I was at an All Candidates meeting on November 13th for the Ward 3 By-Election. Either there was a huge turnout or the room was way too small at the Varley Art Gallery on Main Street in Unionville. It was a large crowd and that left me with the impression people are becoming more concerned than ever with local government. My wife commented that eight candidates each with their own supporters would cause the crowd to swell, maybe. Just over a year ago during the most recent federal election the All-Candidates meetings in Markham-Unionville drew far smaller crowds, so something is going on. It may be the hated “traffic-calming” bumps on Carlton Road and Village Parkway, the proposed new development for Highway 7 and Warden or the traffic gridlock faced by many residents each day. Whatever the reason, this was not an apathetic crowd.
When the Ward 3 By-Election was announced in September, I briefly thought about becoming a candidate. Soon I realized how complex the issues are at the local level, far more complex than either the federal or provincial level. Municipal politics are impacted by each of the government layers above it; the Region, the Province and the Feds. Add to that a $100 deposit to register, only returned if the candidate garners 2% of the vote, plus the additional cost of signs, literature and effort, and I changed my view after I saw that 9 candidates had registered by the October 9th deadline. Elections are expensive and candidates had better have deep pockets or have lots of generous supporters. That became an issue at this All-Candidates meeting. Accusations flew back and forth about who was accepting money from developers and how that might influence their decisions if elected to council. The truth is, the $750 maximum donation from any given donor, is not a huge sum and probably not enough to sway an elected councilor with a smidgeon of integrity. But I do wonder why the developers donate this money; I doubt that they are suffering from altruism.
The problem of course is that politics at any level is too much about influence and money and the money trail is easiest to follow at the municipal level where there are no obvious party entanglements, just the single candidate. Many of the candidate’s promises tossed back and forth during this meeting involved securing financial support from other levels of government, the Province and the Feds to improve services for residents of Ward 3. I guess people forget that they are also the taxpayers for each of the other layers of government, either that or they are eager to have someone else pay for their desired project or service. One of the candidates promised he would create a homeless pet shelter within the Ward. Just what I need, I don’t have or want a pet, I’m generally annoyed by the dog and cat owners in my neighbourhood and someone wants my taxes to pay for irresponsible people who create homeless animals. Give me a break. This issue like many others should be handled by voluntary charity and is not a function of government at any level. Many candidates were annoyed with developers wanting to capitalize on their land holdings within the ward. These candidates, supported by many of the local special interest groups (like URA that sponsored this meeting), promised to restrict the height of buildings and scrutinize the architecture against some arbitrary vision of what’s proper for Unionville. Why would anyone want to be a developer in this Ward? Imagine if several developers simultaneously sold their properties to relocate to other more competitive towns and cities. What would that do to property values here?
My family has lived in Ward 3 for 34 years, since Ward 3 and environs was semi-rural. Local shopping was virtually nonexistent, the nearest secondary school was Markham Secondary, and there were no malls in Markham, no Community Centres nearby, just a small neighbourhoods, people and pastures. The developers came, the infrastructure came, business people came, the town grew and my property values went up. Unionville became one of the most desirable communities in Canada, maybe North America. That was no accident; we should be welcoming growth, renewal and development not choking it off with arbitrary by-laws, red tape and bureaucracy. A town is like an organism, if it stops growing and renewing itself it starts dying.