HEALTH WARNING. Shrink Slessor Square has no affiliation to Occupy Newmarket or to any other group. Now read on…
A terrific meeting on Saturday at Newmarket Public Library when York University’s Professor Robert MacDermid shows how development industry funding shapes the outcomes of elections and, ultimately, our urban landscape.
It is gripping stuff.
He reveals the hidden wiring that connects developers and politicians in front of an audience that includes regional councillor, John Taylor, and councillors Dave Kerwin, Joe Sponga and Tom Hempen.
The professor tells us that developers make their money from the re-zoning of land. Its value can increase exponentially if the municipality gives the thumbs up to development.
Even if individual councillors may not realise it, their Councils are
factories for profit generation for developers.
His authoritative research on campaign donations in the 905 area is jaw dropping. (His study does not include Newmarket.)
We learn of instances where developers co-ordinate their giving and even, in some cases, search out pliable, pro-development candidates, promising to fund their campaigns with a multiplicity of $750 donations.
In a glaring legislative loophole, we learn that developers can second staff to work for favoured candidates and this doesn’t count against candidates’ expenses. He describes this as a “huge loophole”.
Professor MacDermid says the tax base is too narrow, depending largely on property. Councils get money to do things by relying on development. But that only lasts for so long. Once areas are built out – as is now the case with Mississauga – that option is no longer available.
All across the GTA, the development industry provides a huge chunk of campaign donations. And, in return, they expect something back.
Developers do not neutrally support all candidates in an election race as a way of strengthening local democracy. Instead, they pick and choose their favoured candidates and channel funding to them. We learn that in 2006, all developers’ donations went to the winners in 52 out of 110 races. The 2010 figures are currently being number-crunched.
So, what is to be done?
Professor MacDermid lists a series of measures to reduce the stranglehold that developers have on our municipal politics. These include:
* Diversifying the tax base
* Establishing a GTA wide planning body
* Getting the public more involved in local politics
* More “citizen journalism” focussing on what is happening in local areas
* Tightening up ethics rules and, perhaps, establishing a register of councillors’ interests where meetings with developers would be logged and made publicly available.
* A ban on corporate funding of candidates seeking election. (In the City of Toronto these corporate donations are now prohibited)
Our councillors get stuck into the discussion sparked by Professor MacDermid’s lecture.
Councillor Kerwin, with more than three decades of municipal service under his belt, congratulates Occupy for setting up the meeting. But he says the issue is not just about developers. Individuals, too, can be very persistent in pressing their case.
John Taylor pitches in with a promise to bring forward a motion to Newmarket Council to ban corporate funding of election candidates.
I think this involves a formal request to the Province to amend the Ontario Municipal Elections Act to allow Newmarket to do this. The Province can kick the ball into touch – as they have done with similar requests from other 905 municipalities.
I am not clear on the details and I need to check this out further.
Ward 4 councillor, Tom Hempen, arrives after the presentation saying Saturday is a working day for him and he got here as soon as he could. No problem.
He gets a great reception when he asks to stay and participate in the general discussion after the formal meeting had ended.
He stoutly defends Newmarket Council and the way in which it deals with planning matters. It is good to hear the case put with such conviction from someone who describes himself as a “rookie councillor”.
He gets great credit for engaging with the issues.
We mention various points from Professor MacDermid’s earlier lecture including the Professor’s astonishment that major decisions on development are often nodded through council meetings without a recorded vote.
Where is the transparency or accountability in that?
Without missing a beat, Tom responds.
If you want me to call for a recorded vote on any development issue, I’ll do it.
I see lots of nods of approval.