My Deputation to Toronto’s Executive Committee on Sidewalk Toronto — June 6 2019
Good morning, thank you for the opportunity to speak about this report.
We as Tech Reset Canada have two items I’d like to talk about.
They are both informed by the need to balancing innovation investments and energy with similar investments in resident protection and democracy.
The two items: 1. the timetable for the assessment of the plan 2. additional criteria to consider in its assessment, should this plan even get to you.
Regarding the Timetable, a note and question.
On Page 7 — The Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs Relationship
This section does not indicate that the Plan Development Agreement between Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs, (which again, the City is not party to), expires on Sept 30th of this year.
Given the timeline milestones, I’m wondering why this does appear as one in the report? Do staff assume that the Waterfront Toronto board and Sidewalk Labs will extend their agreement? If so, why?
It’s critical that the off-ramps for this deal are clearly understood by the public. The structure of this deal has been highly unclear. Some people think Sidewalk Toronto is Waterfront Toronto when it’s Sidewalk Labs.
This has created a particularly bad situation for accountability.
Based on my understanding, on or by Sept 30th one or both parties might walk away from this deal.
If they want to extend this deal, there has to be a vote from Waterfront Toronto’s board, and no such vote is currently scheduled.
2. The Criteria — MIDP Review by the City, Page 13
Under section c, alignment with good governance and best practices, may I suggest you add something related to the global, or spill-over, impacts of this deal. We think about the environment this way, and should think about our digital infrastructure this way too.
What happens in Toronto is not intended to stay in Toronto. Quite the opposite actually, which can be good and bad.
Given the global nature of the internet and digital infrastructure, as well as precedent and impact, the City bears moral responsibility for the dominoes it could set in motion with this deal, including how it shares in potential revenues of this deal, and the ethics of that.
Nowhere in the criteria is there an explicit mention related to how to assess Sidewalk Labs as an irrational actor because they are part of an under-regulated monopoly.
Sidewalk Labs can bleed money in Toronto and make it back elsewhere. That seems to be part of the plan.
We also have a responsibility to stop problematic business models that stem from an entrenched and under-regulated monopoly. We have a responsibility to think of cities beyond this one.
This includes using our public land and public infrastructure in such a deal, which includes both our physical and digital infrastructure. What does it mean to reward entrenched power with these assets?
The internet is not in good shape right now. We need time and space to build out something better in our physical spaces. We can.
This is the end of a digital era where foundations are coming apart. Google is 20 years old. It feels unwise to tether our future prosperity to a sinking ship of a business model. Not just the data piece, though — the monopoly part and the existing Internet. There’s a power disparity here based on how this deal was structured. This is about power.
Another criteria to consider is the opportunity cost of this deal. We don’t see this risk being identified properly.
When considering this plan, we need to think about the impact of the way public consent is being manufactured with a large public relations campaign that has run for 18 months.
We need to consider what it means for the City to be on the defensive, mitigating something we may not want, or fully understand (this is not an insult, tech business models are opaque).
One where we are being forced to act with false urgency that benefits the proponent, we endanger our chances to do this right.
The plans for the future prosperity of our City should be done under our terms, on our timeline. And not just the data strategy, the ongoing framing and potential for the tech sector in the City of Toronto.
The City is booming. We have a long and deep history of social and municipal innovation. We have to make space for us to do things our own way. In a democratic way.
We can and will thrive that way. We can rise to this opportunity, and I’m grateful for your leadership in doing so. Thank you.