Regional Council says no to a public vote for Chair

·3 min read

York Region residents will not get to vote for who leads Regional Council in the next municipal election.

Regional Council, on a vote of 14 – 6, rejected a motion tabled this past February which would have seen the Regional Chair, a position currently occupied by former Whitchurch-Stouffville mayor Wayne Emmerson, directly elected by residents.

Instead, the position will continue to be filled through a vote around the Regional Council table, around which Mayor Tom Mrakas is Aurora’s sole representative.

Mayor Mrakas was joined by Newmarket Mayor John Taylor in voting in favour of change, alongside Regional Councillors Don Hamilton (Markham), Jim Jones (Markham), Joe Li (Markham), and Joe DiPaola (Richmond Hill).

The question, as posed at Aurora Council last week, is now what?

York Region has a long history of considering how the Chair should be elected.

The most recent series of proposed changes stemmed from a Private Member’s Bill brought forward at Queen’s Park in 2016 from Newmarket-Aurora’s then-MPP Chris Ballard which, following its passage, would have mandated a direct election for York Region.

This directive, however, was struck down by the incumbent Provincial government in 2018, leaving Regional Council to decide its own path forward.

“Regional Council can, after holding at least one public meeting, pass a bylaw to change the manner of electing the Regional Chair to a Region-wide election,” said Bruce Macgregor, CAO of the Region of York, in a memo to members when they last looked at this matter in February. “Before the bylaw comes into effect it must receive a ‘triple majority’ which occurs when: the bylaw receives the support of the majority of votes on Regional Council; a majority of the councils of all local municipalities pass resolutions consenting to the bylaw; and the total number of electors in the local municipalities that have passed resolutions consenting to the bylaw form a majority of all the electors in York Region.”

Aurora Council previously voiced its support of electing the Regional Chair in both 2016 and 2018.

Had any change been in the air at the Region, a decision would have needed to be confirmed by December 21, 2021 in order for it to be part of the 2022 Municipal Election.

Since its establishment in 1970, the Regional Chair was been appointed in different ways. In the beginning, the Province of Ontario appointed the Chair for two two-year terms. This method changed at the inaugural meeting of Regional Council where the Chair was elected by members around the table.

“Four of the six Chairs of York Region were members of a lower-tier council at the time of their appointment,” noted Mr. Macgregor. “The other two Chairs had recently completed terms on the council of a lower-tier municipality.”

“Council had the authority to determine whether or not the appointed Chair must also hold office on a local municipal Council. Through inherited provisions from the long ago repealed Regional Municipality of York Act, it has been the practice in York Region for the appointed Chair to resign their seat at the local level. However, Council can enact a requirement for the Chair to retain their local office. This change can be implemented without a ‘triple majority.’”

As Aurora Council previously signalled its support for electing the Regional chair, the matter was raised at last week’s meeting.

“Which way do you think I voted?” asked Mayor Tom Mrakas when pressed by Councillor Michael Thompson whether he voted the same way as he did when the matter was last up for debate at Town Hall. “I believe the Regional Chair should be an elected position. I voted in favour of having it become an elected position. It is unfortunate it didn’t happen that way.

“We’ll see if the Province decides to put it in place for the next election on their own.”

Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran