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2021 in review: Mayor reflects on the year that was, and looks ahead

Mayor John Taylor reviews the challenges of the pandemic, and continuing development, while anticipating the municipal election in 2022
20211115-Mayor John Taylor-JQ
File photo

Newmarket Mayor John Taylor said the community has kept helping one another through a difficult year.

Looking back on the year that was, Taylor said he saw plenty of uplifting examples of those helping one another amidst the pandemic. 

“There’s a lot of people doing a lot of work to try to spread optimism, try to be supportive, try to pull together as a community. It’s really getting us all through it,” Taylor said. 

NewmarketToday asked the mayor to reflect on this past year and look ahead to the next. From development to controversial legislation to the approach of election season, here is what he had to say:

Development debates

The town saw many development applications throughout the year, as developers proposed adding new residences for the growing town. Several projects attracted resident opposition, but the mayor has argued that some growth is positive to help bring amenities and housing to the community.

“We need to have a very open, educated conversation as a community about growth. It’s something most people don't really cherish,” Taylor said. “We’re growing at a manageable rate. It’s never easy.”

Taylor said saying no to every development proposal would not be responsible. But he added people have a right to question growth and ask elected officials to manage it. 

“That’s a very fair request from residents, and we strive to do that.”

Meanwhile, the town and region are trying to increase affordable housing in the wake of high demand. Housing York, which Taylor chairs, plans to double its build rate. Affordable projects such as the one at the former regional headquarters in Newmarket have made progress, but the region has still struggled to hit affordable housing targets.

Taylor said affordable housing will take creative solutions, as well as support from upper levels of government. 

“More cooperative — but also more strong — conversations with the development community,” Taylor said. “We don’t have the teeth yet, the strength to demand everything we could.”

Taylor said there will be many planning applications making their way through town council in the first half of 2021, ahead of a municipal election process that will slow things down. 

Regional official plan

York Region council gave its final vetting of a new official plan, which will be open to public consultation for the next several months before final approval in the summer.

The plan has faced pushback over concerns about urban sprawl, as environmentalists challenged the idea of further development outward.

Taylor said the phased 50 to 55 per cent intensification rate planned is too little and opposed some expansion efforts. He said this is the “least optimistic” he has been about an official plan and wanted more intensification in consideration of climate change impact.

“We simply can’t afford financially, environmentally or socially to put the majority of our eggs in the whitebelt or greenfield development,” Taylor said. "I feel we missed the mark a little bit.”

Massage parlour bylaw

One of the town’s most controversial bylaws this year was new rules meant to push back against the alternative, illicit massage parlours, to address resident complaints and human trafficking concerns. 

But Asian advocates came out in force to the council, saying the legislation would unduly target Asian workers and accusing the town of enacting racist policy.

Taylor said he still believes the town arrived at the right place and said some of the opposition was too “heavy-handed” in its approach. He said a discussion around any sex work protection should happen federally. 

“We’re not in the business of picking the perfect way forward. It rarely exists,” he said. “I accept that maybe this approach is maybe not perfect but I think it is the right approach.” 

Anti-human trafficking advocates asked the region to implement similar rules after Newmarket enacted the bylaw. It got a mixed reception there, and Taylor said it would be better handled at the lower-tier municipal level going forward.

Anti-Black Racism

Council gave its backing to the final report from the anti-Black racism task force, recommending many actions for the municipality to combat such racism in the town.

Taylor said this should be part of the day-to-day work of a community. He said the town will try to act on the recommendations with “some sense of urgency” in the new year.

“We hope to really make some ongoing and meaningful change and continue to partner with the organizations doing the heavy lifting.”

Looking ahead

Next year marks the end of the term of council, with a municipal election due Oct. 24, 2022. Taylor said he does intend to run again, adding he would like to see several initiatives through.

“There’s a lot of work to be done to get some of these things back on schedule and back on track, and that I’m very committed to,” he said. “My No. 1 goal is to build one of the best municipalities in Canada to live in.”

Some of that includes a slate of recreational projects, such as the Mulock park and Mulock multi-use path, which progress this year and are due to continue advancing next year.

But one of the biggest goals of the town next year will be to get through another wave of COVID-19, including business support and help with mass vaccination clinics.

“We try to do all we can to keep people safe, but to balance the impacts on the business community, individual mental health,” Taylor said. “We've got to keep moving the town forward beyond COVID.” 

Other initiatives to come include fundraising for Inn From the Cold’s transitional housing and combating the LDD moth outbreak.

Taylor added thanks to the council with whom he works.

“I’m very fortunate to work with a professional council. There are examples of other places where politics becomes the focus, and it can become dysfunctional,” he said. “It can be underestimated how important that is to getting things done.”