This morning’s Toronto Star tells us there will finally be beer and wine in corner stores after Labour Day thanks to a $225 million payout to the privately-run Beer Store. 

So, at long last, Doug Ford is delivering on his stale 2018 promise that convenience stores should be allowed to sell alcoholic drinks from September. 

Almost six years ago, on 7 August 2018, Ford’s deputy, Christine Elliott, told the Ontario legislature:

“Buck-a-beer is part of the government’s commitment to transforming alcohol retailing in Ontario, which includes expanding the sale of beer and wine to convenience stores, grocery stores and big box stores. This is just further evidence that our government is going to do what we said we would do, and that’s put Ontario consumers first.”

I am left wondering... Whatever happened to Buck-a-Beer? 

Clueless

I remember meeting Christine Elliott in the summer of 2019 to discuss Ford’s buck-a-beer policy. Our current MPP, Dawn Gallagher Murphy, then Elliott’s Office Manager, was sitting in, taking notes.

It was clear to me from the outset that Elliott didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. Gallagher Murphy, sat silently, pen in hand. 

Now, incessantly, Gallagher Murphy parrots the message from FordNation - whatever the topic.

Soviet Style

Personally, I'm all in favour of liberalising the market in alcohol. But not the Ford way.

When I first arrived in Canada it struck me as completely weird that wines and spirits could only be purchased in a special store designated as such by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. This way of shopping seemed straight out of the Soviet Union.

Market

That said, Ford’s move to liberalise the market has been boneheaded and cack-handed, burning through hundreds of millions of tax dollars. And for what? 

So that Ford can meet a self-imposed deadline to deliver on his tired, endlessly recycled promise?

Or to get another headline?

Both. I suppose.

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Update on 27 May 2024: From the Toronto Star: Ford is betting that beer will help him win an early election

Update on 28 May 2024: From the Toronto Star: Tory Insiders say fear of a Pierre Poilievre has Doug Ford considering an early election

Update on 31 May 2024: Toronto Star editorial: No need to rush booze to corner stores

Last week (on 13 May 2024) King Township Mayor, Steve Pellegrini, tells councillors he supports a change in the law to allow a new Southlake hospital to be built on Protected Greenbelt at the corner of Highway 9 and Bathurst. 

He tells councillors:

I want this to be very crystal clear then. If we have an opportunity to put a hospital at the corner of Highway 9 and Dufferin… I’m sorry! Bathurst. Highway 9 and Bathurst. On the corner…”

He goes on:

“I believe a hospital there… not a whole development… a hospital would be an incredible asset to this community. It serves this community. Southlake is a hospital that serves King Township.”

On 1 November 2022, the developer Michael Rice offered Southlake land in the Protected Countryside at Bathurst for a peppercorn. He bought the 2.7 sq km block of land for $80M  less than two months earlier, on 15 September 2022. The background is here.

False

Since then, Pellegrini has repeatedly made statements to the press and media about the planned development on the Rice lands which are known to be false

After the Greenbelt scandal, a chastened Doug Ford announced that no development would be allowed on the Protected Greenbelt or on the Oak Ridges Moraine. 

But despite this, in plain sight, Ford is taking a chainsaw to the Province’s planning system. What he said wouldn't happen - development in the Protected Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine - may now very well happen.

Bill 185

Bill 185, currently before the Ontario Legislature, proposes a new framework for Ministerial Zoning Orders which would allow development in the protected Greenbelt if it delivers on a Provincial priority such as long term care and hospitals. 

A request to the Minister to permit development on the protected Greenbelt would have to be supported by a single tier or lower tier municipality either through a resolution from Council or from a letter from the Mayor - if he or she has "strong Mayor" powers.

Fortunately, Pellegrini doesn’t have strong Mayor powers. Otherwise it would be game over.

The debate at King Council last week - responding to the Ford Government's consultation on Bill 185 - focussed on the Bill’s proposal to allow certain types of development on the Protected Greenbelt. Cllr Debbie Schaefer and Cllr Mary Asselstine object. They move an amendment saying King Council does not want to see development in the protected Greenbelt.

Pellegrini is all over the place. The four term Mayor doesn't know which side is up or down.

"At the corner of Highway 9 and Bathurst"

Finally, Pellegrini calls the vote with two in favour (Shaefer and Asselstine). Pellegrini says the amendment is lost without asking for those voting against. A third councillor, Jennifer Anstey, asks for the vote to be taken again as she wasn’t asked how she would vote. 

Pellegrini brushes the objection aside saying it needs two-thirds of the Council to ask for another vote. Anstey demurs and doesn’t press the point.

So, King Township is now happy to see a development on protected Greenbelt “at the corner of Highway 9 and Bathurst”. 

The land in question is owned by John Dunlap, a former member of the Southlake Board.

Dunlap facilitated the sale of land at Bathurst - immediately to the north of his property - to Michael Rice, the developer.

Incredibly, the Township takes their You Tube videos down after two weeks and the verbatim video record is lost forever.

I shall keep this clip up - just for the record.

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Note: Councillor Avia Eek appears throughout in the frame bottom right. She is a farmer. She says Bill 185 would not allow development in the Holland Marsh - one of the top agricultural areas in Canada. It is also protected Greenbelt.

Update on 24 May 2024: From Newmarket Today: King still hold on to hope for hospital on Newmarket Greenbelt border

Newmarket needs a new Library. 

That's been my view for years.

But it looks like no-one on the Council nor, astonishingly, the Library Board agrees with me. They are happy to make do with what they’ve got, putting their money in “outreach”.

The Library Board’s resident clown, Councillor Victor Woodhouse, dangled the prospect of a new Library at the Town’s Committee of the Whole on 8 April 2024 which was considering the Library’s “Report to the Community 2023”. He asked the Board Chair, Darryl Gray, and the Library’s Chief Executive, Tracy Munusami:

“We talk from time to time about the library expanding and doing something different and something more and I wonder if you can shed any light on the new building we've talked about? I think in the order of $40 million.”

As soon as the words were out of his mouth he confessed it was just a joke!

Oh dear!

Ten years ago, in 2014, I recall the former Library Chief Executive Todd Kyle making a very persuasive case for a new building. The Park Avenue library was too small. Newmarket spent less per capita than successful libraries in similar-sized communities. Ours is one of the smallest libraries per capita in the Province. The building was difficult to service and there was insufficient parking. People have been talking about a new library, off and on, for years.

Space at a premium

The Library Board admits space is tight. But they believe the way around this is to take the Library out into the community through “outreach”.

Unfortunately, we do not have statistics showing where (a) new members and (b) existing members of the Library live. Some councillors, such as Ward 7’s Christina Bisanz, have been wondering aloud if library services are reaching people in her patch, a million miles from the Library’s downtown location.

At the time of the last municipal election in 2022, there was some talk about opening a second branch but this never really got off the ground. Then people toyed with the idea of a mobile library. But that too was parked.

And the Deputy Mayor, Tom Vegh, no longer says:

“The debate over the need for a new public library is long over. The only question now is where and when.”

Today, his focus of attention is the Lendery, the Library of things, like pots and pans and power washers that people can borrow free of charge.

New Library no longer an aspiration

But what I find so depressing is that a new library is not even an aspiration. Not even to the Library Board.

Of course, the Town has other things to spend its money on such as Mulock Farm (which I support) but, at some stage, it will have to start thinking about a new building.

In the meantime, we need accurate, up-to-date statistics and explanations of what they mean. There are 5,357 new members but we have no breakdown showing how many live in Town and how many outside.

This information used to be given as a matter of course. 

In-person visits to the Library is new. How is that measured?

Annual Reports

Library Board Vice Chair, the effusive Councillor Kelly Broome, told the meeting on 8 April 2024 when discussing the Library’s “Report to the Community” that if councillors had all the annual reports lined up before them they would see the significant increase in services in recent years. Hmmm. I think that’s gilding the lily somewhat.

Library usage dropped off dramatically during the COVID years (as expected) but is now recovering. But many of the key metrics show us only slowly getting back to where we were in earlier years.

We still don’t have the full palette of usage statistics for 2023 (which are normally presented to the Board by April) but we do have figures from previous years. Here are the statistics for 2014 - the year Todd Kyle spoke out. And here are the figures for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.

A report going to the NPL Board later today shows that, in our area, Georgina and East Gwillimbury have three libraries apiece. Neighbouring municipalities such as Aurora and Whitchurch-Stouffville have a single library like us but with much smaller populations.

At some point Newmarket will have to bite the bullet. 

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Update on 16 May 2024: Newmarket Today: Newmarket Library eyes Monday openings

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click "read more" below for the discussion on the Library's Report to the Community 2023 which was presented to the Town's Committee of the Whole on 8 April 2024.

Southlake Regional Health Centre and the Municipality of King held a “follow-up” to the meeting on 1 November 2022 when the developer Michael Rice offered some of his land in the Protected Greenbelt at Bathurst as the site of a new acute hospital. 

The follow-up meeting was on 24 January 2023 – eight days after we learned the proposed hospital site at Bathurst was being planned to accommodate a Long-Term Care facility, a money-making add-on championed by Rice. 

The (then) Chief Executive of Southlake, Arden Krystal, and the hospital’s Vice President of Capital Facilities, the tight-lipped John Marshman, were invited. King’s dissembling  Mayor Steve Pellegrini and the Township’s Chief Administrative Officer, Daniel Kostopoulos, were to host the meeting at King Municipal Centre.

No Records

In the absence of any records of the meeting other than the invitations I asked King to look at the files held by Pellegrini and  Kostopoulos and yesterday I was told:

“A search has been conducted and no responsive records were located.”

On 1 March 2024 I asked Southlake if they had any records of the meeting. They tell me they need more time as they must consult “third parties” – presumably King Township.  

I am now told to expect a reply from them by 30 May 2024.

The endless months-long delays between filing a Freedom of information request and getting an answer are sapping. 

But it is the cavalier disregard of basic record keeping that stings. No agendas, no minutes, no emails, no notes of any kind. 

No Paper Trail

It is all off-the-books. No paper trail. Word of mouth.

We know the meeting happened. And that it followed the hugely consequential meeting on 1 November 2022. Which itself is part of the wider RCMP investigation into the Greenbelt scandal.

But, for the moment, we don't know who said what to whom.

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On 13 February 2024, Aurora council considered a proposal from York Regional Council to locate a new 55-unit transitional housing/ emergency shelter for men at 14452 Yonge Street on land owned by the Region. 

The Mayor, Tom Mrakas, voted against the proposal and the new shelter - which had been in the works for years - was rejected by Aurora Council 4-3

In an on-line post the day after the vote, Mrakas claims he asked the Regional Council a year before – in January 2023 – to look for alternative sites. Where is the evidence for this?  

No Objections

In fact, for long enough, Mrakas didn’t raise any objections to the proposed shelter until nearby residents expressed alarm. They feared their neighbourhood would be changed for the worst with property values tumbling and crime soaring following an invasion of wild homeless men. In the blink of an eye Mrakas became the residents’ vociferous champion.

He challenged York Regional Council to find accommodation for the homeless in their own underused properties, pointing to the new Regional HQ in Newmarket. 

He promises to bring a motion to York Regional Council to force the issue. (See bottom right for original motion)

High noon is Thursday 11 April 2024

Muscular Mrakas

I expected a muscular Mrakas to come out swinging in defence of his outraged residents. Instead, we saw a low-key and hesitant Mrakas calling simply for a review of the Region’s property portfolio to ensure it was providing “value for money” for taxpayers. 

No mention of putting homeless men in the Regional HQ.  

After reading his media posts I felt rather let down. This is the Mayor who famously tells us he stands by his residents, right or wrong. And if they don’t want a Regionally owned and operated shelter for homeless men in their neighbourhood - with round-the-clock supervision by trained and qualified staff – then that’s good enough for him. The homeless men have gotta go somewhere else. 

Dodging

At last week’s meeting, Mrakas dodged questions from Newmarket’s John Taylor. 

When Taylor asks him what he meant by the term “supportive housing” Mrakas can’t answer and instead makes a snide remark about wordsmithing.

Taylor quizzes Mrakas on his reasons for rejecting the shelter in Aurora. Mrakas said it did not fit “seamlessly” into the Town’s Official Plan and Zoning regulations. But, by the same token, would putting homeless men in the Regional HQ – an office building – fit “seamlessly” into Newmarket’s own Official Plan and zoning regulations?

Silent

Mrakas is asked by the Chair if he wants to respond to Taylor’s points. But a feeble Mrakas stays silent. 

In his Tweet following the meeting, Mrakas boasts his motion had been agreed unanimously. But, here again, he is being economical with the actualité. He timidly allows his motion to be gutted, removing all trace of the context which inspired the motion in the first place.
 
Inventory
 
Georgina’s Naomi Davison says she would be more comfortable supporting the motion if it simply restricted itself to an inventory of buildings owned by the Region together with their current zoning rather than the motion: 
 

“that specifically speaks to housing in this building”.

Mrakas says if the reference offends anyone he would have no problem taking it out.

No-brainer

Richmond Hill Mayor, David West, agrees that drawing up an inventory of what the Region owns is a “no-brainer”. Everyone agrees with that. 

He calls for an analysis of the implications of converting office buildings to residential.

Good point.

I am still waiting to hear if Aurora Town Hall can accommodate homeless men.

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Update on 18 April 2024 from the Aurora Banner: Residents' Group "extremely disappointed"

Click "read more" for transcript of the exchanges at the Committee of the Whole on 11 April 2024.