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‘Resist the politics of division’: Toronto mayor pitches unity at first meeting of new council term

WATCH ABOVE: Before getting down to business, the winners of Toronto's municipal election got to take in a moment of celebration. But the new, smaller council faces a whole host of issues. Matthew Bingley reports.

During his first address of the new four-year Toronto city council term, Mayor John Tory encouraged the smaller governing body to unite together.

“I urge colleagues to work with me harder than ever to resist the politics of division which seem to be so prevalent in so many other places today – sometimes not too far away. We don’t have to divide and polarize here,” Tory said during Tuesday’s council meeting.

“Our purpose is to continue to create a place where we bring people together … We’re all about lifting people up here in Toronto, not dividing them or putting them down.”

The meeting on Tuesday was largely ceremonial. Aside from Tory’s speech, council took their declarations of office and reelected Coun. Frances Nunziata unanimously as the city council speaker. This term will be Nunziata’s third time at the helm of the speaker’s chair.

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READ MORE: Toronto staff recommend slashing board, committee appointments as smaller council prepares for term

Coun. Shelley Carroll was also unanimously voted to be the deputy speaker, a position she held up until she resigned her seat earlier this year in order to run in the provincial election.

Twenty-two council members returned for another term. Mike Colle, Brad Bradford, Cynthia Lai and Jennifer McKelvie joined Toronto city council after being elected on Oct. 22.

In his 20-minute speech, Tory also called for council to make progress on the key priorities of affordable housing, expanded transit and safe neighbourhoods.

“If we want young people to stay here and to realize their dreams here, we must make housing more affordable and to increase the supply of affordable housing. Our city cannot afford to let slip away all that talent and city-building energy and have it go elsewhere,” Tory said, while also citing provincial approvals for transit projects such as the downtown relief line.

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“If we want people from every occupation and every income group to stay here and help us build a strong economy and a great inclusive city, we must help them find affordable housing and help them to get around at the same time.”

When it comes to public safety, he touted the 200 officers who he said will be deployed on Toronto’s streets. He also said he would advocate for matching provincial funding in order to expand the Toronto police neighbourhood officer program, as well as increase community programs and supports.

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Tory called for additional support from the upper levels of government.

“All of us went to far too many vigils and memorials last year and shed far too many tears over lives cut short and families devastated by different acts of violence … It has to stop,” he said.

READ MORE: With Toronto city council slashed to 25 wards, attention turns to governing

“We need our partners at other levels of government to support us as they have significantly begun to do. But we also have a duty as city leaders to do our part to tackle gun violence and the causes of gun violence.”

Council will reconvene Wednesday morning when they will consider a report from City of Toronto staff. It said the number of committees and council appointments needs to be slashed to accommodate the new 25-ward system.

Toronto residents were set to elect 47 councillors in the October election, but Premier Doug Ford announced at the end of July — hours before nominations were set to close — that his government would move to reduce the number of council seats to 25 through the Better Local Government Act. A decision by the Court of Appeal for Ontario cleared the way for a 25-ward election as an appeal continues to make its way through the court system.

The report being considered on Wednesday said the City of Toronto’s governance structure needs to be “recalibrated” so agencies, boards and committees can function effectively. Without changes, staff said governing “would be challenged to remain effective and sustainable.”

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“[The Act] will place increased demands on council members’ time to carry out both their legislative and constituency duties. City councillors now serve wards of significantly larger geographic size and up to double the number of constituents,” the report said.

“Without changes to the governance structure, council members would … experience difficulty attending all required meetings, potentially causing quorum issues (the required number of representatives for a meeting to proceed) and impairing the ability of committees and boards to function effectively.”

It also called for the creation of a special governance committee to re-evaluate the interim recommended structure.

On Dec. 13, council will meet again to vote on appointing the mayor and councillors to agencies, boards and committees. The meeting will also consider urgent motions by council.