The Ontario NDP Leader, Andrea Horwath, claims the Liberals plan to “privatise” the TTC. This comes as news to Matt Galloway on the CBC’s Metro Morning and it comes as a surprise to me.

Surely Horwath didn’t invent this Liberal policy? If not, what is the basis of the claim? An old story in the National Post?

Wynne subsequently denies, point blank, any intention to privatise.

This gets me thinking about the importance of clear policy platforms and how political parties should present their offerings to the electorate. Personally, I think the whole policy smorgasbord should be out there, on the table, early on, to give voters time to have a look and digest it all.

There seems to be a trend for all political parties to dribble out their policy pronouncements. Horwath told the Toronto Star that

“A full list of NDP campaign promises will emerge as the election unfolds.”

This is not really good enough. It is convenient for the Party managers but very inconvenient for the voters.

Take one example. What about the thousands of voters here in Newmarket who yearn for a fast, reliable, all day, two-way GO train service to Toronto? Are they going to get any specifics from the Party leaders or just another mouthful of platitudes? On 12 June are we going to be any the wiser?

Two days into the election campaign the Progressive Conservative Leader, Tim Hudak, is confirmed as a complete clown. What else is new? And Kathleen Wynne allows the name “Dalton McGuinty” to pass her lips for the first time in months.

Only 36 more days to go.


Newmarket’s Secondary Plan has been gestating for years and now we are assembling to see what is going to emerge.

On Monday evening (28 April) the Council Chamber is packed for a “special public meeting” but people seem curiously listless. There is no outrage or indignation.

Are people enthusiastic? No.

Are they satisfied? No. Probably politely sceptical.

Do I sense a feeling of weary resignation and acceptance?  Yes.

Darryl Wolk, who dreams about taking over from John Taylor as regional councillor, comes in late with a giant Tim Horton’s in one hand. He sits on the steps. I see him from time to time tweeting and taking photos on his smart phone. He seems strangely preoccupied. He is more interested in recording the event than in participating.

Taylor’s Height Cap

John Taylor deserves a mention in despatches for getting the earlier draft of the Secondary Plan amended to scale back the proposed bonusing provisions – something introduced into the plan very late on. If we had known what was in the planners’ minds at the beginning of the process – a Newmarket studded with 25 and 30 storey towers - it would have altered the whole subsequent dynamic. But the sting has now been drawn - though I, for one, would have preferred a strict height cap of 15 storeys. This was Taylor’s original proposal. We have now drifted up to 17 storeys with a maximum of 20 with bonusing.

The meeting now gets under way. We start with a slide show and commentary on the revised draft secondary plan by Jason Thorne from the Planning Alliance, the outside consultants brought in by the Town to do the spade-work. Thorne has lived and breathed this plan for ages and his presentation appears effortless. 

Future Transit Plans

Chris Emanuel is first up and asks about the Draft Plan’s recommendation for a proposed Mobility Hub Study of the GO rail station at Davis and Main. Would this also include the GO Bus terminal at Davis Drive West that is also within the Secondary Plan area?

Planning Chief, Rick Nethery, gives one of his classic cliché ridden non-answers telling Emanuel that, beyond the work on the Mobility Hub and the active transportation network “there is certainly the opportunity to identify and conduct additional work if necessary”. Taylor, too, asks for more detail on the proposed Mobility Hub study and what might be included. Would the Study look at relocation or co-location of the transit stations?

Marion Plaunt, the Stakhanovite senior planner responsible for the Secondary Plan, tells us

“One of the considerations in (the Mobility Hub study) is how do we, as we plan forward, integrate the bus station and the GO train station; whether they should naturally be joined at some point, at one location. That is part of the analysis identified within the Mobility Hub Study criteria.”

I see Chris Emanuel silently mouthing “Wow!”

Marianneville’s lawyer, Ira Kagan, told the OMB Glenway Hearing on 27 March:

“There is not a shred of evidence that the Town, Region or GO Transit want to move this bus terminal (at Davis Drive West, next to Glenway). This terminal is identified in a variety of planning documents that the various witnesses reviewed and never once was it identified for relocation. Mr McDonald (the Glenway Preservation Association’s planner) may think it should move but no-one else seems to agree with him. Even the ongoing OPA 10 study (ie the Draft Secondary Plan for Newmarket’s Urban Centre) is not proposing that the GO transit bus terminal be relocated.”

Are the population figures realistic?

Now Taylor is asking about the population figures for the area around the intersection of Yonge and Davis. With so much of the area already occupied by Upper Canada Mall (which isn’t going anywhere anytime soon) is it realistic to project a population of 13,000 there? A good point that reminds me how many of the figures are speculative or tentative.

Now Joe Sponga is asking a blank faced Marion Plaunt about a new East-West road connection. We learn this road exists only in Joe’s imagination. Marion tells him “it hasn’t been identified to date”. He moves on to ask what is affordable housing, which is a very real issue. I hear guffaws around me when we are told affordable means $400,000 “and change”.

The Mayor is fretting over the time councillors are taking to get through all their questions to the planners. He wants a break to allow people in the audience to say their piece.

Walter Avenue

A string of members of the public from Walter Avenue, north of Davis Drive, have questions about the last minute inclusion of their street in the Secondary Plan area. What were the implications for them? Are they going to be redeveloped? What will happen to their homes? What about the effect on their property values?

Others from the Hollingworth Arena neighbourhood make the case for open space. Now there is talk of angular planes and height limits and where shadows fall. Marion Plaunt and Jason Thorne explain everything with politeness and precision.

Now we are talking about delays to the VivaNext programme with the completion of work on Davis Drive slipping from 2014 into 2015. There is concern that work could begin on the Yonge Street rapidway before Davis Drive is completed. Don McKee, a smiley-faced lawyer from Lancaster Avenue, tells councillors that the Town should minimise inconvenience to current residents otherwise they will be urinated off! I hear some suppressed giggles around me.

Plan will be tweaked to address vulnerabilities

There are a few more contributions from the floor and then these dry up. Now we are back with the elected officials. In her matter-of-fact way, Maddie Di Muccio says it is inevitable that some property owners will challenge the Town’s plans. Nethery tells her the document may need to be tweaked “ensuring there are as few vulnerabilities as possible”.  (A good example of planning-speak)

Jane Twinney wonders how it is possible to change the proposed built form so dramatically (getting rid of the very tall towers) but sticking pretty much with the original population projection (down 1,000 or so). A good question.

The answer, which I have now forgotten, nevertheless satisfied me at the time.

The Ring Road that isn’t

Ward 4 councillor, Tom Hempen, is now asking about George Street and Kingston Road that have been designated as part of a new ring road. Jason Thorne tries to reassure saying the road will have the functionality of a ring but it is not a thruway or anything like that. Personally, I am not convinced. And how do the traffic engineers and planners stop traffic bleeding into the adjacent residential area?

Hempen wants to know if the roads will be widened or changed in any way. Marion Plaunt assures him that whatever happens in future will occur incrementally as development proceeds. (Translation: no need to worry. You will hardly notice any change at all.)

Now Chris Emanuel is focussing on parks and recreation. The loss of Glenway’s open space is still an open wound. How does the Town manage expectations if the open space promised doesn’t materialise – either because the owner is not prepared to negotiate with the Town or the Town is unwilling to expropriate?

Affordable Housing that isn’t affordable

Tom Vegh picks up Sponga’s point about the affordability threshold for affordable housing and is asking whether this is enforced in any way. Marion Plaunt tells us the Town will have to work hard with the development community to put affordable housing on the ground. There are, she confesses, no easy answers.

This provides the perfect cue for Newmarket’s old man of the sea, Dave Kerwin, who tells us sewage is responsible for rising real estate prices.

The old teacher grabs our attention by holding a report up in front of him as he speaks. It has the memorable title:

Upper York Sewage Solutions

He tells us (quite frequently, in fact) he bought his house in the middle of the last century for $30,000 and now properties are going for anything up to $800,000. He thunders the question: Why?

Sewage, we learn, costs hundreds of millions of dollars to deal with and someone has to pay for it.

With this image fresh in our minds, the Mayor wisely chooses to close the meeting, assuring everyone that they will have an opportunity to comment on the latest comments.  He asks the Planning Chief, Rick Nethery, about the next step.

This was a special public meeting. Apparently we have already had the statutory public meeting. Is another meeting needed to sign everything off?

Maybe, says Nethery.

It all depends.

Update (1 May 2014) on Next Steps

Here is the exchange that took place at the end of the meeting on 28 April.

Mayor: Mr Nethery, before we adjourn, just briefly again for the benefit of our viewing audience and the people who are still here. Next steps and what is the likely timing of those next steps.

Rick Nethery: Mr Mayor, we will need to assimilate what we heard tonight and as I mentioned as well we have to try to wrangle through some of those Agency comments and other comments and we will need to come back to you at some time. I think Marion optimistically said May so we’ll hold her to that. Our goal is to see if we can have this back to you in a final formal way by June at the latest so if folks have left contact information and they are still interested we can make sure people are made aware of when it is coming back.

Mayor: Now, earlier in my comments I indicated this was not a Statutory Public Meeting so there will, once we address all the points, issues, be a report to the Committee of the Whole with a recommendation for a subsequent Statutory Public Meeting. Is that correct?

Rick Nethery: That will be up to Council. We have already held the Statutory Public Meeting and we’ve had a number of informal meetings. This one, even although it was structured very much like a Statutory Public Meeting, was another one of the informal meetings so it will be up to Council to decide and, frankly, that will probably have a lot to do with what the nature of the changes, if any, are coming out of it.

(The Statutory Public Meeting on the Draft Secondary Plan took place on Monday 28 October 2013.)




Slessor Square's lawyer, Ira Kagan, last night told the Ontario Municipal Board that the project is "on hold".

The OMB was expecting a status update on 24 March on the conditions of draft plan approval. This date had been agreed between the Parties.

Kagan told the Board:

"I have not obtained instructions from my client with respect to your enquiry below. (ie OMB request for update)

I am advised that the redevelopment project is on hold at this time. Accordingly, and for the time being, my client will not be finalising the conditions of draft plan approval nor seeking that the Board issue its Order (on the draft plan) at this time. My client appreciates the Board's understanding in this respect. Thank you."

We wait to hear from the Town.


Why is the Clock Tower saga dragging on with no resolution in sight?

Almost two months ago, members of the public blew a giant raspberry at Bob Forrest’s plan to dump a nine storey condo in the middle of Newmarket’s historic downtown.

We were led to believe a staff report on the outcome of that Statutory Public meeting on 3 February 2014 would go to the Committee of the Whole this month (April). 

Instead it has vanished into the big black hole that is Newmarket’s Planning Department.

We know it is impossible for Forrest to build his 9 storey condo without securing Town owned land. Forrest’s right hand man, Chris Bobyk, told the Statutory Meeting that, if they were to stay within the boundaries of their own land, the underground car park would have to go down four levels and the soil is too wet down there for the concrete to set. The alternative is to have a shallower but wider footprint taking them outside the curtilage of the land they own and this means doing a deal with the Town.

No date set for report back to councillors

I am told that the studies submitted by the developer – and matters raised at the Statutory Public Meeting - have thrown up issues that need to be examined by the Town’s planners and this accounts for the delay in reporting to the Committee of the Whole. As yet, no date has been set for a report to councillors.

No wonder people are thoroughly disillusioned with the whole, rotten planning system where developers simply refuse to take no for an answer. My spies tell me that Ward 5 councillor, Joe Sponga, has been telling people that a decision on the application is likely to be delayed beyond the election on 27 October. And then he predicts Forrest will press ahead, hoping for a quick approval of his 9 storey monolith.

Sponga could derail these plans if he were so minded. In this election year, when he has a serious contender or two challenging him, why doesn’t he say publicly that he is against the nine storey condo?  And why can’t he say he will not support any proposal to make Town owned lands available to a speculative developer whose project would make a mockery of the Town’s heritage conservation area?

The joke is on us

Unfortunately, our dysfunctional planning system allows developers to keep coming back with re-worked drawings and endless “iterations”. And the joke is on us because we, the taxpayers, are paying for this.

The Town’s professional planners must have spent a huge amount of time on the Clock Tower proposal – even before it was formally submitted to the Town as a complete planning application.

At the moment, our Town planners do not record on a time sheet the amount of time they spend on development proposals – both before and after any development application is submitted. This should be standard practice. And the client (ie the developer) should be billed, if only notionally. But, more importantly, this information should be made public.

Bob Forrest’s lawyer, the ubiquitous Ira Kagan, already has two significant Newmarket scalps on his belt – Slessor Square and Glenway.

We cannot allow the Clock Tower to be added as his third.

It is time for councillors to take the reins and lead on this issue rather than allowing the Town's Planning Department to negotiate yet more pointless iterations for a development proposal that should be killed stone dead.


Yesterday, the Ontario Municipal Board gave its seal of approval to the settlement on Glenway negotiated by Marianneville’s Ira Kagan and Mary Bull for the Town of Newmarket. It gives the developer everything they asked for.

Curiously, the number of residential units increased from 730 to 742. We learn from the Town’s outside consultant, Ruth Victor, that an easement affecting water mains “constrained development” so the “pattern of easements was rationalised”. Magic!

The transformation of Glenway will, of course, not happen overnight. The Town has put “Holds” on various aspects ensuring the development cannot proceed until the Town is satisfied that Marianneville is carrying out their side of the bargain.

This approach was used with Slessor Square and now seems to be a standard in the planners’ toolkit. If it can’t be sorted out now, kick the can down the road and sort it out later.

The adjudicator’s written decision on the Hearing’s two phases will emerge at some indeterminate point in the future.

In the meantime, there are calls for a public meeting on lessons to be learned. The GPA’s Dave Sovran wants one. So too does Ward 7’s councillor, Chris Emanuel. Others such as Maddie Di Muccio have publicly called for such a meeting if only to say "I told you so".

I suspect the chances of this happening are close to zero. We would be asking the powers-that-be to lift a big, heavy moss-covered stone, allowing the rest of us to peer underneath.

There would have to be a succinct and to-the-point background report in plain English setting out the key decisions on Glenway taken by councillors, staff and others together with reasons and justifications. What alternatives were explored? How was the process managed and overseen? How would things be done differently in future?

Such a meeting could easily be organised within, say, two months but I simply can’t see it happening. It would be too destabilising.

After June, anything remotely controversial will be shunted into the marshalling yard and parked there until after the Municipal Election on 27 October.

But if, to my astonishment, we do get a public meeting I shall donate $100 to a local charity of the Mayor’s choice.

You can’t say fairer than that.