Q&A: Tracey Cook, the licensing and standards chief who took on the cab industry

Q&A: Tracey Cook, the licensing and standards chief who took on the cab industry

Tracey Cook, the city’s powerful head of licensing and standards, helped legitimize Uber. Now pot dispensary operators are feeling her wrath

Tracey Cook
Tracey Cook. Photograph by Erin Leydon

You launched an application for an injunction against Uber back in November 2014. Now, two years later, you’ve laid the groundwork for their legitimization. What changed?
A lot. I turned a corner in my thinking last summer, when I began to understand what’s happening globally with disruptive technologies like Uber, Airbnb, Netflix. You can’t turn back the clock on progress.

What do the new rules entail?
They essentially regulate and permit companies like Uber, Lyft and so on. They recognize that people want to get around the city in a variety of ways and allow them to do so safely.

Cabbies were outraged that you backtracked on banning Uber. What was the wildest demonstration you saw?
Last December, about 100 cabbies blocked the intersection in front of city hall. My staff advised me not to go out there, but I did anyway. I felt it was my duty. Then suddenly 100 cabbies closed in on me, and I was surrounded.

Were you intimidated?
No, no. I was a police officer for 18 years. I’ve seen and heard a lot worse. They were out in traffic. I basically told them not to get hurt.

So the gentleman who punched an Uber driver’s window and hung off the side of the car for a block wasn’t listening?
I suppose not, no.

Where do you fall, politically?
As a former cop, I place a high value on law and order. But do I want to sit in people’s living rooms and tell them what to watch on TV? No. I’m more mushy middle, and in more ways than one!

Over the course of the debate, cabbies called you “bipolar” and Tory’s “pawn,” and demanded your resignation. For a while, you trended on Twitter. Does that nonsense get to you?
You know what, I was upset by some of it, but I understood—sorry. Give me a second.

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you tear up.
Bah! Oh man, look at me! Now I have to fix my makeup! Listen, I don’t care about name-calling. It’s that I feel for the cab drivers. One deputant spent his savings to become a licence holder and make his vehicle accessible, both of which he sees as unnecessary now. It ripped my heart out.

How do you cope with stress?
I rely on friends, family and Wiser’s Deluxe whiskey.

The trifecta! Are you married?
Common law. Frank is older than me and has four kids. I don’t have any of my own.

What does Frank do?
He’s a retired police officer. We met on the job. We live in Don Mills and have five grandkids and a backyard sauna. Life’s good.

What made you want to be a cop?
I like helping people. My adoptive father was an officer—I never knew my biological dad—though he left when I was six, so I’m not sure he influenced my career choice. I didn’t see him again until I was 17, after I’d applied to the service. And it turns out my mom suffered from mental illness. I just thought she was nasty. They’re both passed now. Anyway, I started as a cop in Regent Park. Eighteen years later, I was a detective in the fraud squad.

What was your proudest achievement?
I arrested a rapist in Scarborough. That was a good day.

Why did you quit?
I was hired as head of security for Coca-Cola Canada, overseeing surveillance, fraud, investigations. It was fascinating. I left to become a VP at Securitas security. Then I joined the city.

Your department and the police raided a number of pot dispensaries recently. Since the federal government plans to legalize recreational pot, isn’t a crackdown a waste of time and effort?
No. We received complaints about the massive proliferation of dispensaries and were compelled to act. Legally, there is no grey area: they’re illegal until they’re not illegal.

With experience as a cop, a bureaucrat and a trending topic, you have an impressive resumé. Have you ever considered a run for mayor?
Ha. Absolutely not. I respect politicians, but I am not one. I have the dream job now. What’s next? Dunno. But it’s definitely not mayor.

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