Councillors vote unanimously to postpone controversial bylaw amendment by John Tory

During an unprecedented round of politics on City Council on Wednesday, John Tory took a rare and unexpected loss in his campaign to amend city’s bylaws to allow rooming houses, a controversial issue that reared its head during the first mayoral debate in mid-September.

The term comes from the idea that some of these unregulated or non-compliant houses will serve as a temporary base for young people who can’t afford to pay rent. After some other advocates raised concerns, Mr. Tory introduced a motion to amend the bylaws to allow their operation in certain areas of the city. That motion was defeated at a showdown on council.

Mr. Tory had long argued that regulating rooming houses would help to ease Toronto’s housing crisis, although he did have a history of opposition to these types of homes, especially in working-class neighbourhoods.

In October, the electoral field had nearly doubled. Rob Ford had died, forcing the election to become a three-way race. Both Mr. Tory and his brother Doug, the incumbent city councillor and leader of the now-defunct Toronto Star, refused to drop out. It was an unexpected detour from city council.

Toronto’s official opposition voted against John Tory’s motion to allow rooming houses. This didn’t sit well with Mayor @JohnTory. #TOpoli #TorontoMayor — Craig Takeuchi (@TakeuchiC) January 25, 2018

With Rob Ford off to the grave, this decision by Mayor Tory’s opponents could be seen as a personal betrayal, a tactic to rally support for Doug Ford’s campaign. But on Wednesday, Doug Ford spoke on Mr. Tory’s behalf and said that “the city cannot afford [Mr. Tory’s] anti-fridge and anti-bathroom plan.”

Council later voted unanimously to postpone the vote on the amendment until next month.

But some council members said on Wednesday that it would be unfair to debate the amendment, which would affect thousands of people, many of whom could have no choice but to move from their homes to find another with rooming houses.

In the third mayoral debate, which took place just after the council meeting concluded, Mr. Tory explained his decision to push ahead with an amendment he had long said he opposed.

“I believe it is important for citizens to have the best possible housing they can afford,” Mr. Tory said. “You don’t guarantee it. All you can do is try to offer some help.”

With an appointment on the table, the various politicians in attendance seemed to understand that they had a tough decision to make: Do the right thing and do it quickly, or do nothing and let the people in these rooms suffer, and in so doing, potentially lose their homes.

The debate began with remarks from Doug Ford, who was the first speaker to deliver a speech in order to sway the vote of his team. Doug Ford asked the mayor, “What’s with the people in these rooms?” He criticized Rob Ford, suggesting that there were unsafe living conditions, allowing degenerate behaviour in these rooms. And he reiterated that rooming houses would never be welcome in the city.

When Mayor Tory was brought into the conversation, he noted the hardworking nature of people who used rooms in these homes.

“These people work, they’re not criminals,” he said.

There were dozens of housing advocates speaking in favour of Mr. Tory’s motion. Representatives from the City of Toronto, including politicians from Mr. Tory’s party, the Progressive Conservatives, spoke in favour of the amendment. Councillor Mike Layton, the councillor who represents the Liberty Village area, spoke in favour of the decision, and said: “Mayor Tory is on the right side of history.”

“Obligatory words,” Andrea Reimer said, speaking on behalf of the Coalition for a Clean and Safe Toronto, as she called for a vote. The motion passed.

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