Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you tonight on this critical issue. I want to focus on the role of York Region, the economic impact associated with the proposed urban boundary expansion, as well as the public process to date.
This Official Plan is the biggest decision that this Council has faced in the last 4 years. Millions have been spent on consultants, and countless meetings have been held over the last 2 or 3 years. So now here we are, a mere 16 weeks left in your mandate, watching you rush an ill-conceived and unjustified plan into law. I will leave it to others to clearly show that the expansion is not needed to meet the population growth forecasted – my issue is with the absence of an economic analysis. When I reviewed the report recommending the expansion, it simply states that the economic impact will be “strongly positive” – so I guess we are to simply trust you on that? In my 28 years in industry, if I submitted a budget that simply said “it will be good”, I would have been fired. We have been told that the detailed analysis will be done after the plan is approved – how can you possibly justify such an approach?
This plan should not be approved until we know how much it will cost us. Residential housing is typically a negative cost to the city – property taxes do not cover all the infrastructure maintenance and continuing services required. York Region is already in debt to the tune of $1B – the highest per capita in the GTA. We can’t just blindly add to this debt load – we are leaving quite a legacy to our children.
Regarding the role of York Region in this process, I came across a fascinating document from January 2008 called the Land Budget Report – in it York Region concludes that “Boundary expansions will occur on Whitebelt lands in … Vaughan”. So if this was the clear direction to this Council, why spend all this time and effort pretending to decide the best strategy – it seems that you were told what to do over 2 years ago!
A Land Budget Report update dated April 2009 reiterates the requirement for a boundary expansion, and goes on to explain why it is required.
“The Region has constructed very significant amounts of water and wastewater infrastructure to service future growth and has debt financed those works that will be recovered from future development charges. It is essential that sufficient land supply be available for development in order to ensure that the Region is able to collect development charges on a timely basis.”
So if we don’t continue the urban sprawl we won’t have the development revenue stream to pay for things like capital programs, infrastructure repair and debt repayment. If this was an investment firm, this would probably be called a Ponzi scheme – pay off your past debts with new investment money. It’s all good as long as you keep growing – if you stop you are bankrupt.
So we are in a box, having already spent the money – we have mortgaged our future, and our children’s future, by simply pushing the debt mountain forward.
But have we? Why must the collection of development charges be tied only to urban sprawl? Can we not levy similar charges to intensification development as well? This revenue would be far more beneficial, since the supporting infrastructure is already in place. Let’s get creative now, because the urban expansion has a limit, so we better figure out how to grow our city and reduce our debt without further expansion. This also applies to York Region – we need new ways to manage and fund growth.
The Republicans in the US used to blindly encourage offshore drilling, with the chant “Drill, baby, drill!”. They aren’t saying that now. Let’s not have the Vaughan chant be “sprawl, baby, sprawl!”. Both look like great ideas for short term gain, but can have terrible consequences in the long term.
It is not up to the citizens of Vaughan to prove to you that the proposed plan is flawed; it is up to you as our elected officials to justify and convince us that our concerns are being addressed. How sad that our democratic process has been twisted around to this. I was told long ago that anyone whose only response is “trust me” shouldn’t be trusted.
I want to close with a response to the flippant comment from Councillor Meffe reported in the Vaughan Citizen last Thursday. At the May 11th Committee of the Whole meeting, you asked “where is everybody” when the Land Use report was being accepted and discussed. I would like to point out that the meeting was conveniently held at 1pm, not terribly accessible for most working taxpayers. Plus, the report was buried in the agenda as Item 26 – it was not easily determined that such a critical report would be covered. So where are we? – when the meeting is in the evening, and the subject is clearly communicated, we are here!