Letters – May 2016

James G. Heller
A crisis ‘unleashed by the… LRT… is the result of the structural demographic deficit wrought by the amalgamation of the six boroughs of the old Metropolitan Toronto in 1988.’ ~ James G. Heller

A crisis is threatening the welfare and quality of life of my beloved Leaside. The threat arises from the tsunami of proposed and yet to be disclosed redevelopment projects unleashed by the Crosstown LRT.

I believe this crisis is the result of the structural democratic deficit wrought by the amalgamation of the six boroughs of the old Metropolitan Toronto in 1998 creating the new City of Toronto. At the time, the justification for amalgamation was based on the savings that would come from combining borough administrations into centralized city departments.

Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether this increase in efficiency has been accompanied by an even greater loss in administrative effectiveness, I ask the more pertinent question: Has amalgamation led to the loss of democratic representation by Toronto communities like Leaside, which struggle to make their concerns heard and defended at City Hall? The indisputable answer to this question has to be a resounding Yes!

The amalgamation buried Leaside with one representative councillor among 43 other councillors. Our councillor is tasked with representing multiple communities in his ward. This centralization of authority impairs Leaside’s voice leaving it vulnerable to lobbyists acting on behalf of developers.

Jennifer Keesmaat, the city’s chief planner, gave a presentation entitled Planning for Leaside after the Crosstown LRT, at a packed Nov. 24 town hall meeting at the Leaside Memorial Gardens. It precipitated too many compelling questions and arguments from the audience for her to address in the time allotted. Nevertheless, she was resolute in her declaration that the city’s Official Plan (OP), approved by city council, is the blueprint guiding her planners and all development applications.

The ambiguities and deficiencies in the OP have invited development applications wildly exceeding any reasonable expectations for our neighbourhoods (e.g. 660 Eglinton Ave. East, 939 Eglinton Ave. East, 146-150 Laird Dr.).

Since we are only at the beginning of the construction phase of the Crosstown LRT, we can expect that numerous new applications will materialize to fill in the areas as yet unclaimed by developers but deemed available for redevelopment in the OP. The opportunities for exploitation will simply multiply.

Consider the defence of our community through appeals of individual project applications to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). When the Leaside Property Owners’ Association (LPOA) appeals developer applications to the OMB, it is forced to raise adequate funding often to cover its legal costs. Why are its appeals often dependent on private financial subscription (i.e. passing the hat) with no public assistance in place to defend the community’s interests against the developer’s well- financed planners and lawyers? Isn’t this a matter of natural justice?

With these nagging concerns in mind, I request that Premier Wynne and Mayor Tory consider two proposals carefully crafted to set in motion processes that will hopefully mitigate the worst impacts of the Crosstown LRT and restore good governance to our city and effective democratic representation to beleaguered communities like Leaside.

Proposal 1: The city implement an immediate moratorium on development proposals and applications associated with the Crosstown LRT in order to address all deficiencies in the OP, including the absence of effective community consultation.

A moratorium would provide essential breathing space to allow for the review and completion of the OP and other key planning policy (e.g. for micro-neighbourhoods impacted by multiple development applications) that can pass rigorous review as well as the revamping of planning policies and procedures to allow for effective community consultation.

Proposal 2: The Government of Ontario begin deliberations, including provision for broad consultations with affected communities in Toronto, to prepare new legislation to be tabled before our provincial parliament to effect the de-amalgamation of the City of Toronto into representative boroughs similar to and perhaps identical with those existing within the former Metropolitan Toronto.

This proposal would give expression to and defend the democratic interests of Toronto communities like Leaside. In the recent past, other Canadian cities such as Montreal and Headingley, Manitoba (previously absorbed into a larger Winnipeg), have responded positively to critics of amalgamation with successful de-amalgamation initiatives.

The growing impacts wrought by the Crosstown LRT have made apparent the fact Leaside’s quality of life is being sacrificed to private gain for developers and public gain through increased tax revenues, and all this to facilitate public transit in the city.

This is a perverse application of utilitarianism: sacrificing a community’s welfare for the city’s greater good. Please ask yourselves: Is the misery arising from building a city on the backs of communities like Leaside worth the result?

James G. Heller,

1 Berney Cres.