Sidewalk Toronto: Waterfront Toronto Please Say No to Business with Sidewalk Labs

Please sign our letter to the Waterfront Toronto board asking them to say no to doing business with Sidewalk Labs.

(This post is a thread from Twitter with some minor edits so if it’s a bit weird to read, that’s why)

The Justice Department appears to be starting antitrust investigations into Google. Meanwhile Waterfront Toronto trying to broker a deal to let them influence our governance. You can’t make this stuff up. Stop this deal now. #BlockSidewalk

The deadline is approaching to join our #BlockSidewalk letter campaign. So I’m going to do a little thread in a bit about the serious structural problems with this deal (since 2017) and why the “deal-maker/consensus finding” public signaling from the Waterfront Toronto chair is troubling.

Canada should not be the escape hatch for this company’s capital as it seeks to evade regulation. Why did Sidewalk Labs set up in Canada? Lots of reasons. One of them is that we are a mark for this type of thing. Toronto in particular. This would not be happening in Montreal.

Persistent insecurity. People are actually worrying about the reputational impact of stopping this deal, meanwhile Toronto tech is booming. The reputational damage to the City is happening right now by carrying on with the charade. Reputational gain will be achieved by saying no.

Many people highly respect the chair of Waterfront Toronto’s board, and for good reason from what I understand. I don’t know him. Having said that, here’s the quote that is troubling — it’s from this great piece by @amandaannroth for The Logic.

“Diamond said reaching consensus is always important to him when working on controversial projects.” Now I’m not only concerned by this quote, there’s a long list of reasons to be concerned. But it’s the most recent public signal that saying no to the project is not on the table.

Art work by Hudson

This despite the fact that every signal says we should not allow this company to do business with our govt right now. The way this deal is structured is irrational. The local economics are increasingly irrelevant. They can sink money in Toronto and make it everywhere else.

The timescale to be held accountable for this decision is long — the impacts will not manifest immediately. Could take up to a decade for the mirage to clear and the privatization of the government, the public realm/public services, and more, to appear.

And by that time, this board will be gone. This is not a rational negotiation situation. And the longer everyone pretends it is the more tiring it gets. It’s a simple choice. The govt can do its job and maintain the existing social contract or sell out the City to a tech firm.

This deal has benefitted so much from theatre and obfuscation. Many people know something is off with it but can’t quite put their finger on it so they don’t speak. The charade of wrapping this up in urban planning and beautiful wood has been *chef’s kiss* admirably successful.

The last thing is this. Another terrible part of this deal is the lack of confidence in Toronto from this old guard and its power. They are blocking the path for an entirely new and better technology sector to emerge. This smart city stuff is not only toxic — it’s old and tired.

There is a totally different thing to do as a small nation with a small market — a really beautiful tech sector to support and grow. To do this, one certainly does not look to a monopoly that is about to undergo antitrust investigations to seed and support an ecosystem. Come on.

The board can say no to the deal. Then we take all the learnings, apply them to a new strategic path, link up with the Canadian Smart City challenge network, connect to the national/provincial work on AI/identity/policy, and lead. Honestly, we are perfectly situated to lead.

There’s no void/vacuum/reputational risk. It’s not a thing. There’s a really cool next thing to do. So let’s say no to this thing and say yes to building up and out from here. This deal has wasted enough of our civic time and energy. Dragging it on any longer is not ok.

There is a very rational move here for the board. They can say thank you for this plan Sidewalk Labs, we are happy to receive it. This phase of our deal is now done. We will now turn to new contracts for any parts of it that we want to implement. It’s totally reasonable.

Everyone did their thing. The board and the governments show that this was not, in fact, a fait accompli project. That consent does matter. They have one plan and we, as a city, can think about others. And we move on. We just say no to doing further business with Sidewalk Labs.

So please join us over at @blocksidewalk and sign this letter asking the Waterfront Toronto board to say no to business with Sidewalk Labs so we can say yes to other better PUBLIC things: — if you have questions I’m here. Thanks for reading and onwards

PS: Please consider me on call all weekend for questions below if you want to leave them. It’s hard to know how to start the conversations sometimes, we’re well in the weeds. But we are doing a campaign drive till Sunday night and if you can help us but have questions we are here

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