Recent decisions a boon for our local democracy
Regional chair of York Region will be on next ballot when we vote
Sometimes democracy is an uphill battle and the important stuff happens when you’re not looking.
York Regional Council has finally and quietly made it official that when you cast your ballot next October, the regional chairperson will be on the ballot for the first time.
It seemed the issue was finally resolved when the province passed Bill 70 last year, requiring regional municipalities to make the chairperson an elected position. But in September, regional chair Wayne Emmerson tabled a motion asking the province to exempt the region from the new law.
He withdrew it before it came to a vote in October, and so council’s final attempt to maintain a grasp on the position ended with a whimper.
Most of us don’t follow all the machinations that go on up there in Newmarket, so the attempt to thread a peculiar legal loophole and argue our municipality of 1.1 million should have a system like rural Oxford County came and went pretty quietly.
That last minute Hail Mary — an attempt to still let councillors pick their own chair, so long as he or she was already an elected local politician — was not the first time York Regional Council showed that, as progressive as it’s been on issues such as transit, they weren’t going to lead the way on this one.
When the matter was still optional (Durham did it on its own for 2014), council repeatedly voted against changing the status quo.
Earlier this year, Peel Region tried asking the province to repeal the law outright, and the Liberals did not abide, so council either saw which way the wind was blowing or just realized it was the right thing to do, finally.
Three times (at least) private member’s bills were tabled at Queen’s Park, forcing the region to make their chairs elected positions, and three times (at least) the bills expired due to procedural issues.
So it was remarkable when the provincial government finally made the decision itself and put an end to years of futile debate.
At November’s council meeting, the approval of some boring policies that will govern the 2018 election formalized the inevitable with an unsurprising lack of hullabaloo.
I hate to belabour the relatively superficial money side of things, but it’s not inconsiderable that the region’s supermayor, as of the 2016 Sunshine List, makes $212,000 of your tax dollars.
Yet, until now, residents had only an indirect say in him getting the job (by tacitly vesting the power to pick him or her in the councillor and mayor for whom you vote).
The chair isn’t quite York Region’s mayor, but it is a position of power. If you remember how Metropolitan Toronto worked, the position is comparable to the Metro chair.
He represents our municipality and oversees council but only votes to break ties.
When the Spadina subway extension up to Vaughan finally opens this month, the chair will stand alongside the premier as your representative in all the photo ops. In short, it’s a lot of juice for someone I’m guessing most York Region residents wouldn’t recognize on the street.
Yes, a general election presents a new challenge for candidates who have to garner votes and fundraise across a region three times the size of Toronto. And it’s daunting for the six smaller municipalities who don’t want to be dominated by Vaughan, Richmond Hill and Markham.
No system is perfect, but giving citizens the opportunity to vote for their local government is pretty much a no-brainer if you ask me.
I know, I know, you’re not thinking much about the election that’s 10 months from now, much less excited about having one more box to check on the ballot, but it’s a big step forward for our region.
I also know that voter turnout is never exactly off the charts here, but we’re all ready to get involved in municipal affairs when our taxes go up or when a development proposal pops up next door.
And so, I sincerely hope the needle will move in the right direction and you’ll take advantage of this new power the province has put in your hands after years of councillors trying to keep it for themselves.
Of course, the province also gave municipalities the power to implement ranked ballots, and no one has pounced on that one yet.
Enjoy your new rights, but let’s not rest on our democratic laurels. There’s more work to do for 2022.
York Region chair Wayne Emmerson
DAVID FLEISCHER Post City Magazines’ columnist David Fleischer is a longtime journalist and currently an urban planner living in York Region.