Darryl Wolk

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Transcript from my Queen's Park Committee deputation on Bill 42, Electing Regional Chair

Posted by Darryl Wolk on March 9, 2016 at 8:25 AM

Mr. Darryl Wolk


The Chair (Mr. Monte McNaughton): We’re here today primarily to discuss Bill 42. Our first deputant—we’ve made some changes to the agenda today. The first one is Darryl Wolk. I would ask that you state your name. You’ll have five minutes for your presentation and then each party will have three minutes to ask questions.


Mr. Darryl Wolk: Yes, absolutely. Thank you very much. My name is Darryl Wolk. Good afternoon to Clerk Day, Chair McNaughton and members of provincial Parliament who make up this committee.


Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to Bill 42, on the election of the York region chair. My comments today are focused on the process of selecting the chair; I have no issue with the job performance of current chair Wayne Emmerson. My concern is that the appointment process for chair is not democratic or transparent.


The York region chair oversees a $3-billion budget, including $1.2 billion for capital projects. The chair is the face of York region, with responsibility for intergovernmental relations, transportation, human services, economic development and policing. Unfortunately, under the current appointment process, he faces no accountability or has no mandate from the people. He serves at the pleasure of his colleagues, who put him in that role.


The current population of York is over one million people and it’s currently the fastest-growing municipality in Canada.


The issue of electing the York region chair is not new. Private members’ bills have died on the order paper prior to being passed into law. Traditionally, the idea has had the support of all three parties represented in the Legislature. I’m thankful that MPP Chris Ballard has reintroduced this bill. It has passed second reading and currently sits at this committee.


The private member’s bill was debated twice at York region council where I also made a deputation. With Newmarket’s representatives split, York region council voted 14-5 against the election of regional chair, this despite Newmarket, Markham, Aurora, East Gwillimbury, Stouffville and other municipalities passing resolutions supporting Bill 42 at their local councils.


Common sense says that if residents were polled and asked if they prefer an appointment or an election to determine the head of York region, I think they would show overwhelmingly that they would prefer democratic elections.


It is obvious that most on York region council want nothing to do with direct elections. This is particularly true for those in the club thinking about retiring as mayor and hoping for the plum appointment next. It is easier to lobby for 11 votes behind the scenes than run in a region-wide democratic election based on ideas and a vision for the region as a whole.


The York region chair is the highest-paid head of council in Canada. York region also hosts the highest-paid mayor in Canada, from Markham, according the Toronto Star. Even the mayor of the small town of Newmarket is collecting more than the Ontario finance minister. This is a prestigious club to belong to, and they want to keep the chair position to club members only. Instead of direct elections, favours are traded in the backroom, colleagues are lobbied over steak dinners, and committee requests are considered to get the majority of the 20 votes to effectively be mayor of York region.


It’s time Queen’s Park forced democracy on York region. The bill is straightforward and not controversial for residents of York region who do not currently sit on York region council. There is plenty of time to put an election process in place in time for the 2018 municipal election.


Around the GTA, chairs in Durham, Halton and Waterloo are currently elected directly by the people. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. We already know this can be done. York, Peel and Niagara are the only regions left where the council is still appointed. I would challenge any current York region council member to point out any problems in Waterloo, Durham or Halton that have arisen as a result of the people directly electing their chair.


There are many issues that could be discussed related to the Municipal Elections Act and the Municipal Act. There are many issues that can be discussed about proportional representation or what other jurisdictions are doing. Those issues should be debated separately from Bill 42. When it comes to democracy and transparency, York region should attempt to be first out of the gate and not last.


In the local media, a York region-based cabinet minister was quoted in a local paper as calling the appointment process of York region “a joke.” He is correct. In York, the last chair appointment was a common-sense choice: Two candidates ran and lobbying had begun well before the municipal election. Most members returned already decided on who they would appoint. Outsiders were shut out. The regional councillor who defeated me in the municipal election announced days after his election that he would run for the chair appointment. That would have caused an expensive by-election in Newmarket, but in the end, he was defeated handily by Emmerson.


Theoretically, had council appointed John Taylor, we could have had two by-elections in Newmarket caused by the appointment. That would have been possible had a ward councillor challenged for the regional seat and won, triggering a second by-election in the vacant ward. Time and money would have been wasted.


Alternatively, a ward councillor could have been appointed to the regional councillor seat with someone not on council appointed to represent the ward. With a full term ahead, that would have been unacceptable. It makes more sense to just add the chair to the ballot during the municipal election and simply allow residents of York region to decide.


In the case of Peel region, taxpayers were not so lucky. The Mississauga ward 4 councillor ran for chair shortly after getting elected and was rewarded with the ability to vote for himself. He faced four opponents for chair that were not members of Peel council, resulting in quality outsiders at least being considered. After several rounds of voting, the final three candidates were Frank Dale, John Sanderson and Steve Mahoney. Things got strange when Mahoney and Sanderson were tied for second. To break the tie, Mahoney was eliminated by not having his own name drawn out of a hat. In the final round, Frank Dale was able to vote for himself and John Sanderson was not. This led to Frank Dale winning in the end.


The Chair (Mr. Monte McNaughton): Sorry, I have to cut you off. It’s been five minutes now. We’ll start with the official opposition. Mr. Hardeman.


Mr. Ernie Hardeman: Thank you very much for the presentation. It seems fairly straightforward when you have a position, the head of a council—that if the whole council is elected it would seem fairly obvious that electing the head of council would also be a concern.


You mentioned in your presentation the cost of politics, the price of the mayor and the price of the regional chair. Do you have any concerns that when you make that an elected position, in an area of over 1.1 million people, I think you said, and two people have to go out and run an election in that area for that job, that’s going to automatically require a very good salary in order for anyone to be able to invest that kind of capital to get elected? Do you have any concerns about that?




Mr. Darryl Wolk: Yes, certainly, in municipal elections, whether you run for mayor or—in the case of regional council, I put up about $25,000 of my own money to run.


Ultimately, it would be expensive to run region-wide, but it wouldn’t be expensive to the taxpayer, because, through the Municipal Elections Act, you’d have a cap on spending and there’s a cap on donations. Some people may try and self-finance; others may try and seek out donations.


I know Mr. Coe comes from Durham region, where they just decided to elect their chair. For me, while there might be a cost and while it may limit certain people, particularly ones with a high profile or perhaps laypeople who have the means to do it, what it would allow in York region—when I ran for office, for regional councillor, in Newmarket, nobody really discussed regional issues. In fact, many people didn’t know what a regional councillor was or anything that was happening at the regional level.


I think a high-profile election in nine different communities would give people an opportunity to think about what’s happening in Markham, Vaughan, the region as a whole, the waterfront and Simcoe county, and hopefully draw some more interest in the regional process generally.


Mr. Ernie Hardeman: Okay. Lorne?


Mr. Lorne Coe: Yes, through you, Chair—


The Chair (Mr. Monte McNaughton): Thirty seconds.


Mr. Lorne Coe: —to the delegation: Can you speak a little bit about the experience and research that you might have done about the practice in Halton and Durham region that you just alluded to?


Mr. Darryl Wolk: Yes. I know—


Mr. Lorne Coe: And Waterloo and how they got to that particular point?


Mr. Darryl Wolk: I know in the case of Durham, it was a referendum, if I’m not mistaken. Off the top of my head, I’m not sure how Waterloo and Halton initially decided to go in the direction of electing their chair, but I do know Gary Carr in Halton has been elected for at least two terms now. Ultimately, in Waterloo, it’s been at least two terms as well, from what I understand.


The Chair (Mr. Monte McNaughton): We’re going to move now to the third party and Mr. Mantha.


Mr. Michael Mantha: I just wanted to share with my friends across the way that I just had a very nice post from my wife. I just wanted to let them know that this morning I told her, “The first time I saw you, my heart whispered ‘You’re the one.’” She just responded to me and blew me a kiss. That’s what I was doing.


Ms. Eleanor McMahon: That’s sweet.


Mr. Michael Mantha: Isn’t that nice? I’m a big moo-moo.


Anyway, in your—




Mr. Michael Mantha: Come on, that’s in the record; that’s going to go. She’s going to read it. I get points.


In your opening comments, you were cut off. I want to give you the chance to say something, or anything, that you didn’t get a chance to cover. Go ahead.


Mr. Darryl Wolk: There were a couple of excuses that were brought up last time about how the south would always win, and I just wanted to mention that there’s no guarantee of that. It’s quite possible that you would have a candidate from Markham and Vaughan going against each other; there’s always a possibility of two Markham candidates who would split the vote. There are residents of York region, such as Helena Jaczek or Frank Klees who were from northern York region, who I think would have the profile to compete for the chair position if it was elected.


The other thing I wanted to point out is, the main point out of this was—actually, I still have quite a bit left, but it was mostly just addressing some of the arguments that had been put forward by members of regional council during their debate about why the chair shouldn’t be elected.


Mr. Michael Mantha: I’m one who is all for democracy, That’s one of the biggest reasons why we’re all sitting here around this table. Why is it not working here, or why would it be better if it would work through that process?


Mr. Darryl Wolk: I think it would be better, first of all, because the chair would have an actual mandate to take the region in a vision that would be supported by the people.


Right now there’s no issue with the way that Chair Emmerson is performing, but the reality is that he’s only accountable to the people who appointed him, and he’s not accountable to the people at all. As a result, there was no interest from the general public in terms of how this appointment was made; there was no set of visions that you could choose between for the region as a whole.


All members of York region council will likely tell you—at least this was my experience at the doors—that if you’re running in Newmarket, you’re going to spend your time focused on Newmarket issues. You’re not going to talk about the York region subway proposal; you’re not going to talk about the NHL arena proposal in Markham; you’re not going to talk about casinos in Vaughan or the waterfront in Lake Simcoe; you’re just going to talk about the issues that are facing your own community.


I think regional issues, which, to be honest with you, are where the majority of taxpayer money goes, are important, but they just don’t get the type of profile and there isn’t really a transparent process right now as far as both how the chair is appointed or, really, how decisions are made because the media doesn’t cover it, it’s not televised and most people don’t even know that regional government exists.


Mr. Michael Mantha: You mentioned, on several occasions, transparency and accountability during your presentation. How is this going to change with an elected member?


Mr. Darryl Wolk: I’ll put it this way: If you were to run in a region-wide election you’d have to run on a platform and be—


The Chair (Mr. Monte McNaughton): I’m sorry. I’ve got to move to the government and Mr. Ballard.


Mr. Chris Ballard: Thank you very much for coming forward today and making a presentation. It’s certainly appreciated.


A number of the comments that you’re making, those of us involved in this debate in York region have heard time and time again. I think what’s of interest to me from your perspective, because you’ve been involved in the local political scene for many years, is the impact that direct election of a regional chair might have on the taxpayer’s and the public’s knowledge of what the region is and what services it delivers. Do you have any thoughts or any comments on that?


Mr. Darryl Wolk: What I would be most excited about would be that regional chair platform. The argument was that, basically, it’s only one vote on the regional council, so therefore the position is not powerful. But if you take that argument, then no mayor is powerful, because we have a one-mayor, one-vote system right now. Nobody would make the suggestion that, in Markham, the ward councillors should appoint the mayor.


The way the appointment process works right now, frankly, is that you need to get 11 votes, and you wheel and deal behind the scenes. Had I been elected, I wanted to annex a road called Green Lane that was part of East Gwillimbury. That would have been my offer to the two candidates, and whoever cut the deal would have gotten my vote. If that didn’t work, then potentially I would have asked for the chair of the human services committee.


This is not the way you conduct democracy, and it’s not the way to make decisions on regional issues or municipal issues. Certainly, an election is transparent. Who knows what deals Emmerson made before the election when he decided he was going to retire as Stouffville mayor, knowing that he had the chair position in his pocket?


Mr. Chris Ballard: Okay, but just to follow up, from your perspective, from your experience, how aware are people in York region of regional government and what it does and how much, in terms of a percentage, it is of their municipal tax bill?


Mr. Darryl Wolk: Well, I would go door to door and say, “Hello. My name is Darryl Wolk and I’m running for regional council.” People would look at me like I had three heads. I had to change the title to deputy mayor of Newmarket so that people understood what I was running for.


Newmarket is actually the capital of York region; we have the regional headquarters right in our own community. But most people don’t know that there’s a regional council, and they have no idea what’s discussed at the regional council. They are used to dealing with issues such as garbage, local transit, local jobs and property taxes at the municipality itself. But nobody knows that York region has the highest debt per capita in the province; nobody really gets an opportunity to discuss anything to do with human services or the fair-share issue I talk about often in Peel. The fact that it’s not even televised and that meetings happen during the day—people work. They don’t have an ability to go and find out after the fact. It’s just a big black hole. I’ve even heard from municipal councillors that they don’t get communication about what’s happening at the upper tier level of government and they find out things after the fact.


The Chair (Mr. Monte McNaughton): Thank you very much, Mr. Wolk, for presenting today.


Mr. Darryl Wolk: All right, thank you.


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