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Looking for an interesting opportunity? York Regional Council is in the market for planning advisers.

York Region is to set up a Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) to consider and provide advice to Council on "key Regional planning matters".

But where will its members come from? What kind of person would want to put themselves forward for consideration? And will they have anything useful to say?  

At its meeting last week, these matters were exercising some of the finest minds in York Region.

Paul Freeman, the Region's Director of Long Range Planning, had just told members of the Council the Planning Act now requires them to set up an advisory committee which must include at least one resident of the Region who cannot be an employee or a member of a municipal council.

I hear a lot of groaning and muttering and huffing and puffing.

However, I spot one or two enthusiasts.

Markham's Jack Heath is first out of the trap as is so often the case. He has enthusiasm in his DNA. He is always congratulating people for coming forward with good ideas and is very much in favour of the proposed committee. He strongly believes members of Council should participate in the selection interviews.

Developers and advisers

Newmarket's John Taylor likes the idea of an Advisory Committee so long as it isn't stuffed with people from the "development community". He wants lay people not "planning experts". And he wants to know what they will be looking at and advising on.

Richmond Hill's Vito Spatafora thinks it will supplement the Region's normal consultation process. Markham's Jim Jones - always worth listening to - wonders aloud what practical difference will it make? He too wants to be in on the interviews. But, more importantly, he wants to know what deficiencies these new people are being brought in to remedy.

I think I know. York Region needs to be opened up to new voices and perspectives. It is hermetically sealed. It is engineered that way.

For the vast majority of people, York Regional Council does not even register on the radar. Newspapers don't report big stories. And the broadcasters have got nothing to go on given that cameras are banned from meetings. So even though it is an influential player and a humongous spender it doesn't get the coverage it deserves. Its members are largely unknown to the public outside their own patch. The Region itself is responsible for this sorry state of affairs. The College of Cardinals could teach it a thing or two about openness and transparency.

Scepticism

Brenda Hogg from Richmond Hill cautions against members of Council participating in the interviews. Now I detect a note of scepticism about the whole thing.

"Do we really want non-elected, appointed residents dealing with planning matters? Sounds a bit like the OMB to me!"

Now Markham's Nirmala Armstrong is wondering where they are going to find all the members. The staff are recommending "mixed Council and resident representation" with 7-11 resident members and 1-3 members of Council with the regional chair, the jolly Wayne Emmerson, sitting in, ex officio.

The members will not get paid but will be able to claim expenses. They will meet as a committee up to four times a year. They will be bound by an iron code of omerta that Don Corleone would feel comfortable with. If they are approached by the media they must refer all inquiries to the Region’s Planning and Economic Development branch.

I suspect the pool in which they are about to fish for applicants may be on the shallow side.

Skill sets

East Gwillimbury's Virginia Hackson thinks they should ask the local municipalities who may know suitable people with the "right skill sets". What on earth does she mean? Lapdogs? Troublemakers? Steady and reliable retired planners? She doesn't elaborate.

Mayor Justin Altmann from Whitchurch-Stouffville - whose Town has seen explosive population growth of over 20% these past five years - is worried that an advisory committee may slow things down. These days he is addicted to speed.

"It's a nice thing to do but is it going to mean delay?"

Vaughan's Gino Rosati supports the staff's recommended option but has concerns about the committee's composition. Will they understand planning? What kind of person will want to do this? We want to make sue they're from the general community.

Scarpitti luke warm

Now it is the turn of Frank Scarpitti from Markham - the highest paid Mayor in Ontario and possibly Canada. His scepticism can often be confused with cynicism. He declares there will be duplication and frustrations. No doubt about it. He says the Province has never acknowledged the excellent public consultation the Region has done. Never!

Now he chortles:

"Maybe the Province should set up a Provincial Policy Advisory Committee!"

Tony Van Trappist says nothing.

I don't know if he is for or against or just doing the crossword.

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The Staff report says this: To support delivery of the Planning Advisory Committee’s mandate, preference will be given to persons with general knowledge of land use planning matters, including planning legislation, concepts or processes. Resident members shall represent the interests of the broader community and shall not be directly affiliated with the development industry or other specific interest group related to the planning and development industry


 

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