Thursday 19 November. To the York Region Administrative Centre for the big debate on whether the Chair should be elected. Today’s Toronto Star says it’s time voters filled the Region’s top job.

The current occupant of the Chair, the jovial Wayne Emmerson, was not even a councillor when his colleagues backed him in a 16-4 vote in December 2014 over Newmarket’s John Taylor.

Regional Councillor Joe Li from Markham has a motion on the agenda, seconded by Whitchurch-Stouffville Mayor, Justin Altman, urging York Region to back Chris Ballard’s private members bill – currently before the Provincial Parliament as Bill 42 – which would require the Chair of York Region to be elected at-large as from the 2018 election.

Outside the building, I see Darryl Wolk pacing up and down, smart phone in one hand and an electronic cigarette in the other. He is preparing for his deputation – one of seven.

Danny Wolk

Now I am inside and Wayne Emmerson is going through the list of deputations, asking everyone – including “Danny” Wolk to get ready.

First up is Michael Thompson, an Aurora councillor. He tells us 43% of the Town’s tax dollars go to the Region so it is quite a big deal who is running the show there. He says it is all about accountability and transparency. It is a sober and confident performance.

He is followed by 16 year old Benjamin Williamson who invokes the memory of fallen heroes who died to protect democracy. They didn’t make the supreme sacrifice for appointments.

Anthony Pullano from Aurora is up next. He starts well enough but then goes rapidly downhill, tying himself in knots as he struggles to answer straightforward questions from opponents of change such as Markham’s Frank Scarpitti, the highest paid Mayor in Ontario, perhaps Canada.

Yellow Umbrellas

Now it’s Bob Mok, President of the Downtown Markham Ratepayers Association. He reminds us all that Waterloo Region changed to electing their Chair at large way back in 1997; Halton in 2000 and Durham in 2014. The precedents are there. He hints that appointed Chairs have to curry favour with their colleagues to secure re-election every four years. Time for a change. Jim Kwan, also from Markham, echoes Mok. He compares what happens in York Region to Hong Kong and the so-called “small circle elections” which provoked “yellow umbrella” demonstrations and riots in the streets. No sign of yellow umbrellas yet in Yonge Street.

Darryl Wolk addresses the Council in a solid presentation, dense with facts. He handles the questions with ease. He says an at large election would raise awareness of the issues across the Region. The job is too important to be traded in secret deals.

Wolk says Ballard’s Bill 42 is going to go through. So why wait? This is the opportunity for York Region to take a hand in shaping its own rules and procedures. An elected Chair would attract a lot of high profile people and the mandate coming from direct election would give the winner a lot of authority.

Mary Rose is the last speaker. She triggers howls of outrage by describing those council members in favour of the status quo as “arrogant, condescending thieves of the night!”

The guardian of decorum, TonyVan Bynen, cries “Out of Order!”

Mary Rose gathers up her belongings and leaves and some of the other deputants drift away without staying to hear the debate. This is bad form. If people have to get back to work they should tell the clerks beforehand who would have passed the message on.

This allows Emmerson to shake his head sorrowfully, regretting that so many deputants leave as soon as they had said their piece.

Joe Li is now apologizing to his colleagues if they felt offended by any of the comments.

Postpone debate until February

His fellow regional councillor from Markham, Jim Jones, wants the whole matter deferred until February next year. East Gwillimbury’s Mayor, Virginia Hackson, agrees. Newmarket’s John Taylor wants the matter dealt with now, not pushed back to another day. Aurora’s Geoffrey Dawe agrees with Taylor.

The smooth talking baritone, Frank Scarpitti, is against direct election. But if debate is to be put back to the New Year then he wants staff to provide information on how direct elections are working in the regions that now have it. He points to Durham where the current chair runs and “no-one of any consequence” runs against him. He wants to know what the level of voter participation was in Durham. And what would a campaign running across York Region cost? Now he is talking about Halton where there have, apparently, been two acclamations. Yes, so what?

Frank Scarpitti dismisses the argument that the Chair is primus inter pares. Emmerson is just one of 21 people on Council – no more, no less. Everyone around this table, he says, has the same amount of power and authority. This is pure moonshine. Emmerson is full time, shaping and directing regional policy and taking home barrow loads of cash every year as “Regional Chair and CEO”. Scarpitti says direct election may be something to consider only if the Chair had some executive powers, the inference being that Emmerson has none.

Now, bizarrely, he is taking aim at his Markham colleague Joe Li who is responsible for bringing this contentious issue forward. Scarpitti says Li told the readers of a Chinese language newspaper that they “shouldn’t be afraid of Mayor Scarpitti”. Oh dear!

Now we are moving into very murky waters indeed. In a gentle voice with a hint of menace, Scarpitti tells us it is OK to disagree with him in Markham but, let there be no misunderstanding, he will remember their names.

Scarpitti, who often dominates the discussion, closes by saying an elected chair is not going to mean better government. Vaughan’s Gino Rosati agrees. He too wants the debate pushed back to the New Year.

Van Bynen: there are more important things than direct election

In a rare intervention, Tony Van Bynen says there are more important things to be concerned with than election of the Regional Chair, citing the region’s $2 billion budget. He also has a dig at Darryl Wolk though not by name. His reference to “failed municipal candidates having no constituents to speak for” gets a knowing chortle from around the table.

Van Bynen says it is time for a full comprehensive review of the region’s governance model and structure. (Has he started work yet on his review of the OMB which was supposed to be the centerpiece of his third term? I doubt it.)

Now King Mayor, Steve Pellegrini, wants the whole issue deferred until next year. Markham’s Nirmala Armstrong says no. Now is the time. Taylor insists the decision should be taken now. He will support a review of governance but this shouldn’t be an excuse to delay a decision on direct election.

Now Richmond Hill’s David Barrow is having his pennyworth. If Chris Ballard’s Bill 42 makes it on to the Statute Book - as everyone here confidently expects - there will be an opportunity to talk further about representation and executive powers. He tells us that Emmerson provides leadership and direction. Looking at Emmerson he says: “A review of executive powers would give you the powers people assume you have!”

Everyone knows that Emmerson got the job as a result of back room deals, promises and good old fashioned stitch ups. Barrow gets a laugh when he says: “I was lobbied for my vote today.”

Now Van Bynen is pressing his friendly amendment to Jim Jones’ motion to defer consideration to February. Vaughan’s Mayor, Maurizio Bevilacqua, complains that his municipality is under-represented at regional level with an allocation of four and this is something he wants to see addressed in Van Bynen’s proposed review.

Keep it simple

Georgina’s Danny Wheeler is now warning; “This thing is growing a lot of legs here!” Just be careful what you ask for. He pleads to keep things simple. It is up to the MPPs.

Now Emmerson is telling us that the question of representation could be addressed in any review, going up to, say 26 members. He says that Bill 42 is going to go through so let’s make a decision and move on.

Richmond Hill’s Vito Spatafora wants to focus on the election of chair rather than wrapping it up with a huge variety of other issues. Keep it simple. He doesn’t want to make a decision on governance “on the fly”. He doesn’t want an open ended review. Scarpetti agrees. Taylor is in favour of a governance review but it should be decoupled from the vote on Chair.

Jim Jones wants his deferral motion put to the vote but without Van Bynen’s proposed amendment. Jones says he just wants a staff report detailing what happens in those regions where chairs are directly elected.

Now Emmerson asks Van Bynen how he wants to handle his proposed governance review. Van Bynen says it can be dealt with separately in a second motion.

Jones’ deferral motion is carried by 14 to 4 with Joe Li, Brenda Hogg, John Taylor and Virginia Hackson against.

Now Van Bynen is out of order

Now we move into the surreal with Van Bynen’s motion ruled out of order.

The regional clerk advises Emmerson that it concerns a major aspect of policy that was not on the agenda for today’s meeting and, as such, the Procedure By Law requires proper notice of motion to be given but this can be waived if there is a two thirds majority on a vote.

A startled Van Bynen says his proposal would have been put to the vote if he had kept it as an amendment to Jones’ deferral motion. He was only trying to be helpful in proposing a second stand-alone motion.

His weary colleagues give Van Bynen the support he needs to get his review of governance up and running. Who knows where this will take us?

I am certain Van Bynen hasn’t the faintest idea.

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