Brampton voters and elections are never boring.
While most were transfixed on the tight mayoral fight, I was busy refreshing the results for key city and regional council races.
It had become more and more apparent to me, and many other Bramptonians, while I worked at City Hall that a dysfunctional council is mostly dependent upon the makeup of council and not upon which mayor is sitting at the helm – yes, that is not a particularly interesting observation, but one worth repeating.
The mayor is important, but the mayor is only one vote and while they may have great symbolic importance, the real power lies in the collective body of councillors elected across the city.
October 22nd, 2018, was a big day for big changes, and I am not referring to Patrick Brown’s victory.
The results are clear, this council is younger and more diverse than the previous term and it is quite frankly historic.
We elected our first black female councillor, our first Filipino councillor, and our first turbaned Sikh regional councillor.
Most importantly, we now have a majority urban progressive block on Brampton City and Regional Council, with the elections of Rowena Santos, Paul Vicente, Gurpreet Dhillon, Harkirat Singh, Pat Fortini and Martin Medeiros — a stark contrast to the last administration.
We still have a lot more to learn about Charmaine Williams, but she strikes me as someone that will have a strong voice on city council with fresh ideas.
The previous old guard has fallen from seven councillors to three. Only Michael Palleschi (who was almost defeated by rookie candidate Gurpreet Bains), Doug Whillans and Jeff Bowman remain.
That is a seismic shift in ideology that has been missed with the news of Patrick Brown’s victory and deserves much more attention.
While many on social media were chastising Brampton voters for electing Patrick Brown, these are the same voters that just elected one of the most diverse, dynamic and progressive councils in Brampton’s history, and probably Ontario’s as well.
One thing is certain, if you give Bramptonians a strong campaign they will take risks at the ballot box and reward you. That is something that is unique in the world of municipal politics where incumbency tends to drive election day results.
The key question now is how does this new team solve some of the most controversial questions stemming from the previous term of council?
- Hurontario-Main Light Rail Transit (HMLRT) – We now have a majority block of Councillors in favour of the HMLRT, with six councillors that either voted or deputed in favour of the original plan. A bold move from this group could possibly bring back the original HMLRT and shut down the nascent and unnecessary new studies into already examined and rejected alternative routes like McLaughlin and Kennedy. This is a decision that would save the city a lot of money, and a lot of time, as well as align City Hall with the majority of residents that favoured the HMLRT.
- Independent Auditor General – In the last term of council the old guard voted against the hiring of a permanent Independent Auditor General as recommended by Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube, a key piece to increasing transparency and accountability at a beleaguered City Hall. With those who led the charge against the hiring mostly gone, this is a perfect opportunity for progressive councillors to quickly make a big impact and gain the trust of Bramptonians who have lost faith in the way council spends tax dollars.
- Ryerson University – With the recent shocking announcement from the Doug Ford government cancelling or pausing the university campuses in Brampton and elsewhere, can the new council come up with creative solutions or hard lobbying to save Ryerson’s expansion into our city? Contrary to some rhetoric, this was not a simple satellite campus, it was a planned national innovation centre for cybersecurity anchoring Brampton’s place on the Toronto-Brampton-Waterloo Innovation Corridor. So far, councillors-elect for Ward 1 & 5, Rowena Santos and Paul Vicente, have taken the proactive charge on finding a fix.
- Peel Regional Police (PRP) – The PRP found itself on the wrong side of various issues over the past 4 years with the now former Chief Evans. Community outrage over carding, the lack of staff diversity, the BJ Sandhu discrimination case and the failure to implement strong community policing have all been points of valid criticism. The PRP will be looking for a new chief, and there will be new faces on the Police Board from council — hopefully that translates into more collective council pressure for innovative policing from one of Canada’s largest police forces.
- Diversity at City Hall – Brampton is a great city with great people. Although it is nice to finally see some progress in having a council that looks more like the city it serves, there is still a lot of work to be done in bringing more diversity to Brampton City Hall staff and the bureaucracy. At the very least an audit should be conducted into the makeup of the city’s workforce, and an action plan developed thereafter.