Municipal staff

York Region city staff to sign non-disclosure agreements over Premier Doug Ford’s subway plans

When the Province of Ontario shared information with senior York Region officials about controversial plans to build transit-friendly communities in Richmond Hill and Markham, those employees had to sign non-compliance agreements. disclosure.

And it wasn’t until months later that the people these employees answer to, the politicians at the local and regional government level, learned these details, including the province’s plans to more than double the population around these station stops, and drastically reduce job targets.

According to a letter from Paul Freeman, chief planner for York Region, the province provided information to senior officials in York Region and its local municipalities Markham, Richmond Hill and Vaughan on July 28 and August 5 of the last year regarding proposals for two future transit hubs. in the zone.

The province wants to build mixed-use transit hubs, with condos, commercial units, community centers, parks, libraries and more that would be centered around future subway stops in Markham (Bridge Station) and in Richmond Hill (High Tech).

Premier Doug Ford’s government plans to more than double the population in the Bridge and High Tech communities and drastically reduce the number of jobs, plans that diverge significantly from those of the local municipalities of Richmond Hill and Markham – which counts politicians and local residents upset.

Under the nondisclosure agreement, details of the province’s goals were provided to senior city officials to begin technical reviews and provide feedback to the province, Freeman’s letter continues.

“There are concerns about the confidentiality of submissions, limiting the ability of staff to brief and inform city councils of planned developments,” read Freeman’s memo, written to an executive committee co-chaired by the deputy minister. of Ontario Transportation and the General Manager of York Region and who oversees matters relating to the Yonge North Subway Extension.

It wasn’t until the province held open houses months later in December that those details of the proposals and calls for increased densities were revealed to local councils and the public.

“As for signing NDAs, this is standard practice for major infrastructure projects,” Infrastructure Ontario spokesman Ian McConachie said in a statement to The Star.

But Jack Heath, a Markham regional councilor who has been in local and then York regional government since 1997, says this is the first time he’s heard of city staff signing agreements preventing them from discussing important business with their advisers.

“It’s an extremely difficult situation. In my view, staff should never have been asked to sign such a statement, because staff are accountable to elected officials,” Heath said in an interview.

“It really tore them (the staff) in two directions. In my view, the request went against the very essence of municipal government and how it works. They (the province) could have, if they had wanted, go to Markham town council and asked that we go in camera and left it in camera. We’ve done that in the past,” Heath said.

“To say that you are an employee of the Town of Markham, but you are not allowed to speak to councillors…I found that very upsetting and I really wish that hadn’t happened. I’m not pointing finger the staff,” he said.

“They (the province) must have thought the councilors would release the information,” Heath surmises.

The City of Toronto is currently involved in discussions with the province regarding several transit-focused communities the province wants to build, including stops on the proposed Ontario line that would run through downtown Toronto and up to at the Ontario Science Center near Eglinton Avenue and Don Mills. Road.

The Star asked the City of Toronto if any city staff had to sign NDAs for major infrastructure projects.

In an email, the city said “at times” NDAs have been used regarding the sharing of third-party confidential business information.

But the spokesperson went on to say that city officials who signed NDAs “would not regard the NDA as preventing the disclosure of information, confidential if necessary, to council if requested or required for its decision-making.” decision”.