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Analysis: Regional council candidates offer differing visions for Newmarket

Candidates Emanuel, Stonehocker and Vegh politely shared their different platforms and ideas at the debate hosted by The Newmarket Chamber of Commerce and Toronto Real Estate Board last night.
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The gloves stayed on, but the three candidates vying to be Newmarket’s next regional councillor and deputy mayor made it clear their visions differ for the future of the town, at the Newmarket Chamber of Commerce/Toronto Real Estate Board debate last night.

Chris Emanuel, who is looking for a second chance after wisely taking off the last term to work in the private sector, was true to his polished campaign messaging: Big, bold, positive ideas.

He spoke with a confidence and breadth of knowledge that impressed  — to their surprise, several people commented quietly after the debate. His time as director of recruitment and government affairs at Bill Gosling Outsourcing seems to have broadened his command skills and perspective.

His platform includes eliminating duplication by amalgamating the region’s eight fire departments, establishing a lobbyist registry, building an arts and culture hub on Main Street — he and opponent Tom Vegh share that vision, but his has the private sector picking up the tab — and creating an innovation office that will leverage private sector input to improve municipal processes and services.

Joan Stonehocker, executive director of the York Region Food Network, has her heart on her sleeve, with her focus and passions directed on building a healthier community through improving community spaces, transit, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, creating sustainable environmental initiatives — including banning plastic straws — and building more affordable housing.

On one question about land transfer taxes and additional revenue tools for municipalities, she readily admitted she is a newcomer to politics, “I’m fairly new at this game … and I’m not going to weigh in on that one”, preferring honesty over bluffery.

Tom Vegh, Ward 1 councillor for the last three terms, is looking to take the next step, building on being a member of the council that can take credit for Newmarket’s successful record as one of the best communities in Canada in which to live (based on consistent rankings in the top 25 in MoneySense magazine’s annual review).

He hits on the top issues with plenty of promises, some coming with hefty price-tags: building a new library and seniors centre on the Hollingsworth Arena site, corralling high-rise developments to the Yonge/Davis corridors, doubling housing subsidies for seniors and tripling spaces for supportive seniors housing, and creating a tiered parking structure downtown and an artists hub on Main Street.

Here’s where they stand on some of the issues, admittedly business focused, given the event's host:

Issue: Investing in business, attracting new businesses and building on Newmarket’s “competitive edge”

Emanuel:

  • “Without a doubt, Newmarket’s competitive edge is its people”. Quoting renowned urban theorist Richard Florida, he said building a great community attracts great residents and that’s where businesses locate. Creating more affordable housing is key to attracting people.

  • “I’m going to be very blunt, we need to get our fiscal house in order,” he said, suggesting costs could be reduced by merging the fire departments and creating an innovation office, as the City of Toronto did. Reducing cost-prohibitive development charges is key to attract those “big logo” companies that will need to build.

  • “One thing our community has not done as well as we could is exploit the fact we have one of the most incredible hospitals … in Southlake Regional Health Centre” to attract health-care related industries, including pharmaceutical firms.

  • Remove the town’s economic development focus from Main Street to the sectors stated above.

  • He’s opposed to a land transfer tax

  • An investment in a parking structure is required to ensure the continued vibrancy of Main Street.

Stonehocker:

  • “We need to build a strong, vibrant community.” Green energy and technology is the way of the future, she said.

  • Focus on expanding the businesses currently in Newmarket.

  • Addressing environmental issues — “the cost of climate change is growing” — is key, she said, as well as improving transportation, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure and encouraging more affordable housing.

  • Focusing on innovation and collaboration with neighbouring communities will be important for the economic development office.

  • Creating an “urban vibe” that will attract businesses and young people.

Vegh:

  • “Newmarket is a very safe, prosperous community … with a skilled and educated workforce …  that we have to market more aggressively”. Refresh the Town’s economic development website, he said.

  • Create a formalized plan with incentives that will encourage developers to build more affordable housing and more housing options for seniors.

  • Leveraging Envi, the town’s high-fibre network company, will attract businesses and better quality jobs. Partner with neighbouring municipalities on economic development.

  • Capitalize on Southlake Regional Health Centre's presence on Davis Drive to encourage further development there.

  • He opposes a land transfer tax.

Permitting cannabis retail outlets in town

Emanual: “One of the challenges is the lack of information from the province.” The town should opt out until clarity around the impact of local distribution is clear.

Stonehocker: Her preference was that distribution occurs through LCBO outlets. However, if economic opportunities are available, we should take advantage of it.  

Vegh: No, it would be “reckless” to have retail distribution locally. “There really is no upside to distribution in Newmarket.” The social cost outweighs any economic opportunity.

Finding efficiencies in the municipal and regional operations

Emanuel:

  • While not advocating for wholesale cuts, he said bottom-line efficiencies could be found with initiatives such as merging the region’s fire departments.

  • Tap into the “private entrepreneurial spirit” and engage local entrepreneurs in finding new methods of doing town business.

Stonehocker:

  • Finding efficiencies should not be done by amalgamating services but by engaging community members in making decisions about spending priorities.

  • “I want to make sure that I’m creating an environment that’s going to be around and a community that’s going to be around for my children, and my children’s children, and their children.”

  • Collaboration and cooperation with neighbouring municipalities “will help all of us … move forward together”.

Vegh:

  • York University’s new Markham campus provides a partnership opportunity for local businesses and the Town to enhance economic development, as well as work with the university to review town operations to find efficiencies.

Housing affordability

Emanuel:

  • There is a critical issue around housing supply and mix, including mid-rise homes, which is being impacted by the lack of water and sewer allocation in northern York Region. “We won’t be able to build the housing supply we need to ensure affordability because the province hasn’t approved the Upper York Sewage Solution. It’s not a sexy issue, folks, but it’s critical in housing supply and also in housing mix.”

Stonehocker:

  • Being "creative and innovative" to increase the types of housing is required, including rental units and co-operatives as options for residents who don’t want to own a home.

Vegh:

  • Provide incentives to developers to build more rental housing, such as phasing in development charges.

The day following the debate, the gloves did come off with Emanuel taking on Vegh on social media, tweeting: We can't afford my opponent, Tom Vegh's, campaign promises, they could cause us to spiral into debt and along with it see our property taxes rise more than 30%. Whereas my platform balances big ideas with fiscal responsibility…

Vegh’s last tweet, five days ago, wished his wife happy birthday following a special dinner out to celebrate.

Unfortunately, attendance at the debate was the lowest in recent years, with two-thirds of the 400-seat Newmarket Theatre sitting empty. Some suggested the Leafs vs Habs game may have won out on the scheduling conflict.

If you wish to watch the live stream tape of the debate, you’ll find links on the Chamber of Commerce’s Facebook page






 



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