York Regional Council needs a Code of Conduct. 

But, scandalously, the Region’s elected officials have resisted the idea for years.

True. They are talking about getting one – but only because the law now requires it and it is being forced on them. The Municipal Act requires all municipalities to establish a Council Code of Conduct by March 1, 2019. 

A draft Code of Conduct was presented to elected members at last week’s Council meeting by the Region’s first Integrity Commissioner who was appointed in December. He is hired to keep an eye on them.

And about time too. In the last term of Council, one of its members, Regional Councillor Michael Di Biase, was suspended for 90 days without pay from his home Council of Vaughan for interfering in the tendering process. He still got paid by York Region and suffered no adverse consequences whatsoever. Indeed, the scandalous behaviour of Di Biase was not formally reported to the Regional Council nor even mentioned. Perhaps because it would cause unpleasantness and poison the clubby atmosphere. 

Code of Conduct "not needed"

At their meeting in October 2015, members decided that a Regional Code of Conduct wasn't needed. It should remain discretionary.  They said it would largely replicate what was already in place at municipal level and would produce unwelcome ambiguity. They did this knowing that the Chair of York Region, Wayne Emmerson, is indirectly elected by members of the Regional Council and not directly by the voters and is therefore not covered by any Code of Conduct applying to his "home municipality".  He doesn't have one – then or now.

In any event, our elected officials are deeply troubled by the draft Code of Conduct. They demand the draft be re-written.  The new Regional Councillor from Richmond Hill, Carmine Perrelli, is particularly scornful, questioning why one is needed at all. He tells us Canada’s Criminal Code, an observant press and media (as if!) and elections every four years are enough to keep councillors honest and diligent.  He says the Code of Conduct is:

“a weapon for political adversaries to use against you.”

This is a theme picked up and developed by the new Regional Councillor from Vaughan, Linda Jackson. In a wildly over-the-top and theatrical contribution to the debate she tells us there are some people out there who will use every trick in the book to accuse elected officials of wrongdoing. And this Code of Conduct is just giving them more ammunition to make the lives of elected officials even more difficult.

Others too want the Integrity Commissioner to go back to the drawing board and bring back something that is altogether more palatable.

Some of the criticisms have merit. 

It's a family affair

The Code of Conduct says elected members must at all costs avoid conflicts of interest – especially when matters could touch on their family. However “family” is defined as including aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews all the way out to first cousins. One wag yells that he is Italian and he has hundreds of first cousins. Doesn’t even know how many. And hasn’t met half of them. This gets gales of laughter.

The way in which the draft Code is written is part of the problem. It makes for stodgy and indigestible reading with too many words like “herein”. It imagines wrongdoing in circumstances which seem improbable to me:

“No Member shall obtain personal financial gain from the use or sale of Region-developed intellectual property (for example, inventions, creative writings and drawings), computer programs, technical innovations or any other item capable of being patented.” 

Perhaps the new Integrity Commissioner is trying to do a belt-and-braces job. Trying to imagine every possible eventuality. But the result comes across as oppressive.

The draft Code of Conduct stipulates

“Members of Council shall not actively undermine the implementation of Council’s decisions.” 

And the Code’s commentary tells us:

“The role of Members, once a council decision is made, is to support the implementation of that decision, not to work against its implementation, publicly or behind the scenes... Members can express disagreement with Council’s decisions, but it is contrary to the ethical behaviour of members of Council to actively seek to undermine, challenge or work against Council’s decisions.” 


The Regional Council took a decision in 2015 not to bring in a Code of Conduct or appoint an Integrity Commissioner. Had I been a member of York Regional Council during the last term I would have relentlessly challenged that policy decision in every inventive way I could. 

Newmarket’s Mayor John Taylor too felt this was oppressive while acknowledging the thinking behind it perhaps, ironically, lay in Newmarket’s own Code of Conduct. 

(Newmarket’s Code of Conduct, in large part, had been written to skewer former councillor Maddie Di Muccio who was seen as a troublemaker sans pareil. For example, it enjoins members to “accurately communicate the decisions of Council even if they disagree with the majority decision of Council, and by so doing affirm the respect and integrity in the decision-making processes of Council”.)

Dos and Don’ts of Social Media

The Region’s Draft Code of Conduct cautions members on the perils of social media, urging them to count to ten before reacting to some provocation. But is this really necessary?

“In a world where a transitory comment can become part of the permanent record, Members should exercise restraint in reacting too quickly, or promoting the social media posts of others whose views may be disparaging of Council’s decisions or another Member’s perspectives.” 

It seems to me that effective Codes of Conduct are short and to the point, spelling out in plain English behaviours which are simply not permitted. There should be clarity. And no ambiguity.

I smile to myself and immediately think of Newmarket’s previous Mayor, Tony Van Trappist, who rarely spoke at Regional Council meetings. He didn’t see the point. Why waste your breath offering an opinion? 

“Members shall make every effort to participate diligently in the activities of the committees, agencies, boards, commissions and advisory committees to which they are appointed by the Region or by virtue of being an elected official.” 

Has it come to this? 

That we have to remind politicians to do what should come naturally to them? 

Debating. Persuading. Making the argument.

The revised draft Code of Conduct will be considered by the Regional Council later this month.

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Back Story: Last November a jury at the Superior Court in Newmarket found that on 20 March 2014 at the PC provincial candidate’s nomination meeting in Aurora Steve Hinder punched Anthony Pullano in the chest but that the subsequent infection of Pullano’s ICD (like a pacemaker) was not caused by the blow. Earlier in 2018, Hinder launched a counter-claim against Pullano for defamation which succeeded. The jury awarded Hinder $50,000 in damages. Hinder has been associated with Magna and the Stronachs for many years, wearing several different hats. Anthony Pullano is a long-time Auroran businessman.  

Steve Hinder punched Anthony Pullano in 2014 but the jury awarded him $50,000 in damages when his counter-claim for defamation succeeded. 

By Thursday of this week (31 January) Steve Hinder must submit to the Superior Court a tally of his legal costs. Anthony Pullano is on the hook for $50,000 in damages for defamation and for Hinder’s legal costs which are likely to be huge. At this stage, I do not know if Pullano is going to appeal.

I sat through the entire trial and one matter continues to perplex me. 

When Hinder was being quizzed by Pullano’s lawyer, William Reid, about his employment history with Magna/Stronach we learn in excruciating detail how much he was paid, his employee benefits and so on. Personally, I thought this was a bit intrusive.

Land development = Bonus

And then I learned that Hinder signed a consultancy agreement with Stronach Consulting (part of the Stronach Group) which promised him a bonus if the Stronach “excess lands” were approved for development. That raised my eyebrows.

At the time I recall asking myself why Hinder would be entitled to any bonus at all unless he was facilitating (or thought to be facilitating) the development of the so-called “excess” or surplus Stronach lands in some way. Perhaps the people in the Stronach Consulting Group who signed off on the contract believed Hinder could oil the wheels and get things moving faster than would otherwise be the case.

Hinder told the Court that though entitled to a bonus he hadn’t received anything - at least up until the afternoon of Wednesday 28 November 2018 when the question was put to him.

He was not asked how much the bonus was worth and what he had to do to secure it and he did not volunteer this information.  

The Adena Views development gets off the ground

Pullano’s lawyer, William Reid, pointedly asked if he was a lobbyist for his employer.  Hinder was adamant he was not and never had been. 

Hinder explains why he went along to Jane Twinney’s provincial nomination meeting on 20 March 2014:

“I was there for the Stronach Group. The faster the development (of the surplus Stronach lands) the bigger the bonus. That’s the way it reads in the contract.”

“The lands are owned by Stronach not Magna. One spot is being developed.”

Where are the Surplus Lands?

It seems likely that two blocks of land south of Wellington between Bayview and Leslie are the surplus Stronach lands. The zoning is shown here.

The applicant for the Stronach South Development Lands is Aurora Bayview SouthEast Development Inc. (shown on the Planning Applications Status Map September 2018 as ID8)

“This is a Draft Plan of Subdivision to divide 9 future development blocks and 1 natural heritage block and a public spine road network.”  

Magna International HQ and the Stronach Surplus lands south of Wellington Street East

The applicant for Adena Views (ID 35) is Leslie Wellington Developments Inc. 

This Draft Plan of Subdivision proposes 145 lots for single detached dwellings and an Environmental Protection block.” 

From what I can gather (and there is a multiplicity of entities here) Aurora Bayview Southeast Development Inc and Leslie Wellington Developments Inc were acquired by 2272804 Ontario Inc in 2011 and are subsidiaries of it. 

Belinda Stronach is a Director of 2272804 Ontario Inc. 

Planning approval was granted by the Town of Aurora in December 2016 for the Adena Views development (ID35) and construction is now underway with a few model homes finished. I assume this is the development Hinder was alluding to when he said in November that one spot (of the surplus lands) is being developed.

The Stronach Family Feud

All this is happening against the backdrop of a very public feud between Frank and his daughter Belinda, among others.

Last October Frank Stronach launched a Court action against his daughter Belinda, suing her for $520M on the grounds that she had seriously mismanaged the family fortune. 

Belinda Stronach hit back. She says her father blew $800M on idiosyncratic and often unprofitable projects and is now countersuing him for $33M.

The Toronto Star tells us:

At the heart of the dispute lies “a fundamental disagreement over the proper test to be applied to managing the business and affairs” of the closely held Stronach Group, Belinda Stronach said in her statement of defence.  

See the full September 2018 Planning Applications Status map here

The affairs of the Stronachs are certainly complicated.  

“The parents’ initial lawsuit described TSG (the Stronach Group) as having 253 Stronach family-owned corporations, trusts and other entities established in various jurisdictions around the world.”

In the course of the Pullano v Hinder trial we learned about the nature of Hinder’s employment with Magna and with Belinda Stronach. 

Steve Hinder: a man of many parts

After leaving the Toronto Police Service Hinder started his own consulting business and landed a contract working on “corporate security matters” for Magna. When Belinda Stronach was Newmarket-Aurora’s MP from 2004-2008 he was her constituency office manager. When she switched parties and moved from the PCs to the Liberals he followed suit. From 2006-2009 he created a security program for the Magna Campus. After Belinda Stronach left politics in 2008 Hinder became a Magna employee as Head of Campus Security. He then went on to work for Magna but in a different role – Magna for Community. He was responsible, amongst other things, for developing the Neighbourhood Network bringing together volunteers, community groups and charities.

Magna donates, on average, 2% of its pre-tax profits (the percentage varies year by year) to worthy causes in the local community. Hinder told the Court the Stronach family were “very philanthropic folks” and

“It is my responsibility to understand what the needs are in the community.”  

Belinda and Frank Stronach at Magna's AGM 2008

Eyes and Ears

Steve Hinder was and is Magna’s eyes and ears in the local community, recommending people (and politicians) for financial support though the final decisions lay elsewhere. 

It is part of Steve Hinder’s job description to keep his finger on the pulse of the Town of Aurora and, clearly, he is very good at what he does. 

Hinder sits on the Town’s Economic Development Corporation, a non-share, not-for-profit corporation which was set up last year and which

“provides strategic leadership and coordination of community economic development… to strengthen and diversify existing business, attract new business and investment, and coordinate strategic economic development initiatives within the community.”

No surprises there. Steve Hinder is very engaged in a lot of things. And that is to his credit.

But I still find it curious that he gets a bonus when the Stronach Surplus Lands are developed.


What am I missing?

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The Provincial Government is abandoning plans to give municipalities powers to allow development which could encroach into the Greenbelt. 

This is very good news. 

The volte-face was announced yesterday by Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark in a series of three tweets. 

He said the powers would never have been used at the expense of the Greenbelt. 

Of course not! Perish the thought!

We are told the proposal – set out in plain English – was simply misunderstood. 

So now it’s off the table and Schedule 10 of Bill 66 will be withdrawn when the Legislature returns on 19 February 2019.

Eternal vigilance is required if we are serious about protecting the Greenbelt from Ford’s PCs.

In the course of her long career at Queen’s Park Christine Elliott - now Ford's Deputy - has occasionally expressed views on the Greenbelt and environmental protection issues. 

On 22 September 2008 during the second reading debate on the Lake Simcoe Protection Act Elliott said she understood the purpose of greenbelt legislation but:

“the fact remains that there are many individual property rights that were not protected as a result of that. Nobody questions the need for the greenbelt, nobody is opposed to the idea of green space, but I think there has to be the science behind it, and there has to be the rationalization of those areas that are chosen for the greenbelt.”

Growth Plan under review

Elsewhere… the Ford Government’s proposed changes to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe are out to consultation until 28 February 2019.

“The proposed changes address implementation challenges with the Plan that were identified by the municipal and development sectors and other stakeholders. These changes are intended to provide greater flexibility and address barriers to building homes, creating jobs, attracting investments and putting in place the right infrastructure while protecting the environment.”

There they go again.

More talk about “protecting the environment”.

I think we are meant to find this reassuring.

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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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