- Written by Gordon Prentice
Markham's Mayor, the bald baritone, Frank Scarpitti, surprised many last week when he was the sole vote against a proposal to develop a feasibility study which could result in a vacant homes tax for York Region.
Scarpitti, one of the highest paid Mayors in Canada, tells his colleagues on York Region’s Committee of the Whole that a Vacant Property Tax would infringe property rights and could be the thin end of the wedge.
“I mean what is next? If someone owns a cottage in York region and it is sitting empty half the year are we going to start taxing that because it could be used during the winter months to potentially house someone?”
“If someone's an empty nester, a single widow in a single family home, are we going to start saying that's way too much space for someone and they should be taxed because they're not fully (occupying it)?”
His colleagues guffaw when he says this.
He tells them not to laugh.
A Tax to Support Affordable Housing
The staff report recommends that revenues from a Vacant Homes Tax, net of costs, should be earmarked to support affordable housing initiatives. Sounds OK to me.
The report estimates that a 1% - 2% Region-wide Tax could generate between $15M - $90M in gross revenues in the first year although the tax take would be expected to decline in future years as owners sell or rent out their properties rather than keep them empty.
York Region is crying out for more affordable housing.
The Region’s 2020 housing affordability analysis says only 8% of new housing is affordable. The report tells us:
“Housing costs should not exceed 30% of gross income to be affordable. York Region has the highest proportion of households in the GTHA spending over 30% and over 50% of their income on housing costs. One of the key factors impacting housing affordability is that increases to housing prices have far outpaced increases to average incomes. Since 2007 average resale home prices in York Region have increased by over 150% whereas average family income has increased by less than 20%.”
Newmarket is a hotspot
We know that Newmarket is one of the country’s housing hotspots. In 2016 a report in Macleans magazine told us a staggering 20.6% of home sales in Newmarket were purchased as investment properties. It’s old data but I’m pretty sure things haven’t changed that much. Investors from China and from all over the world see Canada as a safe berth for their money. Canada is a stable democracy governed by the rule of law. Why not use property as a store of wealth even if it is kept empty? Frank thinks that's OK.
The one saving grace in Frank’s absurd little speech is his call for development approvals to lapse if they are not acted on:
“I think development approvals should only last for so long. If someone's gonna sit on a draft plan and not build anything for 10 years unless there's some really extraordinary circumstances, they should maybe lose their right, or at least defer their right to build, and let someone else go ahead.”
Development approvals must be acted upon
Why hasn’t he pushed for this before now? He is influential. He hogs the limelight. He has something to say about everything. He is a big beast in the municipal jungle. What is he going to do about it? I’ve been pressing for this for years, with Newmarket examples, but no politician has picked up the ball and run with it.
My advice to Frank is simple enough. Drop your opposition to the Vacant Homes Tax and make the lapsing of development approvals your top priority.
If you do this you may begin to justify your wildly inflated and extravagant salary.
Update on 18 October 2021: In my comments on development approvals I unfairly lumped all politicians together when I wrote that "no politician has picked up the ball and run with it". John Taylor reminds me that he had York Region's 2016 submission to the OMB Review include the concept of a sunset clause for planning approvals. On 5 July 2017 he suggested I follow up with Chris Ballard who was, at that time, MPP for Newmarket-Aurora. He says:
"I may not have run with it as fully as you would have hoped but I did ‘pick it up’ at the very least."
Update on 19 October 2021: from Newmarket Today: York Region taking a closer look at tax on vacant properties.
Below: Frank Scarpitti is the only vote against studying the phenomenon of vacant homes and how they might be taxed.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
The murder earlier today of UK Conservative MP, Sir David Amess, at his constituency surgery is truly shocking news.
I am still trying to come to terms with what happened.
The MP, who had been in Parliament since 1983, was stabbed repeatedly in front of others by a 25 year old man who is now in police custody.
I knew David Amess and I liked him. And although we were at opposite ends of the political spectrum our paths occasionally crossed. He was one of the few Conservative MPs who campaigned to ban foxhunting with dogs – something I too supported. He was well known for his work on animal welfare issues.
Violence against MPs
Britain is a very safe country. But it is a sobering thought that in my life I have only known three people who have been violently attacked by someone with a weapon. And all three were MPs.
In 2010, Labour MP Stephen Timms was stabbed in the stomach at his constituency surgery and survived.
In 2000, my good friend Nigel Jones was attacked by a sword wielding constituent at his surgery in Cheltenham. His assistant, Andrew Pennington, who tried to protect the MP was killed. Nigel had wounds to his hands as he fought the man off.
In 2016, Jo Cox – whom I didn’t know - was on her way to her surgery in her north of England Batley and Spen constituency when she was shot and stabbed, dying from her injuries.
Here in Canada, as in the UK, we live in an open democracy where people can meet their MPs face to face and raise concerns about any issue under the sun. This is as it should be. We don't want MPs to live and work, barricaded from the public, in fortresses.
I remember David Amess as outgoing and sociable and always with a ready smile. He treated political adversaries as opponents who hadn’t quite seen the light, not as sworn enemies.
For him to be murdered in this brutal way is beyond comprehension.
It is a truly terrible thing.
Update on Sunday 17 October 2021: from the Observer: UK Home Secretary considers police protection for MPs
Update on 24 October 2021: From the UK's Observer: Our Democracy will be Impoverished if MPs are too Scared to do their Jobs
Below: David Amess speaking in the UK Parliament last year
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Background: Events put on and promoted by Richmond Hill councillors have to follow guidelines set by the City Council. These state quite explicitly that the cost of the events must not fall on taxpayers. The guidelines require councillors to pay for these events through sponsorship or in other ways which do not require public money.
A report from the City Manager tells councillors that Regional Councillor Perrelli ran an “Enviro Day Event” over four days in June which
“included free distribution of recycling and compost bins, and incurred a cost of $139,623.30 despite only collecting $55,709.00 in sponsorship funds (inclusive of $6,508.95 carried forward from 2020). In addition, this event incurred over $17,800 of equivalent staff time for helping to conduct the events.”
"No tax dollars will be spent for this event"
Perrelli, full of his characteristic bluster, insists he doesn’t owe the City a cent.
Deputations before Council today showed emails from Perrelli to Richmond Hill residents boasting that his event would not cost taxpayers anything.
But the City Manager says the event falls squarely within the Council Events Guidelines and Perrelli must cover the costs.
In a 6-2 vote his colleagues side with the City Manager, passing a resolution which
“requires Regional Councillor Perrelli to provide full reimbursement to the City for the Enviro Day event such that no taxpayers dollars will be used to cover the amount owing of $139,623-30.”
Perrelli is a car crash in slow motion.
Ordinarily I would feel sorry for someone in his predicament.
But since he brought this calamity on himself, bad mouths the staff, treats his Council colleagues as fools and continues to argue that black is white, I don’t.
The resolution reads:
Whereas Councillor events have always been subject to guidelines and required to be funded entirely by Councillors through sponsorship or other external means;
Whereas there is an outstanding total balance of $139,623-30 resulting from Regional Councillor Perrelli’s Enviro Day event;
Whereas if this outstanding payment is not reimbursed to the City by Regional Councillor Perrelli the net impact of this on the City operating budget will be $83,914-35 (if the revenue of $55,709-00 is applied to the Councillor’s Enviro Day event) from taxpayer dollars if reimbursement does not occur from Regional Councillor Perrelli;
Therefore be it resolved that Council requires Regional Councillor Perrelli to provide full reimbursement to the City for the Enviro Day event such that no taxpayer dollars will be used to cover the amount owing of $139,623-30
Moved by Councillor West
Seconded by Acting Mayor DiPaola
For: Councillor David West; Acting Mayor Joe DiPaola; Councilllor Godwin Chan; Councillor Karen Cilevitz; Councillor Tom Muench; Councillor Castro Lui
Against: Regional Councillor Carmine Perrelli; Councillor Greg Beros
Update on 15 October 2021: from the Toronto Star: Council orders Perrelli to repay $140,000
Update on 16 October 2021: From the Toronto Star: Bin Exchange proves costly in Richmond Hill
Update on 20 October 2021: Perrelli formally registers his candidacy for Mayor with the City of Richmond Hill.
Below: from a deputant's presentation to Council
- Written by Gordon Prentice
The Ford Government is putting the brakes on a major Wastewater Treatment Facility in East Gwillimbury fearing the plan to put 40 million litres per day of treated effluent into Lake Simcoe could lose them votes in next June’s Provincial Election.
Of course they would never admit to that.
The official reason – the one we are expected to swallow – is that they need more time to
“gather up-to-date information on environmental, social and financial implications of any waste water solution for the region.”
Members of York Regional Council are likely to be spitting feathers. They and their staff have been working on future waste water requirements for more than two decades. And its flagship project - the so-called North York Sewage Solutions – is ready to roll.
York Region Wastewater Act
But more delay is now inevitable. Last week at Queen’s Park the Ford Government introduced Bill 5, the York Region Wastewater Act, a resurrected version of an earlier Bill which died on the Order paper when the Provincial Parliament was prorogued in early September. Ford did not want to risk any adverse headlines during the Federal election campaign so MPPs were sent home where they couldn’t cause any trouble.
Bill 5 is currently having its second reading on the principles and is yet to go into Committee for line-by-line scrutiny.
Of course, people when asked raise legitimate questions. What about the phorphorus load in Lake Simcoe? Is it rising or falling? And the salt run-off? What about pharmacueticals flushed down the toilet? And birth control pills? And what about the fish? Lake Simcoe is very shallow. Wouldn't it be better and safer to pipe the sewage to Pickering and into Lake Ontario? It is so much deeper. But that would mean running a pipe through the protected Oak Ridges Moraine. These questions and all the others need answers. And I am sure York Region will be able to supply them. They have been in training for this for a decade and more.
Enter David Puccini....
Expert Panel required
The newly appointed Environment Minister, David Puccini (photo right), not yet four months into the job, wants to appoint an “expert panel” to advise the Government
“on the best and latest science, the latest data and the projected needs of a growing community”.
He says the Government is
“driven by a commitment to sound and evidence-based decision-making”.
And, admittedly with some justification, he blames the previous Liberal Government for failing to make a decision on the project, constantly kicking the can down the road.
“…the data behind it was left to go stale by the previous Wynne-Del Duca government. They had the application, sat on it so long, and made that change (to the terms of reference ) in 2010 with very little to no consultation. It’s been stale for a decade.”
Wynne-Del Duca Liberals refused to make decisions
This theme is taken up by other Progressive Conservatives. The MPP for Barrie–Innisfil and Puccini’s Parliamentary Assistant, Andrea Khanjin, echoes her Master’s Voice. In a truly terrible stream-of-consciousness speech that was way too long and rambling she finds her target:
“We know the Wynne-Del Duca Liberals refused to make decisions. So this is something that we inherited… To no surprise, their decision-making was based on political maps of this province rather than… the science and the importance of the fabric of our communities…”
MPPs are told that the membership of the advisory panel is expected to be finalized by the end of 2021, with a report going to the minister by September 2022. We have no idea who is going to be on the panel. Nor do we have its terms of reference.
Progressive Conservative sing-a-long
Progressive Conservative MPPs are all singing from the same song sheet.
Jim McDonnell, the Parliamentary Assistant to the Housing Minister, Steve Clark, says the Bill
“will enable the regional municipality of York to establish the right evidence-based solution to meet its waste water servicing needs”
What about the Bradford Bypass?
We are told data underpinning the previous Environmental Assessment, finalised in 2014, is now too old. So they need another one. McDonnell says:
“Ontario’s environmental assessment program is an important process that ensures impacts to the environment are considered before building infrastructure or other projects in our communities.”
The same Ministers say a new Environmental Assessment is not required for the Bradford Bypass even though that one was completed light years ago, in 1997.
Note: Robin Martin - the Parliamentary Assistant to Health Minister Christine Elliott – tells us:
The expert panel will consist of experts in land use planning and waste water infrastructure and would consult with stakeholders and engage with potentially impacted First Nations. It would provide advice on:
—additional sewage capacity needed to accommodate forecasted population and development in the upper York region waste water area;
—all options for providing additional sewage capacity necessary to accommodate future populations and development in both York and Durham;
—the costs of developing and implementing Upper York Sewage Solutions options and any alternatives; and
—sustainability and efficiency of all options, including consideration of the use and optimization of existing waste water services and protection of human health.
That seems like a lot of work to me.
Click "read more" for Minister of the Environment's speech
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Background: Carmine Perrelli is a York Regional Councillor representing the City of Richmond Hill.
On 15 April 2021 the Regional Council considered a complaint against Perrelli brought by one of his constituents, Jason Cherniak, a Richmond Hill lawyer.
Cherniak said Perrelli had blocked him on Twitter, preventing him from commenting on the covid pandemic.
York Region’s Integrity Commissioner, Jeffrey Abrams, upheld the complaint and recommended the Region revise and update its Code of Conduct to include matters which are not currently covered such as blocking on social media.
After a lively debate councillors directed staff
“to consider a social media policy for Members, starting with a Council Education Session on the matter in the fall of 2021”
No Education Session
The staff report, described as an “initial analysis”, focusses on current practice elsewhere. It goes up the Committee of the Whole next Thursday (14 October 2021). Crucially, it makes no recommendations about the proposed Council Education Session and when it might be held nor the form it might take. It is left up in the air.
The report acknowledges that the Council’s Code of Conduct is silent on the
“operational management of social media accounts, particularly when it comes to blocking."
and notes that
…the Region’s Integrity Commissioner has indicated that arbitrary blocking is a breach of the Code of Conduct and recommended that Council develop specific provisions around social media activity.
The report concludes:
Should Council wish to pursue the Integrity Commissioner’s recommendations, Council will need to consider how it wishes to manage blocking. Options could include a warning system prior to blocking, the circumstances under which people can be blocked and whether blocking will be temporary or permanent.”
Staff recommend the report be “received”. If this happens, the issue is effectively dropped. There will be no consideration or revision of the Council’s Code of Conduct as recommended by the Integrity Commissioner. And Regional Councillor Perrelli will be free to continue blocking Jason Cherniak and others.
That said, Perrelli is not tweeting so much these days.
What is to be done?
The belligerent and quick-tempered Carmine Perrelli is a law unto himself. He writes his own rules and, if others object, he shouts them down.
For years, York Regional Council dragged its feet in adopting a Code of Conduct and only did so in 2019, years after most other councils.
Prominent members and former members including Newmarket-Aurora’s newly re-elected Liberal MP, Tony Van Bynen, actively resisted adopting a Code of Conduct on the grounds that the lower teir municipalities already had them. They chose to believe, mistakenly, that a Regional Council Code of Conduct was unnecessary.
If the Regional Council “receives” the staff report next Thursday without proposing further action it will be knowingly kicking a contentious issue into the long grass.
That would be letting Jason Cherniak down. And it would be sidelining the recommendations of its own Integrity Commissioner.
All for an easy life.
At the conclusion of the debate on 15 April 2021 when calling the vote, the Regional Chair, Wayne Emmerson, said:
“All we are doing with this is to approve and receive the report from the Integrity Commissioner, Mr Abrams.
All those in favour? Against? Being none.”
The Minutes record that
“That Council receive the report from Jeffrey A. Abrams and Janice Atwood-Petkovski, Co-Principals, Principles Integrity, dated March 30, 2021.” Carried
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