Few mourn Minnan-Wong announcement he is moving on
by Mike Beggs
The news that Denzil Minnan-Wong is stepping down to run for a provincial seat may be regarded by some as a significant loss for Toronto City Council, but certainly not by the Toronto taxi industry.
On a break from Council on December 7, Minnan-Wong announced his candidacy for the Progressive Conservative nomination for Don Valley East, the same riding he has served as councillor for for the past 24 years.
He told the Toronto Star it was “time for a change” both for him, and at Queen’s Park where the Liberals have held power since 2003.
In the Tory leadership race, this fiscal conservative has thrown his support behind Patrick Brown, who promises tax cuts and money for day care and seniors’ dental care, and funding for public transit.
“I think Patrick Brown is a really appealing candidate. He’s attracting a diverse team, he’s got a modern platform that appeals to urban Toronto,” he told CP 24.
He deems Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government to be, “past its best before date”.
Minnan-Wong, 53, represents the kind of high-profile candidate the Tories are needing to boost their level of support within the 416. Should he win the PC nomination for Don Valley East, he will run against incumbent and Children and Youth Services Minister Michael Coteau in the provincial election, scheduled for June 7, 2018.
Minnan-Wong will remain on Council during the nomination process, where he serves as Deputy Mayor, and has, “a great 30-year relationship” with Mayor John Tory.
During his tenure on Council, he became known as a staunch advocate for keeping a lid on taxes and the size of government, and for spearheading the first separated bike path in Toronto.
But his many forays into the taxi file were not so well-received. The Toronto taxi industry points to a series of devastating measures at the hands of he and his mentor, former Councillor Howard Moscoe, dating right back to the 1998 Taxi Reforms, where the Ambassador Taxi program was enacted. He was also the driver behind the mid-2000’s introduction of printing meters in Toronto cabs, a short-lived and costly measure for operators.
Many industry leaders were delighted to hear of his December 7 announcement.
“May God keep him away from us,” says owner Andy Reti.
“The man was a complete disaster. He didn’t know what he was talking about. But being a politician, logic does not matter.”
“That’s a positive thing. Any time we can get away from him, the better,” agrees Independent Toronto Taxi Inc. president Mike Tranquada.
Tranquada maintains whether the industry realized it or not, the Ambassador plate was introduced by the City, “to see what the industry would do with deregulation.”
A former long-time industry representative on the Taxicab Advisory Committee, driver John Dufort, like many, suggests Minnan-Wong served as, “Howard Moscoe’s puppet” on taxi items.
And while Minnan-Wong claimed the Ambassador Taxi program, and other measures, improved the level of service for passengers, and working conditions for drivers, Dufort counters, “(There was) nothing to help the driver that I can see, over many years.
“I would like him to spell out what he has done. Printing meters? Everything he decided was for the better cost me more money.”
As a resident of Don Valley East, long-time owner/operator Gerry Manley says Minnan-Wong has been an “albatross” around his neck, as he fights for justice on the part of the industry.
“He seems to think he has the answers to the City’s taxi industry woes, since he sat on the Licensing & Standards Committee for several years,” Manley alleges. “That handcuffed me personally, as I did not have a councillor to go to that would be receptive to what needs to be done in the industry.
“The only downfall to this is, he’s running provincially in the same riding.”
Ex-shift driver Peter McSherry, similarly, “can’t see any benefit to having Mr. Minnan-Wong remain on Council.”
“I would say he has been highly predatory,” he alleges. “He learned certain things from Howard Moscoe, and I think he thought he could turn them into religion.
“(But) I think Moscoe would have left the industry something. Minnan-Wong wouldn’t leave you a nickel. He’s going to take everything he can get from these (Standard plate owners), who dedicated their lives to earn something as small as a taxi plate. They devoted their lives to this. They didn’t go home to their families.”
Many industry leaders feel Minnan-Wong bought in early to Moscoe’s “hidden agenda” of wanting to devalue Standard plates, take them back, and then deregulate the industry.
Reti recalls the 1998 press conference unveiling the Ambassador Taxi program, when Minnan-Wong stated, “The plates belong to the City of Toronto, we do not want people to make money off the metal plates. To allow the existing system was a mistake in the first place. We want to increase the number of plates.”
Many times, Minnan-Wong and Moscoe boasted of this as a victory for taxi drivers. They claimed it got drivers out from under the thumb of “greedy” owners and brokers, and turned them into independent operators with pride of ownership. But Reti stresses, recipients of the Ambassador plate (some of them on the waiting list for more than 20 years) received, not their cab driver’s pension, but a “worthless work permit”. Meanwhile, the City saturated the streets with 1,400 Ambassadors without an issuing formula, irrevocably damaging the industry.
He notes Minnan-Wong deemed it “a mistake” allowing a taxi license to acquire significant value, and alleges that city hall subsequently, “became obsessed with trying to diminish plate values.”
“Creating two classes of licensing doing exactly the same work was the first step, which eventually led to allowing Uber to compete unfairly against taxis,” he adds.