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Doug Ford, York Region council agree: Wayne Emmerson to stay on as chair
Nov. 18, 2022

York Region councillors have chosen Wayne Emmerson to continue as their regional chair, even though the province said it really doesn’t matter who they pick.

The Ford government had already -- and unexpectedly -- selected Emmerson for the region’s top job.

The regional chair is usually elected by members of York Region council. That election process was set to be part of the inaugural meeting Nov. 17.

But the Progressive Conservative government tabled legislation late afternoon the day before that vote saying it intends to reappoint the existing regional chairs in York, Niagara and Peel regions.

It’s part of a sweeping package of municipal governance reforms and push for “strong mayors” in some cities.

Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark cautioned the regions against appointing a chair who was not his identified candidate because his appointee would, when the bill passes, replace that person anyway.

Council had two options: proceeding with the selection of a chair as originally intended, recognizing the proposed Bill 39 may negate that choice if it wasn’t Emmerson, or recess the Inaugural meeting prior to the appointment process, pausing it for a future date to allow the proposed legislation to run its course.

Council decided to go ahead with the selection.

Markham Regional Coun. Joe Li had placed his name on the ballot, challenging Emmerson, who was seeking to return for his third term.

Li said he planned to introduce a motion limiting the role of chair to two terms, rather than four.

In the vote, he was edged out by Emmerson 14 to 7.

Emmerson said there was a need for "strong leadership and experience" going forward into challenging times.

Not everyone was thrilled with the province’s inserting itself into municipal governance.

In the hours leading up to the inaugural meeting, several councillors questioned the province's timing and motivation.

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, one of the council members who voted for Li, had kind words for his colleague.

"I just want to say Joe Li, congratulations on the way you reached out to members of council over the past couple of weeks.

"Yesterday’s legislation provincially changed the ground rules, and we can debate that another time, but you did it in a classy way."

Scarpitti said Li’s experience as an immigrant reflects and inspires the many newcomers to York Region who desire to do good.

Council heard that Li emigrated from India with $500, journeyed across Iran, Turkey, Vienna, Hamburg and Sweden as a dishwasher to settle in Canada and run his own financial services franchise, then serve as regional councillor for 12 years.

Scarpitti appealed to the province to make its changes to municipal governance as expeditiously as possible.

"We cannot be around this table… with this type of uncertainty,” he said. “You’ve asked us to do some amazing and incredible things, set some (housing) targets… that cannot be achieved if we have to live with uncertainty over the next three to four years."