City Council votes for a Beautiful City

“It’s David and Goliath, not Solomon,” observed Councillor Joe Mihevc.

“The lobbying has been transparent,” said Mayor Miller. “You can’t hide Chris Korwin-Kusczynski!  He’s right over there!”

In every deputation I gave on the new Sign Bylaw and Tax, I made sure to mention how wonderful it was to be speaking in favour of something for once, rather than against it.  Public space advocates are used to having to schlep to City Hall to counter billboard lobbyists’ latest attempts to ingratiate their clients into the fabric of this city; so when City staff put forward a brilliantly positive new initiative to control that industry in a fair, thoughtful, and substantial way, it’s cause for celebration.  Similarly, I am not used to writing things along the lines of: Uh… we won.  City Council voted to uphold all of staff’s recommendations and then some.

Okay, so the tax wasn’t earmarked for arts but will rather be dealt with through the standard budget process.  That’s fine.  The Budget Committee knows where this money came from and why it’s there and will allocate it transparently and democratically.  Every single member of that Committee (Carroll, Heaps, Perks, Mihevc, Augimeri, and Rae) has, at one time or another, stated that the money should go to arts.

Unexpected and thoroughly delightful, however, was a motion by Councillor Cliff Jenkins, refined by a friendly amendment from John Filion, that will make the variance process even tighter than staff had envisioned.  A variance is a permission to deviate from the provisions of a bylaw, and applications for them are currently decided on by the relevant community council, which in turn tend to go in whichever direction suits the particular tastes of the ward councillor.  Staff had recommended a new citizen-driven Sign Variance Committee, to be modelled on the Committees of Adjustment, that would adjudicate on these applications in an apolitical context.  This was vastly preferable to the current, supremely political system, but some councillors were legitimately concerned that this committee might become overly generous in granting variances.  The Jenkins-Filion motion takes care of this by allowing community councils to reconsider Sign Variance Committee decisions but only in those cases when the Committee has opted to grant a variance.

The City of Toronto has decided to bring the sign industry under control once and for all.

As the founder of the Toronto Public Space Committee set as his Facebook status:

Dave Meslin stepped onto an elevator full of outdoor advertising lobbyists and execs, moments after we beat them at City Hall. They knew who I was and we all stood there, silently and awkwardly, as the elevator took us to the lobby. They were thinking “you little shits.” I was thinking “You lost. There is hope for this city.”

Jonathan Goldsbie is a campaigner with the Toronto Public Space Committee.

photo by Kevin Steele


  1. Joe Pantalone didn’t vote on the sign bylaw? Why not, pray?

  2. You, the Public Space Committee and Rami Tabello did the City a great service today. Council may have passed the bylaw but YOU made them see how necessary it is (or was!). Well done!

  3. Great news! Thank you to all those who worked on and pushed this initiative forward.

  4. Jonathan you tweeted,

    ” We’ve awkwardly chosen the same bar for our victory drinks as the billboard lobbyists chose for their un-victory drinks. ”

    How’d that go?

  5. Good!

    It’s just too bad that something like this was too late in preventing that eyesore that is Dundas Square. Why did we need to copy Times Square? It’s like Toronto is trying too hard to mimick New York.

  6. “The Budget Committee knows where this money came from and why it’s there and will allocate it transparently and democratically.”

    While I appreciate (and share) your enthusiasm for this vote, thinking the budget committee will do the ‘right thing’ and allocate this money to the arts without a directive to do so is pretty pie-in-the-sky. When the city is drowning in debt and scrambling to come up with spare change anywhere they can find it just to run basic services expecting this new-found money to be directed to the arts WITHOUT it being specified isn’t very likely.

    And don’t forget – while this council might be ‘art friendly’, the next one (which will take over in less than a year) may not be so inclined.

  7. Am glad to see that city council came to its senses and saw fit to un-couple the new tax from the specific way in which advocates wanted the money collected to be used. How the money collected is used should be part of the formal budget process.

  8. Congratulations to everyone involved on this.

    I heard a clip on the news of Doug Ford ranting, but I had to laugh out loud when I heard him wondering whether all these “artists” in the gallery had jobs.

    Don’t blame him… he inherited it. Dad Doug Ford did exactly the same thing during the Megacity debate (Bill 103) in 1997.

    I still have an excerpt from Hansard:

    The relevant part is below, but I recommend reading the whole thing to get a picture of the Ford world view.

    Mr Ford: Yeah, that’s right. I’ll tell you one other thing. You talk about this government here; this government is concerned. The government has been listening to the public and the people up there and the people over there who are lobbying from the audience every day. I’ve been listening and I watch them all. I wonder if they’ve got time or they work for a living. I don’t know.


    The Acting Speaker: Order. No, please take your seat. The Chair recognizes the member for Cochrane South on a point of order.

    Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): Mr Speaker, there is a long-standing tradition in this Legislature that members in debate not only respect the members of the assembly, but certainly to God we respect the public, the people we’re here to serve. I am sure I heard the member opposite make extremely derogatory comments about the public who come to view the proceedings here at the Legislature. Speaker, I don’t think that is acceptable.

    The Acting Speaker: Take your seat. I was listening carefully to the speaker. I did not hear him say anything unparliamentary.


    Mr Bisson: What a bunch of Fascists. You’re a bunch of Fascists.

    Mr Ford: A Fascist? You don’t even know what a Fascist is.

    The Acting Speaker: Order. I would ask the member for Cochrane South to withdraw those remarks.

    Mr Bisson: Speaker, if the member is allowed to call the public a bunch of no-goods — I withdraw, Mr Speaker, if —

    The Acting Speaker: Thank you. Please take your seat and come to order. The Chair recognizes the member for Etobicoke-Humber.

    … etc

  9. “What a bunch of Fascists. You’re a bunch of Fascists.”

    Anyone know if the current member for Timmins-James Bay has gotten any perspective since then? Good find on Doug Ford though! First time Rob Ford has ever shown any enthusiasm for “recycling” that I know of…

    As for Joe P – I guess that makes him a “pro-business” candidate for mayor now?

  10. Billboard victory! Very good news.

    Gonna nitpick johnEEEgold’s comment above though: Lots of cities have a “Times Square”. You might as well say we’re trying to be Piccadilly Circus or Shinjuku. I don’t think Dundas Square is an attempt to mimic New York.

  11. Mike W., this is what I’ve always thought, as well. Most large cities have a “bright sign” district, and there’s no reason to think ours is modelled only on New York’s. Dundas Square is a logical place for a loud crass commercial node, at the entrance to that shrine of buying, the Eaton Centre, and just up from the historical bright lights of Sam’s.

    In fact, I’d go so far to suggest that New York, by closing down some of the streets in Times “Square” this past year, and therefore actually creating a square at that location, is perhaps mimicking Toronto.

  12. Great News?

    With all the campaiging going on – we fail to consider all the staff employed within the OOH industry.

    I just bought a home and am the sole provider for my family – that will all change soon. Alot of people will be out of a job in the very near future!

    But who cares about us – all that new found money will be buried under bull**** spending, perhaps another arts festival?

  13. Mr X,

    Last time I checked Arts Festivals create and hang signage so in fact there may be more jobs at the end of the day. Even though the industry didn’t have the courage to open its books it seems to me that there is still lots of money to go around so I would not worry too much yet.

    Maybe its the advertising industry bosses you should blame, if they hadn’t abused the system for years and lied about it this day might never have come. If the industry was honest there would have been no need to clean it up. The result of the council vote really is a return to normal when citizens are in control and companies obey the law. Your bosses, they don’t deserve a card this year.

  14. Mr. X, are you suggesting your industry is unprofitable now? Your bosses refused to reveal their real numbers — if you want do that here, feel free.

  15. Re Mike W. & Bob Krawczyk comments…you’ve got a good point. There are sign districts all over the world…Tokyo, Shanghai,

    I was studying architecture at Ryerson when the first big sign went above The Atrium on Bay building. My first impression was that this was a lame attempt at copying Times Square. Then to see the first renderings of the AMC/Metropolis….a building with a billboard facade really ticked me off.

    I always felt, generally speaking, that Toronto has always tended to copy New York rather than striving to be more like a city like Chicago or Boston. Just my humble opinion.

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