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Mulock Drive GO Rail Station gets the green light (perhaps)

A new GO rail station at Mulock Drive is a real possibility.

The Chief  Executive of Metrolinx, Bruce McCuaig, will be recommending to the Metrolinx Board on 28 June 2016 that a new station at Mulock Drive be included in the Regional Express Rail 10 year expansion program.

McQuaig wants Newmarket (and, of course, the other municipalities where new stations are proposed)

“to provide resolutions to Metrolinx by November 30, 2016 indicating their agreement to the station location and demonstrating their commitment to implementing transit supportive land-uses around stations, and sustainable station access.”

Five new stations are proposed for the Barrie corridor at Spadina (at Front Street); Bloor-Davenport (Bloor Street near Lansdowne Avenue); Kirby (near Keele Street); Mulock (near Bayview Avenue) and Innisfil (at 6th line).

McQuaig tells the Metrolinx Board that Mulock is being included because there is:

“Reasonable potential to add new GO ridership; overall net travel time savings and benefits.”

He adds:

“A grade separation at the location as well as further Metrolinx analysis is required.”

The new station – if we get it - will still be straddling a single track. Now is the time to push for twin tracking north of Aurora to at least East Gwillimbury. This brings with it the possibility of a fast and frequent service to Union Station.

The GO Rail Station location

The property at 402 Mulock Drive, which appears on York Region and Newmarket maps as a possible suitable site for a new GO rail station, has apparently been sold but a check of the land registry tells us the sale has not closed yet. (The land is shown in the photo on the left of the track.)

I do not know who has bought the land but, as I have said before, I would be astonished if it were the Town of Newmarket.

Tony Van Bynen, the Town’s cautious retired banker/Mayor, would never take such a gamble, spending money on an off-chance rather than a racing certainty.

The Implications for Silken Laumann

The inclusion of Mulock Drive on the list of new GO stations raises questions about the Silken Laumann planning application to build 28 Townhouses on protected meadowland within a stone’s throw of the rail track. The windows of the Townhouses would have to be sealed to protect those inside from excessive noise from the railway.

At the OMB Hearing on 28 September 2015 I drew the attention of the adjudicator,  Jan Seaborn, to the very real possibility that a new GO rail station could be built on land close to the proposed Townhouse development. The senior planner present, Dave Ruggle, made no comment on this and neither did the Town Solicitor, Esther Armchuk, who told the OMB that, in her view, the proposed Townhouse development represented “good planning”.

As she must know, this was all complete tosh.

Even though the Town was utterly silent at the OMB Hearing on the possibility of a new GO Rail Station at Mulock, a little over one month later, on 9 November 2015, Van Bynen, in a Damascene conversion, was telling Metrolinx the proposed station at Mulock Drive was now “a priority” for the Town.

We shall see.

The Town will now have to address the possibility of a new GO rail station at Mulock and that means coming off the fence – the uncomfortable place where so many of our councillors prefer to sit.

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The People's Mayor

View this rare vintage clip of the people’s Mayor brought up from the dusty old archives.

It needs no further commentary from me.

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Newmarket and its Library

It is 5pm on Wednesday 15 June 2016. I am at the Library workshop – the only member of the public present – outnumbered and outgunned by the Town’s top movers and shakers.

And then there are the councillors.

I see Bob Shelton, the chief panjandrum and his trusted lieutenants. I see Andrew Brouwer, the Town Clerk, Esther Armchuk, the Town solicitor, as well as a string of Commissioners for this and that. They have all the facts at their fingertips.

Although this is billed as a joint workshop to discuss “the framework for future library needs” there are no members of the library board present other than the chair, Joan Stonehocker.

Shelton suggests waiting for 15 minutes to accommodate the late-comers. No says the Mayor, we press on. Unusually, I find myself nodding in approval at the great man’s decision. Sometimes he gets things right.

Now I see the Chief Executive of Newmarket Public Library, Todd Kyle. He has been in the job for about six years and I expect great things from him this afternoon. Here is his opportunity to shine. I want Todd to tell the Council what he wants and when. I want him to be direct and to the point.

Todd is now taking us through his PowerPoint presentation.

I hear him talking about “a potential road map going forward” and my heart sinks.

He sounds as if he is asking for directions! Has he lost his way so soon?

We are told the workshop:

“will help to form the basis for closer study of Library future facilities options”.

Oh no! That doesn’t sound like we are going anywhere interesting today.

Todd has a lot of slides on funding and financing; development charges and asset replacement funds. Now he asks us to keep in mind “other informing strategic documents and ongoing processes”.  Aaaargh!

At long last he is talking about the library, reeling off rather impressive statistics:

Active cardholders: 23,500

Questions answered by staff: 31,500

In person visits: 214,000

Items borrowed: 508,000 (17% e-borrowing)

Now we are hearing about the role of libraries in 2016. Todd trumpets the success of the IdeaMarket, “igniting community dialogue, discovery and debate”. Now his chest swells as he points to the library’s 3D printer whose home is a converted broom cupboard, such are the space constraints.

This provides the intro to an arresting slide on the Library’s limitations.

  • Space: one of the lowest per capita in Ontario.
  • Accessibility: cramped space; steep ramp
  • Logistics: no loading dock, limited storage
  • Parking: only 22 dedicated spaces
  • Community reach: one location
  • Insufficient learning, collaboration, exploration space: MakerHub (ie the 3D printer) is in a former closet!

Now Todd is talking about the options.

Option A: One larger single central location

  • Ideally up to 60-70K sq. ft.
  • Operational cost containment/ economies of scale
  • Community reach?
  • Construction costs?

Option B: Maintain current location and add branch location(s)

  • ideally up to 20-30K sq. ft. (can be smaller but recommended sq. ft. above is based on per capita comparators)
  • Main Street/Riverwalk Commons/Old Town Hall synergy
  • Operational costs higher
  • Community reach
  • Construction costs?

Todd’s face is a closed book. He won’t tell them what he wants. He is dancing around the issue just when they want him to be open and candid. 

He ends with a slide setting out the “Library Facility Vision”. He wants the library to be less of a warehouse. Is has got to be open and bathed in natural light.

Now it is question time and Jane Twinney asks an intelligent question about satellite libraries. Wouldn’t this mean duplication?

Todd replies:

“A great question. The answer is yes and no.”

Now John Taylor is inviting Todd to tell us more about his vision. In the end what do you want to achieve? Is one community hub (aka library) better than two?

Todd views this as a huge, gaping elephant trap. He won’t be drawn, retreating into meaningless waffle about “community priorities”.

However, he tells us that Guelph – a University town of course – has no fewer than eight branches.

...And?

Just when things are getting interesting the Mayor solemnly reads out the motion to close the meeting to the public (ie me). Pre-programmed, without waiting for him to finish, I obediently move towards the door.

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The rationale for going into closed session is to discuss the Framework for Future Facilities and Land Use. This was set out on 22 February 2016 when the Council had a similar workshop on the Recreation Playbook. Councillors were told there were many “long term strategic decisions, pending and upcoming, related to land, facilities and community development.” They were given “an overview of property and facilities of strategic interest”.


 

How to buy an election

The Municipal Elections Modernization Act is now law. Unfortunately, key parts of it have not been thought through.

The new ban on corporate and union donations now extends to municipal elections – which are not contested by the political parties. Under the rules as they stand, there is no cap whatsoever on the amount of money an individual candidate can donate to his or her own campaign provided they are self funded. 

But campaign spending caps still apply. *

Take the case of the Chair of York Region. If the post were to be directly elected by the voters at large in the next Regional election in 2018, candidates would face a campaign spending cap of around around $650,000.

By then, the electorate is expected to be about 750,000. A conventional campaign – using advertising media and leaflets – would cost a small fortune to reach such a huge number of voters. A wealthy candidate could buy the election, financially carpet bombing others of more modest means.

The new Minister of Housing, Newmarket-Aurora MPP Chris Ballard, has been pushing for the direct election of the Chair of York Region for years. The position which is worth over $200,000 a year is currently held by the jovial Wayne Emmerson who got the job in 2014 on a 16-4 vote of members of the Regional Council.

But now that Ballard is a Minister the future of his Private Member’s Bill (Bill 42) is uncertain.

(For the Bill to survive and become law Ballard needs to persuade (a) another MPP to take over his Bill and become its sponsor and (b) persuade Government business managers to bring forward a motion to allow this to happen and (c) timetable its return to the floor of the House and vote it into law. This could be done in a matter of moments. Bill 42 has already completed its Committee Stage.)

When I ask Ballard how individual candidates for Regional Chair can reasonably be expected to raise the huge sums of money needed to fight a half-decent campaign he floats the idea of a “rebate programme” where campaign contributions to candidates for municipal office are offset in some way. I am unsure how this may work out in practice.

Chris Ballard tells me:

"Thank you for your questions, in the past few weeks following the introduction of Bill 181 and during the Standing Committee process, the government has heard from a number of individuals and organizations across Ontario about the proposed Municipal Elections Modernization Act, 2016 about concerns with corporate and union donations to candidates for municipal council.

To create an even playing field for all candidates, the government proposed amendments to the Bill that ban corporate and union contributions to council candidates in all Ontario municipalities.  The ban would also apply to contributions to school board trustee candidates. By making the ban on corporate and union donations mandatory for all municipalities in Ontario, the government is working to balance the interests of candidates and citizens.

Acknowledging the absence of political parties operating at the municipal level, municipal candidates are able to self-fund without a cap on how much they may contribute to their own campaigns. Candidates running for Councillor in the City of Toronto have done so with a $750 contribution limit (and $5,000 aggregate limit) with the ban on union and corporate contributions for the last two municipal election cycles. 

Bill 181 does not propose a provincial subsidy for municipal candidates, however, municipalities may choose to establish a rebate program for contributions to municipal candidates and you may wish to contact your municipality directly to ask about local programs and whether any changes are being contemplated."

I am in touch with York Region to see what they have to say.

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Professor Robert MacDermid from York University and a leading expert on campaign finance told the Committee examining Bill 181 on 5 May 2016 that self-funding should be done away with:

I recommend that we replace the limit on the size of contributions that candidates and their spouses can make to their own campaigns. Municipal politics in Ontario are unusual. It’s unlike provincial or federal politics, where candidates can only give what other citizens can give. This allowance to allow people to self-fund their campaigns—sometimes to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars—simply prolongs the kind of economic inequality that exists in the system. It allows rich people an opportunity to run where poor people cannot. Self-funding needs to be removed from the bill. People have to rely, as I said, on small contributions from a broad base of people. Self-funding is also an issue because it opens the door to getting around the rules about contributions by illegally allowing somebody to give a cheque or give money to a candidate who can then give the money in their own name rather than having to give it obviously. I think that’s probably something that goes on.

* This blog was amended on 17 June 2016 Newmarket's Town Clerk, Andrew Brouwer, helpfully reminds me that while a candidate who is self funded does not have a campaign contribution limit, each office has a maximum campaign expense limit which is prescribed by the Act. In a report to York Region on 18 February 2016, it was put this way:

"Campaign spending limits are prescribed by the Municipal Elections Act using a formula based on the number of eligible electors. For a head of council, the spending limit is $7,500 plus $0.85 per eligible elector. Based on 2014 statistics, a candidate in a Region-wide election for the Regional Chair would have a spending limit close to $600,000. Based on population projections the spending limit could be in excess of $650,000."