|Posted by Darryl Wolk on March 13, 2016 at 4:00 PM|
I read the newspaper last week and saw that Newmarket Council is focused on the issue of Twitter blocking. They have spent a lot of time revising the code of conduct again. Expense reports came out for Council members and the results were not pretty. Soon, 2015 sunshine list figures will be released and I guarantee Mayor Van Bynen's salary will remain in the Top 10 highest paid mayors in Canada. We see waste everywhere at the Town of Newmarket and York Region, however for most people it does not impact their day-to-day lives. At the provincial and federal level, we have also seen scandals and tax dollars wasted. For a short time we get angry, but than we focus back on our own lives, jobs and families. Most people have lost confidence that Council, Queen's Park and the Parliament of Canada are focused on their issues that impact them at the kitchen table. They believe all politicians are the same and the system is stacked against them. Jobs, the economy and cost of living increases is the top issue facing most Newmarket families. Sadly our Council has done worse than nothing on these issues.
There is no doubt the cost of living is increasing in Newmarket. That is a fact. Property taxes, user fees, hydro rates, water rates, food costs, transit fares and housing costs are all increasing above the rate of inflation. Putting a price on carbon and increasing mandatory pension contributions will take more money out of people's pockets and potentially kill jobs. This all comes at a time of record consumer debt, stagnant wages and a shrinking middle class. Only the top 1% is making gains. Jobs and the economy is listed as the top issue because people are concerned with what they see in the news and among their friends. The national unemployment rate is over 7%. The youth unemployment rate is over 20%. More than half of GTA workers are precariously employed in temporary, contract or part-time jobs according to United Way. The Ontario budget predicts an optimistic 2.2% economic growth rate. At the federal level, we are barely seeing any economic growth at all because of oil prices, the falling dollar and loss of good quality jobs in the energy and manufacturing sectors. Mexico has now passed Ontario in automotive manufacturing. Bombardier is desperate for a government bailout. Blackberry is struggling. Magna is moving. Oil prices, the Canadian dollar and the stock market have been on a roller coaster but seems to have bottomed out and are now starting to show signs of recovery. The housing market (especially in the Toronto and Vancouver areas) remains a concern and economic threat the Bank of Canada is worried about. An increase in interest rates could put many family budgets in trouble and would also increase borrowing costs for the federal, provincial, regional and local governments. In Ontario, the interest expense is higher than all money the province spends on colleges and universities. After making sacrifices to balance the federal budget, the new government plans to run a $30 billion dollar deficit to stimulate the national economy. We are in unstable global economic times with nations such as Japan, the EU, Brazil, Russia and China flashing red flags. Locally, in Newmarket we have seen residential property tax hikes above inflation for over 10 years. The loss of manufacturing employers and a lack of job creation is a major reason for this. The local economy and job creation should be something all Newmarket residents should be concerned with. It is not in very good shape. We cannot control oil prices, the Canadian dollar, hydro rates or globalization but we can influence what is happening at the local level by creating better conditions for local businesses and job growth.
Newmarket can do better than 100 jobs created in 5 years, dead last in York Region according to a neutral York Region staff report. The Mayor says the region has their facts wrong and manipulated the numbers to show "570" jobs created in 5 years. Even if you accept his 570 figure, that is still behind King, Georgina, Aurora, Stouffville and EG. The region's numbers and the Mayor's rigged numbers both show that Newmarket is dead last in job creation within York Region over a 5 year period. My research actually shows this has been the case over a 10 year period. I now believe we are the only municipality in the GTA that has a negative job growth rate over a 6 year period. Target recently closed and Magna plans to leave town. No matter how you spin the local job figures in Newmarket or the local economy, it is a failure and embarrassment. It is unacceptable that places like King and Stouffville are creating more jobs than a community the size of Newmarket. Instead of misrepresenting the facts and making excuses, the Mayor and Council has to do something about it.
In Newmarket we have all seen many good jobs leave town such as those at Tenatronics, Magna, Flextronics, Snap-On Tools, Reininger and elsewhere in the manufacturing sector. The best jobs in Newmarket are in the public sector. York Region, Newmarket, school board, hospital, police and fire have the best salaries, benefits and retirement plans. Even these jobs have been under threat. YRP headquarters moved to Newmarket and the new York Region building was almost relocated in Southern York Region. We are lucky to have companies such as Jet Ice, Canada Plastics, XE, Cintas, Mars and others in the Harry Walker area who call Newmarket home, but we need more of them. Upper Canada Mall, big box stores, restaurants, call centres and gas stations have created jobs, but in most cases they do not pay enough to afford to live in Newmarket. Many are minimum wage jobs or pay below the living wage in Newmarket. Davis Drive destroyed the livelihood of many small business owners impacted by the construction. Many of these businesses employed people as well. Today the buses are running, but the jobs so far have not come to town. All of Newmarket's economic development efforts have focused on Main Street where two banks have just closed and large scale job creation has no potential to occur. Anyone who has dealt with the Newmarket sign bylaw knows that Newmarket is a red tape factory. We have an anti-business Council that prefers to roll out the red tape for business instead of the red carpet for businesses here. Our commercial taxes are higher than our neighbours in Southern York Region closer to Toronto. Development charges are some of the highest in the province. The Mayor has put all of his eggs into the basket of broadband internet. That proposal is potentially expensive with limited prospect for significant job creation. Every other community is talking about broadband internet. The private sector is increasing service to the GTA. Businesses have access to broadband in Newmarket right now but Blackberry and Google Canada headquarters remain in Waterloo. Newmarket being dead last in job creation means residential taxes will be higher because commercial taxes cannot offset them. Newmarket being dead last in job creation means long commutes for you as people seek good jobs in Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Markham, Richmond Hill, Vaughan and Oshawa. Newmarket being dead last in job creation means we are missing out on opportunities. The rest of York Region is booming in terms of job creation. Newmarket is falling behind in the GTA by creating the least amount of jobs in York Region according to well paid expert staff at York Region. This must be a wake up call.
I believe we can do better. Here are five ideas that I believe will help improve the local economy and create quality jobs in Newmarket.
1, Focus on Harry Walker and not Main Street. Our historic downtown is beautiful and helps create an identity and cultural hub for Newmarket. It is a place where we can visit the library, enjoy a great meal, attend a festival at Riverwalk Commons and soon be entertained at the Newmarket Theatre. There are unique shops and great businesses to support. Many have restored their properties and the street looks better than it has in decades. The potential is being unleashed and I believe will be even better over time. I have confidence the BIA is in good hands and look forward to the Clock Tower debate that will ultimately set a clearer vision for the historic downtown. While I love Main Street, it does not have the potential for large scale job creation and it should not be 80% of the focus of Newmarket's economic development department. Lands with the potential for large scale industrial or commercial employers are along the Harry Walker/404 area. These lands have been neglected by Council and have become a ghost town. These employment lands must be where the Newmarket economic development and job creation focus is placed. Drive along the 400, 404, 407, 403, QEW, 410, 427 and 401 in the GTHA and what you will see is large employers along these major highways. The 404 lands in Newmarket is where our economic potential is.
2, Reduce commercial taxes and red tape. Newmarket is part of the GTA. It is very competitive. Head offices and factories have choices. They can locate in Toronto, Waterloo, Oshawa, Mississauga, Brampton, Vaughan, Markham, Richmond Hill, Aurora or EG. Many can go to the United States, Mexico and China. Newmarket has high commercial taxes compared to Southern York Region. There is currently no incentive for a large employer to pay more to locate further from the City of Toronto. Cutting taxes below our competition would encourage employers to consider locating here. There also needs to be a change in attitude. Council has demonstrated an anti-business bias with some of their decisions. Red tape in Newmarket is a nightmare and several by-laws need to be repealed. There also needs to be an effort to recruit business to town. Until we set the right economic conditions, no employer will have much of an incentive to locate in Newmarket.
3, Acquire Woodbine. The lands East of the 404 along Woodbine should be employment lands. This is where the potential lies for economic development in Northern York Region. Annexing and servicing these lands would prepare them for the right kind of development. We need large industrial employers. We need corporate head offices. This area would be a great place to consider relocation of Buttonville Airport once it closes in Markham in a few years. During the election, I wanted Newmarket to annex Green Lane for a University campus. Unfortunately this plan is no longer feasible. Markham was selected for the new campus and now it is unlikely that there will ever be a University campus in Northern York Region. By the next election, all of Green Lane and St. John's Sideroad will be developed into homes. While that opportunity has been lost, the potential on Woodbine remains.
4, Smart Growth at Yonge & Davis. During the Slessor Square debate, I was not concerned about height caps or tall buildings located at our busiest corner. In fact I embraced the secondary growth plan and Places to Grow targets because I saw the potential in creating a new urban downtown at Yonge and Davis. Imagine office towers, condos, a convention centre, hotel, retail and restaurants all connected by transit. Similar to development around Square One in Mississauga, we have potential to create jobs at Yonge and Davis in Newmarket. The only places where jobs can be created in Newmarket is Harry Walker and Yonge/Davis areas. Embracing growth and redevelopment at Yonge and Davis will not only create jobs but also keep intensification out of our established and historical neighbourhoods. The initial vision for Yonge and Davis used to justify the VIVA bus lanes was to create a Yonge and Eglinton. Now we have to prove we are serious by creating a new urban downtown with jobs strongly considered as part of Newmarket staff planning for the area.
5, Two way, all day GO Trains in Newmarket. GO Trains are packed and there is huge demand across the GTA for more frequent train service. In response, the province has plans for two way, all day GO electrified service on several lines. Unfortunately these trains will stop at Wellington in Aurora. Newmarket, EG, Bradford and Barrie will get less frequent service than Aurora, King and Vaughan. This doesn't just hurt commuters in Newmarket, it hurts economic development. Similar to employers locating along highways, they also locate around major transit lines and stations. Two way, all day GO service would make it easier for potential employees and customers to reach Newmarket. The full potential of the Davis bus system would be better reached if it connected with more frequent GO Trains at the Tannery. These trains are essential to our economic development, taking cars off the road and improving the quality of life for commuters. It is too important for Newmarket to accept no for an answer. A transit hub at the Tannery would unleash huge economic potential for the Tannery. It could also offer opportunities for economic development at a Mulock Station and at the EG Green Lane station.
During the election, I called on Council to focus on YOUR issues for a change. Nobody cares who they block on twitter or how political disputes are resolved under code of conduct reviews. What they do care about is issues that impact their quality of life or their cost of living. Families in Newmarket are struggling to get by. They are commuting long distances and their wages are not keeping up with Council's tax, user fee, water and hydro hikes. While Council has been distracted, our town has fallen to dead last in York Region in job development. 100 jobs in 5 years. We can do much better. Discussing the local economy instead of Twitter blocking would be a great place to start.
Thank you for reading...
Former Deputy Mayor Candidate