Councillor Josh Matlow

Openfile: Street food saviour? Food trucks and hot dog carts have a slightly anxious champion in Josh Colle

March 28, 2012

Councillor Josh Colle (Ward 15, Eglinton—Lawrence) really, really doesn’t want to be associated with A La Cart, the city’s failed attempt to micromanage diversity in street food that was in most evaluations a total failure. In an interview this morning, he refused to even use the words “A La Cart”, preferring instead to “that program”. But people looking for more variety in street food than the choice between Italian and Polish sausages may have him to thank if he gets his way.

Colle, who’s been working with issues of urban food and urban farming for a while now, is working with staff on a motion to go to the Licensing and Standards Committee that would change the by-laws that currently forbid a food truck from operating on a private lot, even when they’re welcome, and get rid of some of the red tape that’s been the bane of food trucks such as Caplansky’s. A separate motion that will probably come later would let existing hot dog cart operators sell more than their standard fare.

“We need to step back and let the market open up a bit,” says Colle. “Instead of us putting another layer of restriction on it, to my mind, for no real reason.”

The restrictions he’s talking about are due to the city having never changed its licensing rules since the province amended Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act in 2007 to give cities like Toronto more street food options.

According to Councillor John Fillion (Ward 23, Willowdale), there were a number of reasons the city didn’t amend its by-laws after the 2007 changes, including staff concerns about inspections and general council preference to see how the A La Cart turned out before proceeding with further liberalization.

But after A La Cart imploded there has still been no change to the city’s by-laws. This is in part because the issue has had no real champion at council. Colle’s motion seeks to fix that, and he isn’t just hoping for poutine trucks on King street. He sees this as a way of potentially serving some of the “food deserts” in Toronto. “I’ve got a lot of areas in my ward that don’t have access to fresh food whatsoever. Could Lawrence Heights have a mobile fruit market?” Part of the impulse for his motions is to make something like that possible.

The next meeting of Licensing and Standards Committee is tomorrow, March 29, and Colle’s two motions are unlikely to be ready quite that soon. But he describes these as high priorities: “Really, really immediate and a little less really, really immediate” were the words he used this morning, so hopefully they’ll be ready for the April 26 committee meeting.

Assuming they get through committee, Colle will have at least one ally at council, with Ward 22 Councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) endorsing a liberalized food regime in the city.

“This city is so regulated, so permitted, so licensed,” says Matlow while cheering for more diverse food options. “We need to allow Toronto to be more creative and more diverse. We meed to let Toronto be the city that it is.”

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