Corp Comm Connects

York Region says no to direct election of chair
York regional councillors voted 14-5 against allowing residents to vote directly for the position of regional chair.
Feb. 18, 2016
Noor Javed

When it comes to choosing the regional chair in York Region, the council has opted to keep the status quo.

After a lengthy debate on Thursday, regional councillors voted 14-5 against a motion that would have allowed the 1.1-million residents of the York Region to vote for the prestigious position of regional chair. Currently, the position is appointed by the 21 members of council.

York is one of two municipalities that still appoint the position of chair. Durham and Halton elect their chair. Peel is currently undergoing a governance review that will include options for the election of regional chair.

The vote came a day after the province issued a statement announcing the standing committee will be meeting the next two Wednesday’s to have public hearings on Bill 42, a bill that would mandate an elected chair in York.

“People will have a chance to give their opinion on the direct election of regional chair,” said Chris Ballard, MPP for Newmarket-Aurora. “Either for or against,” he said.

But on Thursday, council members seemed to take exception with the province’s efforts to force the change upon the region.

“The province wants to act unilaterally, they do it every day. If they want to single out the region of York, then let them explain why,” said Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, who voted against the motion, even though his council previously passed a motion in support of the move to an elected chair.

Richmond Hill regional councillor Vito Spatafora also took a shot at the province. “I don’t see a need to follow through a bill that is regressive. If you are going to change the law, change it for everybody,” he said.

Many of the councillors argued that the high cost of running an election in the large municipality, and concerns about ensuring the candidate had experience in governance all topped reasons for voting against the motion.

“I just wonder who would have been sitting here if the chair had been an elected position,” said current chair Wayne Emmerson, who added it was difficult to not take comments from the public around transparency and accountability personally.

Instead, councillors voted for the staff to undertake a comprehensive governance review, which would include a review of the makeup of council, and possibilities for the election of a chair — which will be completed by the end of the year.

But Ballard said the provincial nudge is not “about picking on York Region.”

“This is local MPPs who are listening to local members of the public who have real concerns about this election process,” he said.

He said four of the nine local councils endorsed motions in support of an elected chair.

He says that anytime the region takes the initiative on the issue, he’s willing to “stand down.”

“If I was in their shoes, I would be putting the legislation forward myself,” he said. “I don’t understand why they are resisting this,” he said. “It’s such an easy win for these guys.”