Vaughan city council has voted unanimously to dock three month’s pay from Regional Councillor Michael Di Biase for breaching the City’s code of conduct by interfering in the tendering process and harassing and intimidating staff.

This means he will forfeit about $21,000 of the $84,301 he gets as Deputy Mayor of Vaughan. The Toronto Star reminds its readers that Di Biase also gets $52,000 from York Region where he chairs the sensitive Planning and Economic Development Committee, a berth which many people will now consider wholly inappropriate.

The Star says it is unclear if his pay suspension will include his pay from the region.

It should. No doubt about it.

Di Biase cannot simply shrug his shoulders and behave as if nothing has happened, business as usual.

The report from Integrity Commissioner, Suzanne Craig, makes jaw-dropping reading.

The man whose complaint triggered the investigation, Richard Lorello, alleged, amongst other things, that construction work done on Di Biase’s cottage, 90 kilometres to the north of the city, had been paid for by a company whose interests in Vaughan Di Biase was promoting.

The Integrity Commissioner didn’t investigate these allegations “which on their face are allegations of a criminal nature” advising Lorello to take the matter up with the police. The Star says he is doing just that.

Craig interviewed 32 council employees. On pages 19 and 20 of her report she quotes the tongue lashing staff received when they told Di Biase there were procedures that had to be followed when the city was awarding contracts.

Di Biase told one hapless employee to

“stop wasting time and don’t be a troublemaker and cause problems”.

To another Di Biase ordered:

“Just deal with it and make it happen”.

When Di Biase’s favoured company didn’t qualify for tendering:

“You have to be ****ing kidding me. They have to pre-qualify.”

Di Biase tells a city staffer:  

“Don’t make waves.”

And one pearl of a quote from Vaughan’s Deputy Mayor:

“Tell your boss, when I call, respond to your ****ing phone.”

Tomorrow, Thursday 23 April, York Regional Council meets at 9.30am.

This is an ideal opportunity for Regional Councillor Michael Di Biase to do the right thing.

He should request five minutes to make a personal statement, acknowledging the fact that councillors in his own municipality accept the Integrity Commissioner’s findings – even if he still protests his innocence.

He should volunteer to give up three months pay from York Region ($13,000) and stand down as Chair of Planning and Economic Development on the grounds that his integrity and impartiality have been totally compromised.

I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him.

You can read the final report of the Integrity Commissioner, dated 17 April 2015, here.

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Last week (17 April), Ontario Premier, Kathleen Wynne, gave details of the improved service we can expect to see on the Barrie line.

We are promised an all-day two-way service every 15 minutes from Union Station to Aurora and a “new two-way hourly service to Barrie during the midday, evenings and weekends”.

This is impressive – but, of course, it is not what was promised at the outset.

Newmarket – a designated growth centre slated for a 33,000 plus population increase in the Yonge/Davis corridors - now, unbelievably, lies outside the “core area” which qualifies for the 15 minute service.

I've long worried that the original commitment was morphing into something else.

Still, for all that, I see a glass half full, not half empty. It is terrific news for the Town and will bring huge positive benefits, providing, always, that it is delivered.

Local MPP, Chris Ballard, tweeted

@lynngr Enhanced service coming to Newmarket. Need time to build a number of crossings in Newmarket before 15 min. service possible, though.

2.41PM – 17 Apr 2015

Grade separations at Davis Drive and Green Lane would have cost an arm and a leg – and may be pushed back indefinitely - so who knows when we are going to get a 15 minute service? How much time does Chris Ballard need?

In the meantime, the level crossing, with its bells and flashing red lights, will remain in the heart of the growth corridor at Davis Drive, quaintly stopping traffic, including the buses on the new rapidway, every time a train rumbles by.

Last week we were told that the current 70 weekly trips on the Barrie line will grow to more than 200 over the next five years. This enhanced service from Newmarket north to Barrie requires a second track and we wait to see how this will be fitted into the programme. Land will have to be acquired for the wider rail corridor and, perhaps, there will be changes to the current alignment, straightening out the track where it snakes.

Newmarket’s Committee of the Whole has been promised a report by the end of June “reviewing the implications of all-day GO Transit service from a municipal perspective" which will address parking issues and the like. Another report – outstanding since 29 September 2014 but again expected by June – asks staff “to review GO Train operations including east-west road connections, grade separations, speed within the downtown core…” Maybe these reports will start to fill in some of the blanks.

With gridlock looming, all political parties have an obligation to spell out how they would pay for the transit improvements that are so desperately needed. Personally, I would keep Hydro One in the public sector and find the cash from elsewhere. I'd look at fuel duties, congestion charges, road tolls and more besides. 

But we are where we are. And the Liberal Government is at last doing what needs to be done.

The Province can tax more, borrow more or sell or lease its assets. But it can’t print money. Another quest for “greater efficiencies” within Government will not come up with the barrow loads of cash that is required.

If politicians spend their time loudly criticising what is on the table, fearful of offering their own alternative, I tune them out.

Best way.

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The Toronto Star has today published this correction to a news story it ran on 11 April 2015.
  • "An April 11 article about what municipal leaders were paid in 2014 misstated the salary of Newmarket mayor Tony Van Bynen. Van Bynen’s salary was not $182, 000.

"In fact, Van Bynen’s total compensation was $159.856.84 in 2014. That included $91,164.26 in salary for his role as mayor (which includes a tax-free portion of $30,379) and $53,165.58 salary for serving as a representative of York council. His compensation also included taxable benefits of $6,762 from the town and $8,794 in benefits from the region.

"The article also mistakenly said that Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman was paid $178,114 in 2014. In fact, Bowman only became mayor in November of 2014."

Tony Van Bynen is also a director of Newmarket Hydro by virtue of his office as Mayor. We must assume this is not remunerated.

I was surprised to read in Saturday’s Toronto Star (11 April) that Newmarket’s Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, appears 4th in a list of “what Mayors in some Canadian cities earned in 2014”.

It gives the impression that our Mayor is among the top paid in Canada in 2014. He says the figures are all wrong.

Responding to a tweet from journalist Deborah Kelly, the Mayor wrote:

@deborahkelly  Debra, FYI Star article is incorrect. It should read $151K not $182K. Will ask Star to Correct. Includes both Town and Region.

8:43 AM – 11 April 2015

And earlier this afternoon, the man who challenged Van Bynen last year for the Mayoralty, Chris Campbell, tweeted:

@TonyVanBynen easily highest paid based on population/job creation. Not better on most issues. 26% wage increase?…

2015-04-14, 2.25 PM from Newmarket, Ontario

Two questions arise from all this. Are the figures correct? And, put crudely, is Van Bynen worth it?

But first let's be clear, there is a confusing mass of figures out there. And if expenses/benefits are factored in, this inflates the numbers further. The malicious will lump everything in together, taxable and non taxable. We should be talking solely about taxable income.

With these caveats the Mayor’s salary is either

 (a) $113,921 plus taxable benefits of $6,762. (from the Sunshine list)


(b) $91,313 plus benefits of $16,383 of which $8,794 is recovered from the region (from the Town of Newmarket’s Statement of Remuneration and Expenses for 2014).

I exclude the auto allowance ($6,463) and other expenses ($5,381) that are necessary for the Mayor to do the job. 

The Mayor also serves on York Region. For this, he gets $52,987. This should be added to the sums in either (a) or (b) above. Benefits paid by the Region totalling $8,794 are reimbursed to the Town. The benefits include the Region’s share of contributions to OMERS, Canada Pension Plan and premium costs for life insurance.

I get to the Mayor’s figure of $151,000 by adding together $91,313 plus the taxable benefits of $6,762 plus York salary of $52,978. But this is me making assumptions and jotting stuff down on the back of an envelope.

Comparing apples with apples

Some Mayors serving on York Region are on the Sunshine List, others are not. Their municipalities are obliged by s284(1) of the Municipal Act to publish annually, on or before 31 March, Statements of Remuneration and Expenses. There are variations in the way these are reported and it is not a simple task comparing apples with apples and sifting out taxable from non-taxable income.

Mayor Frank Scarpitti of Markham has, of course, made the headlines and so too has Mayor Steve Pellegrini of King but for different reasons. East Gwillimbury’s Mayor, Virginia Hackson, is on the Sunshine List  ($119,772 plus taxable benefits of $9,209) but Aurora’s Geoffrey Dawe is not there. His remuneration is $89,663 according to his municipality’s reporting. But if his York "supplement" of $55,162 were added he would qualify for the Sunshine List.

Matching figures on the Sunshine List with the same individuals who feature in the remuneration and expenses reports of municipalities is not a straightforward exercise. The sums can vary, no doubt for very good reasons. The Sunshine List has the Mayor of Vaughan, Maurizio Bevilacqua, on $173,459 plus taxable benefits of $7,883 and the Mayor of Richmond Hill, David Barrow, on $173,379 plus taxable benefits of $3,598.

Is he worth it?

So, whatever he gets, is Tony Van Bynen worth it?

Those who are hugely antagonistic towards him wouldn’t pay him the minimum wage. Others value him highly. He keeps the show on the road in a low key, avuncular kind of way. Personally, I think he is very skilled at chairing meetings though he is rather too house-trained for my liking. His long years as a banker have programmed him to swallow uncritically the professional opinions of staff even when they are crying out to be challenged.

The Town’s Chief Administrative Officer, Bob Shelton, gets a useful $239,230. He gives a good impression of having a handle on things and I’ve never seen him (yet) lost for words at a Council meeting. His comparators would be Chief Executives in the same family or type of municipalities as Newmarket. In the same way, the Mayor’s salary should be compared with those in similar municipalities with similar levels of responsibility.

Big Salaries; Fair Taxation

It is impossible to talk about about big salaries without talking about fair taxation. They are two sides of the same coin. Four Federal tax bands for 2015 are simply not enough to capture the huge spread of taxable income, from modest to stellar. (The average Canadian income is $47,358)

The top rate of Federal tax is 29% of taxable income over $138,586. So our Mayor falls into the same tax band as, say, the Onex CEO, Gerry Schwartz, whose eye-watering total pay package is $87.9 million.

Absurd and indefensible?

You bet.

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You can check the Toronto Star's corrections by date here.


To York Region’s Committee of the Whole. The agenda is fat and loaded with interesting and significant items but you’ve gotta be there in person to see it all happen. The Committee is not live streamed – neither in video nor in audio – and the official minutes can be economical with the actualité. I am in and out of the building so don’t catch everything.

As I enter the Council Chamber I see that it is crawling with developers. I see Marianneville’s Joanne Barnett going in and out of the Chamber with a mobile phone glued to her ear. In front of me a developer takes photos of slides from staff presentations and emails them back to the office there and then.

York Region's Chief Planner, Valerie Shuttleworth, hung out to dry

The big news is all about Markham where a long list of lands designated for employment uses is being challenged. Salivating developers want residential and other uses rather than boring old “employment” and the Mayor, Frank Scarpitti, is here to sing their song. Ten areas designated for employment in the Markham Official Plan have come up to the Region for further scrutiny. York’s Chief Planner, Valerie Shuttleworth, immediately concedes the case for change in four. But in the remaining six, she says the designation should stay. They are next to the 404 or 407. They are needed to deliver the Region’s targets. Now she offers an olive branch. As a concession she says the Region could look at the definition of “employment” and, perhaps, expand the category.

Scarpitti brushes all this aside. We hear about his many visits to industrial parks where his eyes were opened. Inside huge industrial buildings he finds delicate office workers instead of men in oily overalls gripping wrenches in their huge hands. The nature of work is changing, he says. More people will be working at home in future. Or, perhaps, leaving home on the 10th floor to go to work on the 14th. His delivery is sonorous and accommodating but he knows exactly what he wants and will get it.

His allies are lined up to speak. Regional Councillor Jack Heath (from Markham) agrees with Scarpitti that the lands should be converted from employment. He is backed by fellow Regional Councillors Jim Jones, Nirmala Armstrong and, in part, by Jo Li, also from Markham. Mayor Davis Barrow from Richmond Hill supports the conversion from employment use. “Things can change over the years.”

Newmarket's John Taylor is clearly uncomfortable with the way things are going. He says any decisions should be rooted in policy. He wants a review. It is clear he thinks this is no way to make policy – off the cuff and with the ink still wet on the papers in front of him. He complains he doesn’t know what the Markham staff’s position was.

Markham’s Nirmala Armstrong proves Taylor’s point with a rambling contribution that ends with her declaring: “Planning is not static”.

Now Vaughan’s Mayor, Mr Smooth, Maurizio Bevilacqua, weighs in. Scarpitti makes a good case and he acknowledges the detailed work that the Markham councillors put in, reviewing over the hot summer months each and every case for land conversion “but John Taylor is not wrong either”.  He asks a series of rhetorical questions. How do Governments respond to changes in demography or the world of work? He predicts changes in land designation will happen more often than we think in the future. He closes by taking a swipe at the Region. “Perhaps we need to look at governance style; whether we need further decentralisation.”

Taylor closes by calling for a review of employment lands policy. A deflated Shuttleworth says this is already in hand through the update of the Regional Official Plan. 

In the vote, Taylor is steamrolled. He is supported by Richmond Hill's Brenda Hogg and, I think, one other.

The developers’ faces are creased with broad grins.

York Region Office Attraction Review

Doug Lindeblom, the Director of Economic Strategy and Tourism, takes us through a series of slides showing how we can attract more office development into York Region. He says offices should be located in the four main centres and corridors, inadvisably illustrating the point with a slide. East Gwillimbury’s Mayor, Virginia Hackson, complains her municipality is missing. Clearly, she sees offices stretching along Green Lane, close to the GO rail station.

Taylor wants to know about “innovative approaches” where businesses are attracted to the area without dangling financial incentives in front of them. We hear about city building and the importance of clustering like-businesses together. And good transit.

Van Bynen, the wired up Mayor

After a long presentation in which the importance of broadband (astonishingly) did not rate a mention, Newmarket’s wired up Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, stirs from his slumbers. Van Bynen tells us that ultra high speed broadband is part of the critical infrastructure and, he says, we need a more aggressive approach. On this at least he is right.

Lindeblom tells us the Region adopted a broadband strategy in May 2014 and he expects high speed broadband to be available in centres and corridors. A report will be coming up to councillors in June.

York Region Employment and Industry Report (#100 jobs)

As expected, this is approved without debate. Neither Van Bynen nor Taylor have any comments to make. Newmarket’s jobs growth between 2009-2014 is officially 570.

York Region Municipal Comprehensive Review and Official Plan Update

The Chief Planner, Valerie Shuttleworth, warns us she is going to be speaking for half an hour as if this will be some kind of hardship. On the contrary, she is very easy to listen to, talking in complete well-formed sentences. There is always something new and interesting that the planners are working on. Today we learn about the forthcoming “cemetery needs analysis”. It is getting difficult to find places to bury people.

As one cohort departs this earth, another arrives. Now she is on to “population forecast scenarios” with three possible totals depending on the intensification of development. My eye is drawn to East Gwillimbury, the Town on steroids, whose 2014 population of 24,300 is expected to balloon to (a) 108,700 (b) 113,300 or (c) 135,300 by 2041.

Now Shuttleworth is talking about the number of housing units required to accommodate this tsunami of new residents. Bizarrely, she refers to houses as “ground related product”. (It reminds me of churches ludicrously re-branding themselves as “worship centres”.) Apartments are still, I think, apartments though I suppose they could be “above ground related product”.

Now we are looking at an arresting slide showing the number of “persons per household” in York Region from 1971-2041. The planners came up with a projection for 2041 in 2010, as part of the Regional Official Plan. A year later, in 2011 the census came up with another figure. The difference between the two in terms of housing units required by 2041 amounts to a staggering 75,000 units, underlining yet again the perils of long range forecasting.

John Taylor now asks a series of questions on the impact of an economic slow down on forecast employment and population numbers. I learn to my surprise from York’s Finance Chief, the knowledgeable Bill Hughes,  there are two forecasts. One from the “growth plan people” and another from the “finance people”.

He tells us that growth will continue to come to the region. The question is really about its pace. The finance people think it will come more slowly than the growth people. That figures.

Community and Health Services Report

This is John Taylor’s new bailiwick having moved from planning after last year’s election. We get a presentation on mental health initiatives from Adelina Urbanski and Superintendent Carolyn Bishop, gun in holster, with lots of arresting (sorry) statistics.

Only 20% of calls are crime related. The other 80% range from community events to missing people. The police switchboard handles a staggering 220,000 calls a year and I learn that only 0.1% ends with a police officer using force.

Personally, I’d like to know how much time police officers spend gazing uselessly at construction crews. 

Low Income Trends in York Region

No debate. No discussion.


No-one here is on the breadline.

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