Blue Jays president Shapiro says he supports ActiveTO after asking for it to be moved

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, July 28, 2022 6:47PM EDT

Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro says his comments about ActiveTO in early June were widely misinterpreted.

Shapiro spoke with reporters on Thursday, his first public appearance since writing an open letter to Toronto city councilors about the program that shut down busy Lake Shore Boulevard West most weekends over the past two years. Shapiro said he didn’t want ActiveTO ended, just adjusted.

“I am strongly in favour of ActiveTO, I’m in favour of getting exercise and getting outside, especially getting outside and experiencing it,” said Shapiro at a news conference where he introduced new renovations being made to Rogers Centre in downtown Toronto, just north of Lake Shore.

“I think ActiveTO is a great idea but what I have to think about first though, are our fans, the hundreds of thousands of fans over weekends that are impacted by closures.”

ActiveTO was conceived to give cyclists, joggers, and other pedestrians a traffic-free space to exercise during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. City council was scheduled to vote on continuing the program on June 15 when Shapiro issued his open letter.

“I am writing to request you do not vote in favour of extending ActiveTO on Lake Shore Boulevard West,” Shapiro wrote on June 10, pointing to “unprecedented levels of construction and other diversions.”

Shapiro said on Thursday that his intention was to ask Toronto city council to recalibrate the times and locations of ActiveTO.

“So (the message) was just to consider the routes, consider the other things going on, and consider that we’re not in the same place we were getting started,” said Shapiro.

RELATED: Blue Jays boss wants closures of major artery for ActiveTO stopped

Because of travel restrictions related to the pandemic the Blue Jays did not play in Toronto for most of the 2020 and 2021 seasons, instead playing out of the team’s minor-league facilities in Dunedin, Fla., and Buffalo, N.Y. When the Blue Jays did return to Rogers Centre for the end of the 2021 season it was with limited capacity.

That meant that the traffic caused by Blue Jays games and the closures related to ActiveTO didn’t run afoul of each other until April of this year. Shapiro said in his open letter that he was writing after feedback from fans.

“Just complaints about how difficult it is to get to games on days when ActiveTO limited access,” said Shapiro on Thursday on what, specifically, fans had said to him.

Shapiro had been widely criticized online for his letter and Toronto Mayor John Tory publicly defended the Blue Jays president before ActiveTO’s fate was determined by city council. Tory then participated in the city council debate on ActiveTO and voted with other councilors to approve a new plan that didn’t include closing Lake Shore as frequently.

Civic activist Adam Chaleff said on Tuesday that he has filed a formal complaint with the city’s integrity commissioner against Tory for participating in the ActiveTO debate and voting on the matter.

Tory has a long association with Rogers Communications, which owns the Blue Jays. Tory was an executive for Rogers in the 1990s and still sits on the advisory committee of the family trust that controls Rogers.

“I believe that Tory has tried to serve two masters at the same time – Rogers and the public interest – which is what the (integrity commissioner) is setup to prevent,” said Chaleff in a tweet on Tuesday. “I say a judge must now determine whether and what consequences Tory should face for this apparent conflict of interest.”

Don Peat, Tory’s spokesman, issued a statement on Tuesday that said the mayor’s office respects the integrity commissioner’s office and won’t be commenting on the complaint while it’s in front of him.

“This vote was about a city program that the Mayor introduced and championed throughout the pandemic and this was a very broad public issue involving all road users in the city,” said Peat. “The city staff report made no mention of that organization.

“When the Mayor does have any conflicts, he studiously has declared them and he did not have one in this case.”

Shapiro said he was aware of the complaint filed against Tory but that he had no comment on the matter.

“I read it and went back to running the Toronto Blue Jays. It’s just not my expertise. It’s not my area of focus,” said Shapiro.

“I wrote the letter because it was the best interest for the Blue Jays and our fans and I went back to running the Blue Jays.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 28, 2022.