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Ward 5 by-election confirmed for 17 October. And Clock Tower decision pushed back.

Today’s Special Council meeting confirmed 17 October 2016 as the date for the Ward 5 by-election, called to replace Joe Sponga. The by-election will be held under the familiar first-past-the-post system, not the ranked ballot which was floated as a possibility.

A number of hopefuls are present today, smiling and shaking hands in the way that candidates do.

Darryl Wolk, the first greyhound out of the trap, has already declared himself a candidate and will no doubt be handing in his nomination papers tomorrow in the first light of dawn.

It is deliciously cool in the Council Chamber but outside it is as humid as the Amazon. In wanders a very hot Wolk, attired in suit and tie and with glinting beads of perspiration on his forehead. He is backed by Chris Campbell the self styled “runner-up” in the two candidate race for Mayor in 2014.

A grinning Wolk spots me and thrusts out his arm to shake my hand. I oblige.

Wolk, who challenged John Taylor for Regional Councillor in 2014, desperately wants to get on the council so he can (a) shake the place up and (b) torture Tony Van Bynen, exquisitely slowly and at length, about his Mayoral salary.

But, to be fair, Wolk also has very firm views about Ward 5 and the difference he believes he can make. He is against Forrest’s Clock Tower proposal so, on this one at least, he is on the side of the angels.

I see another hopeful.

John Heckbert, wearing his trademark suspenders, was runner-up in Ward 5 at the last election. He too shakes my hand and gives me a nod of recognition.

If today’s Special Council meeting had defied convention and opted to appoint a councillor then the eager Heckbert would have been hovering in the wings, waiting for the call.

Heckbert is also opposed to Forrest’s Clock Tower.

Where are the candidates who will be supporting Bob Forrest's monstrous seven storey apartment building in the heart of the downtown heritage conservation district? Are we going to see any emerge from the undergrowth? Will anyone have the nerve to echo Van Bynen who told us the Clock Tower is a great example of the intensification we need?

Along the row from me sits the dark horse candidate, Bob Kwapis. I sidle along and sit next to him and introduce myself.

I know he has reservations about the Clock Tower but he is waiting until his nomination papers go in before giving chapter and verse. We are all waiting with great anticipation for his detailed views.

Clock Tower decision now delayed until after 17 October 2016

It is now clear that Forrest’s planning application will not be considered until after the by-election. (It was penciled in for 29 August 2016).

Today John Taylor tells his colleagues:

“If you look at Ward 5 there are some important issues it faces and, obviously, the Clock Tower is one of those. And I think that to ensure that the representative of the people of that Ward when that decision is made is someone who is elected and chosen by the people I think is important… It will give the Ward the opportunity to engage in the conversation about several important topics in the downtown and Quaker Hill etc and I think it will be a healthy and robust conversation I’m sure.”

It is perfectly obvious we need a Ward 5 candidates’ debate where all the hopefuls can be pitched against each other. The Clock Tower is a huge issue – and not just for the ward but for the Town as a whole.

Trinity United Church, a stone's throw from Forrest's proposed development, has expressed grave concerns about the possible impact on the fabric of the Church building, its foundations and its priceless stained glass windows.

This by-election gives us a heaven sent opportunity to hear from local people.

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Will Ward 5 voters be electing a new councillor using the ranked ballot?

The short answer is no.

The Ward 5 by-election to replace Joe Sponga will be held under the familiar first-past-the-post system.

The agenda for Monday’s Special Council meeting (25 July 2016) holds out the possibility that the by-election may be conducted under the new ranked ballot system which allows voters to express their preferences – ranking candidates 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on.

If our councillors choose to go down the ranked ballot route, Newmarket will be a trailblazer for the new voting system.

(I had assumed the new ranked ballot system would be introduced in 2018.)

In his report to Monday’s Council meeting, the Town Clerk tells us:

“Council may enact a by-law authorizing the use of ranked ballots for the Ward 5 by-election. A report will be brought forward to the August 29, 2016 Committee of the Whole which will address the vote method and the ranked ballot option should a by-election be called.”

The report goes on to tell us that all councils in Ontario:

“now have the option to enact a by-law to use ranked ballot elections (but) the details setting out how the ranked ballot system will work in practice are to be contained in the regulations which are still being drafted”.

This is the fly in the ointment.

The consultation period on the proposed regulations closes on 28 July 2016 and it is anyone’s guess when they will eventually be promulgated by the Lieutenant Governor. The submissions have to be weighed and analysed by the Office of Legislative Counsel and the draft regulations have to be amended or not. We could be watching paint dry.

The Town Clerk’s proposed timetable for the Ward 5 by-election tells us the regular Council meeting on 12 September 2016 will consider the ranked ballot by-law.

But, if the regulations in any way reflect the draft, they will stipulate that councils must hold an open house before the by-law is enacted to provide the public with information on any alternative voting method being considered for use in the election. And, crucially, the Council has to give at least 30 days notice of the open house in a newspaper circulating in the municipality.

In addition, the municipality must then hold a public meeting (at least 15 days after the open house) to allow the public to speak to council about the proposed by-law.

Just looking at the timetable, it seems to me a ranked ballot for the Ward 5 by election is a complete non-starter.

Apart from anything else, the by-law wouldn’t just apply to Ward 5 but to all subsequent regular elections and by-elections and it would be used to elect all members of the council. It is not something to be rushed or corners cut.

Clearly, we are stuck with first-past-the-post. At least for the time being.

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Clock Tower: Rent or Buy?

We have to admire Bob Forrest’s chutzpah.

Bob has put a full page advertisement in this week's ERA newspaper asking us if we would prefer to rent or buy apartments in his "incredible" Clock Tower development.

It all seems a bit premature to me.

He doesn’t have planning approval for his monstrous out-of-place seven storey apartment building in the heart of the old downtown. And he can only go ahead with the underground car park if the Town does a land swap.

There are a million unanswered questions which must be addressed in the Planning Department’s forthcoming comprehensive report on the Clock Tower application and Bob is pushing these to one side as if they are trivial details.

Only last year Bob was telling his business partners:

"We have put some substantial effort into studying the rental option, rather than condo. There is absolutely no doubt about the market need.

Though we do not yet have a rental pro forma complete, I am expecting the pro forma to be richer than the current condo pro forma which is showing a profit of over $10m. Here is a few of the benefits of rental over condo:

1)    We are able to negotiate the quantum of Development Charges

2)    There is precedent in Newmarket for deferring the Development Charges for five years, without interest, and postponing them to construction financing thus converting them to equity at regular DC rates

3)    We believe we can achieve the same thing with a portion of the permit fees, cash-in-lieu and trail costs which jointly are about $1.5k

4)    There is precedent for a parking reduction. At $35k to $40k per parking space that would be nice

5)    There is a precedent for a permanent tax reduction in return for building rental

6)    We started out as a seven storey application and after a lot of shimmying landed at six storeys. We think there is a very real chance of regaining that 7th storey as rental

7)    The deal turns around much faster as we do not require a sales test.

If rental made sense then, why is Bob revisiting the issue now?

Does he really believe the future of his planning application is so finely balanced that councillors will be swayed by the issue of tenure – whether his seven storey building is rental or a condo?

Does he seriously expect them to (a) ignore their own policies for the Town’s Heritage Conservation District (b) change their own zoning by-laws to suit him and (c) agree a land swap while closing their eyes to all the reasons why this development should be killed stone dead?

We know the Mayor has already made his mind up. But does Bob really believe Tony Van Bynen will carry the full Council and persuade them that

“The Clock Tower is a great example of the intensification we need"?

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Ward 5 by election to be held on 17 October 2016

A by-election in Ward 5 to fill the vacancy created by Joe Sponga's shock resignation will be held on Monday 17 October 2016.

The formal decision to trigger a by-election will be taken by a special Committee of the Whole on 25 July. The agenda is here.

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