Re­cent decisions a boon for our lo­cal democ­racy

Re­gional chair of York Re­gion will be on next bal­lot when we vote

Thornhill Post - - News -

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.

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