November 15, 2023

First Year on Council with Councillor Amber Morley

A year ago today, Toronto City Council experienced a big turnover with nine new councillors taking office which helped make City Council more progressive overall. Only one of these councillors – Amber Morley – was successful in defeating the incumbent and is now Deputy Mayor for Etobicoke. I spoke with Amber on Monday, November 6 to discuss her first year in office, the Bloor bike lanes, and other issues facing her community and city.

Councillor Amber Morley's swearing in photo (via Amber Morley)

RZ: For those who don’t know you, tell me about your background before you ran for city council.
AM: I am a lifelong community member of Etobicoke-Lakeshore. I was raised by a single mom and grew up going to local schools and daycare in the neighbourhood. As someone from a low-income family that didn't always have a car, I did a lot of cycling with them. My inspiration for advocacy came from when I ran and directed the south Etobicoke Youth Assembly.

RZ: Having previously ran for council in 2018, what lessons did you learn which helped you become successful this time around?
AM: My first campaign was a great learning opportunity. There was a big challenge with Ontario Premier Doug Ford interfering mid-election by cutting the size of council to 25 wards. Even then, I persevered and finished a strong second with just under 11,000 votes. This represented the beginning of a progressive community in Etobicoke-Lakeshore which was validating and re-assuring. Many people had the same vision as I did who encouraged me to run again. This time around, I helped mobilize 15,000 people and then some.

RZ: How has being on council impacted your advocacy on public health and complete communities?
AM: Being on council has given me a platform to do advocacy from a different position. Before, I was an outsider looking in as a citizen trying to effect change. Now, I can sit at a table, make motions for reports, and work in alignment with my values. It has been a welcome change.

RZ: What were some of the biggest challenges in adjusting to your role as City Councillor?
AM: The volume of work is very intensive; especially with the ward boundary changes. Etobicoke-Lakeshore is the largest ward, and one of the fastest growing wards. While I wish I had more time to dig into the details, the nature of my work and responsibility doesn’t allow me to get as deep with the issues and there’s a need to lean on my office team members and the civil service for in-depth expertise. You are dealing with more breadth and less depth.

RZ: The recently installed Bloor bike lanes in Etobicoke have sparked a backlash with over 10,000 petition signatures & some comments from Doug Ford. How have you been addressing their concerns?
AM: My office has a lead staff who’s assigned to that area of responsibility. We worked closely with the Cycling & Pedestrian Unit at the City of Toronto to ensure any constructive criticism is relayed to their attention. We help ensure any opportunities for improvement are prioritized and happening.

We ensured communication about the project is intentional with dedicated space on the website with information, past studies, consultations, and scope of work. This helps ensure consistency with information sharing. My latest e-newsletter highlighted reasons why I supported the Bloor West Complete Street Extension, including how it aligns with other City priorities. I will still present the petition to council to ensure their concerns are heard, as well as do our best to address constructive criticism.

Councillor Amber Morley at Community Bikeways' "Bloor West Celebration Ride"

RZ: How will things become smoother for Phase 2 from Aberfoyle Crescent to Six Points?
AM: There will always be some lessons learned. I plan to connect with the Cycling & Pedestrian Unit to understand which changes will be implemented, though that hasn’t happened yet. I heard from the residents who signed the petition and will ensure any improvements are advocated.

RZ: Beyond Six Points, what needs to be done to finish the final 4 km on Bloor to Mississauga?
AM: There have been some high-level consultations and I let city staff know I would support the extension, though this extension is not far along in the process. Another ward will also be impacted, so there will be a need for consultation in that ward. The City is focused on infrastructure at Six Points including a new community centre, parks, and the advancement of cycling infrastructure.

RZ: The City is currently developing their 2025-27 bike plan. Are there other projects you (or your constituents) been calling for?
AM: I would like to continue to see connectivity happening and look forward to highlighting these opportunities. There are some improvements happening in other parts of the ward such as the Mimico Mobility Plan which will include safe intersections. There are other neighbourhood level projects which we need to ensure they are considered as part of a wider cycling network. However, there hasn’t been a briefing yet for the 2025-27 bike plan.

NOTE: Since this interview was conducted, the City updated their 2025-27 bike plan website which includes a mapping tool where people can rank proposed routes (or suggest their own).

RZ: I think Kipling, The Queensway, and Lake Shore could be good candidates. Especially given the recent collision on Lake Shore. What are your thoughts on those corridors?
AM: Lake Shore has lots of space, while The Queensway is a bit tighter. There are some parts that are more restricted with usable space, bit it’s important to identify the lowest hanging fruit for short term measures including opportunities for adding protection. There is always a need to look at larger capital planning projects – including new streets or road reconstructions – which are a good opportunity.

RZ: You currently sit on the Infrastructure & Environment Committee which deals with bike lanes. Which other issues have you dealt with on this committee over the past year?
AM: The committee recently dealt with the provincial extended producer responsibility mandate regarding garbage and recycling collection. We often manage conversations about e-scooters and other forms of micromobility to ensure there is a clear regulatory framework. Now, this is a grey area which hasn’t been addressed for several years and a report will be due back in May 2024.

There is also a lot of really important work regarding TransformTO (climate action goals) and Vision Zero. We received reports on upgrading the traffic calming and congestion management policies. The traffic calming policy is part of a larger Vision Zero report which hasn’t been updated in over 20 years and will make more residential neighbourhoods eligible for different traffic calming measures. Given growing congestion and construction, traffic filtering in neighbourhoods has been a consistent issue in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, while the policy will give more tools to keep all road users safe.

NOTE: Both the congestion management and traffic calming policies were recently approved by City Council. As for the micromobility strategy, the City is collecting feedback until Wednesday, December 13.

RZ: Are there other key issues uniquely affecting Etobicoke-Lakeshore residents?
AM: Noise issues are unique to our waterfront community which is often impacted by fireworks and other challenges. There is a need to educate people about the rules, regulations, and enforcement.

Regarding transit, there are a number of Transit-Oriented Communities experiencing development, and growth. However, there are challenges regarding consistency and reliability in the southern part of the ward. The streetcar service was offline since I took office, so I have been working closely with the TTC to get this resumed. The Humber Loop finally reopened, but streetcar service still doesn’t go all the way to Long Branch which is a really important line for those who don’t want to take the subway. The streetcar goes straight to downtown. While bus alternatives have helped, we in the community are keen to see full streetcar service back online.

Councillor Amber Morley and Mayor Olivia Chow at the inaugural Etobicoke-Lakeshore Fall Fest (via Anita Singh)

RZ: What final message would you offer for those wanting to support the Bloor bike lanes (or run for office)?
AM: When people are upset, people will find the time to share their sentiments. More people may appear to be against something than for it which can cause us to question whether we are doing the right thing. Therefore, it’s important to express your support for the Bloor bike lanes, as well as encourage your family, friends, and neighbours to use them.

As for running for office, I say go for it! Build communities and networks, show up, share your voice, and meet like-minded individuals who share your values and want to improve. Don’t be afraid to put your hand up and take advantage of the passion. It is a lot of sacrifice, but certainly worth it.

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