayment from the provincial and federal governments for transit.

The incumbent candidate was also criticized for SmartTrack — a plan to create a surface transit system using rail corridors. Keesmaat was an especially vocal critic, saying that SmartTrack “never left the station,” hoping to cancel the eastern extensions, and calling it a “distraction” or “mirage.”

Crime and policing

After what he described as a “shocking” wave of gun deaths over the summer, Tory reversed his police hiring freeze and proposed a handgun ban to be considered by the federal government.

In his campaign commitments, Tory promised to establish a Community Safety Advisory Body and match the $25 million that the provincial government has invested into community safety programs — with an emphasis on community programming for young people.

Toronto on Amazon’s shortlist for second headquarters

“U of T is a big part of our success story,” says Mayor Tory

Toronto on Amazon’s shortlist for second headquarters

The Toronto region has earned a spot on Amazon’s shortlist for a second headquarters, to be launched by the end of this year. The addition would bring $5 billion in investments and create as many as 50,000 jobs for its host city.

The 20-city shortlist, released January 18, named Toronto as the only non-American city in the running to host the tech giant’s newest project. The project, called Amazon HQ2, received proposals from 238 North American cities when the company called for submissions in September 2017.

Finalists are to be informed of next steps within the coming weeks. Toby Lennox, CEO of Toronto Global — which worked in shaping Toronto’s HQ2 bid — indicated that the Toronto region is anxiously waiting to hear back from Amazon.

Lennox said that Toronto’s proposal to Amazon, made in October 2017, highlighted Toronto as a hub for high quality talent, stemming from its universities. The proposal was “an opportunity for us to hold up a mirror to ourselves,” he told The Varsity.

“We are now a really big, complicated, dynamic, and vibrant city. We’re a global player,” said Lennox. “It’s all the work that all the people have put in to Toronto to make it the region that it is now. And it’s great to see us for what we are.”

While Amazon provided no explicit rationale for selecting the top 20, Lennox and Toronto Mayor John Tory cited Canadian openness to immigration and the city’s innovative growth as major assets attracting corporate investment.

In a statement to The Varsity, Tory emphasized the significance of educational capital, which he said was incorporated as a key selling point of Toronto in the bid to Amazon.

“Our pitch to Amazon highlights the fact we are building a Future-Proofed Talent Pipeline, including a 25% boost in the number of STEM graduates in Ontario,” reads Tory’s statement. “U of T is a big part of our success story.”

Tory said that the university-affiliated Vector Institute “is helping build our reputation in technology and around the world.”

Lennox noted Amazon’s interest in working with universities engaged in research and development. The company hires university interns and full-time employees in the United States, and Lennox hopes that HQ2 would carry that pattern north.

There would still be drawbacks to HQ2 in Toronto, said Shauna Brail, Director of the Urban Studies Program at U of T and a Senior Associate at the Munk School’s Innovation Policy Lab.

Among those drawbacks would be Amazon shifting the job market away from the service and manufacturing industries with augmented automation. Brail also illuminated the consequences HQ2 could impose on Toronto’s already oversaturated and expensive housing market.

Even if the Toronto region is not Amazon’s ultimate choice, Tory, Lennox, and Brail all agree that this sort of investment interest reflects Toronto’s already flourishing tech sector and economy at large.

If Toronto doesn’t win, “it doesn’t change the city’s fundamental attractiveness to other companies,” said Lennox. “This is our opportunity. It’s like we’ve already won this thing. Let’s keep going at it. And if Amazon comes here, great. We’re still going to keep doing the same things.”

Tory tackles transit, housing at UTSC town hall

Mixed housing, Scarborough subway extension main talking points

Tory tackles transit, housing at UTSC town hall

Transit and housing were the main topics of discussion at a student town hall held at UTSC’s Meeting Place, which featured Mayor John Tory. The forum was organized to discuss a collective vision for Scarborough and to discuss the major issues that affect the UTSC community, including transit, housing, and policing.

The event, titled “Vision for Scarborough,” was organized by the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) in collaboration with the Centennial College Student Association, Inc (CCSAI) and the Scarborough Community Renewal Organization.

During the town hall, Tory campaigned for the Scarborough Bloor-Danforth subway extension, explaining his belief that it will stimulate investments and create jobs in Scarborough. “If you said if I thought it was kind of any strange notion that we would have a subway that has been extended to the east before,” Tory said, “No I don’t.”

Tory has faced widespread criticism over the choice to build a one-stop subway that is estimated to cost north of $3.35 billion. Critics have argued that the same amount of money could go toward a series of LRT lines that would serve more residents in Scarborough and beyond.

Tory believes that transit is the key to converting Scarborough into a job hub. He stated that the main reason investors may not find Scarborough attractive for establishing their business is its poor accessibility via transportation. He said the solution is the construction of “higher-order transportation.”

The mayor also said that safety barriers for subways are not part of any immediate transit plans in the city, as the billion dollars needed to install these barriers is currently being put “into building new transit and improving transit.”

When asked about affordable housing for students, Tory emphasized finding a way to step “up the pace” on mixed developments, including monetary subsidies to incentivize developers to build and operate affordable housing. He also spoke of shelter subsidies, where students would be able to find an apartment of their choosing and receive monetary support from the city.

Ravneet Kaur, President of the CCSAI, also expressed satisfaction with Tory’s proposals but “wanted to know more about the subway system.” Sitharsana Srithas, President of the SCSU, told The Varsity that she was satisfied with Tory’s answers in the town hall but felt that “there was still a lot of work to be done in terms of investing in Scarborough.”

Toronto City Council to debate Scarborough subway and LRT plans tomorrow

Scarborough leaders, including UTSC vice president & principal Bruce Kidd, urge council to approve project

Toronto City Council to debate Scarborough subway and LRT plans tomorrow

Toronto City Council is expected to make the final decision tomorrow on the proposed Scarborough transit plans, which include an LRT to UTSC.

The plans, which were approved by the city’s Executive Committee, include a one-stop extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line to Scarborough Town Centre to replace the aging Scarborough RT and a 17-stop extension on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to UTSC.

However, critics of the one-stop subway to Scarborough Town Centre, such as city councillor Josh Matlow, argue that it is more economical to build a seven-stop LRT going through Scarborough Town Centre and terminating at Sheppard Avenue instead of a subway.

The seven-stop LRT was the original plan to replace the aging Scarborough RT and was fully funded by the provincial government at a cost of $1.5 billion. In 2013, under then-mayor Rob Ford, City Council voted to replace the project with a three-stop subway line. Mayor Tory further amended these plans in January 2016 with the introduction of the currently proposed one-stop subway and 17-stop LRT.

Matlow has indicated that he will make a motion to replace the $2.9 billion one-stop subway with the original seven-stop LRT.

Five business and community leaders from Scarborough have penned an open letter to Tory and members of council, urging them to approve the plans and move on from the debate between the type of transit. The leaders include UTSC vice-president & principal Bruce Kidd, Centennial College president Ann Buller, Scarborough Hospital CEO Robert F. Biron, Scarborough Business Association president Marg Middleton, and Rouge Valley Health System president Andrée G. Robichaud.

“The debate between subway or LRT or SmartTrack, and which solution is right for Scarborough has been needlessly time-consuming and divisive,” reads a portion of the letter.

The letter continues: “We understand that the financial requirements for comprehensive transit may exceed what we are able to afford today. But this should not stop the City from planning what’s right.”

Kidd told The Varsity that the he and the other four signatories to the letter did not discuss the possibility of a seven-stop LRT, but stressed the importance of a rapid transit connection between Scarborough Town Centre and the Bloor-Danforth line as well as extending the Crosstown LRT eastward.

“Scarborough’s an important part of the city. It needs to be properly served,” said Kidd. “Toronto fails as a city if it cannot adequately serve the people of one of its biggest parts — the most populous area of the city. We’ve got to approve of the plan and then do the necessary steps to implement it without continually reopening these debates and going back to the drawing board.”

Details for Scarborough transit plan revealed

Eglinton East LRT with station at UTSC projected to take 43,400 commuters in 2041

Details for Scarborough transit plan revealed

Details of the proposed Scarborough public transit revamp, which includes the extended Eglinton East Light Rail Transit (LRT) to UTSC and the single-stop subway extension to Scarborough Town Centre (STC), were made public after a Scarborough community meeting on May 31.

New ridership statistics indicated during the presentation illustrate that an estimated 43,400 people will use the Eglinton East LRT daily in 2041, including students commuting between UTSC and Centennial College.

In addition, the $1.48 billion project will provide rapid transit options within walking distance of about 41,500 people and facilitate access to over 7,800 jobs. 

The new LRT route would span an estimated 11 km along Eglinton Avenue and Kingston Road, elevating along Morningside Avenue and running at-grade through Military Trail, with one station at the the heart of UTSC and another at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.

The LRT expansions is also set to be integrated with UTSC Master Plan, which is the campus’ plan for revitalization.

The community meeting revealed that the 6 km extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line to STC will have a projected ridership of 7,200 during peak hours in 2031.

Mayor John Tory originally announced the 17-stop extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT and the one-stop addition of the subway in January, which was a decision that was met with praise from the UTSC community.

Conflicting visions for rapid transit in Scarborough sparked heated debates between stakeholders and politicians as far back as 2006, with opinion split about using subways or LRT systems to extend service further into Scarborough.

Late Toronto mayor Rob Ford advocated against LRT to connect the city’s east end, repeating the line, “subways, subways, subways.” Ford discarded earlier plans for city-wide LRT and bus rapid transit routes that would have circled UTSC grounds.