Last fall, I became involved with a community activist group, Free the Beaches. Our goal was to stop the proposed sublease of Tuggs Inc. to Carters Landing – a franchise restaurant of Cara Operations Ltd. – with a view towards ending Tuggs’ control over our parkland.
With an opportunity to legally end the city’s controversial agreement with Tuggs (by way that the already-in-operation agreement with Cara was in violation of its original 2010 lease, giving the city the opportunity to get out of the lease and if it so desired, negotiate directly with Carter’s/Cara), council inexplicably and spinelessly voted in favour of the sublease.
Sadly, if ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon could have persuaded just four more councilors to vote “no”, the Beach parklands could have conceivably reverted back to public control.
While we did not achieve our intended objective, we did raise awareness of this story.
At the outset of our campaign, it quickly became clear to us that the city and indeed, our own councillor would have preferred the issue to just go away. My emails to her office received no response. (She did address the issue on her website.) For this reason our group extended its focus across Toronto, garnering great response and media coverage.
Google “Tuggs Lease Beaches” for details.
(For the record, we never opposed Carters Landing establishing a restaurant at the boardwalk. Our issue was the original closed-door agreement between the city and Tuggs Inc.)
There are serious questions that remain unanswered: Why did council vote in favour of the sublease and miss out on a golden opportunity? What was said that day during an in-camera meeting with city lawyers? Why are we not allowed to know? Why are meetings with public representatives regarding public lands not made public? Also, before becoming mayor, John Tory was on the board of directors of Cara Operations Ltd. Why did he not abstain rather than voting as he did in Tuggs’/Cara’s favour?
Residents of Toronto deserve answers. We deserve transparency from our elected officials. They must be held accountable.
But the fight for our parkland is not over.
Councillor McMahon was able to implement a motion asking city managers to explore the possibility of negotiating with Tuggs Inc. and returning the rights to our parkland to Torontonians. This report is due very soon.
There is still a possibility to right this egregious situation which has embarrassed our community for so long. Indeed this was the very issue McMahon campaigned on in 2010. Because of the current arrangement with Tuggs, charities and non-profit events have had to go elsewhere. This is a loss to our community, both spiritually and financially.
As residents we can make our voices heard. Let’s motivate our councillor and all of city council to make this negotiation truly happen. Not just pay lip service to it and say, “Sorry, we tried, but our hands are tied.” And when the city manager’s report is tabled, we need to demand to know its contents. No more in-camera meetings. If it’s important enough to say to public officials, it’s important enough to say to the public. There are real issues of transparency that need to be addressed.
There is still a chance to reclaim our parkland. Call our councillor. We only need four more votes.
Free the Beaches