|Posted by Darryl Wolk on May 5, 2018 at 8:00 AM|
The month of May has arrived. With it comes election season. Voters in Newmarket will vote on June 7 for MPP and will vote for Regional Chair, Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Councillor and Trustee on October 22. Candidates for municipal elections in Ontario were able to start signing up officially as of May 1. Provincially, the writ will drop on May 9.
Newmarket-Aurora will be a riding to watch in this election. Historically it has been a PC riding since it was formed. Frank Klees served as MPP until 2014. In the last election, Jane Twinney was acclaimed PC candidate after a controversial nomination. Chris Ballard, an Aurora Councillor at the time became the Liberal candidate. Christina Bisanz ran twice unsuccessfully against Frank Klees. In 2014, Tim Hudak promised to cut 100,000 public sector jobs and this helped Kathleen Wynne form a majority government. Chris Ballard won Newmarket-Aurora in a close race and went on to become a Minister of Housing and the current Minister of the Environment and Climate Change. Under Patrick Brown’s leadership, Charity McGrath won another controversial PC nomination against Bill Hogg and Tom Vegh. Following sexual misconduct allegations, Patrick Brown stepped down as PC leader. Doug Ford became the new PC leader after defeating Christine Elliott, Caroline Mulroney and Tanya Granic Allen. After the leadership vote, the Newmarket-Aurora nomination was overturned and Christine Elliott was acclaimed the new PC candidate in Newmarket-Aurora. Traditionally the NDP is not competitive in Newmarket-Aurora. Trillium Party of Ontario Leader Bob Yaciuk is running in Newmarket-Aurora. Dorian Baxter (Elvis Priestley) is also expected to run. The Greens and Libertarians will also run a candidate. Most believe the race in Newmarket-Aurora will be between Chris Ballard and Christine Elliott. Current polls show that the PC Party will likely win a majority government with Doug Ford serving as Premier. 30 days is a lifetime in politics and a lot can change over the coming weeks. If Newmarket and Aurora votes for change, that mood might carry on to the municipal elections later this fall.
York Region Chair:
For the first time in York Region’s history, the York Region Chair will be directly elected. This race will be fascinating to see how it plays out in practice. The Regional Chair will be on the ballot in all 9 York Region municipalities. Candidates will have to appeal to Southern York Region voters in Markham, Richmond Hill and Vaughan. They will have to appeal to Northern York Region voters in Newmarket and Aurora. They will have to reach out to growing rural communities in Stouffville, King, EG and Georgina. Mario Rocco (former Liberal MPP) was the first to declare in the race. Current York Region Chairman and CEO Wayne Emmerson is expected to run. York Region currently has 5 provincial Cabinet Ministers. There is some speculation that at least one of them could seek the position of York Region Chair should the Liberals not form the next government. Current Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti has long been considered a potential York Region Chair candidate. Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua has also been mentioned. Dave Barrow, Frank Klees, Julian Fantino and John Taylor are also names that have been in the rumour mill in the past. The regional level of government is very important. Human services such as housing, child care and income support are regional services. Public health, regional roads, public transit, policing, paramedics and economic development are managed at York Region. Hopefully the Regional Chair race increases the interest in the regional level of government and provides a democratic mandate for a regional vision that expands beyond the municipal boundaries of the lower tier municipalities.
Aurora Mayor Race:
Newmarket’s Southern neighbours in Aurora are lucky to have an exciting Mayor race. Incumbent Geoff Dawe has announced he is seeking re-election. Deputy Mayor John Abel who received the most votes as Councillor (Aurora does not have a ward system) enters the race with strong name recognition and a positive image around town. Tom Mrakas has been campaigning for four years and launched his campaign officially as well. There are rumours others could enter the Mayor race that has several strong candidates already. Local democracy is alive and well in Aurora. The Town of Aurora is well managed and is currently ranked the “Best Place to Live” in York Region according to MoneySense magazine. In 2014, I proposed cutting the Newmarket wards from 7 to 5 and paying them a full time salary to recruit better qualified candidates. Aurora has implemented this idea for the upcoming election cutting their Council from 8 to 6. That will make the ward races very competitive in Aurora. There tends to be more participation in local elections in Aurora as a result of the Auroran Newspaper. Metroland has been slow out of the gate covering the municipal and provincial elections in Newmarket and Aurora.
Newmarket Municipal Races:
Candidates in Newmarket are starting to come forward in the Newmarket municipal elections. Joe Wamback was the first candidate to declare for Mayor. It is widely expected John Taylor will file his papers for Mayor shortly. He has already declared his intentions on social media. The race has the potential to be close if it breaks along partisan lines, especially coming a few months after the provincial election. Newmarket has a position for Deputy Mayor and Regional Councillor. John Taylor is running for Mayor, leaving this seat open. Ward 1 Councillor Tom Vegh has already declared along with Former Ward 7 Councillor Chris Emanuel. Both of these candidates come with significant baggage and it is likely a third candidate will emerge before the July 27 deadline to enter the race. It is expected that Ward 1 and Ward 4 will be open seats. Tom Hempen is not expected to seek re-election and Tom Vegh is running for Deputy Mayor leaving his seat open. Jane Twinney (Ward 3), Bob Kwapis (Ward 5) and Kelly Broome (Ward 6) have already filed their papers. I expect Dave Kerwin will also file his papers soon. He has served on Council longer than former Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion. Christina Bisanz will be interesting to watch. She has a great job with CHATS and has the strongest qualifications on Council. Many saw her as a strong potential Mayor or Deputy Mayor candidate. She has not yet filed her papers and it is possible she has come to the conclusion that Newmarket Council is a waste of her time. The Mayor shut her down when she tried to raise important issues such as the empty buses in Glenway. The Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Councillors will lose their 1/3 tax break perk in the upcoming term of Council. The town’s own consultant has found that Newmarket Councillors are overpaid by 32% meaning a further pay cut is also possible following the election. Earning more than John Tory, the Mayor is also obviously overpaid by a huge margin. I expect at least one of the candidates to promise to cut the Mayor’s salary if elected. Several candidates are rumoured to enter soon and I would expect every ward will see a contested race. In 2016, close to 10 candidates stepped up in the Ward 5 by-election.
The Newmarket election will have many issues for candidates to address. The Mayor of Newmarket salary currently pays more than Mayors in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. At $212,000 it is way out of the range for a small town of less than 100,000 people. This point is not lost on Newmarket residents who currently pay some of the highest property taxes in the GTA. This term a new stormwater management rain tax was implemented further digging into the pockets of residents. In a desperate push for re-election, the Council voted in favour of a $43.5M land purchase all on debt. To pay for this “central park”, every resident will be hit with a new tax of at least $50 per year for the next 30 years. When property taxes, stormwater charges and the new central park tax is considered together, Newmarket will be paying by far the highest property taxes in the GTA. It would be difficult to argue this has resulted in better services than seen elsewhere in York Region. Newmarket pays some of the highest sports user fees in the province well above our neighbours in Bradford, EG and Aurora. Newmarket has become unaffordable for seniors on a fixed income, young professionals and middle class families. Our current Mayor and Deputy Mayor (who live 1% lifestyles on the taxpayer’s dime) seem out of touch with most local residents struggling with the rising cost of living in town. The high cost of rent and housing in Newmarket is a barrier to many and quickly becoming the top issue in town. Newmarket has very high development charges and there are few quality condo options in town. Our approach on growth is reactive and not proactive. Even if condos and office towers were proposed for Newmarket, we lack the ability to offer sewer and water allocation. Planning is done on the fly and today Newmarket is out of land.
Part of the reason for high taxes is a lack of industrial and commercial tax base to offset residential property taxes. Newmarket has no Magna or State Farm. Our economy is based on the public sector with most private sector jobs paying mostly minimum wage. Over a 5 year period, Newmarket created less than 100 jobs and has consistently placed dead last in York Region in job creation despite an economic boom in the region overall. Our manufacturing sector has been gutted. Local economic development efforts have failed and Council is lacking individuals with legitimate business experience. Most in Newmarket commute long distances to find work. Local job creation must be made a priority. The broadband initiative is going nowhere and Main Street has declined in recent years. There is no evidence so far that significant employment opportunities have come as a result of the new bus system.
Transportation is a disaster in Newmarket. Davis Drive bus lanes led to a decade of construction and came in at triple the budget. On Davis alone, the cost was over $300,000,000 or $100,000,000 per bus stop. At 2.6km of bus lanes, some have built subways cheaper. Similar to the Ghost Canal project, historically we will look back on Davis Drive and wonder what the heck politicians were thinking when this was approved. The same mistakes are being repeated on Yonge Street. Sadly the buses remain empty with some routes even named after the lone passenger who uses the bus route. Fares are the highest in Canada, well above the TTC. The biggest cost to Newmarket associated with the bus lanes was the lost GO Trains. Crossing upgrades and twinning of tracks will stop at Aurora station. Aurora is set to get all day, two way service every 15 minutes. Newmarket will get second rate service. Despite what the politicians tell you, Mulock Station and all day, two way GO Service for Newmarket is not funded or coming anytime soon. It is anyone’s guess how a change in provincial government would impact Metrolinx future plans. We need to return to the basics. There is no money to maintain our roads and a new road tax is being considered. Mulock onramps at the 404 are not completed years after the highway was extended North. The 404 is three lanes each way in Aurora, Newmarket only gets two lanes each way causing gridlock on the morning commute. The Bathurst extension has been a comedy of errors. The town is blocking an extension of Bayview Parkway to Green Lane that would provide easy access to the GO Station. Bike lanes have created an eye sore in our downtown and are used even less than the buses. It is a gong show of gridlock in Newmarket these days and “take your bike to work day” photo-ops will do nothing to change that. We need to get this town moving again.
Newmarket also has a huge issue with cronyism. Town assets and streets are always named after politicians or their friends. Campaign worker Jackie Playter has received more awards than Connor McDavid. Events have become lame and feel like going through the motions on the calendar each year. Often times nobody attends the events beyond the politicians who want photo-ops and the same usual suspects. The Farmer’s Market is OK but nothing different than Farmer’s Markets in other communities. We have nothing close to the Aurora Street Festival or Bradford Carrotfest in our town. Every municipality does something on Canada Day. Ray Twinney Complex, Fairy Lake and Riverwalk Commons are all underutilized. The Newmarket Jazz Festival charges for local acts and last year went head to head with Aurora Ribfest that was free with legitimate headliners. Newmarket Day would restore local pride in town and has the potential to be a huge event if implemented. Over the last three years, the best events in Newmarket were organized by someone other than the town. Newmarket currently lacks an identity in the GTA and is the posterchild of a sleepy suburb with no much happening. The opposite is true in Aurora. Before Newmarket politicians call Newmarket “the best place to live in Canada” we need to at least show we can compete with our neighbour Aurora on the issues that matter.
Incumbents have not put much effort into their jobs. Many miss meetings routinely. Very few Council meetings lasted longer than an hour this term. Many would have been 15 minutes had Newmarket Hydro or the Library not done a deputation. Some members of Council sat there four years without saying a single word unless it was written in advance by staff. This is unacceptable for a board of directors of a $100,000,000 corporation. There is a growing public mood for change, but so far not many candidates stepping up to deliver that change.
Please get out and vote!
Local democracy is important and your vote matters! Please take the time in both the provincial and municipal elections to learn about the candidates, their platforms and their vision for the town, region and province. There are many important issues that require debate. In the past, turnout has not been great. Democracy fails if apathy occurs and people do not participate in the process. On June 7 and on October 22, please take the time to get out and vote!