Elected regional chair issue back on York's agenda today
Feb. 18, 2016
Although several local municipal councils have passed motions calling for York Region’s chairperson to be elected, there’s a possibility their pitches could fall on deaf ears when the issue resurfaces Thursday.
If regional council actually makes a decision and doesn’t push the matter off again, that is.
Local councils in Newmarket, Aurora, Whitchurch-Stouffville, East Gwillimbury and Markham have all voted in favour of having an elected chairperson.
That would replace the current system of having the region’s top political job selected by the 20 politicians sitting around the regional council table.
However, other than Whitchurch-Stouffville Mayor Justin Altmann, the mayors of those municipalities voted for keeping the status quo.
And it’s the mayors and regional councillors, for those municipalities with more than one representative on regional council, not local councillors, who will be making the decision.
For example, in a 7-1 vote, Newmarket Mayor Tony Van Bynen was the only politician on Newmarket council to oppose an elected chairperson when the town’s council dealt with the issue last week.
Will he and other mayors whose opinions differ from their local councils endorse the current system or follow the wishes of their local councils?
When the issue came up at regional council in June 2012, there was no appetite around the table for change.
Whitchurch-Stouffville Mayor Justin Altmann, Newmarket Regional Councillor John Taylor and Markham regional councillors Joe Li, Nirmala Armstrong and Jim Jones voted in favour of an elected chairperson when the issue came up recently at their local councils.
Newmarket-Aurora MPP Chris Ballard, who is spearheading a private member’s bill at Queen’s Park that would impose an elected chairperson if regional council doesn’t make the move itself, has said it’s wrong not to have voters elect the regional position.
The chairperson, who is paid more than $200,000 a year, oversees a combined operating and capital budget of $3 billion in a region with a population of 1.1 million residents, he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, all parties in the provincial legislature unanimously agreed to hold a pair of public consultation sessions on Ballard’s private member’s bill.
They will be held at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Feb. 24 and March 2 from 1 to 3 p.m. The deadline to get your name in if you want to speak is Friday at 5 p.m. Written submissions must be received by March 2. For more information on making a verbal or written submission, contact Ballard’s office at 905-750-0019.
Durham, Halton and Waterloo regions have chairs elected by voters, while Niagara and Peel don’t, although Peel is looking at the issue as part of a governance review, York CAO Bruce Macgregor said in a report going to York regional council Thursday.
About 750,000 York residents would be eligible to vote for the chairperson if the system is changed, meaning the region would host the third-largest municipal election in Canada in 2018 if Peel does not move to an elected chair, he said.
Almost three-quarters of eligible York voters, or 550,000 residents, would come from Markham, Vaughan and Richmond Hill, Macgregor said.
Candidates for regional chairperson would likely have to pony up a considerable amount of money to get elected. Based on population projections, the spending limit for the 2018 municipal election could be in excess of $650,000, he said.
Meanwhile, neither the prime minister nor the premier are directly elected by voters, Macgregor pointed out.
There is a chance regional council won’t make a decision on electing the chair at all on Thursday.
That’s because regional council is also expected to consider terms of reference for a governance review, including the method of selecting the regional chair.
The review would also look at whether the size of regional council should be changed.
At the moment, Aurora, East Gwillimbury, Whitchurch-Stouffville and King Township only have one representative, their mayors, on regional council. Meanwhile, Vaughan wants to add a fifth councillor, equal to Markham’s representation.
The review would also examine if councillors should be directly elected to the region rather than sitting on both regional and their local councils.
Taylor, who asked that the review look at direct elections, said he is leaning toward that structure because it may lead to a greater level of engagement from elected officials whose full-time focus would be on the region.
The region’s $3-billion budget covers a number of necessary services such policing, public transit, public health, water and wastewater, regional roads and regional planning.
If approved, the review will be completed by Dec. 15, 2016.
Public consultations will be held at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Feb. 24 and March 2 from 1 to 3 p.m. The deadline to get your name in if you want to speak is Friday at 5 p.m. Written submissions must be received by March 2. For more information on making a verbal or written submission, contact Ballard’s office at 905-750-0019.