I was surprised to read in Saturday’s Toronto Star (11 April) that Newmarket’s Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, appears 4th in a list of “what Mayors in some Canadian cities earned in 2014”.

It gives the impression that our Mayor is among the top paid in Canada in 2014. He says the figures are all wrong.

Responding to a tweet from journalist Deborah Kelly, the Mayor wrote:

@deborahkelly  Debra, FYI Star article is incorrect. It should read $151K not $182K. Will ask Star to Correct. Includes both Town and Region.

8:43 AM – 11 April 2015

And earlier this afternoon, the man who challenged Van Bynen last year for the Mayoralty, Chris Campbell, tweeted:

@TonyVanBynen easily highest paid based on population/job creation. Not better on most issues. 26% wage increase? Twitter.com/deborahkelly/s…

2015-04-14, 2.25 PM from Newmarket, Ontario

Two questions arise from all this. Are the figures correct? And, put crudely, is Van Bynen worth it?

But first let's be clear, there is a confusing mass of figures out there. And if expenses/benefits are factored in, this inflates the numbers further. The malicious will lump everything in together, taxable and non taxable. We should be talking solely about taxable income.

With these caveats the Mayor’s salary is either

 (a) $113,921 plus taxable benefits of $6,762. (from the Sunshine list)


(b) $91,313 plus benefits of $16,383 of which $8,794 is recovered from the region (from the Town of Newmarket’s Statement of Remuneration and Expenses for 2014).

I exclude the auto allowance ($6,463) and other expenses ($5,381) that are necessary for the Mayor to do the job. 

The Mayor also serves on York Region. For this, he gets $52,987. This should be added to the sums in either (a) or (b) above. Benefits paid by the Region totalling $8,794 are reimbursed to the Town. The benefits include the Region’s share of contributions to OMERS, Canada Pension Plan and premium costs for life insurance.

I get to the Mayor’s figure of $151,000 by adding together $91,313 plus the taxable benefits of $6,762 plus York salary of $52,978. But this is me making assumptions and jotting stuff down on the back of an envelope.

Comparing apples with apples

Some Mayors serving on York Region are on the Sunshine List, others are not. Their municipalities are obliged by s284(1) of the Municipal Act to publish annually, on or before 31 March, Statements of Remuneration and Expenses. There are variations in the way these are reported and it is not a simple task comparing apples with apples and sifting out taxable from non-taxable income.

Mayor Frank Scarpitti of Markham has, of course, made the headlines and so too has Mayor Steve Pellegrini of King but for different reasons. East Gwillimbury’s Mayor, Virginia Hackson, is on the Sunshine List  ($119,772 plus taxable benefits of $9,209) but Aurora’s Geoffrey Dawe is not there. His remuneration is $89,663 according to his municipality’s reporting. But if his York "supplement" of $55,162 were added he would qualify for the Sunshine List.

Matching figures on the Sunshine List with the same individuals who feature in the remuneration and expenses reports of municipalities is not a straightforward exercise. The sums can vary, no doubt for very good reasons. The Sunshine List has the Mayor of Vaughan, Maurizio Bevilacqua, on $173,459 plus taxable benefits of $7,883 and the Mayor of Richmond Hill, David Barrow, on $173,379 plus taxable benefits of $3,598.

Is he worth it?

So, whatever he gets, is Tony Van Bynen worth it?

Those who are hugely antagonistic towards him wouldn’t pay him the minimum wage. Others value him highly. He keeps the show on the road in a low key, avuncular kind of way. Personally, I think he is very skilled at chairing meetings though he is rather too house-trained for my liking. His long years as a banker have programmed him to swallow uncritically the professional opinions of staff even when they are crying out to be challenged.

The Town’s Chief Administrative Officer, Bob Shelton, gets a useful $239,230. He gives a good impression of having a handle on things and I’ve never seen him (yet) lost for words at a Council meeting. His comparators would be Chief Executives in the same family or type of municipalities as Newmarket. In the same way, the Mayor’s salary should be compared with those in similar municipalities with similar levels of responsibility.

Big Salaries; Fair Taxation

It is impossible to talk about about big salaries without talking about fair taxation. They are two sides of the same coin. Four Federal tax bands for 2015 are simply not enough to capture the huge spread of taxable income, from modest to stellar. (The average Canadian income is $47,358)

The top rate of Federal tax is 29% of taxable income over $138,586. So our Mayor falls into the same tax band as, say, the Onex CEO, Gerry Schwartz, whose eye-watering total pay package is $87.9 million.

Absurd and indefensible?

You bet.

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You can check the Toronto Star's corrections by date here.


To York Region’s Committee of the Whole. The agenda is fat and loaded with interesting and significant items but you’ve gotta be there in person to see it all happen. The Committee is not live streamed – neither in video nor in audio – and the official minutes can be economical with the actualité. I am in and out of the building so don’t catch everything.

As I enter the Council Chamber I see that it is crawling with developers. I see Marianneville’s Joanne Barnett going in and out of the Chamber with a mobile phone glued to her ear. In front of me a developer takes photos of slides from staff presentations and emails them back to the office there and then.

York Region's Chief Planner, Valerie Shuttleworth, hung out to dry

The big news is all about Markham where a long list of lands designated for employment uses is being challenged. Salivating developers want residential and other uses rather than boring old “employment” and the Mayor, Frank Scarpitti, is here to sing their song. Ten areas designated for employment in the Markham Official Plan have come up to the Region for further scrutiny. York’s Chief Planner, Valerie Shuttleworth, immediately concedes the case for change in four. But in the remaining six, she says the designation should stay. They are next to the 404 or 407. They are needed to deliver the Region’s targets. Now she offers an olive branch. As a concession she says the Region could look at the definition of “employment” and, perhaps, expand the category.

Scarpitti brushes all this aside. We hear about his many visits to industrial parks where his eyes were opened. Inside huge industrial buildings he finds delicate office workers instead of men in oily overalls gripping wrenches in their huge hands. The nature of work is changing, he says. More people will be working at home in future. Or, perhaps, leaving home on the 10th floor to go to work on the 14th. His delivery is sonorous and accommodating but he knows exactly what he wants and will get it.

His allies are lined up to speak. Regional Councillor Jack Heath (from Markham) agrees with Scarpitti that the lands should be converted from employment. He is backed by fellow Regional Councillors Jim Jones, Nirmala Armstrong and, in part, by Jo Li, also from Markham. Mayor Davis Barrow from Richmond Hill supports the conversion from employment use. “Things can change over the years.”

Newmarket's John Taylor is clearly uncomfortable with the way things are going. He says any decisions should be rooted in policy. He wants a review. It is clear he thinks this is no way to make policy – off the cuff and with the ink still wet on the papers in front of him. He complains he doesn’t know what the Markham staff’s position was.

Markham’s Nirmala Armstrong proves Taylor’s point with a rambling contribution that ends with her declaring: “Planning is not static”.

Now Vaughan’s Mayor, Mr Smooth, Maurizio Bevilacqua, weighs in. Scarpitti makes a good case and he acknowledges the detailed work that the Markham councillors put in, reviewing over the hot summer months each and every case for land conversion “but John Taylor is not wrong either”.  He asks a series of rhetorical questions. How do Governments respond to changes in demography or the world of work? He predicts changes in land designation will happen more often than we think in the future. He closes by taking a swipe at the Region. “Perhaps we need to look at governance style; whether we need further decentralisation.”

Taylor closes by calling for a review of employment lands policy. A deflated Shuttleworth says this is already in hand through the update of the Regional Official Plan. 

In the vote, Taylor is steamrolled. He is supported by Richmond Hill's Brenda Hogg and, I think, one other.

The developers’ faces are creased with broad grins.

York Region Office Attraction Review

Doug Lindeblom, the Director of Economic Strategy and Tourism, takes us through a series of slides showing how we can attract more office development into York Region. He says offices should be located in the four main centres and corridors, inadvisably illustrating the point with a slide. East Gwillimbury’s Mayor, Virginia Hackson, complains her municipality is missing. Clearly, she sees offices stretching along Green Lane, close to the GO rail station.

Taylor wants to know about “innovative approaches” where businesses are attracted to the area without dangling financial incentives in front of them. We hear about city building and the importance of clustering like-businesses together. And good transit.

Van Bynen, the wired up Mayor

After a long presentation in which the importance of broadband (astonishingly) did not rate a mention, Newmarket’s wired up Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, stirs from his slumbers. Van Bynen tells us that ultra high speed broadband is part of the critical infrastructure and, he says, we need a more aggressive approach. On this at least he is right.

Lindeblom tells us the Region adopted a broadband strategy in May 2014 and he expects high speed broadband to be available in centres and corridors. A report will be coming up to councillors in June.

York Region Employment and Industry Report (#100 jobs)

As expected, this is approved without debate. Neither Van Bynen nor Taylor have any comments to make. Newmarket’s jobs growth between 2009-2014 is officially 570.

York Region Municipal Comprehensive Review and Official Plan Update

The Chief Planner, Valerie Shuttleworth, warns us she is going to be speaking for half an hour as if this will be some kind of hardship. On the contrary, she is very easy to listen to, talking in complete well-formed sentences. There is always something new and interesting that the planners are working on. Today we learn about the forthcoming “cemetery needs analysis”. It is getting difficult to find places to bury people.

As one cohort departs this earth, another arrives. Now she is on to “population forecast scenarios” with three possible totals depending on the intensification of development. My eye is drawn to East Gwillimbury, the Town on steroids, whose 2014 population of 24,300 is expected to balloon to (a) 108,700 (b) 113,300 or (c) 135,300 by 2041.

Now Shuttleworth is talking about the number of housing units required to accommodate this tsunami of new residents. Bizarrely, she refers to houses as “ground related product”. (It reminds me of churches ludicrously re-branding themselves as “worship centres”.) Apartments are still, I think, apartments though I suppose they could be “above ground related product”.

Now we are looking at an arresting slide showing the number of “persons per household” in York Region from 1971-2041. The planners came up with a projection for 2041 in 2010, as part of the Regional Official Plan. A year later, in 2011 the census came up with another figure. The difference between the two in terms of housing units required by 2041 amounts to a staggering 75,000 units, underlining yet again the perils of long range forecasting.

John Taylor now asks a series of questions on the impact of an economic slow down on forecast employment and population numbers. I learn to my surprise from York’s Finance Chief, the knowledgeable Bill Hughes,  there are two forecasts. One from the “growth plan people” and another from the “finance people”.

He tells us that growth will continue to come to the region. The question is really about its pace. The finance people think it will come more slowly than the growth people. That figures.

Community and Health Services Report

This is John Taylor’s new bailiwick having moved from planning after last year’s election. We get a presentation on mental health initiatives from Adelina Urbanski and Superintendent Carolyn Bishop, gun in holster, with lots of arresting (sorry) statistics.

Only 20% of calls are crime related. The other 80% range from community events to missing people. The police switchboard handles a staggering 220,000 calls a year and I learn that only 0.1% ends with a police officer using force.

Personally, I’d like to know how much time police officers spend gazing uselessly at construction crews. 

Low Income Trends in York Region

No debate. No discussion.


No-one here is on the breadline.

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Bob Forrest's monstrous application for a condo in the heart of Newmarket's historic downtown could be on its way back.

Forrest put the Clock Tower up for sale in June last year but the last time I checked the Land Registry (in February 2015) his outfit, Main Street Clock Inc, was still the registered owner.

A report on the Town's servicing allocations (the policy that prioritizes new developments for hooking up to water and sewage) is coming up to Monday's Committee of the Whole.

We learn that a revised application on the Clock Tower "is anticipated". It is given priority 2 - the same as Glenway (minus the club house town houses which are recommended for immediate allocation from the Town's current strategic reserve) and higher than Slessor (3) where the planners are "awaiting a development application".

The anticipated development application for the Clock Tower is now down to 140 units. But why should this speculative development even feature in the queue when Forrest's last application was roundly condemned as a gross overdevelopment in the middle of a sensitive conservation area?

And here it is, back again. In February 2014 Chris Bobyk told us it was impossible to make the development work with fewer than 150 units.

Clearly, that was total cobblers.

But why have the planners recommended making a provisional allocation for 140 units? Given the history of this application with all its twists and turns, we need their detailed reasons.

By allocating the Clock Tower "Priority 2" the Town's senior planning staff - whose salaries are paid by the taxpayers not the developers - are telling us they believe the Clock Tower "could receive Council approval in 2015".

This is utterly preposterous.

A giant condo on Main Street South is not a priority for water and sewage allocation - nor for anything else.

Update on 15 April 2015. John Taylor successfully moves motion at the Committee of the Whole on 13 April 2015 removing from the servicing allocation report the priority categories 2 and 3 for sewage and water hook-ups for new developments pending a review later in the year. He specifically mentions the Clock Tower where a revised application has yet to be submitted.

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York Region hesitantly dipped its toe into the internet age eleven months ago when it announced Council meetings would in future be live streamed between 9.30am and the close of the meeting. There is an audio feed - but no video – which is available on the day of the meeting at www.york.ca/live.

Committee meetings are not streamed at all even though this is where much of the debate (which is often cursory) takes place.

Listening to politicians at work but not seeing their faces is straight out of the 1950s and needs to change immediately. If tiny municipalities across Canada can video stream (and keep a video library of meetings) there is absolutely no reason why York Region should drag its feet.

I’d like to see Newmarket’s Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, who spent the last election banging on about super-fast broadband, stir himself and get onto this.

To other matters… the agenda for tomorrow’s Committee of the Whole includes an item on the Region’s Transportation Master Plan. The crucial issue here is how the Region’s plans dovetail with Provincial initiatives, especially Metrolinx’s work on all-day two-way GO trains on the Barrie corridor. What precisely is the Region doing to help make this happen?

Elsewhere on the agenda I see more gazing into the crystal ball, this time forecasting the Region’s population and employment in 2041.

York’s planners are now telling us that Newmarket’s population in 2031 (as forecast by the Regional Official Plan in 2010) will hit 97,100. The population in 2041 could be 107,000; 112,400 or 114,900 depending on the amount of “intensification”.

Less than 18 months ago, the Town’s expensive external consultant, the famed planning guru Ruth Victor, was telling us with a straight face that “for 2031, the projected growth is estimated at 116,521 people as per the secondary plan process currently in progress.”

Personally, I think we should consult chicken entrails.


York Region’s Employment and Industry Report 2014 created a huge storm of controversy last month when it claimed Newmarket had seen a miniscule growth of 100 jobs over the period 2009-2014 while, next door, Aurora added a useful 5, 700 new jobs.

After uncharacteristically animated protests from Newmarket’s Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, and Regional Councillor, John Taylor, the report was sent back to staff for further “consultation with municipalities” and the re-worked version is coming up on Thursday 9 April at the Region’s Committee of the Whole.

Lo and behold, the new figures show an increase in Newmarket jobs from 100 to 570, though, sadly, the Town remains bottom of the league for job creation.

In order to boost the numbers, planning staff stripped out assumptions about job growth in those businesses they failed to contact by survey (19%) and those who refused to participate (1%).  Staff also excluded figures for home and farm based businesses. In Newmarket it had been assumed 100 people were employed in agriculture and 3,200 worked at home.

Across York Region in the five-year period in question, job growth was revised downwards from 77,000 to 71,910. You can read the revised report by clicking on “documents” in the panel top left and navigating to York Region.

The re-worked Table 5 gives employment by municipality 2004-2014. It retains a column for job growth 2009-2014 showing the new figures. An additional column gives 2014 “Activity Rates” measuring “the relationship between jobs and residents within a community”. This is calculated by dividing total employment by total population.

In this case, the figures include assumptions made about non-contactable businesses, farm and home working.

Will this tweaking be enough to satisfy the Mayor and Regional Councillor? Or will we see another blustering challenge to the new revised figures?

I doubt it. My money is on no debate at all.

The original #100 jobs figure was deeply embarrassing.

On Thursday, I suspect the caravan will move on, in silence.

Low Incomes in York Region

The Region’s Committee of the Whole will also be considering a report on low incomes.

We learn that 10.8% of Newmarket residents were on low incomes in 2012.

But the report tells us the majority of people on low incomes in York Region - about 84% - live in the three southern local municipalities of Markham, Richmond Hill and Vaughan.

Low incomes are defined as

“income levels that are 50% of the Canadian after tax median income adjusted for family size and age of children. As an example, in 2012 the LIM-AT was $16,968 for a single person, $33,936 for a couple family with two children under 16 and $35,633 for a couple family with one child over 16 and one under 16.”

(Median income is simply mid point between the highest and lowest incomes.)

The report also tells us there has been a growth in so-called “precarious employment” with full time jobs, as a share of total employment, shrinking to 73.5% from 77.6% in 2003.

You can read the full report by clicking on “Documents” in the panel top left and navigating to York Region.

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