News / Toronto

John Tory defends controversial shelter from critics on his executive committee

In a late-night session, the mayor had some sharp words for some of his closest allies on council.

A former Goodwill store at Runnymede Rd. and St. Clair Ave. is the site of a proposed temporary men's shelter. The plan has been met with the expected friction from some on council.

Torstar News Service

A former Goodwill store at Runnymede Rd. and St. Clair Ave. is the site of a proposed temporary men's shelter. The plan has been met with the expected friction from some on council.

As a meeting of the executive stretched past midnight and entered its 15th hour at city hall, Toronto Mayor John Tory admonished some of his closest council allies for what he called a late-night attempt to scuttle a temporary shelter required to house some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

His words in the early hours of Tuesday morning appeared to save the lease required to house the temporary shelter for men at 731 Runnymede Rd., just south of St. Clair Ave., from being renegotiated at the final hour.

Staff recommended a lease of 10 years, totalling $11.2 million, with two options to extend an additional five years each after that, following drawn-out negotiations with the landlord of the former Goodwill site.

But local Councillor Frances Nunziata, who had previously railed against the proposed location at the southern edge of her Ward 11 (York South-Weston), said the lease was never meant to be more than 10 years total. She claimed her community, where some members have lashed out against a shelter being proposed in their backyards, were “misled.”

The temporary shelter is needed to house those displaced by the planned revitalization of George St. downtown. Staff said the earliest that project could be complete is 2025 and that the lease agreement leaves flexibility with construction timelines.

Some on the executive, including Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, said they were prepared to back Nunziata on a motion to cap the lease at a maximum of 10 years.

“This is not the agreement that we had with the community,” Minnan-Wong said. “I think the community is right and I think the councillor’s right to view this with a healthy degree of skepticism, if not suspicion.”

The mayor was last up to speak.

“I’m very disappointed that this discussion is taking place because I don’t think we’re being honest about what’s really on the table here,” Tory said.

Then he turned to Minnan-Wong: “Deputy Mayor, with respect, you’re a lawyer. An option that exists in the lease is our option. It’s for us. If we choose not to exercise it then it won’t be exercised.”

“Let’s talk about the real issue here. Because really, by sending this lease back, probably, we’re going to put this arrangement that has been years in the making in peril. And I think that’s really what the idea is here,” Tory said in an extraordinary speech referring to the motion from Nunziata, tabled by Councillor Cesar Palacio, suggesting she was pandering to her residents in the midst of a crisis of shelter capacity.

“I’m the one more so than anybody else in this room, when people are homeless in this city, has to answer for it and I’m not going to answer by saying, ‘Well, I’m terribly sorry, we just couldn’t find anywhere to put a shelter because people kept pushing back.’ Our conscience as members of this city council, as people elected to come here and deal with these issues and deal with the problems of our most vulnerable people, should be what’s on our mind now . . . My conscience is clear.”

Palacio, Nunziata and Minnan-Wong then broke the regular meeting process by jumping in to clarify their positions.

“I want to be very clear for you and anybody else,” Palacio said. “We are not against shelters in anyway whatsoever.”

Nunziata said she also supports shelters.

“I really don’t appreciate some members of council thinking that I don’t support a shelter. I support the shelter,” Nunziata said, noting she didn’t at first agree to the location and that she successfully pushed for the original plan of 100 beds to be reduced by half to 50 beds.

“It’s the way that we communicated to the community. It’s wrong. And if it was your community you would be just as upset as I am.”

Staff earlier, when questioned on it, rejected statements by Nunziata that the shelter would not be well served by both transit and services.

Just before 12:30 a.m., Councillor David Shiner suggested an amendment that staff come back to council in 10 years before renewing the lease on the shelter, if necessary.

After staff agreed there would be no harm in that, Shiner’s motion passed 6-2.

The shelter lease was passed unanimously with that amendment. It will be considered by council at a meeting next month.

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