Running Post – Waterfront Toronto’s Government Task Force(s) for Sidewalk Toronto

Update 1:  May 4, 2020 

This post previously left off with the three questions I had asked Waterfront Toronto about the government task force(s) for the Sidewalk Toronto project on April 1,2020. Again, the questions that I emailed them were:

In terms of the task forces and their composition, could you kindly let me know:
1. How many working groups/task forces there are
2. The name of each one/what each one is looking at
3. The members of each one

On May 1, 2020 I received the following reply about the content of these questions from Waterfront Toronto. The email below came after I called Waterfront Toronto to find out if my emails had gone missing. Usually Waterfront Toronto is pretty speedy on the replies, which they had been in the beginning part of this correspondence chain, and in most of our previous communications.  Which is what made me wonder what was going on with these three questions, as they were left unanswered for a long time.  In the phone conversation we had, Waterfront Toronto reiterated things previously shared with me.  That’s the reason for the “As discussed” in the email excerpt below.

I’ll write an analysis of this soon, wanted to share what had been shared with me as quick as I could.

From Waterfront Toronto, by email, May 1, 2020 (excerpt)

As we discussed on Tuesday, I have been looking into this further for you. I have some more information that builds on the answers our team already provided, and will hopefully satisfy your query as much as possible.

As we discussed the task forces are exploratory working groups looking into what policy areas and regulations may be applicable to the solutions being considered for an innovation plan for Quayside, should such a plan be approved by our Board.

These include topics such as building codes, environmental regulations, and data governance. This is not an exhaustive list and their ongoing work will help determine what additional areas may need to be explored further.

I would like to reiterate that any actual proposed changes to government regulations would have to be implemented by elected officials, and would include the normal public consultations typically associated with the legislative process

It is also worth noting that the work the task forces are doing is independent of any decision our Board of Directors will make on June 25. If these working groups have raised any issues by June 25 the Board may factor them into its decision, but that is not a requirement for the Board decision to take place.

These groups are comprised of internal policy staff representing government departments and it would be inappropriate for us to name them individually, and possibly a violation of their privacy. They are not elected officials or employees of Waterfront Toronto, and they are not currently participating in a public process. I hope you would agree that when it is our place to do so, Waterfront Toronto has been more than transparent about the external experts, consultants, and advisors we engage with in our work.

While I understand that this update may not address all of your questions, I have provided the information that is available at this time.”

End update 1: May 4, 2020 

Summary

In Waterfront Toronto’s October 29, 2019 letter about the threshold agreement with Sidewalk Labs, March 31 2020 was identified as the date by which Waterfront Toronto, in coordination with governments, said that it would have established government task force(s) to both “a) Establish appropriate governance of the Innovation Plan to be in operation, including management strategies required to realize the Innovation Plan, and b) Throughout the course of the project, manage and facilitate approvals required to implement the Innovation Plan.”

NB: the language in the letter says Waterfront Toronto would “advocate” for these task forces. Then it also said a date they would exist by. There is a looseness with the phrasing and structure that creates a lack of clarity, leaving this all more open than it should be. Technically it’s both non-committal and committal as part of a conditional letter.

In any case, this post (which I’ll update as I learn more) is an effort to follow the process being used to create the  Innovation Plan for the project in the lead-up to the June 2020 board vote. This includes keeping track of these government task force(s) – to understand what they are, who is on them, what their outputs are, etc. One has to assume that this task force work would both inform and be referenced in Waterfront Toronto’s June 2020 decision on the project.

Below is the latest from my correspondence with Waterfront Toronto seeking more information on these task forces.  I don’t generally share correspondence in full like this, but I’ve been asking for the same information on Twitter and have therefore flagged with Waterfront Toronto that I’m seeking and sharing information on this front for a broader audience than myself.

One thing I’ve noticed about the latest correspondence is an effort to replace the word task force (which is the way they were described in the Oct 29 letter) and shift to “working group” – which is not what they were called in the letter.  It’s also important to remember that Waterfront Toronto wrote this letter to Sidewalk Labs:” to confirm Sidewalk Labs’ agreement on the following resolution to the threshold issues informed by the substantial feedback received to date from public consultation and our stakeholders.”  Put another way, these task forces are part of the resolution Waterfront Toronto committed to, based on public feedback, to keep the project going.

This may all seem tedious/in the weeds but it matters a lot, because it’s been a lack of pre-existing democratically informed governance that’s been one big public concern issue with this deal since 2017. In more recent times (Feb 2020) Waterfront Toronto’s Digital Strategy Advisory Panel’s “Supplemental Report on the Sidewalk Labs Digital Innovation Appendix (DIA)”  stated, in regards to digital governance, from page 2 of the report:

“While Panelists support the outcome of the October 31 Threshold Issues resolution, which reaffirmed that digital governance belongs exclusively in the purview of Waterfront Toronto and its government partners, the most significant outstanding issues for Panelists was generally the lack of a fully realized digital governance framework and the need for expedited public sector leadership.”

These task forces are supposed to zero in precisely on key (and large/complex) areas of public concern. So we really should understand what’s going on. It’s not a good time to be bored of this and confused by the immensity of the documentation and also the lack thereof. As ever, I am fully open to errors on my end about not finding things, not remembering things, etc. But to my mind, in an ideal world, there would be easy to find information (both easy to discover, but also equally easy for Waterfront Toronto to point me towards) about this topic.  What the process looks like, at this moment, is something being reverse-engineered to support a pre-defined outcome. I continue to make an effort to keep an open mind on that and will stop there with that concern.

Email exchanges to date with Waterfront Toronto about the government task force(s) 

March 24, 2020 – me to Waterfront Toronto:

“Can you kindly provide some details on how to best follow the work and outputs of the government task force(s) stood up as part of this process? As in: background information, what’s gone on to date, what’s planned, where it’s published, etc?

Thanks again,
Bianca”

March 31, 2020 – Waterfront Toronto to me:

Good afternoon Bianca,

As part of the October 31, 2019 resolution of threshold issues with Sidewalk Labs, Waterfront Toronto agreed to advocate for the formation of working groups, or task forces, to further explore potential regulatory/policy considerations as well as government programmatic support for solutions being considered for the Innovation Plan. These groups do not have approval authority and do not negate City council’s authority and approval requirements with respect to development/site plan applications and/or federal and provincial government regulatory approvals.

The intention of each group is to help coordinate engagement with governments to discuss aspects of the project pertaining to a defined subject area. As explained by George Zegarac at the public briefing in November, the aim is not to reduce any requirements, rather to help provide clarity around requirements and where there may be some interest in further pursuing a particular proposal. This will better enable Sidewalk Labs to determine economic viability of certain solutions. For example, with respect to tall timber, the group is discussing potential regulatory hurdles for implementation. These discussions will inform both the development plan and innovation plan that will be considered by our Board and become public in June.

As with all of our work, Waterfront Toronto engages regularly with its government partners, including relevant Ministries and Departments and provides project updates to our Board of Directors.

Thank you,
Waterfront Toronto

April 1, 2020 – Me to Waterfront Toronto –  (this is now what I’m waiting on a response for).

Thank you for this, and for pointing me to Mr. Zegarac’s remarks at the public meeting on the matter.

Perhaps we could step back and just start with some basics on the task force(s).
Once we’ve got the basics established then perhaps you could provide me with answers to my initial questions below.

To that end, in terms of the task forces and their composition, could you kindly let me know:
1. How many working groups/task forces there are
2. The name of each one/what each one is looking at
3. The members of each one

If, of course, this is listed somewhere publicly please do just point me there.
Once I understand this, I can pick up again on the initial questions regarding their work and their outputs.

Many thanks,
Bianca

Background

As part of the October 31st  2019 threshold agreement with Sidewalk Labs, Waterfront Toronto said it would be establishing government task force(s) to oversee the overarching governance of elements of the project.

Role of the Task Force(s), from page three of the agreement

Governance:  Waterfront Toronto will oversee the development of the Innovation Plan, consistent with its current mandate, in coordination with existing public sector entities. Given the role of Waterfront Toronto and its government partners, there is no need to establish a new entity such as the Public Administrator, as originally contemplated in the MIDP. Instead, Waterfront Toronto will advocate for the creation of government task force(s) to support implementation of the Innovation Plan. The task force(s) and the basis on which they will operate will be determined by March 31, 2020. Such task forces shall, among other things:

○ Establish appropriate governance of the Innovation Plan to be in operation, including management strategies required to realize the Innovation Plan, and

○ Throughout the course of the project, manage and facilitate approvals required to implement the Innovation Plan.

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