In 2006, not long after she was first elected as MPP for Whitby-Oshawa, Christine Elliott was lecturing her fellow MPPs at Queen’s Park on the importance of keeping campaign promises.

She told them it was really important to address the cynicism of voters:

“doing what you say you're going to do and not turning your back on your promises after you're elected”

She said they had to improve the flow of information to the public 

“so that they receive all of the information they need in order to make informed decisions.” 

Those fine sentiments have been thrown under the bus – quite literally. 

The books look bad. Very bad...

According to this morning’s Era Newspaper Doug Ford told a “roundtable of candidates” at Newmarket’s Best Western Hotel:  

The result last time. A split vote on the centre/left between the Liberals and NDP could let Ford win. Other parties on the right such as Trillium - which could theoretically take votes away from Ford's PCs - don't even show on the radar.

“We have been laying out our plan every day and putting a dollar amount beside every announcement. We have a fully costed plan.”

Christine Elliott adds, disingenuously:

“We don’t know how bad it is going to be yet. We can say we will be responsible and develop priorities.”  

Former chief economist at TD Bank, Don Drummond, writing in today’s Toronto Star addresses that one head on:

“If the NDP or the Conservatives form the next Government, wait for that tired old refrain of how the books look worse from the insider perspective than the previous Government let on. Voters will not fall for that.”

Other commentators say the new PC Plan makes a mockery of Ford’s vow of a fully costed platform.

Ford's Platform "doesn't do the job"

And former Professor of Political Science at Ryerson University, John Shields, says the PC platform, as released, doesn’t do the job

“For voters, there still isn’t any new fiscal information to make an informed judgment.”

I wonder what Christine Elliott (2006 version) would say about that. 

Now she says whatever it takes to get elected.

Lofty speeches on how best to deal with voter cynicism come later.

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The publication yesterday of the PC’s “fully costed” platform is a big disappointment.

I am left wondering if this damp squib is what Christine Elliott had in mind when she told the Newmarket Chamber of Commerce candidates’ breakfast meeting last week that a fully costed program would definitely be published before the election. She told me afterwards she didn’t know precisely when.

The list of "clear, honest" commitments in Ford’s “Plan for the People” together with their estimated costs is pure back-of-the-envelope stuff.  The Plan is opaque when it comes to showing how the commitments will be paid for.

$6 billion disappeared from the Plan

The $6 billion in promised efficiency savings no longer appears in the plan – just a general spiel about rooting out inefficiencies. Ford says no jobs will be lost as a result of this efficiency drive. Just more cost-effective ways of buying paper clips and all the day-to-day things the Province needs to function.

Doug Ford’s PCs have also abandoned their pledge to deliver a balanced budget within the first two years of their mandate. Instead we see the weasel word “responsible” creep into Ford’s promise.

The Plan says Ford will:

“Return to a balanced budget on a responsible time-frame.”

No Reckless Promises

Ford says he won’t make reckless promises and that when he makes a promise he keeps it. “Period.”

He told developers privately he would allow them to build on a “big chunk” of the Greenbelt but, full of contrition, he dropped his “reckless promise” 24 hours after an incriminating video went viral.

He now promises to

“Increase the supply of affordable housing across the GTA while protecting the Greenbelt in its entirety.”

Perhaps Professor Ford should explain in detail how he plans to do this.

Ford says he will keep the all-day two-way GO/Regional Transit projects which are, of course, hugely expensive. Indeed, the Liberal Government took the perilous decision to sell off part of Hydro One – which has backfired on them explosively - precisely to channel much of the proceeds into modernising and expanding our ancient creaking rail network. So, how he makes his sums add up is more than of academic interest.

Respect and Trust 

Ford’s campaign is all about “getting Ontario back on track”. He tells us “help is on the way” and he is going to bring “respect and trust to Queen’s Park”.

Perhaps all the PC candidates who cheated and bought their way to nominations via the 407 scandal and the 60,000 stolen IDs are going to be cleared of any wrong doing. This sinister crime is now, of course, the subject of a major police investigation.

If any PC candidates who were involved in this fraud are elected on 7 June Ford’s promise to bring “respect and trust to Queen’s Park” will be seen in retrospect as one of his more reckless.

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Background: The redevelopment of the Clock Tower in Newmarket’s old downtown has been talked about since 2011. The developer, Bob Forrest, produced three versions in a bid to get approval, 9, 6 and 7 storeys, each with multi-level underground parking under Market Square. The final version was turned down by the Town on 28 November 2016 with only the Mayor in support. Forrest appealed to the OMB but this is no longer proceeding because of a new deal struck between the Town and the developer based on a “New Development Concept” – involving no demolition of heritage properties – but which we have yet to see.  

Director of Planning “misled”

For the first time – outside the Town’s inner circle – Newmarket’s Director of Planning, Rick Nethery, has let it be known he was misled by figures in a key document submitted as part of the Clock Tower application leading him to believe the true Floor Space Index (FSI) was 2.9 when, in reality, it was over 4.

The Floor Space Index is a key measure of density.

When asked by the Mayor to address comments that had been made about the development’s FSI at the decision-making meeting on 28 November 2016, Mr Nethery said:

“There’s no question that what Mr Wall (a member of the public) was saying is that we are looking at an FSI that’s above what is currently in the documents. We don’t dispute that. That is a question of whether or not if Council were to approve it they would be so approving with that in mind.” 

An FSI of over 4 would have given the proposed Clock Tower development in the heart of the fragile old downtown the highest density in the whole of Newmarket.

Dave Kerwin

In conversation with veteran Newmarket councillor Dave Kerwin – described as a truly lengthy discussion - Mr Nethery said he had relied on a report from Brad Rogers of Groundswell, the planning consultants. In fact, Brad Rogers had no involvement whatsoever with Bob Forrest’s Clock Tower application. The Planning Rationale Report containing the false FSI of 2.9 was prepared by Forrest's consultants, MacNaughton Hermsen Britton Clarkeson Planning Limited (MHBC).

What is the issue? Key information presented to councillors and public that was known to be false

One year ago, on 28 May 2017, I lodged an official complaint with Newmarket’s Chief Administrative Officer, Bob Shelton, that, on 28 November 2016, the Town’s Director of Planning, Rick Nethery, had put before councillors for decision a report on the proposed Clock Tower development that contained a Floor Space Index figure of 2.9 which the Director knew to be false.  

Peter Noehammer's interview notes with Rick Nethery 21 June 2017

This is contrary to the Town’s Code of Conduct which requires staff to be honest and not wilfully mislead councillors or the public on matters of corporate concern.

“No employee shall withhold information or wilfully mislead Members of the Council, other employees, clients or the public about any issue of corporate concern.”

In the absence of any kind of explanation from Mr Nethery I took the view that he had deliberately turned a blind eye to the false FSI in order to increase the chances of Forrest’s development getting approval. After all, the Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, had made it perfectly clear to the ERA newspaper that he was very much in favour.

The Clock Tower in its three evolving iterations had been the subject of discussions between Forrest and senior Town staff for years. Bob Shelton and Esther Armchuk (then Town solicitor) were intimately involved in these discussions as the project evolved. It was believed the development could kill two birds with one stone – the intensification of the old downtown with, perhaps, additional parking for the Town under Market Square.

Forrest confidently believed he had “approval in principle” from the Town in June 2013. The Town disputes this but refuses to release the report and minutes of the closed session meeting of the Committee of the Whole of 24 June 2013 where the matter was discussed.

What happened?

My complaint was reviewed by Mr Nethery’s line manager Peter Noehammer who rejected it on 18 July 2017 on the grounds that the Town’s planners considered height and massing more important than the FSI. There was no mention of Mr Nethery being misled. Nevertheless, he (Mr Noehammer) acknowledged that the 2.9 FSI was incorrect – how could he do otherwise? - and speculated that this was the result of some kind of misunderstanding by Forrest’s planning consultants of what was required by the Town’s Zoning By-law and what was said about parking in the Town’s Secondary Plan.

My appeal against Mr Noehammer’s review was heard by the Town’s Complaint Review Committee composed of two senior members of staff – Esther Armchuk and Bonnie Munslow. Questions that I posed on 21 July 2017 in my response to Mr Noehammer’s review - and arising directly out of it - were left unanswered. 

Specifically, I wanted to know when Mr Nethery first realised the FSI was false. And when were elected officials first told the true FSI was greater than the 2.9 cited in the developer’s document? To this day I have not received answers to these and other questions set out in my response to Mr Noehammer’s review of 18 July 2017.

Beyond the scope of the original complaint

I was told these questions were not part of my original complaint and were beyond its scope. If I wanted answers I was advised to submit Freedom of Information requests, which I did. My questions were still not addressed. Key documentation was destroyed. And the Complaint Review Committee dismissed my appeal. I was told the one remaining avenue open to me was to go to the Ombudsman. I have done so.

Nevertheless, and in advance of the Ombudsman’s investigation, I was still keen to get answers to the questions that had been ignored by Rick Nethery, Bob Shelton, Esther Armchuk and Bonnie Munslow.

I planned to invite every single elected official in Newmarket in turn to ask the Director of Planning on my behalf when he first realised the 2.9 figure was false. The answer to this disarmingly simple and straightforward question is the key to the kingdom. 

No mention of being "misled"

Mr Nethery had from 27 January 2016 (when the MHBC report was published) until 28 November 2016 to come to the realisation that the 2.9 figure was false. He was present at the Statutory Public meeting on 9 May 2016 when the proposed development’s true FSI of over 4 was displayed in neon lights by a member of the public, Siegfried Wall. So, for Mr Nethery, when did the penny drop? And why did he allow the false FSI of 2.9 to remain in the report going up to councillors for decision?

Regional Councillor John Taylor declined to ask Mr Nethery

I first went to Regional Councillor John Taylor – who is now running for Mayor – but he declined to ask Mr Nethery. I then asked my Ward councillor, Tom Hempen, but he couldn’t do it as he had declared an interest in the Clock Tower application as his jewellery business was close by. He advised me to approach another councillor and I asked Ward 5 councillor, Bob Kwapis, as the Clock Tower is in his patch. He too declined saying he was going to wait for the OMB to establish the facts. I next approached Councillor Dave Kerwin as the longest serving councillor on Newmarket Council – and, indeed, in the whole of Canada.

Councillor Kerwin told me Mr Nethery appeared to have been “innocently misled” by the developer’s planning consultant’s report whose 2.9 figure was derived from calculations involving the underground garage below Market Square. But all three iterations involved underground parking. Indeed, a report in November 2013 (planning report 2013/55) on the then 6 storey proposal - with two levels of underground parking extending under Town owned land – said the FSI was 4.25

With this history, didn’t an FSI of 2.9 ring any bells in Mr Nethery’s head?

It is simply not credible for the Director of Planning to ask us to believe that for ten months from January to November 2016 he did not know the FSI of 2.9 was false. So, when did he find out and what did he do about it? Who did he consult? Who did he talk to? Did he keep this realisation to himself? If so, why?

At no point during Mr Noehammer’s review of my complaint was it put to me that Mr Nethery had been misled by the MHBC report.

When Mr Noehammer interviewed Mr Nethery and Mr Dave Ruggle, the senior planner responsible for the Clock Tower application, there was no mention of either being misled by the report. (Mr Noehammer’s hand written record of the meeting was only produced following the intervention of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.). 

Why is this important?

Until I have a statement from Mr Nethery explaining truthfully what happened I stick to my belief that his silence on the FSI which he knew to be false was to support the Mayor’s agenda of intensification of the historic downtown. I also expect Mr Nethery to answer truthfully the questions posed in my letter to Mr Noehammer of 21 July 2017.

I believe other senior staff including the Chief Administrative Officer, Bob Shelton, should also make a statement on what they knew and when.

If key information put before councillors for decision is known to be false where does it all end? If this kind of deception can happen once – with no consequences for any of the main players – it can happen again. 

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Ford is on the ropes, reeling from countless revelations about the rotten and corrupt PC nomination process which could put cheats, fraudsters and bullies into our legislature. 

PC Poster on Davis Drive. Ballard said last night a 10c cut would mean $1.2 billion in lost revenue to the Province. And the gas companies would allow the price of gas to drift up anyway.

The evidence of malpractice is now overwhelming.

The practice of selling Party memberships in the run up to nomination meetings is asking for trouble. It invites cronyism and clientism and fraud. Who wants our politics to be tainted in this way?

It is in no-one’s interest for us to turn a blind eye to the corruption of our politics.

The problem can be solved at a stroke by setting a cut-off date for participation in nomination meetings. Only members signing up, say, six months before the nomination meeting would be allowed to participate and vote. There will be other solutions but that one is simple and straightforward.

Final TV Debate has new significance

This tsunami of allegations now engulfing the Progressive Conservatives comes only days before the final TV debate where the Leaders square-off against each other.

The NDP by all accounts are soaring high in the polls with the Liberals flatlining.

The PCs are slowly seeping support. 

Davis Drive: bumper-sticker politics at work

But who really knows what the voters are thinking? 

Polls wrong about Brexit and wrong about Trump

The pollsters were wrong about Brexit – predicting by a large margin that the UK would remain in the EU – and they were wrong about Trump becoming president.

They get it wrong all the time.

But if Wynne is to stand a chance of winning the TV debate she’s got to come out fighting.

Andrea Horwath may step back and allow Ford and Wynne to tear lumps out of each other – but there are dangers in relying on a passive approach, content with being a smiling spectator.

The one who lands the knock-out punch on Ford will be the winner.

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Chris Ballard, fighting for his political life here in Newmarket-Aurora, pledged last night that “by hook or by crook” he would bring a 15 minute GO train service to Newmarket’s proposed new rail station at Mulock Drive.  For the moment, the service is planned to stop at Aurora.

Ballard was speaking to an engaged and well-informed audience at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Newmarket on a wide range of social issues. He was joined by the NDP’s Melissa Williams with the PC’s Christine Elliott and the Green’s Michelle Bourdeau giving their apologies.

What did I learn that was new and interesting?

Keep Calm and Carry On

Melissa Williams has two businesses. One a marketing consultancy and the other, yoga and meditation. This might explain why she always appears so calm and unruffled. 

I know she resents paying so much for her hydro but it comes as news to me that she has had to re-mortgage her house to meet all her expenses. It is, of course, her choice to make these details public but it gives us an idea where she is coming from. She comes across as open (perhaps disarmingly so) and absolutely genuine.

She is not a politician (at least not yet) and has never learned the art of dissembling. 

There was a good crowd at the Lutheran Church to hear the candidates. But, unfortunately, no Christine Elliott

Chris Ballard puts in another strong and confident performance, answering questions directly with no equivocations. I learn he is coming up to 60 and spent 25 of those years in the far north. Clearly, he knows and cares deeply about the issues facing first nations, giving us reams of examples. 

Someone from the audience asks why the two candidates – and the two parties – can’t get together and everyone laughs.

But there is a difference.

Ford rejects Ballard's briefing

Chris Ballard is blunt. He says an NDP Government would damage the economy. He says a strong economy funds the social programs we all care about. As for the PCs, he is dismissive. He says Ford would destroy the social safety net and roll back key programs on climate change. He reveals he offered Doug Ford a briefing on cap-and-trade but it wasn’t taken up. Ford, he says, doesn’t know the difference between a carbon tax and cap-and-trade.

At home with all the issues

There are questions on precarious employment and both agree that not everyone is benefitting from growth in the Ontario economy. And what about income security? And truth and reconciliation? The questions keep rolling in. And now there is one on how best to promote critical thinking! Terrific! I am in the company of people who are light years away from Doug Ford’s bumper-sticker politics. This meeting should have been streamed to a wider audience. 

Melissa Williams has touching faith in Andrea Horwath’s ability to deliver. That is not a criticism, merely an observation. Melissa sees the NDP platform as a program for Government, fully costed, with no mention of the black hole uncovered by the Liberals. Her list of spending commitments prompts one member of the audience to ask what many people are thinking. How will the NDP pay for it all?

Ticking all the boxes

Chris Ballard reflects on his four years at Queen’s Park, comparing his promises to the voters in 2014 and what he has delivered. GO Rail expansion, OMB reform, protection of the Greenbelt and so on. He feels he has ticked all the boxes. 

He gets energised about the Jobs and Prosperity Fund which Doug Ford has promised to abolish with the inevitable loss of 650 local jobs. Christine Elliott has been silent on this.

Now I hear someone say she is going to tweet Christine Elliott with the questions she couldn’t answer tonight because of her absence.

I shall keep an eye on my Twitter feed.

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