There may be people in Town who believe the 12 acre Mulock Farm should be paved over and developed.

However, I have a different view of the world. I like the idea of keeping the land as public open space in perpetuity with the old Mulock House, its splendid heritage features restored, open to the public.

Indignation and Outrage

I notice there is quite a flurry of activity on Twitter with my old friend, former Newmarket Mayoral candidate Chris Campbell, foaming at the mouth. Not far behind is an indignant and outraged Darryl Wolk who complains he will be 67 when Mulock Farm is paid off. I like to think I get along with them both.

Earlier today (28 February) I ask the Town’s Treasurer, Mike Mayes, why the closure on the purchase had been delayed until October 2018. He tells me the date would have been part of the negotiations to purchase the property and this would be confidential. Hmmm.

It seems to me that Mulock Farm could become a red hot issue in the forthcoming municipal elections and I welcome that. After all, politics is for a purpose. Let’s get the issues and the arguments out in the open and let the voters form a view on the kind of Town they want to live in. That didn’t happen with Glenway where a secret decision was taken by Council in closed session in 2008 precluding the purchase of the Glenway lands. In my view, that was a huge mistake. We don't want history to repeat itself.

Borrow to invest - we all do it

Back to Mulock Farm… the Town regularly borrows money to finance major purchases. Other towns do it. Cities do it. Provinces do it. And Governments do it. As private individuals, we all do it.

I ask the Treasurer about the Magna Centre (see image right) which he mentioned in passing at Monday’s Committee of the Whole. He says it will be paid off in 2024. He tells me:

“There are three relevant 20 year debentures:

Stickwood/Walker property with annual payments of $1,040,000 which will be fully repaid in 2024.  

Magna Centre Phase 1 with annual payments of $976,000 which will be fully repaid in 2024 and

Magna Centre Phase 2 with annual repayments of $1,125,000 which will be fully repaid in 2026.”

In a few years there will be extra cash to play with as these payments reach the end of the term.  

I know people at NTAG (the Newmarket Taxpayers Advocacy Group) have issues with the Stickwood/Walker property but that was before my time and I don't know all the details. We shall hear more from them and, for me at least, that's OK.

Impact on taxpayers

I ask about the impact of the Mulock purchase on taxpayers:  

The $47 a year is the average payment. Can you show the range of payments in deciles? That is, the 10% who pay the most property tax would pay “x” and the 10% who pay the least would pay “y”.

I am told:

“To clarify, the $47 is the amount applicable to the average residential property. Keeping in mind that this is a 2.6% tax increase which applies to all properties and not just residential, the lowest impact would be $0 (ie for a property that is tax exempt) and the highest would be $180,000 for the property that pays the highest taxes.

Calculating the deciles is not feasible at this time.”

Clearly someone has to pay for Mulock Farm and, as a general rule of thumb, people with more money will pay more. (Of course, there are people of modest means living in properties that carry a big tax bill.) 

Most people do not like paying taxes but, given they are necessary, they should at least be transparent and fair between income groups.

Tax is not a four letter word.

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Update on 1 March 2018: The Town has released further information on the financing of Mulock Farm. You can read the details here.


 

I support the Town’s acquisition of the historic home once owned and occupied by Sir William Mulock – a larger than life figure whose name still resonates.  

In one sense, the Town’s decision to buy the house and the 12 acres of open space around it comes as no surprise. Marion Plaunt, the Town’s former Senior Planner responsible for developing the Urban Centres Secondary Plan, earmarked it for public open space years ago. 

The concept plans published in October 2012 (right) clearly show the Mulock property as a neighbourhood park.

I recall the focus group meetings in April – June 2012 when the public was asked to help shape the Secondary Plan for the Yonge/Davis corridors. The report told us

 “…residents felt that the existing heritage site (Mulock House property) should remain or become an enhanced green space (public garden, arboretum, adaptive reuse of heritage site to a conference centre)”

We heard young people say they wanted to see Mulock Farm become a park. (They also wanted Glenway to stay as open space but that is another story and I don't want to drift off-point.). 

Mulock Estate wanted development not parkland 

The Mulock Estate resisted plans to designate the Mulock lands on the North West corner of Yonge and Mulock for parkland and challenged the Secondary Plan at the OMB. They wanted the land to be available for development, presumably on the grounds that it would be worth a lot more than the $24m they are getting from the Town. 

The details of the purchase (which will close in October 2018) are set out in the Supplementary Budget on page 247 of yesterday’s Committee of the Whole.

Members also heard from Adrian Cammaert, the resourceful senior planner responsible for arguing the case at the OMB and for getting the project to where it is now. You can see an aerial video of how the property and the landscape might look in future.

We are promised lots of public consultation with the first open house today from 4-8pm at 395 Mulock Drive.

Taylor's Restaurant

Regional Councillor John Taylor thinks the renovated Mulock House can perhaps be used – at least in the short term – as a restaurant. (No doubt a bit like Cachet which is owned by the Town and leased.) But there will be a thousand other ideas coming forward.  

The cost to the Town is around $24m (with taxes and related costs extra) which will be borrowed and paid off over 30 years. Just like a standard mortgage. We were told yesterday the interest costs are close to $30m but the Town's Treasurer, Mike Mayes, has corrected this figure and tells me the borrowing costs are closer to $18m.  

This amounts to an annual fixed $47 additional tax for the average Newmarket household for 30 years.

The $47 will not rise with inflation and will therefore erode over time. (I found the Town’s earlier press release a bit confusing in that it seemed to suggest the cost to the taxpayer could be a “one-time $50 per household tax increase”. Not so.)

The Town’s decision to buy was unanimous. Even the departing old banker, Tony Van Trappist, considers it a good investment.

And who am I to disagree with him?

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Update at 11pm: People in NTAG (the Newmarket Taxpayers Advocacy Group) tell me the Town’s Treasurer has confirmed the $47 per average household is for illustrative proposes: it is a 2.6% tax increase. Some residential properties may pay more than $47, some less. Businesses, commercial and industrial properties, will also pay, and they pay at a higher tax rate. (Main text updated to make this clear).


 

The lack of affordable housing in Newmarket and elsewhere in York Region is a big issue that is not going to disappear any time soon.  

Newmarket’s planners say the 35% affordable target set by the Region for the Yonge/Davis corridors ­cannot be specified or mandated for individual developments but should apply across the whole urban centre area. This means that developers such as Redwood Properties (who want to build on the old Slessor Square site but with no affordable housing component) place huge pressure on later developments to increase the amount of affordable housing they offer.

Next door in East Gwillimbury they are trying a different approach. Their draft Secondary Plan for Green Lane says: 

“A minimum of 35% of the units developed in the Green Lane and 2nd Concession Major Local Centre will meet the definition of affordable. The 35% affordability criteria shall be applied on a per property basis, except where multiple properties are being considered for development concurrently.”  (My underlining).

The Major Local Centre referred to above is the area around the East Gwillimbury GO Rail Station.

I am not entirely sure what is meant by the reference to “multiple properties” and “concurrent development”. I rely on ordinary English usage but developers and their planning consultants have their own lexicon so it may mean the opposite of what I think it means.

Anyway… East Gwillimbury’s draft Secondary Plan for Green Lane was up for discussion last Wednesday (21 February 2018) and I wander along to hear what they have to say. For people like me who live in the north of Newmarket what happens in Green Lane arguably matters as much if not more than what happens with the Mulock Drive Secondary Plan in the Town’s south.

Lois Brown is back but what does she think?

The Council Chamber is packed. In front of me sit Newmarket councillors, Jane Twinney and Tom Vegh. Former PC MP Lois Brown sashays into the meeting as it is about to begin, smiling broadly. She wants her old job back.

Maybe she will say something? I’ve seen her at various events but she always seems strangely quiet, rarely offering a view but contenting herself with platitudes.

Before the meeting proper gets under way, the Mayor, Virginia Hackson, points to a colossal 50lb bag of carrots that someone has donated and will be going to a food bank. Now a councillor steps forward, announcing proudly:

“We grow more carrots in my ward than the rest of Canada!”

I am now reflecting on this and conclude it is indeed a mighty achievement.

Anyway… East Gwillimbury’s Planning consultants kick off with a presentation on the thinking behind the Secondary Plan and how it has evolved. Tom Vegh stands up and takes photos of various slides.

The Developers grab the microphone

In the Q&A session the developers and a lawyer elbow their way to the front of the (admittedly modest) queue to make their partisan points while stressing they will be working closely with the Town to get the kind of plan everyone is happy with. Although the Mayor handles things confidently and repeatedly invites the public to come to the microphone, there seems to be reluctance. Only a handful take up the offer. Maybe people were involved in the earlier workshops and are broadly satisfied. Even so, what about the loose ends?

Perhaps a professional facilitator could have made a difference in encouraging people to step forward. The presentation could have focussed on aspects of the draft plan that gave the planners most difficulty. What about the affordability issue? What about the possibility of Green Lane grade separation? Roads affect land use patterns. How realistic are the population projections for the Secondary Plan area in 2031 given the problems in getting the North York Sewage Solutions plant and infrastructure up and running?

Is the Town’s population really expected to quadruple by 2031?

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The Toronto Star has welcomed Patrick Brown into the PC leadership contest. The paper says keeping him out would do more harm than good.  

The Liberals and the NDP are mostly keeping their powder dry and with good reason. Their time will come after 10 March when PC “members” elect their new leader. If Brown wins he will be blown clean out of the water.

For the moment, the PCs themselves are doing huge irreparable damage to the brand. What is said today cannot be unsaid tomorrow. It is in the can. 

Dirty and crooked

Progressive Conservative MPP Randy Hillier, who is taking the former leader to the Province’s Integrity Commissioner, says Brown is engaged in “dirty and crooked politics”. Brown now accuses Hillier of smearing him with “imaginary gifts and make-believe transactions”. 

The interim leader, Vic Fedeli, sees rot in the Party, laying the blame full-square at Brown’s door. Fedeli had no confidence in Brown as a PC candidate in the June 7 election – never mind Party leader. 

Political commentators are dismissive of Brown. In today’s Toronto Star Martin Regg Cohn brands Brown a “man-child”. I think this barb will stick. 

Brown’s closest staff desert him

In the miasma of half-truths, outright lies and deceit which envelops Brown one thing is crystal clear. He was unable to persuade his own staff - those closest to him – to stand by him. That speaks volumes.

In his letter to the Integrity Commissioner today, Brown says, so far as his finances are concerned, he has nothing to hide. 

“When I purchased my home, like many Ontarians, I had to come up with a down payment. I received an offer to purchase my ownership interest in a local restaurant, and initially considered accepting it. An affidavit was prepared outlining the proposed transaction. However, a few days later I decided not to proceed with the transaction, as I was simply not ready to give up my shares in the restaurant. The transaction never happened, and a further affidavit was sworn in 2016 to confirm the change in writing…”. 

The Globe and Mail reported that an affidavit was shown to the paper in which Jass Johal, a Brampton para-legal who went on to become a PC candidate, agreed to purchase Brown’s stake in the restaurant and a fistful of Aeroplan miles for $375,000. It was dated June 11, 2016. 

$375,000 deposited - but where did the money come from?

On the very same day Brown deposited $375,000 into his account at the CIBC. 

After the Globe and Mail published the story, Brown produced another affidavit dated 16 June, 2016 which he claims “proved” there was no deal and no exchange of money. 

Both affidavits were notarised by Satinder Johal, a lawyer, who just happens to be Jass Johal’s daughter. 

Brown says his take home pay was $120,000 and $90,000 went on his mortgage leaving him $30,000 for everything else, including the monster property taxes. Brown maintains he got help from his family to buy his $2.3m house on the shores of Lake Simcoe. 

No. I don’t believe it either.

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Update at 8.55pm: watchdog asks for more information on financing of lakeside property.


 

The Ontario PC’s Provincial Nominations Committee is to meet tonight (Friday 9 February 2018) to review “certain disputed candidate nomination contests” according to reports this afternoon from the Canadian Press.  

Charity McGrath is the PC candidate for my own riding of Newmarket-Aurora so I like to follow what is going on.

The Canadian Press has learned the party’s Provincial Nominations Committee will meet tonight to examine the allegations and could overturn the results of the contests or maintain the status quo.

Tory candidates in three ridings where nominations have been disputed — Scarborough Centre, Ottawa West-Nepean, and Newmarket Aurora — have released a statement asking for the party’s review to be halted.

Thenusha Parani, Karma Macgregor and Charity McGrath say the allegations are based on “rumours and innuendos.”

I haven’t been able to track down a copy of the elusive statement yet. But maybe the reference to “rumours and innuendos” is the totality of it.

According to the Party rule-book, the voting members of the Provincial Nominations Committee (PNC) comprise:

    1. the Party President (Jag Badwal) as Chair; 
    2. two members designated by the Party President, who shall serve as Vice-Chairs;
    3. two members designated by the Leader;
    4. the Campaign Chair; and
    5. the Executive Director of the Party.

Clearly, if the Interim Leader, Vic Fedeli, wants to have a second look at the way in which Charity McGrath “won” the nomination in Newmarket-Aurora he has the votes on the PNC to do it.

You simply can’t have candidates running for elected office who secure their Party nomination by cheating.

No. Not allowed. Ever.

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Key dates on PC Leadership vote:

    • February 15th – Leadership Debate
    • February 16th – Membership cut-off
    • February 20th (approximately) – Unique verification number mailed to Ontario PC members
    • March 2nd – March 8th – Voting period
    • March 10th – Leadership Convention

Update at 22.20 on Friday 9 February 2018: Charity McGrath confirmed as the official PC candidate in Newmarket-Aurora. She’s good to go say PC chiefs.

The Globe and Mail (Saturday 10 September) reports: 

‘Ms. McGrath declined to comment when reached by The Globe, saying, "enough is enough." She also said she did not authorize the release of a joint statement, which includes her name. The statement, released Friday afternoon, said the review launched by Mr. Fedeli is based on "rumours and innuendo" and should be halted.”

Charity McGrath now denies authorising the release of this statement:

"We have learned today that there are actions being taken against a number of candidates by certain individuals based on rumours and innuendos. 

What's more, we have not been asked for or provided an opportunity to provide our perspective. Yet, sadly, today, we find more women are being targeted unfairly.

We call on the leadership candidates Caroline Mulroney, Christine Elliot and Doug Ford, and interim leader Vic Fedeli, to put an end to this, so we can move forward collectively and focus on defeating the...Liberals in June as a team."


 

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