- Written by Gordon Prentice
We are nine months away from the municipal elections but already candidates are declaring themselves and thinking how they are going to finance their campaigns.
The Mayor of Newmarket, Tony Van Bynen, was quick off the mark, taking a half page ad in the Era Banner on 16 January 2014 telling us he was seeking re-election. (See page 13 here)
Underneath an impressive roll call of supporters we read
“This advertisement was paid for by the Committee to Re-elect Tony Van Bynen.”
Phew! No developers in that list. At least I hope not.
All Council candidates, without exception, must ensure that not a single penny of their campaign spending comes from developers who are planning to build in the town.
Money from developers is tainted. The sums may be modest but the donation comes at a high price.
Professor Robert MacDermid of York University has studied in detail the nexus between developers and politicians both in Toronto and in the GTA and his findings are disconcerting. He explains his concerns here.
Developers don’t help finance everyone running for election. They are not interested in promoting a healthy democracy where all views get an airing. No. They pick and choose, most often supporting those seen as sympathetic or influential, preferably both.
Sometimes they will just back the candidates running for the big jobs.
According to Toronto’s Integrity Commissioner (whom I take as an authority on such matters)
“At present, the receipt of campaign contributions does not in itself give rise to a conflict of interest for Members when the donor subsequently has a matter before Council or one of its committees.”
Here in Newmarket, the publicly available returns on election expenses show that at the last election Regional Councillor John Taylor received a campaign contribution of $750 from Dwight Slessor Holdings Ltd.
In 2010 Dwight Slessor Holdings gave the Committee to re-elect Tony Van Bynen $750.
In neither case did the Mayor or John Taylor declare an interest before voting on the Slessor application for the huge development opposite Upper Canada Mall. They were not required to.
In any event, no-one in their right mind would suggest a politician could be bought for a mere $750 (and I am sure Tony Van Bynen and John Taylor could not be bought at any price) but donations –even very modest ones – transmit below-the-radar signals to politicians that the developer is supportive and on-side.
Long before the Slessors made their millions from Slessor Square they were oiling the wheels of local political machines. The Slessors gave the Newmarket Aurora Progressive Conservative Association $1,000 in 2010. And they allowed Frank Klees to use their old car showroom property as his election HQ in the last provincial election (having donated $1,120 to his previous election campaign).
Campaign contributions from developers are not crude bribes. It is altogether more subtle.
The developers’ unstated aim is to build a relationship and foster mutual understanding.
It is in everyone’s interests to have squeaky clean politics in Newmarket and I think, in general, we do. But accepting campaign contributions from people who stand to make millions out of the Town’s planning decisions undermines trust in the system, and in politicians.
Candidates should not take money from developers. And if they take money from friends who subsequently become developers they should hand it back, publicly explaining why.
Or, at the very least, they should declare an interest.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
A last minute revision of plans for the Clock Tower development in Newmarket’s Main Street South will plant a 9 storey condo in the heart of the historic downtown, utterly destroying its character.
The new plans submitted to the Town in the run up to the statutory public meeting on 3 February, and buried in the Town’s website, can be viewed here. For full details go to the planning page and scroll to the Clock Tower proposals.
The developers are taking us all for fools.
And a complicit planning system that allows such a destructive proposal to get to this stage is rotten to the core.
The Statutory Public Meeting on the proposed development will be held at 7pm on Monday 3 February in the Council Chamber at Mulock Drive.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
The Statutory Public Meeting on the proposed Clock Tower development on Newmarket's historic Main Street will take place at 7pm on Monday 3 February 2014 in the Council Chamber at 395 Mulock Drive.
Anticipating Council approval, the developer, Bob Forrest, issued eviction notices to the tenants of properties adjacent to the Clock Tower whose land is needed for the development. He acquired the properties last year.
The underground car park for the proposed development encroaches on Town owned land.
The development, if given the go-ahead, would involve the demolition of historic commercial buildings, the permanent loss of renowned vistas and sight-lines and the destruction of Newmarket's historic conservation district in Main Street South.
It is the worst kind of speculative development imaginable. It has no redeeming virtues whatsoever.
It is a classic example of the new brutalism in architecture. It is completely out of place in Main Street South. It will ruin the historic skyline and destroy the essence of the neighbourhood in which it is located.
The Town's Heritage Advisory Committee is strongly against the proposed development.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
I tune in to Rogers (Monday 13 January) to watch the debate on land use policy and I get, instead, a load of garbage.
To my surprise and delight, Newmarket’s councillors have summonsed the Town’s garbage collectors, GFL (Green for Life), to give them a dressing down in public for the service they have (not) been providing. The councillors are on good form.
We learn that GFL bought the Town’s previous garbage collection company, Turtle Island, in December 2011 and things have been going steadily downhill since.
GFL’s District Manager Craig Nelson and Brian Kent, taking notes, are in the ducking stool. It is impossible to feel sorry for them.
First, they apologise for the delayed collections blaming the weather, truck breakdowns and “labour issues” in that order.
We are told five garbage trucks “went down” on 24 December and GFL had to bring in back up vehicles from all points of the compass and they too had problems.
We learn a staggering 25% of the refuse collectors are down with injuries.
Craig Nelson assures us things are going to be better “going forward”.
He tells us Newmarket can expect 7 recycling and 5 garbage trucks. In addition there will be spare vehicles and spare staff on hand. Going forward, he assures councillors his team will have the necessary resources.
Concluding his apologia, he says he is now “looking forward” to mending the relationship with the Town.
Chris Emanuel is first up with questions. He recites a series of earlier service failures in Ward 7, predating by months the catastrophic collapse in collection over Christmas and New Year. Nelson tells us injuries and broken down trucks were to blame.
Now an apoplectic Tom Vegh demands to know why his Christmas tree has not been picked up.
Nelson tells him: “We made a collective decision that garbage was more important than Christmas trees.”
Adding: “And we made that decision at 11.30am today.”
This infuriates the normally mild mannered Vegh even more. “Trees not picked up is not a good sign.”
Jane Twinney is the first to get to the heart of the matter when she says there aren’t enough people out there to get the job done.
She asks about one-man operation. She asks if one man driving the truck, getting out, picking up the garbage and getting back in the truck again can possibly be safe. There must be health and safety issues. Is this industry practice?
We are asked to believe that one man operation is OK so long as the garbage or recycling is going into the side of the truck rather than the back and the route is 40 km or less. Sounds like a load of old bollocks to me.
Tom Hempen expresses his concerns in his usual measured way. He wants GFL to help with the spring clean up in Ward 4. (We hear them say they will.)
Now a volcanic Joe Sponga erupts with fury.
He is concerned about regular staff being replaced by temps. He dismisses the alleged truck breakdowns as a cock-and-bull story. He explodes:
“I am not going to accept your apology. Pick up the garbage and don’t come here and waste my time!”
I think to myself, I don’t want to get on the wrong side of this guy! What a temper! What a dressing down! What a performance!
Now it is the turn of a sceptical Maddie Di Muccio who scolds the company before telling us:
“I love the principle of private garbage collection. It saves taxpayers millions of dollars.”
But her real target (as always) is Newmarket staff who, apparently, failed to check on the contractor despite numerous warnings. She won’t name names. They’ll know who she means.
Dave Kerwin, in full magisterial mode, weighs in. He tells us the company is treating its workers in an “almost inhuman” way, forcing them to pick up garbage in the late evening. “You’ve got a great labour force but you’ve got to treat them better.”
He warns GFL that if they overpaid for Turtle Island that’s their issue. They don’t make things balance out by cutting service levels. The old teacher in him is still alive and kicking. He is very effective.
Regional Councillor John Taylor wants to see a return to high levels of service but confesses he has his doubts. He wants to see “dollars flowing into this contract” with resources going into manpower and vehicle maintenance. Importantly, he also wants information on staffing levels. (This is an absolutely key point along with injury stats).
The Mayor wants a written plan of action, signed off by the top people in GFL.
Now it is back to Chris Emanuel. He thanks staff for their work in dealing with this crisis (They appreciate a few kind words.) Now the velvet glove comes off and I hear him calling for financial penalties against the company. I see everyone nodding in agreement.
All in all, a great performance by our councillors in holding GFL to account.
Ten out of ten.
Land Use Planning
Arguably the most important item on yesterday’s Committee of the Whole agenda was the one on possible changes to the system of land use planning in Ontario. The staff report on the Provincial Consultation Document should have provided a framework for a wide-ranging discussion on the failures of the current system and how it can be improved. Personally, I think the planning system is broken and needs a complete overhaul.
The deadline set by the Province was impossibly short and we learn that the Town’s comments have already been sent off. The Town’s Planning Director, Rick Nethery, explains
“staff provided comment but without the benefit of a Council endorsement”
I suppose that says it all.
John Taylor and Tom Hempen make a few comments about land banking but they sound listless. It takes Maddie Di Muccio to provide a spark.
She confesses candidly she doesn’t know what she will be endorsing if she votes for the report. (True. It is full of planning babble.) She says there should have been a workshop for all councillors, explaining issues in the report that are new and unfamiliar. She cites the “clergy principle” as a case in point. Her concerns are brushed off and she is offered a one-to-one with Rick Nethery.
She doesn’t get any support from her colleagues even though the point she makes is a fair one.
Di Muccio has no friends on Council or, for that matter, staff. For years she has poisoned the well, drip by drip, so that when she asks for support it is simply not forthcoming.
Councillors duly rubber stamp the comments, post hoc, as expected.
Di Muccio votes against.
No debate. But then, in truth, I suppose I never expected one.
The Town will not consider mediation before the conclusion of Phase 1 of the Glenway hearing which will determine whether any development at all should get the go-ahead. This is good news.
Maddie Di Muccio and Dave Kerwin voted against the motion moved by Ward 7 councillor, Chris Emanuel, without giving reasons.
Newmarket Town Hall Watch
The conceited content remains the same.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
One month ago to the very day I received this email threatening legal action against me for a blog I had written linking her husband, the booming barrel chested John Blommesteyn, with the insufferably smug and self righteous blog, Newmarket Town Hall Watch (NTHW).
From: Di Muccio, Maddie
Dec 7 at 1:52 PM
I'm going to give you 24 hours to retract your blog insinuating my husband, John Blommesteyn, is the author of something he is not.
If you fail to do so, I fully intend to file legal papers against you.
Maddie Di Muccio
Newmarket Town Councillor, Ward Six
Seems to me that threats of legal action are best not made unless one is deadly serious about following them through. As yet, I have not heard from her lawyers but a letter may be in the mail.
It is alleged by NTHW that the John Blommesteyn/Newmarket Town Hall Watch Twitter account is a fake.
There is, of course, no easy way to tell with Twitter accounts whether they are fake or real. Even the company may not know but they will have a lot more information to go on. The blogger.com account for Newmarket Town Hall Watch will have a gmail (or equivalent) address behind it but, again, only the people at Google will have fuller information.
Short of a Court Order compelling Twitter/Google to reveal more, linking an individual to a blog or series of tweets means relying on forensic linguistics or similar techniques.
As it happens, I received an unsolicited email from Eric Smith on the same day Councillor Di Muccio sent hers to me.
Smith, a long time Newmarket resident and commentator on local affairs, whose declamatory and opinionated letters appear from time to time in the Era Banner, told me:
Maddie’s husband is NOT the writer of NTHW. I know who is, but in the interest of her privacy I will not disclose her ID.
With that impressive display of iron certainty, it looks as if the matter can only be settled in open Court.
As soon as I receive the much anticipated letter from Councillor Di Muccio’s lawyers I shall post it here.
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