MARKHAM VOTES: Will mayoral candidates opt in to strong-mayor powers and leave York Region?
Oct. 21, 2022
When Premier Doug Ford talked about expanding strong-mayor powers to other large Ontario cities beyond Toronto and Ottawa next year, he had a handful of cities in mind in the GTA, including Markham, to enjoy enhanced authority in 2023.
“So when you get elected as mayor, it means something,” said Ford at a news conference on Oct. 17.
What does that “something” mean to the soon-to-be-elected mayor of Markham? Markham has two candidates vying to become mayor. Frank Scarpitti is running for re-election against deputy mayor Don Hamilton in the Markham municipal election. After they registered in the race for the city's top elected position by end of August, Markham Economist and Sun reach out to both to ask the question, “What will you do if 'strong mayor powers' are expanded to Markham?”
The superpower could be granted to either Scarpitti or Hamilton and here are their views on strong-mayor power.
“If you have a consensus-based council acting in the best interests of Markham and its residents, I don't believe ‘strong mayor powers’ will be required. Premier Ford has indicated that the purpose of these powers is to increase housing but all one has to do is look and see that in Markham. We are progressing quite well on the development front. As in every municipality, Markham still has more work to do to increase seniors’ and affordable housing.”
“It’s still too early to definitively say what those powers will be exactly as they currently only apply to the cities of Toronto and Ottawa. The provincial government will assess how it works there, hold consultations on the overall legislation and make a final determination on which other municipalities will be granted those powers. As the current mayor, I believe I have been very effective in providing leadership on key issues and decisions without the use of those powers because I have always acted in the best interests of our community with support of our council.”
Under legislation passed last month, only a two-thirds vote of city council can overrule a “strong mayor” on matters deemed a “provincial priority,” such as affordable housing projects, public transit, highways and other infrastructure. These are the most controversial issues surrounding Markham residents: the secondary plan in Markham’s downtown, the Yonge subway extension in Thornhill, affording housing and more, which are already on the table for the next council.
And the strong-mayor power also draws concern if the “strong mayor” will overrule York Region council. The question: “With the growth in Markham in the next 10 years, should we start discussing leaving (York Region)?” had been raised by a floor attendant in an all-candidates meeting on Oct. 13. And the question was directed to Scarpitti.
Scarpitti gave a quick answer “no.” The costs for public services now provided by York Region top his concerns.
“If we were to separate and start our own police service, start our own public health service, it would cost us more.”
But he emphasized it is time to look at the council structure, and reform is definitely needed.
“Because we have too many municipalities, too many politicians. A lot of overlap in jurisdictions. And so that does have to be looked at,” he said.
“Way too many politicians, too much overlap. And that's part of the reason that we have some of the extended period of getting our communities to build what the young people and seniors need in our community.”
Markham Economist and Sun invited Hamilton to respond to the same question after the Oct. 13 meeting.
“I've never really thought too much about leaving York Region,” said Hamilton.
He described separating from York Region is a monumental task “like a messy divorce.”
“York Region plows the regional roads that go through Markham. They attend to our health care (for example vaccination) needs, they share management of the supply of our water, they share management of our sewage and many other functions.”
He believed the “too much government” question needed to be addressed by the provincial government back in 2018, but it did not happen.“To achieve real efficiencies, we need to consider eliminating either local government or regional government. Not sure which one and how popular that would be.”