Planned CafeTO changes draw mixed reviews from business group

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Toronto city council will discuss this week planned changes to the CafeTO program designed to make the process more streamlined for restaurants after what Mayor Olivia Chow called a “messy” 2023.

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Some of the complaints included not enough staff to respond to all of the CafeTO applications and the design process being cumbersome, leading to major delays.

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While the Canadian Federation of Independent Business applauded the program — given that Toronto restaurants were amongst the hardest hit during the pandemic, having been closed to indoor dining for over 400 days, according to CFIB data — it wants to make sure it’s done properly as it becomes a permanent fixture.

“Let’s make sure what we make permanent is a very good program,” said Julie Kwiecinski, the CFIB’s director of provincial affairs for Ontario.

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Among the changes the CFIB endorsed are having just one department instead of three handling the process, pre-approving applicants by Nov. 30 and allowing new applicants to start applying in mid-January.

“All great examples of red-tape reduction that could be felt on the ground by many small businesses,” said Kwiecinski.

CFIB’s concerns were mainly related to costs with a newly implemented $285 one-time application fee that was accompanied by another permit fee based on the size of the outdoor patio space.

For sidewalk cafes, Kwiecinski said, the permit fee worked out to $14.56 per square metre, which goes up to $29.13 in 2024 and $44.14 in 2025. For curbside cafes, it’s $43.70 this year, $87.40 in 2024 and $132.42 in 2025.

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“Maybe there should be a consideration to phase in the new permit fees over five years instead of the current three years,” she said.

“And are these fees revenue neutral?”

A city spokesperson said CafeTO is “designed to be partial cost recovery, even when the full fees come into effect in 2025. The city will continue to subsidize the program.”

Councillor Brad Bradford supported fellow Councillor Paula Fletcher’s motion last spring that asked staff to look at whether the fees should be refunded, reduced or modified and the report has yet to come back from the city.

“There is an important element to fee for service,” said Bradford.

“If we are charging people money, we sure has hell better deliver the services on time for them so they can get back to revenue making.”

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Otherwise, Bradford is supportive of CafeTO generally and even proposed his own amendment during the pandemic.


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“What I moved was a motion to introduce a minimum size (five square metres) for a stage and music on private patios,” said Bradford, also the chair of the city’s music advisory committee.

“There was a lot of skepticism at first from some of my colleagues, but what we found a year later was there was a bunch of councillors that wanted to get in on the program and then we ended up expanding it across the city because it was so successful.”

And dancing, too?

“The bylaw doesn’t speak to dancing,” said Bradford. “Again, if you’re on a patio and you’ve got Stephen Stanley playing an acoustic set, you’re probably just chilling and having a beer. It’s not (a) nightclub (setting).”

Last year, CafeTO patios delivered approximately $203 million in economic benefits to the city, according to a Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas-led economic impact study.

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