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Who will lead York Region?
Dec. 10, 2014
By Lisa Queen

Tomorrow night, after months of behind-the-scenes lobbying, the 20 members of York Regional council will choose a new regional chairperson, arguably the most powerful political position in the region.

York Region Media Group gave the three declared candidates, former Whitchurch-Stouffville mayor Wayne Emmerson, Markham Regional Councillor Jim Jones and Newmarket Regional Councillor John Taylor, an opportunity to share with residents before the appointment some thoughts about their top priorities and what makes them qualified to lead.

Remember their answers, as there is a good chance the regional chairperson’s job will be an elected position next term, so you can hold them accountable four years from now.

The candidates were asked three questions:

We have had to edit some of the answers in the interest of space.

Wayne Emmerson

1. Simply put - this is the time for an experienced voice to lead vitally needed transportation improvements while maintaining high standards of service residents expect. From policing, public health, water, wastewater, solid waste, transit and arterial roads - our communities have come to expect among the best levels of service in the GTA. We need to improve transit and roads that require a skill set and familiarity among community leaders here, in our neighbouring municipalities and at the province. We have to continue attracting employment and reducing the commute times. Through my time on regional council, we have maintained the lowest employment land property tax rates in the GTA and carefully maintained overall tax rate increases within the rate of inflation. We are on the cusp of delivering the region’s biggest transportation improvements. Housing is also key. The high-cost of home ownership and the low proportion of rental housing restricts housing options for some in our community. It is a time for continued fiscal prudence and ensuring development charges pay down our debt. Our communities’ continued success is dependent on strong, proven leadership.

2. The top priority is to deliver transportation improvements - VIVA, roads, GO rail, and highways - to address congestion. Thankfully, we’re at a pivotal time with the province funding $1.8B of VIVA service improvements. Opening new rapidways that make commute times shorter is a priority. We are poised to deliver many critical road widenings. While transportation is the top priority, I’ll also advocate: maintaining property tax rate changes at the rate of inflation; vigorously pursuing new employers and ensuring we remain on a strong financial footing.

3. I served as Stouffville mayor for 17 years, maintaining decorum and focus on delivering community needs. I was chair of the regional transportation committee for 17 years developing strong familiarity with YRT/VIVA, GO services, regional roads and provincial highways and the plans and people that will deliver changes. I have been a member of finance and admin, housing and children and family services committees and have a proven ability to respond to community needs and deliver vital infrastructure. I have strengths in getting people to work together and have respectful working relationships with politicians throughout York, neighbouring municipalities, the province and Ottawa.

Jim Jones

1. York Region is no longer just the farm country north of Canada’s biggest city. We are a large metropolitan area. We need to be governed and regarded as a major player in the Greater Toronto Area. Almost a million more people are coming to York Region in the next 25 years. We urgently need a good rail transit network to let people work, live, play and shop where they want. The region also needs to reduce cost of government, by integrating services such as fire departments, computer technology and tax collection. Most importantly, we need to take the politics out of transit, making decisions based on facts and a business case for the entire Greater Toronto Area.

2. I believe in collaboration. My priorities are to use the skills that every member of regional council brings to the table.. My most important goal is to have York Region become part of an integrated, unified transit network connected to all of the GTA. We cannot solve traffic gridlock in a piecemeal way. We need all-day, electrified rail service on all existing GO Transit lines. We need to develop high-speed east-west 407 transit corridor that connects to all the north-south rail transit routes. Adding more Viva buses is not the way of the future. My objectives include transforming all GO Transit lines in York from commuter to 15-minute subway-type service; monetizing 407 hydro corridor assets: burying the high-voltage hydro lines and developing a strategy that advances the building and funding of the 407 rail transitway and reducing York Region’s debt.

3. To think like a leader, you must imagine you have no limitations on what you can be or do. Top people are long-term thinkers. They work hard, build consensus and triumph over adversity. I have 23 years experience in government: municipally, regionally and as an MP. I have a good understanding of how government operates and have developed lasting friends and knowledgable resources over many years. I am a Ryerson business graduate and a professional accountant with a 28-year career at IBM in finance, sales and marketing. My major political initiatives include spearheading Markham City Centre, lobbying for the Yonge subway to Hwy. 7; creating the Langstaff centre plan; stopping public funding for the proposed NHL Arena and supporting the SmartTrack rail link to downtown Toronto. I have a vision for a prosperous, diverse and harmonious region. I will work tirelessly with colleagues, residents and businesses to make the region the best place to live.

John Taylor

1. I would strongly encourage voters to ask themselves the question; “Who do they believe has the skills and passion to move the region forward on its key priorities over the next five to 10 years”? With a region of 1.2 million people and an annual budget of $3 billion, we must be sure we ‘hire’ the person who is ready and able to work tirelessly to advance issues such as the subway to Richmond Hill, the Vaughan hospital, an affordable housing strategy, seniors strategy, the Bradford bypass, job creation and a traffic congestion strategy. Every one of these issues will require partnerships and funding from the province. I have worked at Queen’s Park and I have a strong relationship with the current government. I am confident I can negotiate and partner with the province to create the wins we need on our priority issues.

2. My top priority will be job creation. There are far too many people spending hours a day in traffic. If York Region is to remain a truly outstanding place to live, we must provide more high-quality jobs close to home, both in the north and the south of the region. More local jobs will strengthen the region’s financial outlook, ease traffic congestion and improve residents’ quality of life and health. I will urge council to significantly expand our economic development department and strategy. I will champion the new university in Markham for jobs it will bring and the economic development opportunities it will create. Finally, I will work toward a northern York Region business attraction strategy. York Region will always have people who want to live here, but we must fight to land the quality jobs needed to make our region complete.

3. First and foremost, I bring passion and a relentless desire to advance the key issues and opportunities facing our region. I bring a business background and strong negotiation skills. I have worked at Queen’s Park and I have the relationships and knowledge on how to partner with the province and achieve our goals. The chairperson must have the ability to manage dozens of complex files at one time and read and synthesize hundreds of reports. I have extensive committee experience and I have an extensive educational background, including a Ph.D. I have been the chair of planning and economic development at York Region and the co-chair of the human services planning board. I have the ability to represent York Region as a progressive and dynamic community across the GTA and beyond. Now, more than ever, York Region needs a strong and dynamic leader to represent us.