Toronto council OKs reconciliation plan, Yonge bike lane extension

The city of Toronto now has a “living” plan to guide specific actions to increase the visibility and well-being of Indigenous peoples over the next decade.

The first “reconciliation action plan” was approved this week by city council at a meeting that also saw votes to keep, for now, controversial bike lanes on Yonge Street and to expand the parts of Toronto where people are allowed to keep hens.

The 10-year, 37-page reconciliation plan is built on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report and its calls for action confronting racism and injustices experienced by Indigenous people in Toronto, while addressing a lack of housing, cultural and other resources.

Actions include governments erecting publicly accessible and highly visible monuments to residential school families and survivors, and educating public servants on the history of Indigenous peoples, including lasting impacts from the residential school system.

Councilors unanimously adopted the plan Wednesday after a drum circle welcomed several back to a council chamber that has remained mostly off-limits during the pandemic.

Ahead of the vote, Mayor John Tory said: “This plan represents an important step forward for the city and we’re committed to implementing genuine reconciliation measures with the full engagement of Indigenous communities.

“This is a living document from day one. I have learned in my discussions with the Indigenous communities what they do not want, and should not have from us, is a document that was developed inside the city hall and presented to them.”

On Thursday, council approved cycling network expansions that include the “ActiveTO” pilot project that put bike lanes on Yonge Street from Davisville Avenue to Bloor Street.

City staff had recommended extending the pilot until July 2023. But Tory tabled a motion, passed in a 22-6 vote, calling the lanes “provisional” and instructing city staff to report back by January with data on the lanes’ impacts.

That followed opposition to the lanes from some midtown businesses and residents, who argued they increase congestion on Yonge and divert traffic to adjacent side streets, and support from others including cyclists who use them.

The conflict continued at council as some representatives, including Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, tried to kill the pilot project immediately. He cited increased gridlock when the Yonge subway closes and commuters take shuttle buses instead.

“We don’t need to put bike lanes on every street,” Minnan-Wong said, calling the decision to put them on Yonge “dumb.”

Coun. Gord Perks said designing streets on the basis of subway failures was a “howler of the month” and the problem for shuttle buses is too many cars, not a bike lane that reduces vehicle traffic to one lane.

Council also extended until at least March 2023, by a vote of 19-7, another pilot project that lets residents keep backyard hens in some parts of Toronto as pets and providers of fresh eggs. City staff will report on its progress in January.

Residents can keep the hens, with rules including no rosters, if they live in ward 4 (Parkdale-High Park), 9 (Davenport), 10 (Spadina—Fort York), 11 (University-Rosedale), or 19 (Beaches- East York).

City staff had recommended expanding the program citywide. Although the pilot has so far generated only six complaints over four years, several councilors raised concerns about Avian flu, noise, mess and vermin.

Council also asked staff to create an emergency winter weather plan that will return for debate in 2023. The discussion followed a major storm in January that paralyzed parts of Toronto. Coun. Josh Matlow’s bid to get the plan in July, well before any future snow storms, failed by a 4-19 vote.

With files from Jennifer Pagliaro

David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

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