The Chair of York Region, Bill Fisch, pocketed a useful $207,000 last year.
But, curiously, he wasn’t elected by the people he serves.
Does it matter? Should we care?
Fisch was indirectly elected by members of the regional council thirteen years ago and he has been cemented into the top job ever since.
Last night I heard from a trio of people who want to see the Regional Chair stand for election and campaign for votes – just like other politicians.
The meeting organised by the York Region Social Planning Council gave a platform to Reza Moridi, the MPP for Richmond Hill, who has introduced a Private Member’s Bill at Queen’s Park calling for the Regional Chair to be an elected position.
How should we rate the Bill’s chances?
I put the question to Moridi himself and got a shrug of the shoulders and a knowing smile.
So I wouldn’t bet on the Bill becoming law.
Still, it gives the issue an airing.
It is not the first time there have been moves to bring a dose of democracy to some of Ontario’s regional councils. In 2010, the former Liberal Cabinet Minister, David Caplan, introduced a similar Bill that went nowhere.
Ben Earle, a community development guru from Durham, tells us it took him a while to realise just how influential the Regional Chair is in shaping the politics of the area.
This theme is taken up by Robert MacDermid from York University – always good value for money - who paints a picture of a political colossus, wielding immense power, often behind the scenes.
Fisch presides over council meetings and, in large part, sets the agenda.
He votes in the event of a tie.
He has the power to break the deadlock “at the very moment when the council is most divided”.
The chair can vote ex officio in Committee meetings and can move motions advancing his view.
And, when other councillors are narrowly focussed on their own patch, the Chair takes an expansive region wide view. He ends up with a leadership role on key strategic issues facing the region.
Professor MacDermid tells us that the Regional Chair, like him or loathe him (it’s nothing personal) is the public face of York region yet he never has to stand in front of the voters and tell them what he believes in. And what he wants to do.
For me, this is the key point.
An election for the Regional Chair would force the voters and politicians to confront the huge infrastructure and transport issues that are currently neglected, forgotten or, even worse, swept under the carpet.
York Region is one of the fastest growing places in North America but one facing immense challenges.
Our roads are heading for gridlock. Our transit system is a creaking. Infrastructure is buckling under the pressure. And the region’s income gap grows wider by the year.
But where is the debate? Where are the different points of view?
MacDermid tells us that, over the years, without anyone really noticing, powers that ordinary citizens used to exercise have gone.
Annual elections are a folk memory. Councillors’ terms have been extended. The opportunities for people to have an input have progressively disappeared.
I learn that Toronto City Hall is only there because people voted in a referendum for a new civic building.
How quaint! Asking the voters if they want a new City Hall.
It gets me thinking about what we can do to reclaim some of the powers that have been lost – or misplaced – over the years.
Seems to me electing Bill Fisch - or not - would be a good place to start.