- Written by Gordon Prentice
It is Wednesday 8 May 2019 and I take myself down to Brampton for the big debate on whether Mississauga should leave Peel Region. In Ford’s Regional Review this is one of the hottest of the hot potatoes and I want to see how Michael Fenn and Ken Seiling - the two “independent advisers” - deal with the issues.
The questions Fenn and Seiling put to those presenting, both for and against, give us an insight into the advisers’ thinking. They are struggling with the agenda Ford gave them, just like the rest of us.
I arrive at 10am just as the show is getting on the road.
First up is Rehal Mehta who is a star turn. (Photo right. At the microphone) Young, bright and articulate. A man who doesn’t take prisoners. He is against the secession of Mississauga from Peel Region and slams the absence of information. He is asking questions but cannot get the answers. People have not been given the costs and benefits of all the options. What would a breakaway stand-alone City of Mississauga mean for the rest of Peel Region? What about the other permutations? The implications have not been examined. There has only been one Town Hall in Mississauga on secession.
He condemns the process as flawed. The meeting is during the day, excluding working people. Where are the young people? What about the demographics of this? Where are the people of colour? I look around and the overwhelming majority of those in the Regional Chamber are white.
Next up is Ian Sinclair from Caledon who wants the status quo. But if push comes to shove Caledon should join Dufferin.
Now we are hearing from David Wojcik, the President of the Mississauga Board of Trade. Predictably he complains of too much red tape. He wants efficient, effective and streamlined municipal government, a single tier Mississauga. It upsets him that the City “subsidises” Brampton and Caledon to the tune of $85M annually.
Ken Seiling perceptively asks if he is saying that no municipality should pay out more than it gets back. Wojcik side steps and says it is more about the weight that should be given to population size. The complaint is that Caledon has a bigger say than its population would warrant. Seiling wonders who would get the $40M from Pearson airport (I learn it doesn’t all go into Federal coffers).
Now we are hearing from a Bay Street finance person (and unsuccessful council candidate) Joe Horneck who argues the case for an independent Mississauga. It would save money.
“Our hearts are in alignment with our calculators.”
He claims there is a $342 per house subsidy from Mississauga to the Region of Peel. The problem, he says, is the very lop-sided composition of the Region with Mississauga - the 3rdbiggest city in Ontario and the 6thbiggest in Canada – having to dance to the tune of little old Caledon.
Getting the right answers
He worries loftily about public input and getting the “right answers” from people. He fears
“a majority of the population could be led into an unwise decision.”
He means, presumably, they might be content with the status quo. Separation, he says, is a reasonable avenue to take. But he wants to share services such as police, waste and wastewater.
Seiling observes that it is not just about what each component municipality pays in but what they get out of it. For example, some may pay 31% of the total cost but get 37% of the services. Seiling wants to know if the creation of special purpose bodies to handle shared services may erode accountability.
Fenn asks what would happen to Caledon if Mississauga and Brampton went their own ways. Horneck concedes it “would have to find a home”.
Now we have a stream of people who complain about the review’s modalities. The Province has not given enough information or time to examine all the issues.
Fenn is thinking aloud. Surely we should be thinking about what we are going to be facing in the next decade or two.
“What a regional perspective should look like given the challenges we are facing?”
Now the Lakeview Ratepayer Association of Mississauga gives a long list of questions its members have been asking – without getting answers. How would independence work? Is Mississauga in a position to go it alone? They too complain about the short time to do the review and the absence of information. They look forward to the independent report commissioned by the Region of Peel from Ernst & Young. But it will be delivered after 21 May – the advisers’ deadline for submissions.
Next up is a polymath who appears to know a lot about a lot of things. He wants improved delivery with lower costs. The answer, he says, is shared facilities straddling municipal boundaries. Seiling, who used to serve on a hydro board, again asks about political accountability if services are shunted into special service boards.
“Once these boards are created they take on a life of their own.”
Now we hear a terrific fiery contribution from physician, Dr Kulvinder Gill who practises in Brampton. She indignantly dismisses the process which allows Bonnie Crombie to claim to speak for Mississauga where there has been no referendum and no electoral mandate for secession. She says it is appalling that Bonnie Crombie had a “pre-set” position on secession. There are no details of how the unilateral plan to secede from Peel would impact on residents. She calls for an independent costed analysis of all the options.
Now we are on to more residents’ associations who echo the Crombie line. Andrew Gassmann, a financial analyst by trade and a council candidate in last year’s election in Mississauga. He tells us he was the runner-up as if this may give more weight to his views. Vital issues concerning Mississauga should not be decided by Brampton and Caledon members. He believes Mississauga should not be “subsidising” other municipalities. Seiling skewers Gassmann by asking him to give examples of things Mississauga wants to do but is prevented from doing by the Brampton and Caledon contingents. Gassmann struggles to come up with concrete examples.
Now Fenn is telling us that a lot of people who have been in touch concentrate on representation issues. He says it may be more productive to look at service delivery improvements and cost reductions. Perhaps. But the consultation’s format with arguments to be delivered in bite sized 3-5 minute pieces militates against this.
Dorothy Tomiuk from the Port Credit District Residents Association throws the timer out of the window. She has plainly thought long and hard about the Regional Review and is gonna take as long as she wants to get her points across. She concludes that Mississauga should not have affirmed support for separation.
A costly divorce
Sue Shanley from Mississauga’s Clarkeson Village residents hits out at the review’s methodology and the lack of information, making it impossible to take a thoughtful, educated decision. She tells us you cannot change something unless you know what is and what is not working. She fears the consequences of a divorce:
“how will the assets and liabilities be divided up?”
She says most people seem to be satisfied with the status quo. She cites the 2015 Fraser Institute report on Municipal Amalgamation in Ontario as evidence that these amalgamations can promise more than they deliver.
She describes the review process as
“very short and very chaotic.”
Now a presentation from CUPE 966 on the work members do for those who are amongst the most vulnerable in society. He does not want either to be casualties of the regional review.
Fenn wants to know how the delivery of services could or should change in the years ahead with new challenges, changing demographics and new technology. CUPE is silent on that.
And that’s it. I don’t know what the special advisers will take away from the three and a half hour session. Peel is the area where the debate on municipal reconfiguration is supposedly raging with greatest intensity.
Those presenting were, by definition, self-selecting with their own world view. Few claimed to be talking for anyone but themselves.
But they all – to a greater or lesser extent – acknowledged that more information was needed to make sense of the regional review and where it was headed.
As we close Michael Fenn announces they’ve had 6,000 submissions so far. Should we be impressed?
Until we see those submissions and evaluate them, I don’t think so.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
This afternoon I wander down to the York Region Administrative HQ where I have been given the opportunity to address the two special advisers, Ken Seiling and Michael Fenn, who were appointed in January to review regional government in Ontario and to come up with recommendations. (Photo: the advisers in the centre of the hemicycle waiting for the kick-off.)
Astonishingly, there are only five of us down to speak. There’s CUPE, the Ontario Library Association, a delegation from the Unionville Residents’ Association in Markham, the Director of Markham Museums and me, a member of the public.
We are seeing consultation by stealth. No full page ads in the press. No email blasts. And only a few days to get your request in to speak. You blink an eyelid and you’ve missed it. Hmmm. Too bad!
In an email beforehand from the advisers’ back-up team I am told I have been given 3 – 5 minutes to make my case.
“When preparing your remarks to the advisers, please keep in mind that the advisers want to hear your views on the way your elected municipal representatives make their decisions and represent your community. The advisers also want your thoughts and observations on the efficiency, effectiveness and cost of the various municipal services that your municipalities provide. In particular, the advisors are looking for your feedback on regional governance; decision-making and service delivery.”
That’s a lot of ground to cover in three minutes.
As the CUPE person is standing at the lectern Michael Fenn says that because there are so few of us we now have ten minutes.
I decide to concentrate my fire on three targets.
First, there has been next to no background information provided by the Province. I tell the advisers I have no sense of where they are coming from. Will the review recommend amalgamations?
The review asks if two tier structures are appropriate for all municipalities. But we have zero information on the costs of moving to a single tier. These are likely to be very substantial. I rely on reports from Mississauga (which wishes to secede from the Region of Peel):
“Studies done by various researchers and academics have concluded that amalgamations in Ontario and in other provinces have resulted in cost increases, not cost savings or service efficiencies.”
We have no evidence on the costs of previous amalgamations and their impact on service delivery.
Local means local
Second. I believe local government should be as local as possible. And I take it as axiomatic that citizen involvement is a good thing. So getting rid of the lower tier and uploading everything to the regional level wouldn’t be desirable. And it wouldn’t work. York is not a city region. It covers a huge area. I mention efficiencies arising from co-operation between the lower tier authorities.
Third. I move swiftly on to governance issues. Three years ago I gave evidence to the Bill Committee at Queen’s Park and argued for the direct election of the York Regional Chair. I was disappointed the Ford Government cancelled the 2018 election at the same time it was cutting Toronto City Council by half. I remind the advisers the then PC Opposition voted with the Liberal Government to have York Regional Chair elected by the voters at large.
York has a population bigger than PEI, Newfoundland, Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan – and is closing on Manitoba. Yet the Chair is indirectly elected by 20 people.
The invisible man
I tell the advisers I would be surprised if one in 1,000 people could name the regional chair, Wayne Emmerson. He is totally invisible to the general public.
Now I am well into my stride. I am on top of my soapbox talking about the importance of elections. They are about competing visions of the future and about deciding priorities. In the absence of elections these debates happen but in a muted way inside this hermetically sealed Chamber. Now I am galloping along.
There is no citizen involvement to speak of. And the method of election to York Region is also part of the problem. The system used is “Double Direct” and it doesn’t work. The review team has given the public no explanation of what it is and possible alternatives. (There is one election for double direct with Mayors and Regional Councillors sitting on two bodies – the lower tier municipality and the Region.)
Academics say that with double direct the upper tier is less accountable to the community and there are conflicts of interest with members trying simultaneously to represent the views and policy positions of the upper and lower tiers which may be different. I agree with that.
Mayors not pulling their weight
I tell the advisers I have spent years observing members of York Regional Council and many of them make next to no contribution at all. Mayors are passported on to the Region, picking up their $55,000 “stipend”. Some are disinclined to make any effort at all, focussing solely on their own patch. And regional report-backs to the lower tier can be very perfunctory.
Maybe that will change now that we have live streaming from the Regional Council Chamber, a recent innovation.
The solution is to take the Mayors out of the regional tier and have Regional Councillors focussed exclusively on regional priorities.
The advisers want to know how big my regional council will be. Answer: as big or as small as you want it to be.
I have 1:45 seconds left and decide to get something off my chest that has been bugging me for years. In Newmarket planning approvals for major developments were given to landowners ten and even twenty years ago but nothing has been built. We see a patch of dirt where the condo should be. We need sunset clauses to revoke planning approvals if they are not acted upon after, say, five years. I concede this is off-point but it chimes perfectly with the Ford Government’s announcement last week to get more housing built in shorter timeframes.
And that’s it. Time’s up. My suggestions will no doubt be filed away and be forgotten while Ford redraws the municipal map.
Members of the public have until May 21, to submit their views. 500 words of less, please!
Recommendations from the advisory body will focus on the following questions:
Questions on municipal governance and decision-making;
- Is the decision-making (mechanisms and priorities) of upper- and lower-tier municipalities efficiently aligned?
- Does the existing model support the capacity of the municipalities to make decisions efficiently?
- Are two-tier structures appropriate for all of these municipalities?
- Does the distribution of councillors represent the residents well?
- Do the ways that regional councillors/heads of council get elected/appointed to serve on regional council help to align lower- and upper-tier priorities?
Questions on municipal service delivery;
- Is there opportunity for more efficient allocation of various service responsibilities?
- Is there duplication of activities?
- Are there opportunities for cost savings?
- Are there barriers to making effective and responsive infrastructure and service delivery decisions?
Update on 14 May 2019: And this is how Newmarket Today covered the story.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
The Superior Court in Newmarket has ordered Aurora businessman and PC activist Anthony Pullano to pay a whopping $174,400 in costs to Magna’s Steve Hinder on top of the $50,000 awarded by the jury last December in general damages for defamation.
Brock Weir quotes the trial judge in his recent piece in the Auroran.
I sat through the trial and I found the judge to be, at times, impatient and irascible. He was often exasperated – and let it show.
Pullano his own worst enemy
And not without some cause. Anthony Pullano was his own worst enemy. He couldn’t answer a straight question. He was meandering and long-winded and very often off-point. But he had a story to tell and the jury delivered its verdict on the facts after being instructed on the law by Mr Justice McCarthy.
I am not a lawyer or a pretend lawyer. I am Joe Public. But the judge’s reasoning raises a few red flags for me. (Photo: Hinder of the left, Pullano on the right)
The judge said:
“The plaintiff was entirely unsuccessful at trial. The finding by the jury that he had been punched by Hinder, in all circumstances, cannot be viewed as constituting any measurable level of success. The jury dismissed the notion that Pullano sustained any physical, emotional or psychological injury. The jury rejected the suggestion that the punch had caused the infection of his [cardiac] implantation site. There was no basis for an award of general damages. I have found that an award of nominal charges is unwarranted.”
But Mr Justice McCarthy chose not to instruct the jury on the law of battery despite being asked to do so by Pullano’s sterling lawyer, William Reid. In fact, the judge sought and received the consent of counsel from both sides to abandon the charge of assault and substitute battery. In law, these have different meanings. The jury was left in the dark about the elements of the tort of battery. At the time I thought this was a big deal. I was asking myself how I would approach the issue had I been on the jury. The judge also misdirected the jury on the law on damages.
The judge goes on:
“The jury found no conduct on the part of Hinder deserving of aggravated or punitive damages. Conversely, the jury found multiple instances of defamation of Hinder by Pullano; implicit in its verdict is that it accepted Hinder’s evidence that he had suffered emotional upset and embarrassment as a result of Pullano’s defamatory comments being disseminated via social media to the broader community.”
The damning evidence of Fred Rankel
I heard things at the trial that the jury did not. If there was legal argument about the admissibility of evidence the jury was asked to leave but members of the public were allowed to stay and hear the exchanges.
The judge excluded important evidence from Fred Rankel, a successful Auroran businessman of many years standing who knew Hinder and Pullano but was beholden to neither. He told the Court under oath how Hinder described the former Mayor of Aurora, Phyllis Morris, in an uncouth and deeply offensive manner.
The judge stopped Reid’s line of questioning in its tracks and asked Fred Rankel and the jury to leave the Court while this was dealt with.
Reid said Hinder’s counter-claim for defamation meant his (Hinder’s) previous statements about people should be put before the jury to give them a rounded picture of the type of man that Steve Hinder is.
Reid told the Judge that on 10 June 2014 Hinder said to the former Mayor of Aurora, Tim Jones, in the presence of Mr Rankel:
“If these WOPs get elected we will have to roll up our tents and leave town.”
Pullano’s lawyer told the judge these and other similar statements by Hinder were crucial to the defence and to rebutting the counter-claim on defamation. The judge disagreed and ruled such statements would be severely prejudicial to Hinder and he would not allow them to be put before the jury.
We are told Anthony Pullano has until 15 May to decide on an appeal. I do not envy William Reid who must advise his client on whether or not to go down that perilous road.
Pullano has already been taken to the cleaners financially and the thought of him forking out even more money for what may be a lost cause makes me shudder.
You can read Mr Justice McCarthy’s decision on costs here.
Update on 10 May 2019: Anthony Pullano has confirmed his lawyer has filed a Notice of Appeal
- Written by Gordon Prentice
The constituency office of Newmarket-Aurora’s MPP, Christine Elliott, was today picketed by a good-natured rainbow coalition of protesters, all concerned about Doug Ford’s latest cuts.
The group says they are independent and not party political.
I see familiar smiley faces. Not one of them looks threatening.
Jackie Playter is in the thick of it, holding a placard aloft which shouts:
“Keep our Healthcare Public. Cuts Kill.”
Jackie, Newmarket's Honorary Citizen of 2017 and the Town's champion hugger, vows to be back outside Elliott’s office next Wednesday from 12 noon to 1pm doing the same thing.
Elliott’s staff lock the front door, keeping the protesters at bay, while insisting:
“There are no cuts.”
Elliott is, of course, Minister of Health besides being Ford's Deputy Leader - even though she can't stand him.
“The province plans to restrict growth in health care spending to 1.8 per cent over the next five years. This will be a remarkable feat if achieved, as the province has seen health care spending grow at an average annual rate of 3.7 per cent over the last decade.”
This means reining back health spending significantly while Elliott and Ford place their faith in “efficiencies”.
The Toronto Star’s Robert Benzie tells us:
“Queen’s Park is slashing its share of public health funding with municipalities from 75 per cent to 50 per cent, and eliminating thousands of teachers’ positions across the province.”
Ford likes cutting programs by half
The Ontario library service is losing half of their provincial funding, axing inter-library loans which will be a hammer blow to more isolated communities.
But, funnily enough, there always seems to be enough money to pay inflated salaries to Ford’s cronies who land plum patronage jobs in and around government.
Here is the Toronto Star's list of winners and losers in Ford's first budget.
If you need an alcoholic drink at 9am then Doug Ford is your man.
Background: Elliott was parachuted into the riding after Charity McGrath was blocked by Ford from standing as PC candidate for election irregularities. Elliott hates Ford but conceals her animus towards him as the price of remaining PC Deputy Leader and Minister of Health. Elliott chooses not live in the riding.
Update on 9 May 2019: This is how Newmarket Today covered the story as it developed.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Yesterday (Monday 29 April) I wander down to the Council Chambers to hear Regional Councillor and Deputy Mayor Tom Vegh tells us how he going to deliver on his election promise of a new library and seniors’ centre at Hollingsworth Arena.
“… the Briarwood Development Group has expressed an interest in purchasing the arena property to facilitate the comprehensive re-development of the subject properties.”
The Town is in the curious position of being a putative partner with Briarwood but as the planning authority it must maintain the pretence of being at arms-length.
Now councillors are asked to give a “preliminary opinion” on whether the Briarwood proposal fits with the planning vision for the area which the planners have been working on for years since the Sandro Sementilli fiasco. They say this “preliminary opinion” is needed because the Town owns a big chunk of land at Hollingsworth Arena:
“This preliminary opinion and accompanying information will assist Council in making an informed decision regarding this potential sale.”
Poor old Tom. He is being hung out to dry.
We are told the preliminary opinion should not be taken as approval for any planning application that may subsequently be submitted by Briarwood. Perish the thought! No. No. No. The Town will be giving Briarwood a nod and a wink but that’s as far as it goes. All the proper planning processes will be followed in the usual way.
Now we are on to the Hollingsworth agenda item and the Mayor, John Taylor, looks around and invites colleagues to have their say:
“Any comments or thoughts to share with Council?”
Timid Tom looks vacantly at the screen in front of him while Victor Woodhouse dives in:
“So in accepting this report there is a fair amount of information here including a couple of options, one with regards to the Hollingsworth property itself. Actually both of the options involve the sale of (land). A very small portion of the land (in the first option) and the second option involves the sale of the lands entirely. And you are bringing this forward to Council? We don’t have all the information. Are we just to receive the report at this point?”
The Mayor, John Taylor, tells Victor:
“…I always try to provide some context for people who are in attendance who wonder what we are talking about. The other thing to keep in mind is a companion report to this in our in-camera agenda that will talk to the financial or contractual nature if we were to sell any portion or all of the Hollingsworth property (and) what would that look like.”
“These planning negotiations are always done in confidence to make sure we protect the best interests of the taxpayer and residents in terms of what we would get or what we would pay for a land transfer. That will all though be shared in due course whatever the decision is (and) if there is a contract to move forward.”
“I mention that because Council is not privy yet at this point to this information. This will be the first glance coming up in the in-camera session. I think what Councillor Woodhouse is alluding to is (that) it is a little hard to move forward without all the information.”
Now the ward councillor, Jane Twinney, pitches in:
“I want to speak (about) the in-camera position. This is the first time (we) are taking a look at this decision. It is important for us and for the community and I think we need to get some more information before we can even consider what options if any and where we are going to go. But we need to look at the financial part of it because it is hard to make a decision when you don’t know what you are talking about dollar-wise.”
“I want to make sure that the residents understand that the reason for going in camera. It is the fact that if you are selling your home… you are not going to discuss that (the asking price) in front of the buyer… but I do want to ensure that we are going to be disclosing all that information in public session. That’s important to the residents… I am going to be asking that any decision be deferred to the next Committee of the Whole but I do think that we need first to get this information today and start (thinking) about it… It is important we land in the right place.”
Slithering and silent
At this point Tom slithers under the table. Staying out of sight. Taylor continues:
“I just want to clarify… in term of the in-camera information being shared with the public etc. I just wanna make sure we don’t create expectations. Ultimately that’s Council’s decision but I assume that if we were to decide to sell a portion or all of the land (the information) would eventually be shared through our processes here. However, if we were not to do so that would not necessarily be shared because of future transactions or you don’t want to disclose what you might or might not have (accepted). I just wanted to clarify that.
He invites the Commissioner of Corporate Services (and former Town Solicitor) Esther Armchuk to comment. She confirms that when title changes the public is told. (It is in the Land Registry which is a public document.) If there is no sale she says no information is released:
“to protect negotiations and legal discussions… to ensure that we are negotiating in the best interests of the Town and trying to obtain the best value that we can.”
Unfortunately, because decisions on the possible sale or acquisition of land are kept under lock and key forever (citing client-solicitor privilege) major blunders or simple errors of judgement escape public scrutiny. For me, a classic example must be the Town’s decision in 2008 not to buy the Glenway lands for public open space – and perhaps for other uses. There was a preremptory twenty-minute discussion and no written report. We unearthed that little nugget years later after the die was cast. Anyway…
Now the Mayor is wrapping up and asks yet again if there are any other questions or comments from any other members of Council. Nope. Tom’s face is blank.
Later…. after the in-camera session the Committee reconvenes in public. Jane Twinney wants local residents to be informed of the upcoming Committee of the Whole meeting on Hollingsworth on 21 May 2018 at 12.30pm at 395 Mulock Drive when decisions will, presumably, be made.
The in-camera session may have been terrific entertainment with Tom forensically analysing the Briarwood proposals and arguing his case for a new library and seniors’ centre on the Hollingsworth site. Who knows? But on the evidence so far I rather doubt it.
Instead Tom has been treating us to a tantalising dance of the seven veils.
Leaving us to wonder what, if anything, he is going to reveal and when.
Now there’s a thought.
But perhaps not.
Newmarket Today covered the story here.
You can read the Council's Sale of Land policy here.
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