Will York Region and Newmarket survive in their current form following Doug Ford’s review of Regional Government that was announced yesterday?  

Almost certainly not.

The Toronto Star’s Edward Keenan reminds us today how Ford tossed a bomb into the city’s election campaign and “slashed the size of council in half on a whim”. Ford’s record is one of creating chaos…

“though the claimed motive is always the same: efficiency and effectiveness… better and cheaper government is best achieved by putting ever-fewer people in charge of governing ever-larger areas.”

The Government has appointed two advisers – Ken Seiling and Michael Fenn – who clearly are working at breakneck speed to deliver “reform”. 

They began work on 20 December 2018. Their appointment was announced to the press and public yesterday (15 January 2019). They will submit their work plan to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs by Friday (18 January 2019) and their “detailed consultation plan for the review” by Thursday 31 January 2019. Their recommendations will be submitted to the Minister by “early summer 2019” which could mean late June or early July. 

Is this even remotely feasible?

We are told they are going to review the whole gamut of municipal governance and decision making:

  • Is the decision-making (mechanisms and priorities) of upper- and lower-tier municipalities efficiently aligned?
  • Does the existing model support the capacity of the municipalities to make decisions efficiently?
  • Are two-tier structures appropriate for all of these municipalities?
  • Does the distribution of councillors represent the residents well?
  • Do the ways that regional councillors/heads of council get elected/appointed to serve on regional council help to align lower- and upper-tier priorities?
  • Is there opportunity for more efficient allocation of various service responsibilities?
  • Is there duplication of activities?
  • Are there opportunities for cost savings?
  • Are there barriers to making effective and responsive infrastructure and service delivery decisions?

Classic Ford

The whole half-baked exercise is classic Ford. A dramatic announcement sprung on us without warning. An absurdly compressed timetable. And a result that is pre-ordained. 

Alongside the Regional Review we also had a simultaneous announcement on housing supply making it:

“faster and easier for local governments to make modest changes to settlement area boundaries… and would allow municipalities to make more land available for housing to accommodate forecasted growth.”

The Government says all this will happen 

while maintaining protections for the Greenbelt, agricultural lands, the agri-food sector, and natural heritage systems”

Ford is proposing major changes to the planning system - dressed up as cutting red tape when in reality it is about cutting corners.

We shall have to wait for the small print. But Ford has a habit of speaking with a forked tongue. As we recall, during the Provincial election campaign Ford was memorably caught on camera promising he was going to open up chunks of the Greenbelt to development.

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On Thursday (10 January 2019) I wander along to York Regional HQ for the first meeting of the new Committee of the Whole where our elected officials are briefed by senior staff on how the machine functions. The presentations are polished. Next week there will be a second round of briefings. One third of York Region's elected officials are new and are still finding their feet. 

Live streamed on video for the first time. A big step forward.

Regional Chair, Wayne Emmerson – re-appointed by acclamation and safe and secure in his $270,000 berth for the next four years – is his usual jovial self. 

Emmerson tells his colleagues the meeting is to be live-streamed on video for the very first time.

“You are being watched by people from Australia, China, North America and all over the world…  You are being watched so just remember!”

Now I see everyone laughing and smiling and waving at the cameras, saying hello to two senior staff who can’t be present but who are following the meeting on line.

Streaming changes the dynamics

Video streaming and its archive will, over time, subtly change the dynamics of Council and Committee meetings and will keep our elected members on their toes. As the months go by, clips will be picked up by the broadcast media and by the Era (we can only hope) and the on-line Newmarket Today. Gone for good, I hope, are the days of the coasting Regional Council member, wholly disengaged from the business at hand but content to pick up the pay-cheque.

Emmerson, elected by members of the Regional Council, was of course always dead against video broadcasting Council and Committee meetings. So too was the bald baritone Frank “Pretty Boy” Scarpitti, the Mayor of Markham, who feared he was not televisual enough. Scarpitti sits next to the Chair and always talks at great length about anything touching on his home turf. 

New faces

A lot of the old stagers are back for the new Council term 2018-2022 but we have a healthy sprinkling of new faces. I see the new Regional Councillor Robert Grossi, a former five term Mayor of Georgina, who can be expected to bring heft and experience to the Council Chamber. And I see Iain Lovatt from Whitchurch-Stouffville who replaces the controversial unlamented Justin Altmann, the Mayor who kept a huge photo montage of adversaries in his washroom at the Town Hall, claiming it was a “mind map” which helped him remember things. 

Newmarket's library man, Tom Vegh, wants invitations to meetings

And then there is Tom Mrakas who takes over from the previous Aurora Mayor, the ineffective lightweight Geoffrey Dawe. People are hoping for great things from Tom Mrakas whose Council is resolutely opposed to Doug Ford’s Bill 66 which threatens the Greenbelt. And Mrakas wants people to know it. 

From Newmarket I see Tom “I’m committed to a new library” Vegh. He joins the Town’s Mayor, John Taylor, but sits directly opposite him in the hemicycle, thirty feet away. Tom tells us he is interested in the proposed 400-404 link road and wants to be involved in any meetings involving the Region which may be convened by Caroline Mulroney. Good to see Newmarket’s new library man is putting down a marker.

Joe DiPaolo

There is a smattering of other newcomers including Vaughan’s Linda Jackson and Richmond Hill’s Joe DiPaola – the husband of the infamous Charity McGrath, the one-time Provincial PC candidate for Newmarket.

Now the Region’s Commissioners – the top staff - are giving us an overview of their departmental fiefdoms. It is a learning experience for all of us – and completely free of charge. I hear that the Region planted 90,000 trees every year during the last Council term, removing 80,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere, the emissions generated by 60,000 vehicles. The Region’s inventive engineer, the impressive Erin Mahoney, introduces us to the term “infrastretching” – getting more out of the region’s capital assets such as sewers. (I shall stop there.)

Mulock GO Rail Station threatened by Ford

Now we are on to the transit and transportation presentation from Brian Titherington. He reminds us that last November the Ford Government “paused” work on the new GO Rail stations while looking at a new “market-driven approach” involving private sector partners. Regional Express Rail (RER) is being rebranded as “GO Expansion” but other than that it all seems very opaque. Brian Titherington confesses things are a bit unclear. But it has

“put the two new stations (on the Barrie line) into a big question mark.”

This is serious stuff for Newmarket. The Town has already committed $250,000 on developing a new secondary plan for the Mulock area and no-one wants to see this money disappear down the drain.

Threatened by the Ford Government

The Metrolinx Board will be getting a report from their staff next month on where things are heading. In the meantime:

“For new stations, Metrolinx is actively pursuing opportunities for Transit Oriented Development with third parties. TOD improves integration of the system with local transit and local communities, generate(s) additional ridership, and deliver(s) stations at lower cost.” 

With so much up in the air, Frank Scarpitti, always ready to fight his corner,  suggests the Region should prepare a formal resolution that could be sent on to the Province setting out Regional priorities. He wants Ministers to understand the implications of delaying projects: 

“We don’t want to see things fall off the back end of the truck.”

Now he is talking at length about the new GO Rail stations on the Barrie line:

“I applaud the fact that Metrolinx and the Government (are) going back and re-looking and re-visiting some of the stations that were announced previously and looking to see if there are development opportunities that can actually pay for those stations on the GO line – Mulock and Kirby being the two that were highlighted.”

Scarpitti wants new stations in and around his patch:

“This Council requested two other – I think if not more – additional GO stations. We were trying to get these included in the (Metrolinx) Plan and as much as I applaud what the Government is doing here on these two stations (Mulock and Kirby) I think we should go back and ask them to revisit those stations as well. I am thinking of Denison in Markham and also north of Major Mackenzie east of Highway 48 which would help both Markham and actually Stouffville and other northern communities because people could get to them…”

Scarpitti with his shopping list of pet projects for Markham sees this pause as an opportunity “to open the door” on matters which everyone thought had been settled. 

Frank Scarpitti. Reputedly the highest paid Mayor in Ontario.

Mulock Station “teetering on the brink”

Newmarket’s new Mayor, John Taylor, is sceptical. When he tells us he is going to put his comments “respectfully” he has clearly decided (in his understated way) to challenge Scarpitti.  (Video at 1.53)

He says the priority is to keep what we have. The proposed new stations at Mulock and Kirby are to be removed from the procurement process pending some kind of re-evaluation. Taylor looks at Scarpitti:

“I applaud your optimism as seeing this moment as a “door opening” to revisit other stations. But the words used were: “Kirby and Mulock to be removed from the process”. I don’t see a door opening. I see one closing…”

“Is it a good strategy to have a discussion when a door is closing to try to keep it open (and) secure what you have? Or is it a good strategy to say we should push for more and maybe in pushing for more they (the Government) say this is all too much?”

“The Mulock Station was announced and it is important to us and I am worried about asking for more when we seem to be losing ground… What we have is teetering on the brink of disappearing.”

Taylor hopes the pause is not a "veiled cancellation". But, even at best, he sees long delays with no possibility of getting the new Mulock Station up and running by 2025 as originally proposed. 

Taylor gives no ground on Mulock. Aurora's Tom Mrakas (right)

It is a stark reminder that elections have very real consequences.

An emollient Scarpitti says his priorities won’t impact on those of his colleagues. He is at pains to reassure Taylor :

“We are not trying to insert ourselves before the two new stations.”

As if!

Doug Ford – cutting spending 

During last year’s municipal election campaign Taylor was loathe to criticise Doug Ford on the grounds that, if elected, he would have to work with him. But with Mulock Station now directly threatened he is less circumspect. 

He tells us the Provincial Government is retreating on spending and the Region needs to itemise its priorities. And Taylor wants to make sure Mulock is up there at the top.

We shall see what comes up to the full Council meeting on 31 January 2019.

But no matter how elegantly drafted, it is difficult to see how the report can satisfy both Frank Scarpitti and John Taylor. 

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Less than three months ago Newmarket’s new Regional Councillor, Tom Vegh, was elected on a platform that promised a new library and seniors’ centre on the Hollingsworth arena site at Paterson and Davis Drive, a stone’s throw from Southlake Hospital. 

Now, sooner than most of us could have imagined, his capacity to deliver on this explicit promise will be put to the test. 

Vegh wants us to believe he doesn’t make promises lightly. But when he does he boasts of getting “real results”. 

On 14 January 2019, the Town’s Committee of the Whole will consider a staff report on the potential redevelopment of the Hollingsworth Arena site. Councillors will be asked to decide if they want a 

“non-statutory, developer-led Public Information Centre (PIC)” 

to be organised in February to canvass the views of the public on two redevelopment concepts prepared by Briarwood Homes.

The lands earmarked for development are at 693 Davis Drive, 713 Davis Drive and 35 Patterson Street which is the Town-owned Hollingsworth Arena property. 

Davis Drive is the yellow band at the bottom

Hollingsworth has a history

Of course, we’ve been here before with the Hollingsworth Arena. A few years ago  senior Council staff and the credulous former Mayor, Tony Van Trappist, were beguiled by the pseudo-developer Sandro Sementilli. He turned out to be all bluster and hot air and his ambitious plans to redevelop the site turned to dust

Now we must assume the Town is dealing with people who can deliver. 

Briarwood Homes submitted two revised concept plans dated 7 December 2018 and these are the ones to be presented to the public.

The report to councillors describes in planning-speak the nature of the two scenarios both of which develop the land more intensively. The planners see a mix of uses with a commercial frontage along Davis Drive. The buildings could reach 15 storeys on the Davis Drive side of the development.

Development options to be unveiled next month

But we have to guess what these two scenarios actually look like and what community facilities, if any, are proposed. We learn the development proposed by Scenario 1 is staged, developing the southern portion of the properties first. It applies:

“to the two properties that front on Davis Drive (693 Davis Drive, 713 Davis Drive) and the southerly 21m of the Hollingsworth Arena property (35 Patterson Street)”

By contrast, we are told Scenario 2 is more comprehensive and immediate. We learn it is a revised version of the initial concept put to councillors in closed session last June. It applies to all three parcels of land in their entirety.

On 11 June 2018 councillors were given a presentation on the options for the development of the Hollingsworth site and received confidential supporting reports from staff. A week later, in a closed session of the full Council, after an update from staff, councillors decided they needed more information from the proponent (presumably Briarwood Homes) and that any proposals should be shared with the public in the new term of Council – which is where we are now.

Vegh’s pitch to voters

It follows that when Vegh made his pitch to the voters last October about locating the library and seniors’ centre at Hollingsworth he knew what was in the mind of the developer (the initial concept) and what, according to staff, might be feasible and doable. 

Can Vegh deliver? Or is it just talk?

Many people would have taken Vegh at his word. But his Regional Council opponent, Chris Emanuel, spent the entire election campaign ridiculing Vegh’s promise of a new library, saying it was undeliverable without a humungous tax increase.

Vegh needs five votes out of the nine strong council to get traction on his new library. Does he have the votes in the bag? I don’t know but we should find out soon enough. If councillors want a new library and seniors’ centre they should nail their colours to the mast as Vegh has done – rather than say nothing and wait for the public to express a view through the PIC process.

Councillors can shape, mould and lead public opinion. It should be part of their job description. We don’t elect people to remain mute.

New Library Now!

Talking of which… Newmarket Public Library Chief Executive, Todd Kyle, has been championing a new library for years but in a whispered kind of way.

Four years ago, at an NPL IdeaMarket in front of a sympathetic audience of fellow library professionals, he called for a new library. But then things went quiet again.

Admittedly, Kyle talks from time to time about the inadequacies of the Park Avenue Library and how it is not really fit for purpose. But his remarks always come across to me as tentative, almost apologetic. 

Tom Vegh has put the issue up front and centre and if Todd Kyle and the Library Board are remotely serious they should row in behind him and start making the case.

Loudly.

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Last night’s TVO interview of Patrick Brown was a huge disappointment. 

This was the original rough copy of the dust jacket. The published book talks of the "attempted" political assassination of Brown.

The new Mayor of Brampton was invited into the studio to talk to Nam Kiwanuka about his new book, “Takedown: The Attempted Political Assassination of Patrick Brown”. 

Instead of detailed forensic questioning he was given the kid glove treatment.

The defining characteristic of Patrick Brown’s leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party was low ethical standards. But at no point in the interview was this issue addressed head on. Instead Brown was allowed to burble on about being unfairly targeted when he says he was just ahead of his time, dragging the old, white, rural based PCs into a more vibrant, tolerant and diverse future. 

This is complete hogwash. The PC Party under Brown was deeply corrupt. Nomination meetings were rigged. Voting fraud took place on an industrial scale. There are two active police investigations currently running. Membership numbers were (and possibly still are) inflated. 

Rooting out the rot

And yet, last night, here he was again telling us there were two distinct sets of membership numbers in 2018 and no way of knowing which one was correct. Apparently, it all depends on who you believe. Brown or Vic “Rooting out the Rot” Fideli

“When I first announced my intention to run for the Party leadership there were 10,000 Party members. It wasn’t diverse. It was largely rooted in rural Ontario. By the time I was removed as Leader the number was either 15 times or 20 times that depending on what numbers you believe. We were at a record membership either way…”

Whose numbers should we believe? How many PC members are there? Does anyone know? 

Since candidates are (at least theoretically) selected by the membership, the number of members in total and by riding seems pretty important, at least to me.

But the gaping hole in the interview concerned the 26 April 2018 report from the Integrity Commissioner, Mr Justice Wake, who found that Brown had misled him and had deliberately concealed the truth about a $375,000 loan used to finance his new home.

On all the evidence it is clear to me that the non-disclosure was deliberate and not through inadvertence.”

The Commissioner recommended that Brown be reprimanded formally by the Legislative Assembly of Ontario for his failure to comply with the Members’ Integrity Act 1994.  

Patrick Brown the author of his own misfortunes or the victim of dark forces in the PC Party?

This, of course, never happened. Brown was dumped. There was an election and Brown’s ethical failings became part of ancient history.

But does that mean Brown’s low ethical standards no longer matter? That we should just look the other way?

Mistakes

In Takedown, Brown writes:

“…I heard that one of my friends, (Jaswinder) Johal, was also a personal mortgage broker. At the time, Johal was not running for any nomination for the PC Party, nor had he expressed any interest in running. Johal offered either to buy my share in the restaurant (Hooligans in Barrie) or give me a loan in the form of a second mortgage on the house. I preferred to take out a loan with Johal, and officially registered the title of that second mortgage. But I didn’t report it to the Office of the Integrity Commissioner. Mistake.”

He also didn’t declare the rent. He admits that was another “Mistake.”

I am left wondering if he bothered to include this information in his tax return. We shall never know. 

The Integrity Commissioner tells us:

“Of the four breaches of the (Members’ Integrity) Act, the most serious are those related to the non-disclosure of the loan from Mr. Johal. On all the evidence, I found that the non-disclosure of the loan, as with the rental income, was deliberate, and not through inadvertence. 

I can say categorically that if I had been made aware of this loan that I would have included it in Mr. Brown’s public disclosure statements for each of 2016 and 2017. When the leader of a political party is substantially indebted to a candidate for election as an MPP for that party, the interests of transparency require that the indebtedness be made known so that people have an appropriate context to assess the relationship between the leader and the candidate. Simply put, the public has a right to know.” 

Brown's non-reprimand

In Takedown, Brown says his friend Johal – the man who secretly loaned him $375,000 - decided to run for the Brampton North nomination in November 2016. Before then Brown apparently had no inkling that his friend harboured Parliamentary ambitions. But Johal told the Integrity Commissioner that he mentioned to Brown in 2015 that he was interested in running as a PC candidate.

So, who do we believe? And at the end of the day does it matter? 

In the long run, would it have been better for the health of our politics and for good public administration for Patrick Brown to have been reprimanded by the Legislature last year?

And if so, would TVO have found the time to ask Brown what it felt like? 

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Background: The proposed redevelopment of Newmarket’s historic downtown at the Clock Tower on Main Street cast a dark shadow over the last term of Council.  

Newmarket's historic Main Street. Boarded up and blighted for years

The then Mayor, Tony Van Trappist, was the only elected official to support Bob Forrest’s plans to build a huge condo in the heart of the Heritage Conservation District, blighting it forever. Fortunately, Van Trappist couldn’t persuade councillors to follow his lead. The Town’s ineffective Director of Planning, Rick Nethery, knowingly misled the public when he allowed a report to go up to councillors for decision on 28 November 2016 which contained information on the development’s purported density which he knew to be false.

Forrest’s development application was rejected by the Town and, after a series of backroom manoeuvrings, the Town entered into an agreement with Bob Forrest’s Main Street Clock Inc (MSCI) on 2 May 2018 which allows Forrest to redevelop his lands while safeguarding heritage buildings which would not be demolished. We were told that a “New Development Concept” would be worked up by Bob Forrest and made available to the Town and to the public “very soon”. We are still waiting to see it.

“Clarification” needed

Yesterday, the Town’s Planning Department (Information Report 2018-48) told us the Minutes of Settlement, solemnly entered into by the Town and Main Street Clock Inc eight months ago, now require “clarification”

No.

It is an amendment pure and simple.

The Minutes of Settlement state at paragraph 26:

“In the event that MSCI chooses to convert the upper levels of the Main Street Buildings (ie those Main Street buildings that Forrest owns) to office uses, the Town hereby grants MSCI any required permission to demolish the single storey additions at the rear of the Main Street Buildings in order to create ten (10) new private parking spaces... A demolition permit is required for the demolition which will be provided to MSCI on an expedited basis upon receipt by the Town of the requisite material and the completion of the regular process.”

The Planners now tell us the demolition of the rear portions of the historic commercial buildings owned by Forrest should be permitted: 

“regardless of the use of the upper levels”

The Terms of Settlement at paragraph 36 says:

“No additional parking (over that which is currently provided) shall be required if grade level of the Main Street Buildings is used for retail or office purposes nor if the upper grade levels of the Main Street Buildings are used for residential purposes.”

The Planners now say these ten private parking spaces would alleviate parking pressures in the area and that demolition of the rear parts of the historic commercial buildings should not be tied to the uses allowed on the upper floor – office or otherwise. They’ve done a somersault. Why did they change their position?

Did they get it wrong first time around?

Who asked for the “clarification”? Why was the office use stipulated and agreed to by both parties in the first place? What is the status of the clarification? Does it amend the crystal-clear wording in paragraph 26 of the Minutes of Settlement? 

When will we see the "new development concept"?  Maybe the Director of Planning could give us an Information Report?

Heritage watchdog

Has the Heritage Advisory Committee been consulted? And if not, why not?

I recall the Chair of the Committee, Athol Hart, telling me the rear of 184 Main Street South had great heritage value. This was where the first female druggist in Ontario, Anne Mary Simpson, lived behind the apothecary. 

Or should we believe Era Architects – brought in by the Town to give a second opinion on heritage matters – who say:

“the rear elevations of the buildings at 184, 188 and 194 Main Street South are secondary elevations that appear to have been modified over time...these elevations do not have cultural heritage value…”

There was of course no public consultation on the terms of the agreement struck between the Town and Bob Forrest on 2 May 2018. It was sprung upon the public as a fait accomplis.

And now it has to be clarified. Will there be more tweaks, amendments or “clarifications”? Perhaps on the start date which is now less than a year away? 

We are told construction “will commence no later than December 15, 2019”.

Personally, I think Bob Forrest should now unveil his “New Development Concept” without any more ado.

Maybe then everything will slot into place.

Or not.

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Canadian Oxford Dictionary: Clarification (noun): The action of making a statement or situation less confused and more comprehensible.

The Information Report was signed off by the Commissioner of Development and Infrastructure Services, Peter Noehammer, and the Director of Planning and Building Services, Rick Nethery.

They believe the clarification “is consistent with the intent of the Minutes of Settlement and the Lower Main Street South Heritage Conservation District Plan”. 

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