All the signs point to John Taylor coasting to an easy win over his conservative challenger for Mayor of Newmarket.
Still, there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip and things may yet go wrong. Voters can be fickle but, for the moment, I don’t get any sense they are in revolt. They aren’t ready to put 100,000 volts through the Town’s political class and its top bureaucrats.
This is bad news for Joe “I like Doug Ford” Wamback.
There are no opinion polls in Newmarket-Aurora to help us understand how things are going. The best we have are the results of the June 2018 Provincial elections and these are of limited use as predictors.
For one thing, the political parties don’t organise at municipal level in Ontario. For all their well-publicised faults and failings the red, blue and orange labels give the voters a rough idea of what to expect from the candidates.
So, in Ward 4 where I live, I have a pretty good idea of Melissa Williams and her politics as she ran in the Provincial election for the NDP, coming second in votes both in the Ward and in the riding. The other candidates are more difficult to assess.[i]
Wamback the anti-politician
Joe Wamback runs on an explicit anti-politician sentiment, reminding everyone he has hinterland. He has done real jobs and is definitely not a politician. That’s what Doug Ford says ignoring the fact that he was a Toronto councillor for four years and his late brother Rob was Mayor. His father Doug senior was an MPP and his nephew is a councillor. Politics is in his family’s DNA.
Plainly, we need people to take decisions on our behalf. If we didn’t call them politicians we’d have to invent a word meaning the same thing. Taylor has been a politician in some shape or form for 14 years. The real question for me is whether he is any good at the job, not how long he has been doing it.
So, to recap: Taylor is a Liberal by nature and inclination but his well-honed survival instincts, cultivated over many years, make him a fiscal conservative. Joe Wamback is a dyed-in-the-wool Doug Ford Conservative.
If Wamback can turn this election into a contest between Conservatives v Liberals he stands a chance. This is a Conservative leaning riding. (It includes the whole of Newmarket and a bit of Aurora.) At the election in June the Ford PCs got 24,813 votes to the Liberals 11,840 (with the NDP on 12,405).
Wamback believes all politicians have a shelf-life. He sets an eight-year term limit on his tenure as Mayor. He knows that change is a powerful motivator and he thinks Taylor has been around for far too long.
For Taylor, this election is not about Party politics. It is about who can deliver the most for the Town. He is not going to bad-mouth the new Premier. After all, if elected, he will have to deal with Doug Ford and he is not going to poison the well.
Most people have to try pretty hard to dislike John Taylor. To me, he comes across as well-meaning and affable. Critics brand him as the lead member of the “old boys’ club” – the people who have been running the Town for decades.
In most votes Taylor can count on support from Conservatives like Jane Twinney (who was the PC candidate for Queen’s Park in 2014 – but lost to Chris Ballard) and Liberals such as Chris Emanuel (who stood down from Newmarket Council in 2014 but is now running for Regional Councillor). Like a skilled circus performer, Taylor has always been adept at riding two horses at the same time.
Taylor keeps an eye on the ball
At last week’s Question and Answer with the Newmarket Taxpayers Advisory Group (NTAG) Taylor paints a picture of himself that fleshes out what we already know. I learn that in earlier days he was a tennis linesman keeping an eye on the ball when famous names like Jimmy Connors were on court. Astonishingly, I discover he was a Canadian croquet champion. And he was the co-owner of a trucking company than ran five or six trucks a day out of Pearson airport.
Along the way he collected a quiver full of academic qualifications. He could call himself Dr Taylor but, wisely, chooses not to.
The one unexpected question that throws Taylor off balance is this:
“What will you do if you lose?”
After a brief moment of reflection he answers:
“I have no real idea. Perhaps become a Professor.”
Clearly, he hasn’t given the possibility of losing more than a moment’s thought.
Despite trying, the NTAG audience never really lays a finger on him. He is asked about Newmarket’s ballooning debt. He says the Town is paying debt down aggressively. Reserves have tripled.
He confidently talks about the big issues: Mulock Farm, the GO Rail station, parking in the old downtown and gives everyone the impression he has the answers or, at the very least, has given a great deal of thought to the issues.
Mayor’s email blast
He is asked about transparency and promises a regular Mayoral email blast giving insights into his thinking. This will be a step forward. He can be quite inscrutable. He says he will meet people who want to talk to him. These are the positives.
But the Taylor I know realises information is power and he has a tendency to hoard it – or, when it suits his purpose, trade it.
Early on in the Slessor Square saga I recall Taylor telling a few of us he would let us have some information but only if we kept it to ourselves. Since there were lots of people out there relying on our little Shrink Slessor Square group to give the truth about what was happening and not dissemble, this, for me, was a bridge too far.
Taylor is asked about the proposed new GO rail station at Mulock Drive and the possibility of grade separation (getting rid of the level crossing). He baffles me with this:
“What does grade separation do to the texture of the community? It is very impactful.”
Seems to me long lines of traffic waiting for the level crossing barrier to rise can be very impactful too.
Consensus or intelligent debate
He is asked if it is more important for Council to have consensus or intelligent and thoughtful debate. He says they are not mutually exclusive. You have a debate. You have a vote and the chips fall where they may. He is not afraid of dissent.
He is asked about a new library and seniors’ centre – something Tom Vegh is pushing for. Taylor is totally non-commital. He wants us to believe you cut your cloth according to your means. Mulock Farm was a one off. He says we shouldn’t have a special tax to pay for special projects. (Personally, I take the view that if you want something badly enough there is always a way to pay for it. Indeed, Mulock Farm makes the point.)
Let me be frank
He is asked about Newmarket Theatre’s $750,000 loss. He says most municipal theatres are subsidised. What about marijuana? He has big reservations. What about the Mayor’s pay? He says it is difficult to compare like with like. He says the Mayor gets about $170,000 plus expenses but doesn’t get into the weeds.
Now I hear him say
“I’ll be frank in this room.”
and I know he is not gonna be frank. Moments later he is telling us
“I don’t know if I am being too frank.”
and then he equivocates.
When John Taylor is elected Mayor expect more of the same. With Taylor the die is already cast. It will be steady as she goes. For years Taylor has, in effect, been running the show. He crushed the Mayor on the hugely important Clock Tower vote on 28 November 2016, making it perfectly clear he was the main man.
Seizing the moment
Politics of course must have a purpose.
There is no point being a Tony Van Trappist, pocketing the money and being a glorified administrator. Taylor’s bold decision – with his colleagues - to buy Mulock Farm should be applauded.
He told the NTAG audience it was an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often and he
“seized the moment”.
It was absolutely the right thing to do. The fact that the Mulock family wanted their land zoned for development and not for open space added, for me at least, a certain piquancy to the issue.
Now the person sitting next to me warns us not to drink Town water as it is poisoned from the microwave dishes on top of the water towers. How curious! I smile at her while Taylor keeps a straight face, reassuring everyone it is safe to drink.
Now someone asks Taylor if he respects NTAG.
Taylor thinks hard before admitting:
“I don’t always respect the topics you pursue.”
That sounds like something a politician would say.
You can read the NewmarketToday coverage of the NTAG meeting here.
[i]In the June election, in Ward 4 the sitting Liberal MPP, Chris Ballard, got 830 votes; Williams for the NDP got 1054 votes and Elliott for Doug Ford’s PCs romped home with 1663 votes.