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How Rob Ford could improve T.O. - Toronto Sun

August 7, 2011
Don Peat
City Hall Bureau
Toronto Sun

Mayor Rob Ford have we got three ideas for you.

Before the year is out, Ford will hopefully have led city council through an ordeal many believe will be the most painful budget balancing act in Toronto’s history.

But despite the looming budget, Ford could tackle three things in the last four months of his first year that would make Toronto a better place.

Pushing city council to ban panhandling on city streets, moving forward on a cyclist licensing system and scrapping the bag tax are improvements many would welcome.

While the budget is still the big beast facing city council, there are other issues that stick in the craw of many Torontonians.

It’s time for Ford to deal with them.



Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday thinks a vote to outlaw panhandling on Toronto’s streets would be an “easy win” at city council.

“If there is something we could do to improve the quality of our streets, why wouldn’t we do it?” insisted Holyday.

Many U.S. cities have moved to clamp down on panhandling — either with partial bans from areas like restaurant patios or outright prohibitions across an entire city.

Holyday has been pushing a panhandling ban for months and said Mayor Rob Ford supports such a crackdown.

So far, the initiative seems to have been more talk than concrete action.

Holyday said part of the problem may be it’s ultimately up to the province to ban begging, not the municipality.

But Holyday says city council could lay the groundwork now.

“I think we’d require a legislative change but getting to the point of requesting the province to do it should be something that is handled quickly,” he said.

The veteran councillor thinks pushing panhandlers off the street would be “very popular” with Toronto residents.

“It comes down to, whose rights are we protecting here?” Holyday said.



Mayor Rob Ford promised he’d scrap Toronto’s bag tax this year.

But so far, Ford has yet to deliver.

Ford said he heard loud and clear from residents that they don’t like the levy and vowed to kill it.

Catherine Swift, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, has been arguing against the tax on behalf of her members.

“It’s the mandatory nature of it,” said Swift. “If people want to charge it, that’s fine but don’t force people.”

Swift said she met with Ford three weeks ago and one of the topics that came up was the bag tax.

“I believe he plans to deal with it,” she said.

City staff confirmed last week that not a single business has been charged for breaking the bylaw since it was put in place.

A city spokesman said municipal enforcement officials are still providing education to stores about the fee if they fail to impose it on customers.

But not everyone would cheer the demise of the bag fee.

Franz Hartmann, of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, said it is clear the bylaw is “working well.”

He noted studies from grocery groups show a decline in the number of plastic bags being doled out.

“If it ain’t broke, what are you fixing?” Hartmann asked.

The five-cent fee is a disincentive to use plastic bags, helping to keep them out of the city’s landfill and from littering city streets, he said.

“If you’re looking for efficient government, this is it ... Everybody benefits from this, nobody loses,” Hartmann said.



Could Toronto bring in a streamlined bike licensing system?

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti thinks it is worth a look.

When it comes to cyclists, Mayor Rob Ford is on the record as a councillor as calling them a “pain in the ass.” But he also lamented their plight among the city’s traffic as “swimming with sharks.”

Some of Toronto’s pedestrians — as shown by recent incidents — have found out the hard way that an encounter with a bike on the sidewalk or intersection can be just as dangerous to them as a run-in with a car.

Mammoliti said that given the number of tickets Toronto Police have handed out to cyclists recently, there seems to be a need for a licensing system.

Earlier this year, Mammoliti floated the idea of licensing bike couriers as a first step in a larger initiative.

At the time, Mammoliti stressed he doesn’t want to tax children who ride bikes.

Toronto hasn’t looked at licensing cyclists since the mid-1990s.

Mammoliti said Friday he believes there may be a willingness on council to impose a licensing system.

But his plan comes with a caution.

“We don’t want to be spending any money on administration,” he said.

Under Mammoliti’s plan, the city would have a third party run the process and it would pay for itself.

Licensing would have to have an education component, he said.

“I think cyclists do need to be educated, now more than ever,” Mammoliti said. “They don’t have all the rights in the world. There is a lot of attitude with cyclists, as there is a lot of attitude with people who drive cars.”

The first component cyclists should have to learn, according to Mammoliti, is “how to stop at a red light and how to stop at the stop sign.”

Andrea Garcia of the Toronto Cyclists Union stressed each time the city or the Ontario Ministry of Transportation has looked into licensing cyclists, it has been cost prohibitive.

“The cost of administration would actually be much larger than the money they would take in,” she said.

Given the Ford administration’s appetite for shrinking government and cutting costs, Garcia said licensing would not make sense, adding the system would inevitably lead to an “expansion of government.”

“They’d spend money rather than make money,” she said.

But given the administration’s track record with cyclists, Garcia said the union isn’t ignoring the issue.

“It is something we definitely like to keep on our radar,” she said.

Franz Hartmann, of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, said “the devil is in the details” when it comes to licensing cyclists.

If licensing meant offering a safe cycling course for riders, Hartmann said that may not be a bad idea. But Hartmann said he has concerns if a licensing system would be designed simply to create a revenue stream.

He added if councillors started charging cyclists a fee to ride a bike, they better bring back the car tax, as well.

As originally published here: http://www.torontosun.com/2011/08/07/how-rob-ford-could-improve-to

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