There is a hive of activity today down at Bob Forrest’s historic Clock Tower properties on Main Street. Men in white overalls and face masks are heaving stuff from the property interiors into skips for construction waste. 

Forrest's properties: a blight 

The historic properties at 180-194 Main Street have been boarded up and neglected for ages. But though they are gently mouldering away they are still liable for property taxes of around $42,000 a year. Bob has been shelling this out year after year but I suppose it is small change for him.

What the Town gets in taxes with one hand it generously pays out in grants with the other. 

As part of the deal struck with Bob Forrest’s Main Street Clock Inc last year, Forrest is eligible for grants of up to $100,000 to help bring the property facades up to scratch.

The matter was on the agenda of the Newmarket Downtown Development Committee on 29 March 2019 and drawings were available for members to view but these were not given out. My spies tell me the application was for the facades and interior renovations of the historic commercial buildings at 184-194 Main Street South. The Clock Tower building itself did not feature. The application was deemed to be incomplete and it was deferred to a future meeting.

New Development Concept

But how on earth did it get this far when we haven’t yet seen the so-called “New Development Concept” when it was promised “in the near future” on 4 May 2018.

Section 10 (b) of the agreement between the Town and Forrest’s MSCI says this:

“The Town will provide access to the Newmarket Downtown Development Committee (NDDC) incentive program up to a cap of $100,000 to the extent that the New Development Concept qualifies and meets program criteria...”

Cart before the horse

It seems to me Forrest is putting the cart before the horse if he is requesting cash from the Town before we have had sight of the New Development Concept. How do we know if it qualifies and meets program criteria if we haven’t seen it? 

Has the Town seen the New Development Concept? 

Has anyone asked for sight of it? 

And if not, why not?

This is happening, for goodness sake, under our noses in the very heart of the Town's Heritage Conservation District. Have we gotten too used to the sight of these empty and decaying buildings?

Are they now just a familiar part of the streetscape?

Why can't the Director of Planning write an Information Report tomorrow and tell us what's happening?

Insofar as he knows.

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Regional Councillor Tom Vegh won his election last October on an explicit promise to build a new Library and Seniors’ Centre on the site of the old hockey arena at Hollingsworth which is owned by the Town and will be closed permanently in 2020. 

His main opponent, Chris Emanuel, told voters this was a pipe dream unless Vegh was willing to hike taxes by 40%. The voters took the chance and elected Tom. 

Yesterday’s Committee of the Whole - with a staff presentation and report on decommissioning Hollingsworth Arena - gives Tom a great opportunity to let us into his plans. He told me a month ago he has been working “diligently” on the matter.

As it happens, the Library and Seniors’ Centre is the elephant in the room. Tom doesn’t talk about them and no one asks. Tom is proving to be a huge disappointment. He refuses to engage in argument. He is afraid to make the case.

Broken Promises

Jane Twinney privately thinks it was just one of Tom’s election promises – to be casually discarded once memories fade.

But I’ve told Tom I am going to track his promise for the full four year term of Council. When everyone else has moved on to exciting new topics I’ll still be sitting on Tom’s shoulder, reminding him about his new Library and Seniors’ Centre.

That’s how you keep politicians honest. You stick with them for the long term, following their inevitable twists and turns as their hastily written election pledges collide with reality. 

(The same is true for senior staff who, given half the chance, will do their own thing, working on pet projects in their own parallel municipal universe.)

Brainstorming

But instead of painting a picture of his new Library and Seniors’ Centre Tom waffles on about having a Council Workshop where everyone “brainstorms”.

As I am listening to Tom and his brainstorming plan I am left wondering if he has ever spoken to his council colleagues individually to get support for his new Library. If so, it doesn’t show. 

I have concluded Tom is a particularly inept politician. I am surprised he didn’t campaign last October on the promise of a Council Workshop on a new Library and Seniors’ Centre. But maybe he realised that formulation wouldn’t cut it with the voters.  

One option for Hollingsworth. 

The Mayor, John Taylor, gives us a master class in how to handle Tom.

If Taylor wants things done – as with Mulock Farm - he calls on councillors to “seize the moment”. If he is lukewarm about something (like a new Library) there’s always plenty of time down the road to discuss things. 

Taylor thinks it would be a mistake to hold a workshop before they see the staff report. But afterwards we hear it may be possible. But there is no rush. They’ve got all the time in the world.

And Taylor says there are “decision points” coming up but doesn’t elaborate. We don’t want a workshop getting in the way of decision points, Tom. Do we?

Tom doesn’t ask if any of these decisions that are coming up will have a bearing on his plans for a new Library and Seniors’ Centre. 

Tom will have plenty of time to ask questions like that at the Council Workshop.

Whenever that is.

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The exchanges on 8 April 2019

Ward councillor, Jane Twinney, talks about the “decommissioning” of the Hollingsworth Arena in 2020 and how local people feel about it. We hear they are pretty much indifferent but wonder what is going to replace it. Jane wants staff to “bring back a report within six months on any plans for amenity use or public use at this location”

Jane says that within six months we are gonna know where we are going with this.

The Mayor, John Taylor, burbles on about “high level options” and wonders what the (Recreation) Playbook says. He agrees people are gonna wonder what’s happening. “Does it (the arena) sit for a year? Two years? Four years?”

Jane Twinney: “One of the concerns out there is we have some plans in our Recreation Playbook for that area and it is hard for us to move forward on those until we know where we are going… It is good that we are dealing with this and that way we are able to move forward and come up with some concrete plans for that area which I’m looking forward to.”

Development and Infrastructure Chief, Peter Noehammer, weighs in. He says the report will provide an opportunity to consider future land use. “But the Recreation Playbook first and foremost.”

Tom Vegh: “For us the decision on decommissioning the arena… this has actually (been) on our radar for a number of years. I remember sitting round this table (asking) what are we going to do about Hollingsworth? And now we’ve gone forward a great deal.”

“I agree with Councillor Twinney it’s very important. People will immediately ask what are you going to do there? And I do welcome suggestions from staff. But I would also like to have – even before we have suggestions from staff, quite frankly – if we can have a Council workshop to discuss this. We can speak to our constituents. We can bring forward our ideas as part of the process. Yes. I do want to hear from staff on that.”

“We may also want to go to the public to get some feedback from (them). It is a wonderful location right off Davis Drive. Got a High School. The size is significant enough. There is a lot of opportunities there.”

“So I know, Councillor Twinney, you said a report back from staff within six months… Maybe we could include with that – maybe with a slightly longer time period if you wish – that there should be a Council workshop on that. A bit of brainstorming from Council on what we would like to see for that site in addition to something coming back from the staff based on whatever they feel it should be based on.”

Mayor: “OK”

Tom Vegh: “I think Councillor Twinney asked for a seventh point for a report back within six months and I am agreeing with that. But I would also like to see in that six month period a Council workshop for us as Council to, um, discuss what we’d like to see on (that site). What opportunities (there are). A bit of brainstorming on that as opposed to just getting a report from staff.”

Mayor: “OK… I think we should get the report. There are other things that can happen between now and then. Decision points that everyone is aware of. Why don’t we take it one step at a time? I mean the report could be the trigger for a workshop. Right? Keep in mind we’ve got over a year and a half of this (the arena) functioning and still standing. We’ve got time on our side here (laughs)”

“Let’s take a couple of decision points. We’ve got a decision point coming up soon on another matter related to this area and we’ve got the report that’s being requested to lay out the options. One of those options could be a workshop and we could go to that but we do have a lot of time ahead of us.”

“I think to do that previously (hold a workshop) is going to trigger the ward councillor getting public opinion. If you guys talk about this I (inaudible). So if we just take one step at a time…”

Tom Vegh: “OK. I agree with you that after the report there will have to be some kind of workshop and that’s fine with me now.”

The future of Ontario’s eight regional municipalities and Simcoe County and their lower tiers is under review. The Premier wants our thoughts 

“on governance, decision making and service delivery functions in these regions”.

He says he is consulting the people to get their views. He wants to know how municipal services can be made more efficient while saving money. 

Ford, the proud winner of the "golden scissors" award, wants to cut red tape.

Unfortunately, the public consultation on his review is hopelessly flawed.

Insufficient background material has been provided by the Ford Government to get an informed dialogue going. 

Are amalgamations the answer?

Would amalgamations save money? What are the costs and benefits? What about the opportunity costs of reorganisations? What about the work that won’t get done because people and organisations are focussing on what happens next, to them? 

There are examples of amalgamations in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada. Are there any lessons we can learn from those? We haven’t been told.

There is material on municipal restructuring on the website of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing but it is not tailor-made to inform the current review.

The membership of the Regional Councils is drawn from directly elected Regional Councillors and lower tier Mayors who are passported on to the Region where they pick up a $55,000 “stipend”. What are the pros and cons of this arrangement? Our current Mayor, John Taylor, frequently speaks at the Region in contrast to his silent predecessor, the mute passenger, Tony Van Trappist. Should all members of the Regional Council be directly elected?

Christine Elliott keeps her views to herself

If Regional Councils are to continue to exist in some form should all Regional Chairs be directly elected? In York Region we have an indirectly elected Chair, Wayne Emmerson. In Durham theirs is elected by the voters at large. (The PC Deputy Leader, Christine Elliott, who happens to be my own MPP, steadfastly refuses to tell me if she is in favour of the Durham model. She was the MPP for a Durham riding for many years before parachuting into Newmarket-Aurora.)

People who want to contribute have three ways to make their voice heard. They can fill in an on-line survey or put in a written submission (no more than 500 words please!) or speak directly to the two advisers appointed by Ford to move the policy forward. If you plump for the latter (as I have) you will, if you are selected, have 3-5 minutes to make your point. 

Deadline tomorrow

I shall be going along to the York Region Seminar Room on Monday 6 May 2019 in the hope I am called. People who want to speak to the advisers must act now. The 6 day window to get your request in closes tomorrow, Tuesday 9 April 2019. 

Clearly, the consultation period is way too short. Anything less than three months for a big policy decision is cutting corners. Municipalities may want to consult their residents or the myriad of organisations that have views on how municipalities deliver services. How can they possibly do this on these compressed deadlines?

Most people don’t know Ford is asking for their views about a possible shake up of their local upper and lower tier municipalities. The advertising has been whispered. But the vested interests – the developers and their facilitators – will have been hard at work since the review was first mooted on 15 January 2019. They have teams of people whose full-time day job is to lobby and influence Government to deliver outcomes they want. 

And of course members of the PC Party regularly get a heads up on what the Province is consulting on. Email blasts routinely urge them to participate in consultations with the web-link provided to make it easy. Then Doug asks them for a cash donation. 

Doug Ford's Tin Ear

It seems to me Doug Ford’s “Government for the People” doesn’t listen to the people. He invites their views and then does what he intended to do all along. 

On 23 January 2019 Ford asked for views on class sizes (amongst other things) and 11 weeks later told School Board Directors that the Province planned to phase out 3,475 full time teachers over the next four years.

On 4 April 2019, the Education Minister Lisa Thompson, complained:

“On a day when we reached out to begin good-faith consultations with Ontario's teachers, we instead are seeing Ontario teachers' unions condoning a student walkout at schools across the province.”

Clearly, there is no point consulting people if the Government has already made up its mind. The press told us in February that “newly leaked documents show PC health changes are “a done deal”. The PC Deputy Leader Christine Elliott struggled to convince us it was a genuine consultation.  

They can't stand each other. But they sink or swim together.

Going through the motions 

The Province is currently consulting the public on a host of issues. But it's just going through the motions.

Ford is consulting on how best to moderate wage growth. As the man who froze the minimum wage I think we know where he is coming from. He is allowing a 45 day consultation on the future of conservation authorities. This is absurdly short given the typical municipal meeting cycle.

Modernising real estate laws gets a 43 day consultation.

He trumpets the fact that 2,000 people responded to his consultation on housing and 80% were from the general public. Is 2,000 out of an adult population of 11,529,862 a figure to celebrate? 

When the previous Government consulted on the future of the OMB it produced a 44 page booklet to inform the public. And when the Municipal Act was up for review we had a discussion guide to help us understand the issues.

But where do I go for material on Ford's Regional Review?

Insights and experiences

If Doug Ford believes the public has insights, experiences and views that can make better policy then why make it difficult for people to participate? Why ask for Tweet-size responses? 

We all want good policy making based on evidence that can withstand detailed scrutiny and challenge. 

So why doesn't the Ford Government give us its early thinking in as much detail as possible and then invite us to comment?

I think we know the answer to that one.

He's making it up as he goes along.

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Morad Dadgar’s monster house at 1011 Elgin Street is up for sale at an eye-watering asking price of $3,998,888. 

Dadgar says he is:

“Proud To Offer The Biggest Home In Newmarket, 80' Lot, Incredible Architectural Design, 10,000 + Sqft, Living Area, Finished W/O Bsmnt 11' C/L, 3 Big Dome Skylights, Nice Elevator, 4 Gas Fireplaces, 2 Wet Bars, Crown Molding & Ceiling Speakers Throughout. Grand Foyer, Office, Library, Great Rm, Formal Dining & Living, Open Concept Kitchen, Large Island & Walk-In Pantry, High-End Thermador Appliances.Gorgeous Lighting System, Extremely Bright, 400 Amp Service**** EXTRAS **** Party Rm With Music Stage, Entertaining Area, 3 Entrances To Bsmnt, All Elfs, 6 Burner Gas Stove, 48"" Fridge, Two B/I Dishwashers, Washer, Dryer, B/I Oven, B/I Microwave, Two Bar Fridges, B/I Coffee Maker, Hood Fan With External Motor.”

The ”single family home” has 5+1 bedrooms and an astonishing nine bathrooms.

The annual property taxes are shown as $0. 

I don’t think so.

1011 Elgin Street, dwarfing its Lilliput bungalow neighbours, was cleared as an appropriate development by Town’s ineffective Director of Planning, Rick Nethery, when everyone else with a pair of eyes knew it was grotesquely out of place.  

As construction progressed and the scale of the development became clear, councillors found they were powerless to act. Nethery, their top planning adviser, who warned about inappropriate development in stable residential areas way back in 2012 had done nothing in the intervening years to address the issue.

And the result? Elgin Street with its modest bungalows is now home to the “biggest house in Newmarket” overshadowing its neighbours.

It’s yours for only $4 million.

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The Town is now taking steps to regulate Monster Homes in residential neighbourhoods. And the Director of Planning, Rick Nethery, is in charge of the process.

And this is how Newmarket Today covered the story.

 

Only the cold-hearted and mean-spirited would begrudge the $95,631.11 severance payment to Newmarket’s former Mayor, Tony Van Trappist, who stepped down from office last October.

Over his three terms as Mayor he selflessly consumed countless “business lunches” where the tab was picked up by grateful Townsfolk. He was, after all, conducting important Town business.

The 2018 Statement of Remuneration and Expenses tells us Van Trappist billed taxpayers for business lunches at the Cachet Restaurant, the Goulash House, Joia Ristorante, Bagel World, Hungry Brew Hops, Villa Risi Ristorante, The Buttery Restaurant, Boston Pizza, Ristorante Orsini, Astoria Shish Kebob House, The Crow`s Nest Pub, Pho Fusion, Ground Burger Bar, Arthurs Landing, Lot Six Restaurant & Bar, Brick N Fire Restaurant, Cora Breakfast and Lunch, The Courtyard Restaurant, Sunset Grill, Cardinal Golf Club, Aqua Grill, Reef and Beef Steakhouse amongst others. He liked to spread our largesse around.

Dining on our dollar

Unfortunately, in all those years when he has been dining on our dollar we have never been told the purpose of these business lunches nor the names of his lunch companions. I am told there are “privacy issues” about disclosing this information.

Personally, I think that’s a load of old cobblers. If the quaint Van Trappist tradition of billing the Town is to continue then the purpose of the lunch should be given as a matter of course together with the names of the other diners. “Business lunches” are our business too, especially when we are paying.

As an old banker, Van Trappist will be aware of business lunch etiquette as promulgated by the charge card people, American Express

Spaghetti can be tricky

Dress appropriately and arrive early. Go before you go. Put your phone away (difficult for Van Trappist) and order something easy to eat. (“A big splotch of spaghetti sauce on your lapel isn’t easy to overlook.”)

You have only one chance to make a good first impression. Remember, elbows off the table and cut up your food. And don’t talk with your mouth open!

Instead of commemorating the Van Trappist years by naming a street after the great man (very boring) why not think outside the box? 

Perhaps a bronze statue of Van Trappist, furrowed brow and deep in conversation, seated at a restaurant table, transacting Town business. A marble plinth and a location in the old downtown would be appropriate.

Van Trappist has of course always been economical with the actualité. Over his years in office he regularly danced round the issue of his total remuneration. His $10,000 a year from the Hydro company was always conveniently forgotten about until I forced the issue a few years ago and it is now reported as a matter of course. 

Sunshine List fairy tales

And last week’s Sunshine List put him on a salary of $111,387.93 with $7,024.99 in taxable benefits. This excludes his Hydro cash and the “stiped” he got from York Region – both remunerated positions linked directly to his position as Mayor. A fact picked up and publicised by Newmarket Today. Good on them.

To be clear, I have absolutely no problem with people in the public sector being fairly remunerated for the important work they do. And, whether you love them or loathe them, we can’t do without politicians either. They too should be treated fairly.

But the Sunshine List - in its current fraudulent and misleading form - is well past its sell-by date. 

A bit like free “business lunches”.

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Photo above shows Tony Van Trappist (left) with developer-duo Bob and Colleen Forrest

Van Trappist's pay and benefits in 2017 were closer to $200,000 and not the $212,000 reported in my blog of March 2018. I have discounted the expenses he claimed from the Region and Town.