To the York Region Administrative Centre for the appointment of the new Regional Chair who will take over from Bill Fisch, retiring after 17 years.
The job pays just enough to keep the wolf from the door. Last year, Fisch took home a useful $217,780.
It is a glittering occasion. The council chamber is packed. I see the enrobed Michelle Fuerst, the Superior Court Justice who will adminster the oaths of office. The police top brass are here too, decked out in gold braid.
I see Canada’s longest serving councillor, Dave Kerwin, all suited-up, perched in the back row, as far away from the action as possible. And sneaking in through a side door, I see Tom Vegh.
Now it is time for the Presiding Officer, the Regional Clerk, Denis Kelly, to guide us through the arcane rules and procedures - at length. I learn that a candidate doesn’t even have to live in the Region. All councillors must vote. No abstentions are allowed. Kelly is, unusually, the centre of attention and is milking it for all it is worth, lapping up every moment.
The absurdity of it all strikes home when Kelly tells us that anyone can go for the vacancy (you can theoretically walk in off the street) so long as you are proposed and seconded by members of York Regional Council.
Wayne "it's my turn" Emmerson
Step forward the rotund Wayne Emmerson, the former Mayor of Whitchurch-Stouffville, who chose not to stand in the recent Regional elections because he had his sights set on the top job and didn’t want to foist a by election on voters back in his patch. He has been a fixture in the municipality for as long as anyone can remember.
Newmarket’s John Taylor also throws his hat into the ring.
A third contender pulls out and the pressure is on Taylor to do likewise.
Emmerson’s proposer, Richmond Hill’s Mayor, David Barrow, describes him as “someone with a fiscally responsible vision” which presumably means he likes to keep taxes low. (Fair enough, but why not say so in plain English?) I learn he has been Chair of the Region’s Transportation Services Committee since the dawn of time. Clearly, he is someone who knows all about congestion and gridlock.
Now Emmerson is invited to address his colleagues while the rest of us look on.
His speech gallops along. He swallows his words and occasionally gets them jumbled up. But, despite this, he gives the impression of having it all sewn up. He says he works well with people.
Van Bynen paints a picture
Now it is the turn of Newmarket’s Tony Van Bynen whose hagiography of Taylor is designed to bring a tear to the eye.
The audience hears that Taylor is passionate about building great communities. We learn that the hard infrastructure is being put in place but the social infrastructure has been neglected. John will sort that out. He is fact based and relies on data (so does my I Pad). And, bravely, he is willing to take on policy challenges such as rental housing. He is driven by a strong desire to do what is right (whatever that means) and he is willing to compromise to achieve consensus.
As I am digesting this encomium I hear two women directly behind me. “That was very nice. Very nice.”
I turn round and smile and they smile back, hesitantly.
Now it is time for Taylor to take to the podium. His first attention-grabbing sentence is: “I am not going to win this vote.”
Now he tells us why.
Some people feel I should have dropped off the ballot, installing the new Chair by acclamation without risking a messy old election (I made the last bit up.) But people outside wouldn’t understand why there was no contest.
Taylor sets out his stall
So he is staying in the race – knowing he will lose – to set out his own prospectus.
He talks about York’s ageing population; homelessness and affordable housing which, he says, is at “near crisis” levels.
He wants all-day GO trains to be fast tracked. And one year’s free transit pass to get people out of their cars. (There was some kind of qualification in there but I missed it.)
It all sounds pretty good to me. But, for the other 19 voters, it mostly falls on deaf ears.
Taylor gets four votes out of 20. (Jack Heath from Markham; Brenda Hogg from Richmond Hill; Newmarket’s Tony Van Bynen and his own.)
To applause, Wayne Emmerson ascends to the Chair and then sinks into it.
“I think I need a booster seat.”
This seems hilarious at the time. Less so now.
It is Emmerson’s second speech of the evening and he chooses to recite the achievements of the last term in the life of York Region.
We hear that 364 units have been added to the stock of rental – in four years, across nine municipalities! This, apparently, qualifies as an achievement. Oh dear!
Safely installed, I soon discover that Emmerson will be the guiding hand but “Regional Councillors will have to do all the heavy lifting.” I am left wondering what on earth that means.
He is generous to Taylor whose critics in Newmarket will say the vote was humiliating.
On the contrary, his short (and rather eloquent) speech highlighted the bankruptcy of the current system, based on deals, nods and winks and stitch-ups, to direct election of the Regional Chair by the voters at large.
Even though he lost, Taylor deserves a round of applause.
He did the right thing.