The Globe and Mail is providing a running commentary on the Stronach family feud each disclosure more jawdropping than the last. 

Frank's book is dedicated to Belinda amongst others

Frank Stronach’s granddaughter, 18-year old Selena, is the latest to go to Court, filing a lawsuit against her aunt, Belinda. A month earlier, Selena’s mother, Kathleen, who is divorcing Frank’s son Andrew, filed a claim for financial support: 

focused on maintaining a lifestyle that includes a 15,000 square-foot home in Aurora, Ont., with five staff, including a chef, two luxury cars, and vacation homes in Palm Beach, Fla., and Muskoka. She and her daughter receive $15,000 a month in direct transfers from the family’s private holding company, The Stronach Group, plus unrestricted use of credit cards, and private jet flights for monthly vacations at five- and six-star hotels. In the divorce claim, Kathleen Stronach said her daughter owns a ranch with one full-time employee, where she raises cattle that are shown in country fairs, and ‘the operation is expensive to run.’ ”

Frank Stronach set the litigation ball rolling last October when he sued his daughter for over $520M 

“alleging mismanagement of the family’s various private business ventures, which include U.S. horse-racing tracks and real estate”.

She counter-sued and it has been a Punch and Judy show since then.

"I've never sued anybody in my life."

In Frank’s 2012 autobiography “The Magna Man” he tells us forthrightly how he made his millions. In the early days, after a merger between his company and another he fell out with business partners on the direction the new company should take. They were focussed on aerospace. He saw big profits in the automotive sector. He said he was going to resign, sell his shares and start all over again.

“I told my fellow Board members my intentions and a number of them asked if I would sell my shares to them. We drew up a contract and they issued a promissory note. But when the note came due, they didn’t have the money. I could have tried to collect the money by launching legal action but I have never sued anybody in my life.”

That paragraph will have to be re-written for the second edition.

Anyway… he tells them to forget the money if they resign from the Board (which they do) leaving him in control. 

Like most people I never gave the Stronachs a second thought before the family feud erupted. 

That said, the Stronachs have always been on the edge of our consciousness. You see the name all over the place, on the side of big buildings in Aurora and Newmarket, but that’s the way it has always been. Aurora, in particular, is the archetypal company town.

Development and Real Estate

People close to Frank Stronach are powers in the land in their own right. His “good friend and partner” Tony Czapka was responsible for real estate acquisitions in the 1970s. His son Peter now runs Tricap, a "family-owned, operated and financed company" which is a major landowner and land banker in Newmarket. Tricap owns land at Davis Drive and George Street that has been sitting empty for years despite getting planning approval in 2009 for a 280 unit 20 storey condo. 

For her part, Belinda Stronach is developing one of the last big chunks of open space left in Aurora – the so-called Stronach surplus lands.

Next to the new development, Adena Views, but separated by a landscaped pond, sits the high-end gated development at Adena Meadows with its unusual street names. I see Awesome Again Lane and Glorious Song Lane. 

And then it occurs to me. It’s not about the glorious streetscape and the awesome houses. It’s about Frank’s thoroughbreds. Glorious Song and Awesome Again who won million-dollar purses for him.

I don’t know where it will all end up for the Stronachs. 

After a brief skirmish in the Courts will Frank call it a day and gallop off into the sunset? Or is it a fight to the death with his daughter Belinda?

But whatever happens, things will never be quite the same again.

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Here in Newmarket there’s been talk about a new Library for years but nothing concrete has materialised. Who is responsible for this paralysis in decision making? 

Library Chief Executive Todd Kyle.

We either need a new Library or we don’t.

Todd Kyle, the Chief Executive of the Newmarket Public Library (NPL), never one to rock the boat, has been dancing around the issue for as long as I can remember. But then, a year ago he found his courage and posted a blog on the NPL website, nailing his colours firmly to the mast.

Todd tells us NPL is one of the smallest libraries in the Province given the size of our population and

“We also spend less per capita on library services than successful libraries in similar-sized communities.”

In fact NPL is 15th out of 17 comparators on spending per head and comes last in terms of so-called service points. We’ve got one library and no branches for a population that is slated to grow.  

Todd says

The proposed options for expanding library space in Newmarket are to create a new, larger central library to replace the existing one, or to keep our current location and also build a new branch to serve another area of town.”

Delay and Procrastination

Library Board and Town reports show the issue has been allowed to drift for many years as politicians keep kicking the can down the road, unwilling or unable to provide leadership and take a decision. A joint Library/Town workshop was held on 15 June 2016. And on 7 September 2016 the Library Board decided to commission a study on future facility needs and options. 

A report went up to the Town’s Committee of the Whole on 8 May 2017 which recommended the Town approve the commissioning of a consultant study on Library facility needs using the money the Board had already earmarked for this purpose. The report was signed off by Todd Kyle and Ian McDougall, the Town’s Commissioner of Community Services, who seemingly now can’t remember what he said then.

John Taylor and Tom Vegh argued this work (the library facility needs assessment) should be referred to staff and come back again once an efficiencies review of Library operations had been completed. This would look, amongst other things, at synergies between the Town and Library that may deliver savings. 

The completed Library efficiencies review went to the Library Board on 15 November 2017 and to a Board/Town closed session workshop on 30 January 2018. I have no idea what it says. I am left wondering why this “efficiencies report” (redacted if necessary) isn’t publicly available. 

Todd sent a memo to the Board on 21 February 2018 on "Operational Efficiencies Review Implementation" in which he asked the Library Board:

"to urge the Town to demonstrate support for a Library Facilities Needs Study (LFNS) as previously approved by the Board."

At Council on 5 March 2018 Jane Twinney and Kelly Broome – both members of the Library Board – are content with yet more delay, showing no sense of urgency. They recommend the Town gives further consideration to a LFNS in early 2019 as part of the 2018-2022 Council Strategic Priority setting process. 

Which brings us bang up to date.

Setting Strategic Priorities

The Town’s Strategic Priority setting exercise is moderated by a team of outside consultants brought in for the purpose. Their job is to help our elected officials in workshops sift the wheat from the chaff and decide what’s really important to get started (and hopefully deliver) in their four-year term of office.

 

Our councillors are asked to come up with a list of strategic goals and objectives and then rank them in each of the six categories – environment, transportation and so on. They all have buttons to press. And the ranking process is anonymous. 

The strategy session on 29 January 2019 focusses on “vision and priorities”. They discuss things together and also break out into little groups and come back with ideas. 

There are problems with this approach. Councillors have to be given accurate information if they are to make considered decisions on how to rank competing priorities. This didn’t happen on some key issues. For example, everyone seemed to be completely in the dark about plans for enhanced library services and no one was there who could bring them up to speed. 

If I were Chief Executive of the Library I would have made it a priority to brief all members of Council after last October's election knowing they would soon be setting their strategic priorities for the coming term.

Tom Vegh and his new library

Nothing vague about Tom's promise of a new library and Seniors' Centre at Hollingsworth

So, full of anticipation, I tune in to watch Tom Vegh argue the case for a new Library and Seniors’ Centre located at the Hollingsworth Arena site which was a central plank of his election prospectus less than four months ago.

Oh dear!

Instead of setting out his stall and arguing for it clearly and cogently he is all over the place. He disappears down a rabbit hole, gingerly putting the case for a needs assessment for both the library and his new seniors’ centre. Vegh was Vice Chair of the Library Board during the last Council term. Why wasn’t he insisting on action then? This is the man who boasts at election time that he gets results.

Christina Bisanz is aware of the problem. She says she wants to come up “once and for all” with a plan on what we want to do with the library.

“We’ve kind of kicked that forward a few times and so when we were talking about it we weren’t necessarily saying we are going to do “X” with the library but just that we would have a plan in the next three years of what we would do.”

The new councillor for Ward 2, Victor Woodhouse, agrees there needs to be a plan for the library, whether it is enhancing the space there or doing nothing or having a totally new location. He too wants a plan!

The library is up there on the big screen bundled in with a bunch of other priorities. The moderator wants to know if it should be a separate priority. Yes.

Now we have a new priority:

“Plan for Library enhancement or re-location”

The new councillor for Ward 1, Grace Simon talks enthusiastically about the library being a community hub, a vibrant and welcoming meeting place.

A Process of Discovery

Taylor, who gives the impression of having just arrived from Planet Zog and is new to it all, says the Library Board should go through a “discovery process” to see what is needed. Would there be a satellite library he wonders or a whole new thing?

Now Library Board member Jane Twinney is challenging the language used to capture the library priority:

“I agree with Councillor Woodhouse about having a plan but it sounds to me (like) a plan for library enhancement or relocation. It is saying we need it enhanced and need it relocated… 

Jane is in favour of a needs study: 

“so the Board knows it is a Council priority and that (means) just looking at it and not necessarily moving forward with anything.”

Jane Twinney has been on the Library Board for many years. If those sentiments are from a friend of the library does it need any enemies? 

The Library needs a champion to move it up the list of priorities

Taylor suggests changing the wording to:

“Library needs assessment (community hub)”

This is tortuous. It’s like watching a Committee draft a resolution. 

Bricks and mortar

Now Tom Vegh has a thought.

“Does it make it easier to put 8 (expanded Seniors’ Centre) in with 6 (Library/Community Hub) as it focusses then on the process, on the needs assessment, as opposed to the bricks and mortar.”

He asks for his colleagues views. Taylor says they should be kept separate. Vegh, deferring, says OK.

Vegh’s bold commitment to a new library and seniors’ centre on the Hollingsworth site (i.e. bricks and mortar) is shrinking before my eyes. He has been sucked into a meandering discussion about process rather than bang the drum for his big idea. 

Now the moderator wants councillors to boil down their lists of priorities to six key priorities to get started on this year and next.

Vegh wants to know how you compare and prioritise something that costs a fortune with something which already has a budget allocated to it. Fair point.

“..The library actually has a budget for (a facility needs assessment) and it has very little impact on Town resources being spent. Other things are long term and much more expensive. Any suggestions on how we weigh all this? 

His concerns fall on deaf ears. In the vote, the library fails to make it into the top six. 

Now we fast forward to the meeting earlier this week (11 February 2019)

Tom Vegh is absent (for understandable reasons which I needn’t go in to) but I am disappointed there is no Conference call linking the great man to the Council Chamber. He cannot simply run away from the commitment he made to the voters a few months ago. I want to hear him outline his plans.

John Taylor picks up where he left off. He wants to know if the Library Facility Needs Study (LFNS) should be undertaken by the Library Board or by the Town.

Todd Kyle absent  

Ian McDougall (Community Services Commissioner) tells Taylor: 

“I know who paid for it! (laughter) It would have to be discussed at Council for sure and definitely be discussed at the Library Board. Unfortunately the CEO of the Library is not here to offer comment…  I think it would be a joint initiative but funded through the Library.”

In fact McDougall co-authored the report that went to the Committee of the Whole on 8 May 2017 which said this: 

“The Library Board originally approved funding for a (Library facility needs) study on September 7, 2016 by allocating a portion of capital reserve for Alternative Service Delivery that was originally envisioned to explore other ways of delivering library service to the community, including a parking study. The Board approved the allocation pending an indication of Council’s willingness to support the study.”

The very same report also gave details of the scope of the Library Facility Needs Study.

The Mayor wonders if this particular strategic priority is

“one best advanced by the Library Board… Or is it partnership-based enough that we can both advance it? I would have thought the Library Board would then have a discussion about this, the scope of what they think needs to be looked at and they would be moving this forward as a priority for the Library to come to Council and the Town in terms of focussing on what we can effect and achieve.”

Garbled advice on the Library’s priority

Tom Vegh is absent. But why doesn't Jane Twinney or Kelly Broome do a quick re-cap on why we are where we are? Instead, Ian McDougall delivers this unintelligible gobbledegook: 

“My sense I think is that the Library Board or at least I know through the CEO understands the need that the Council sees this as also being important. So I think that, potentially, if I may offer (a suggestion), maybe, just use put the arena of Library Facilities Needs Assessment. (It) would really be up for consideration potentially in one of those top five or six (spots) and perhaps on the actual language we can work with the Library to make sure it is appropriate in keeping with their uniqueness. I think maybe I just leave that tail end on there and see if there is a fit with Council’s interest.”

Taylor says the Library Board should be driving the issue and then bring it to Council: 

“…if that’s the case we park it with them and we focus on our priorities.”

Why wasn’t the Library Chief Executive at the Strategic Priority Setting meeting? Seems to me his presence – and the explanations he could offer – could have made a big difference. Was he even invited?

Library doesn't make the cut. 

Library doesn't make the top five

Now our councillors are voting on what to include as the strategic priorities for the coming term. The moderator tells them if their choice is not in the top five "it would likely not make it into the strategic priorities".

Ian McDougall agrees but adds that some policies that don't make it into the top five could still "work their way into some work plans".

He asks councillors to think about it this way:

"The five most important (policies) that outwardly show the community that we are driving to move the needle on. That would be the biggest criterion in ranking your top five. What would be the most important that we would want to demonstrate to the community that we're moving that needle on in terms of advancement?”

In the vote on ranking, the library doesn't make it into the top five.

Too small and overcrowded

In July last year Todd Kyle was telling the local press the library was too small and overcrowded. The workshop on strategic priorities was his opportunity to set the record straight with councillors who had either forgotten all about it or had never been told about the history of the Library Facilities Needs Assessment. 

Todd told the press: 

“The last two terms of council haven’t put the library on the priority list. It would be nice to just have a space where people aren’t tripping over other people constantly.”

“The current location has restrictions on the land so we would have to build up to expand, which isn’t ideal. Our two options seem to be building a new facility or constructing satellite branches to increase our services to the public.”

In July 2018 the former Town chief administrative officer, Bob Shelton, and the Commissioner for Community Services, Ian McDougall, both suggested the library issue should be addressed. McDougall said staff would be recommending councillors consider the library one of the strategic priorities to be included in the next four-year term.

Which is where we came in. 

What is to be done?

The Strategic Priorities project timeline gives councillors a chance to change course – if they wish.

Personally, I would put the Library Facilities Needs Assessment back in there, making it clear the Council will respond “as a priority” to the findings of the report commissioned and funded by the Library Board. 

It may well be that the Town has other more pressing priorities and cannot or will not sanction a new or differently configured library service. But at least the debate will be out in the open and we can have the conversation.

In the meantime, the Deputy Mayor, Tom Vegh can work up his plans for a combined “bricks and mortar” Library and Seniors’ Centre at the Hollingsworth site.

Or he can just admit it was never meant to be taken seriously.

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Newmarket Public Library Study Implementation (Council on 5 March 2018)

Moved by: Councillor Twinney Seconded by: Councillor Broome 

  1. That staff, in conjunction with the Newmarket Public Library CEO, be authorized to implement the recommendations in accordance with the presentations made at the January 30, 2018 Joint Council and Newmarket Library Board Workshop provided implementation is in line with current and future approved operating budgets; and, 

  2. That Council refer the further consideration and direction with respect to library facility needs study to the 2018 – 2022 Council Strategic Priority setting process. 

In the Municipal Election last October Tom Vegh was elected as Newmarket’s new Regional Councillor after promising a new Library and Seniors’ Centre on the Hollingsworth Arena site, a stone’s throw from Southlake. 

This bold and unequivocal pledge made Vegh stand out as a candidate who thinks big. 

It paid off.

Vegh won with 8,750 votes with former Newmarket councillor Chris Emanuel trailing with 7,952 votes. Newmarket Public Library Chair, Joan Stonehocker, a first time candidate, got a creditable 2,688 votes.

Tom is now a full-time politician with a salary to match, able to concentrate laser-like on his policy agenda.

At the tail end of last year I tell Tom I want to track his promise through to fruition. I am interested in how policy is made in municipalities in Ontario where political parties are entirely absent and our elected officials at local level are all independents.  

Tom can’t rely on Party loyalty and whipped votes to get his library and seniors’ centre plans through the Council. He’s got to win a majority by skill, persuasion and force of argument. But can he deliver?

I’ve always believed politicians of all stripes - whether Party affiliated or independent – should say what they mean and mean what they say. That’s the way to counter the deep cynicism about politicians that infects so many voters. So I tell Tom I have all the time in the world to follow his efforts to get a new Library and Seniors’ Centre up-and-running.

I had no idea things would come to the boil so rapidly. 

Pick your concept. 

Scenario 2 uses Town-owned land

Last week Briarwood Homes, the developer that owns a big chunk of land at Davis and Patterson hosted an open house to unveil their concepts for the site. Residents from the immediate vicinity were invited to come along and tell the developer what they thought about the two concepts on offer. The first showed residential towers and commercial on the developer’s own land. The second concept took in the land behind (the Hollingsworth Arena and open space) that is owned by the Town.

There was no specific mention of a Library or Seniors’ Centre in the plans. Though there is mention of a community facility on the Town-owned part of the site.

Councillors have been thinking about the future of Hollingsworth Arena for years. The old ice rink is reaching the end of its design life. But what, if anything, should replace the hockey facility? Another one? An open-air rink? What?

The last developer to bring forward plans to redevelop the site, Sandro Sementilli,  promised the earth and delivered dust. The Town’s senior staff have absolutely no wish to see history repeat itself. So they turn out in great numbers for the Briarwood meeting. I see Rick Nethery and his deputy, Jason Ungar. And there is Adrian Cammaert, the Department’s Stakhanovite planner who is involved in absolutely everything. I see Peter Noehammer from Development and Infrastructure standing in the middle of the room, surveying everything. And I see Ian McDougall, the man in charge of Community Services. 

Clearly, after the previous fiasco, the Town’s senior staff are heavily invested in the future development of this key site fronting Davis Drive. They all want everything to go according to plan. 

Directing the Direction 

Indeed, the Director of Planning, Rick Nethery, at last month’s Committee of the Whole (14 January 2019 at 2.40 on video) recommends that:

 “staff be directed to arrange a non-statutory, developer-led Public Information Centre to share the details of the two redevelopment concepts prepared by Briarwood Homes…”

and to report back to a subsequent Committee of the Whole meeting detailing the redevelopment options and feedback received at the developer-led Public Information Centre.”

Clearly, Town staff are willing to act as party organisers for some developers. 

And there's a "community facility"

In the event, councillors go on to reject the Planning Director’s recommendations to have staff facilitate the developer’s meeting.

Ward 2 councillor, Victor Woodhouse, a re-tread, is curious why staff should offer to arrange a non-statutory meeting hosted by a developer. He can’t recall that happening before when he was on Council. 

Rick Nethery, offers an explanation: 

“You are right. It is not something we do routinely. And more often than not a developer will hold their own entirely. I think it was any assistance the Town was going to be giving was simply, you know, (to) make sure you capture these people (attending) by way of a list or something like that. But I think it sounds like they’ve got that covered now.”

“That said though, we are referencing that back in June 2018, we did have a report which spoke to this matter and Council had directed that this property owner (Briarwood) go away and come up with a couple of options that could be referred to that kind of a meeting. It was largely just to help facilitate that Council direction. I don’t know that much hangs on it.”

Of course, there is a precedent for Town staff facilitating developer meetings. I recall Bob Forrest’s Clock Tower meeting at the Community Centre in Doug Duncan Drive in April 2013 when Town staff were wearing name badges! (Forrest was trying to get a sense of which way the wind was blowing before he put in his planning application – which he did years later. The Clock Tower is still unfinished business.)

Developer-led meetings “a new phenomenon”

Now the Mayor, John Taylor, offers his opinion. He tells us that the whole phenomenon of developer led planning meetings – prior to an application being submitted – had emerged in the last five years. He says they are not that common but they are an emerging trend. And this development could involve Town-owned land. He acknowledges the proposed development sits in an area covered by a Secondary Plan but is nevertheless concerned about the proprieties of staff offering comments on a concept – before an application is even received by the Town. He wants a clear process.

“What would be the protocol going forward?”   

Nethery, a gifted master of the opaque, responds:  

The developer owns blocks 693 and 713. The Town owns 35

“I’ll address the idea of reporting back first. And that’s simply along the lines of creating a record so it doesn’t become a he-said, she-said kind of thing… If you are there or some sub-set of you are there you hear it with your own ears so you will have the benefit of that too and any notes you might take. We shall probably be taking our own notes and we can make those available to sort of establish the record.”

Sounds like a load of old cobblers to me.

“In terms of the second point that you raise (on the Secondary Plan)… We are commenting generally on the compliance and conformity with the Secondary Plan only…  if and when an application were to come in, it is likely to evolve…we understand it may come forward in February. That’s their aspiration. It may not be the one that staff can support…”

“So I think there is still a lot of evolution there but we do have the strength of Council having adopted the Secondary Plan in giving us direction to use that as a basis of the things we evaluate. The report does indicate that it does in varying levels because of the two different options they are proposing.”

Full Rigour

Taylor is now asking about developer initiated non-statutory meetings. He wants a consistent approach to these meetings. How will they be handled? Will reports go to Council? Nethery clarifies:

“I can confirm that in the past we have had a number of them. Some of the local planning consultants we deal with are getting in the habit  – or have been in the habit of doing these. And it is a worthwhile exercise from their perspective. We usually attend but there is no record of that. All that it does from the applicant’s perspective (it) gives rise to their decision of whether or not to make an application. And then once that has happened we’ve got the full rigour of the normal planning process.”

(The “full rigour of the planning process” in the Clock Tower meant the Director of Planning knowingly misleading councillors on a key metric of the proposed development – the Floor Space Index.)

“The circumstances are unusual in that there is some municipal property that may or may not be in play on it. I think that’s why there was that conversation happening. It is not normal under the typical kind of scenario so I think we are fine with that direction.”

Tom Vegh sits there staring blankly ahead, saying nothing. Why?

Tom was present at the meeting in June last year when the developer was asked to go away and come up with a couple of options. When Tom made his explicit promise to the electors he knew then what the rest of us have just learned. That the developer was being asked to come up with a second concept which would include an area of Town-owned land.

For the Town to do a deal with Briarwood it would have to declare the Hollingsworth Arena land surplus to requirements and follow its sale of land policy to the letter. Briarwood would presumably buy it. But I suppose there could be some sort of fancy dancing leasing arrangement or other device that would deliver a development which makes both Briarwood and the Town happy.

But we don’t know, as yet, what the Town wants. So to have Briarwood come up with a second development concept involving Town lands is putting the proverbial cart before the horse.

Evolution expected

Nethery told the 14 January meeting that the developer hoped to put in a planning application this month but he went on to suggest that was a bit premature. After all, the concepts are expected to evolve.

It seems to me this gives Tom the ideal opportunity to make the case for his new Library and Seniors’ Centre. 

We all know what the developer is thinking. But what about our councillors? 

Has Tom briefed them on his plans? If not, why not?

What does the Library Board and the management of the Seniors’ Centre think about his proposal? Has he made a formal presentation to either?

What about the views of the Library Chief Executive, Todd Kyle. He has been making the case for a new library sotto voce but what does he think of the Hollingsworth Arena as a possible site?

My advice to Tom is to make the case as best he can. He can’t hang around waiting for the ideal time to explain in detail how he plans to take us from A to B. 

The train is about to leave the station.

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Will Newmarket get a new GO Rail station at Mulock Drive? 

Mulock GO Rail Station. The early concept.

At the moment I’d say it is probably touch and go. 

Last November, the Chief Executive of Metrolinx, Phil Verster, told York Region that work on all the proposed new GO Rail stations in the Greater Toronto Hamiliton Area – including Kirby and Mulock - was to be “paused”.

Metrolinx had been ordered by the Ford Government to put everything on hold while the agency pursued:

“a market-driven approach to delivering new GO stations”.

No-one really knows what this means in practice – including Newmarket Mayor John Taylor. He is as much in the dark as the rest of us. At last week’s York Region Council meeting he tells his colleagues:

“We don’t know what the market-driven approach is.”

Ford's approach

But he is obviously right when he says the Provincial Government wants to slow down public spending: 

“They are not looking for new spends.”

If Ford shelves Mulock Station the implications for Newmarket (and Aurora) will be huge. There is, of course, the unconscionable waste of money. The Town has been forced to spend $250,000 on a new Secondary Plan for the Mulock area to show it is serious about promoting future development around the new station site.

And without a new station at Mulock pressure on Aurora will intensify. There will be more commuters driving to Aurora to catch the train – and more pressure on parking.

Markham’s Mayor, the velvet-voiced Frank Scarpitti, uses the re-evaluation to re-open the case for including new GO Rail stations in and around his patch that had previously been rejected by Metrolinx. 

Taylor tells the Regional Council:

“It is unfettered optimism to believe that by adding several more stations to be analysed and considered through this process it is going to increase our chances… This is going to decrease the chances of Mulock Station moving ahead…”

He says he understands the point Scarpitti is making. He says we’ve been through the process and the stations Scarpitti mentions didn’t advance and Kirby and Mulock did.

Taylor needs back-up

Taylor is fighting his corner and that’s good. But he should have gotten some support and back-up from the two Toms - Vegh and Mrakas – who were silent.

The Markham contingent often reinforce points made by Scarpitti. 

Markham’s visionary rail enthusiast, Jim Jones, wants to see new stations on the Stouffville and Richmond Hill lines with two and three car trains arriving every three or four minutes in peak times and maybe 8-10 minutes off-peak. He says this is the way to get the economy growing. Phew!

He wonders aloud if we are going to see shorter trains and increased frequency on the Barrie line.

The critical flaw in Jones’ line of thinking is that he hasn’t considered the zillions of level crossings across the system and what to do about them. Sadly, neither has Metrolinx.

Almost a year ago (in March 2018) I was sitting next to the Director of Stakeholder Relations at a Metrolinx Board meeting (as one does) and asked him how it was possible to have both level crossings and, at the same time, a fast and frequent train service. He couldn’t tell me. Then last October I learned:

“The Level Crossing study is being led by our Corridor Planning team. They have been working on setting the policy framework and initial municipal engagement. Next steps will include a risk assessment tool and recommendations on safe and appropriate solutions.”

Obviously they don’t have clue. If grade separation is ruled out on grounds of cost then the continued presence of level crossings in great numbers will inevitably stop Jim Jones’ rapid transit plan in its tracks.

Olive Branch

Now the wily Scarpitti offers an olive branch. He tells Taylor that even if Mulock fails the new ill-defined market-driven development test it should still go ahead. 

Just so long as his shopping list of new stations goes to the Provincial Government as well. 

After much huffing and puffing the Regional Council agrees to tell the Province it supports Kirby and Mulock GO Rail stations but also sees the potential for adding other new stations “going forward”. 

They are all listed in the Region’s Transportation Master Plan 2016.

Ahhh!

That’s how they square the circle.

An Open House on the Mulock Secondary Plan is being held tomorrow (6 February 2019) at the Community Centre at Doug Duncan Drive from 7pm-9pm.

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York Regional Council needs a Code of Conduct. 

But, scandalously, the Region’s elected officials have resisted the idea for years.

True. They are talking about getting one – but only because the law now requires it and it is being forced on them. The Municipal Act requires all municipalities to establish a Council Code of Conduct by March 1, 2019. 

A draft Code of Conduct was presented to elected members at last week’s Council meeting by the Region’s first Integrity Commissioner who was appointed in December. He is hired to keep an eye on them.

And about time too. In the last term of Council, one of its members, Regional Councillor Michael Di Biase, was suspended for 90 days without pay from his home Council of Vaughan for interfering in the tendering process. He still got paid by York Region and suffered no adverse consequences whatsoever. Indeed, the scandalous behaviour of Di Biase was not formally reported to the Regional Council nor even mentioned. Perhaps because it would cause unpleasantness and poison the clubby atmosphere. 

Code of Conduct "not needed"

At their meeting in October 2015, members decided that a Regional Code of Conduct wasn't needed. It should remain discretionary.  They said it would largely replicate what was already in place at municipal level and would produce unwelcome ambiguity. They did this knowing that the Chair of York Region, Wayne Emmerson, is indirectly elected by members of the Regional Council and not directly by the voters and is therefore not covered by any Code of Conduct applying to his "home municipality".  He doesn't have one – then or now.

In any event, our elected officials are deeply troubled by the draft Code of Conduct. They demand the draft be re-written.  The new Regional Councillor from Richmond Hill, Carmine Perrelli, is particularly scornful, questioning why one is needed at all. He tells us Canada’s Criminal Code, an observant press and media (as if!) and elections every four years are enough to keep councillors honest and diligent.  He says the Code of Conduct is:

“a weapon for political adversaries to use against you.”

This is a theme picked up and developed by the new Regional Councillor from Vaughan, Linda Jackson. In a wildly over-the-top and theatrical contribution to the debate she tells us there are some people out there who will use every trick in the book to accuse elected officials of wrongdoing. And this Code of Conduct is just giving them more ammunition to make the lives of elected officials even more difficult.

Others too want the Integrity Commissioner to go back to the drawing board and bring back something that is altogether more palatable.

Some of the criticisms have merit. 

It's a family affair

The Code of Conduct says elected members must at all costs avoid conflicts of interest – especially when matters could touch on their family. However “family” is defined as including aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews all the way out to first cousins. One wag yells that he is Italian and he has hundreds of first cousins. Doesn’t even know how many. And hasn’t met half of them. This gets gales of laughter.

The way in which the draft Code is written is part of the problem. It makes for stodgy and indigestible reading with too many words like “herein”. It imagines wrongdoing in circumstances which seem improbable to me:

“No Member shall obtain personal financial gain from the use or sale of Region-developed intellectual property (for example, inventions, creative writings and drawings), computer programs, technical innovations or any other item capable of being patented.” 

Perhaps the new Integrity Commissioner is trying to do a belt-and-braces job. Trying to imagine every possible eventuality. But the result comes across as oppressive.

The draft Code of Conduct stipulates

“Members of Council shall not actively undermine the implementation of Council’s decisions.” 

And the Code’s commentary tells us:

“The role of Members, once a council decision is made, is to support the implementation of that decision, not to work against its implementation, publicly or behind the scenes... Members can express disagreement with Council’s decisions, but it is contrary to the ethical behaviour of members of Council to actively seek to undermine, challenge or work against Council’s decisions.” 

Whoa!

The Regional Council took a decision in 2015 not to bring in a Code of Conduct or appoint an Integrity Commissioner. Had I been a member of York Regional Council during the last term I would have relentlessly challenged that policy decision in every inventive way I could. 

Newmarket’s Mayor John Taylor too felt this was oppressive while acknowledging the thinking behind it perhaps, ironically, lay in Newmarket’s own Code of Conduct. 

(Newmarket’s Code of Conduct, in large part, had been written to skewer former councillor Maddie Di Muccio who was seen as a troublemaker sans pareil. For example, it enjoins members to “accurately communicate the decisions of Council even if they disagree with the majority decision of Council, and by so doing affirm the respect and integrity in the decision-making processes of Council”.)

Dos and Don’ts of Social Media

The Region’s Draft Code of Conduct cautions members on the perils of social media, urging them to count to ten before reacting to some provocation. But is this really necessary?

“In a world where a transitory comment can become part of the permanent record, Members should exercise restraint in reacting too quickly, or promoting the social media posts of others whose views may be disparaging of Council’s decisions or another Member’s perspectives.” 

It seems to me that effective Codes of Conduct are short and to the point, spelling out in plain English behaviours which are simply not permitted. There should be clarity. And no ambiguity.

I smile to myself and immediately think of Newmarket’s previous Mayor, Tony Van Trappist, who rarely spoke at Regional Council meetings. He didn’t see the point. Why waste your breath offering an opinion? 

“Members shall make every effort to participate diligently in the activities of the committees, agencies, boards, commissions and advisory committees to which they are appointed by the Region or by virtue of being an elected official.” 

Has it come to this? 

That we have to remind politicians to do what should come naturally to them? 

Debating. Persuading. Making the argument.

The revised draft Code of Conduct will be considered by the Regional Council later this month.

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