Who Should Run for the Peel Regional Chair Position?

Here’s some interesting news.

Next year when Mississauga and Brampton conduct municipal elections, residents in Peel Region will also have a say in electing the Chair of the Regional Municipality of Peel, along with electing mayors, city councillors, and school board trustees.

Last year, the provincial government introduced legislation to have a direct election for the chairs of the remaining regional municipalities (Peel, York and Niagara Region; Halton, Durham and Waterloo Regions already elect their chairs). This is a major change from the arcane selection process that has been in place since Regional Government was instituted for Peel in 1974.

The last time the public witnessed this selection process was December 2014. In one of the rare moments of openness and accountability, Peel Regional Council opened up the council meeting to select the chair to the public at the Mississauga Convention Centre. Before the recent change to direct election, the Peel Region Chair was selected by the members of regional council. So being bereft of having to spend bucketloads of money to mount a credible campaign, the position usually went to a retiring municipal politician or someone looking for a promotion who was already serving in municipal politics. The Regional Chair position was therefore usually seen as a rather plum post, somewhat akin to a Canadian Senate seat.

The nominees for the position at the time were two recently defeated mayoral candidates (Steve Mahoney in Mississauga and John Sanderson in Brampton), former Mississauga councillor Pat Mullin who just retired in 2014, United Way CEO Shelley White, and then-incumbent Mississauga city councillor Frank Dale. Dale was ultimately selected by his peers to be the new Regional Chair.

But unlike his predecessor who faced very little controversy, Dale has overseen a term basically rife with challenges to the idea of regional government itself. With Mississauga constantly making noise about pulling out of Peel, Brampton demanding more representation and Caledon desiring the simple tranquility of the status quo, it would not be surprising if Dale decides that his first term as Regional Chair will be his last.

With that in mind, here's some potential candidates who could possibly throw their hats in the ring in 2018. They are basically divided into three categories: current or former municipal politicians, current/former provincial or federal politicians, and those of whom are completely outside the political sphere.


Current and former municipal politicians

There are some incumbent city councillors in both Brampton or Mississauga that could certainly do the job of Regional Chair based on just the longevity they've accumulated in office alone, which at least means they know what the job actually entails. Two of the longest serving city councillors in Mississauga who both have a combined 55 years in council, Pat Saito and Nando Iannicca, fit the bill when it comes to finding someone with familiar experience. In Brampton, there are Councillors Elaine Moore and Gael Miles, the latter of whom has been in office since 1988.

However, considering that the previous way candidates were selected for the position was amongst an elite group of around 20 people, that made the selection a very inside baseball procedure. Now, candidates will have to campaign across three municipalities in a region of 1.2 million people. Having the experience or credentials to do the job might not matter so much under the scrutiny and the marathon of an election campaign.

An environment like that might benefit someone like Mississauga Ward 5 councillor Carolyn Parrish. As a former school trustee, federal MP, and current councillor, Parrish is more adept at campaigning in a more competitive environment. She won a very tough Liberal Party nomination back in 2004 against future mayoral candidate Mahoney, then was elected to Ward 6 in Mississauga City Council in 2006, lost in 2010, then won again in Ward 5 in 2014.

While someone like Parrish could muster the resources and manpower to mount a decent campaign and win the Regional Chair position, she might not be as qualified as some other potential candidates. The role of Regional Chair has been traditionally as a consensus builder mediating the deliberations during regional council meetings, and that is certainly the last thing that comes to mind when describing Councillor Parrish's political style. Also, considering that Parrish is one of the strongest proponents of pulling Mississauga out of regional government, her serving as the Regional Chair would be like putting a fox in charge of the hen house.

As for former municipal politicians, unfortunately as entertaining and riveting as that would be, I don't think there will be any former local politicos willing to step up to campaign. I mentioned how former mayoral candidates had attempted to get appointed to the position; the enticement of the position back then was that it was an appointed plum posting for politicians who've reached the twilight of their political careers. Now that it's become an elected position they may think twice. It was hard enough running a city-wide campaign. Do you really have the stomach to actually campaign for it from all Peel Region's voters?


Current and former provincial (federal?) politicians

For this category I was thinking along the lines of more recent former federal politicians. There are some lingering former Conservative MPs under the previous Harper government that were trying to get nominations to run as provincial Conservatives, but other than that none of them have publicly expressed any interest yet in the position of Regional Chair. Another knock against them is that none of them had enough of a high profile role for people to remember who they are. Some of those former Conservatives would be better off seeking seats on city council, such as Brad Butt (who represented Mississauga Streetsville from 2011 to 2015) who has been a rather regular presence in Mississauga council meetings as of late.

As for any current federal Mississauga or Brampton MPs? Don't hold your breath. All but two or three are political rookies, some are probably still learning how to do their jobs as Members of Parliament, or even just figuring out what they should focus their time on while in Ottawa. When you're part of a majority government still pretty solid in the polls, why would you risk your political career mid-term to pursue a role that requires you to raise huge amounts of money and take time away from your current role as MP, or possible ending your political career too soon?

So this category's most viable contenders would be provincial politicians. It just so happens that there is a provincial election in 2018 which will take place before the municipal election. If the polls are to be believed, the Ontario Liberals will be swept out of office, particularly in the 905 region. If they don't decide to hang up their hats on their political careers, all those out of work Mississauga Liberal MPPs might be looking at the municipal election thinking they could have a shot at city council, or the regional chair position.

So far the only name bandied about is current Ontario Minister of Finance Charles Sousa, although publicly Sousa and his spokespeople will tell you that it is his intention to run for reelection in 2018. Sousa has been serving as provincial treasurer for the last five years and only this year did he manage to deliver a balanced budget, so this may be a good time to bow out of provincial politics to seek greener pastures.

Minister Sousa has a stronger following in his Mississauga Lakeshore riding than some of his colleagues, so he might survive a Liberal loss across the province. But although Sousa ran for the Ontario Liberal leadership before, if his party is poised to be swept out of power, how much incentive is there to seek the top job again and spend another decade of your life rebuilding the party to get back into power?

Better to seek a role that allows one to have the prestige of leading a government of sorts (Peel Region), get paid handsomely, as well as allow you to be more of a facilitator without taking much political heat as you did on the provincial stage. Sousa has the name recognition and could raise the money to mount a successful campaign for Regional Chair should he choose to do so. We will have to see after the 2018 provincial election.


Non-politicians (those who have never held elective office)

In my ideal world, there would be ample amount of people stepping up to run out of a sense of idealism. People who are not in politics at all who can signify a plethora of really good choices. But that's a pipe dream. Ironically, it would have been easier for such people to seek the Regional Chair post when it was still an appointed one confirmed by Regional Council. The aforementioned Shelley White would stand a better chance of getting appointed than being elected.

But now that you've opened up this position to be a directly elected one in the municipal political environment, it's bound to attract all types of characters who are not politicians but who think they may have a chance. The types of people I can think of who would have the money, resources and experience to do self promotion across a vast amount of territory would be people in the development, property management or real estate industry. There have been scores of people who are obviously in the real estate business that have put their names forward as candidates in various municipal elections or by-elections; whether they were serious is another matter altogether.

As for anyone from development and property management taking a crack at this? I doubt they would; they have more influence behind the scenes. But since corporate and union donations for municipal elections have been banned by the province, the developers might not be able to take the monetary route in terms of getting what they want. I wouldn't be surprised if some developer actually tries his hand in getting elected.

Another group of people would be the plethora of perennial candidates, also-rans, and other people with nothing better to do to run for the newly electable position. I wouldn't be surprised if perennial candidate John C Turmel, who holds a Guinness World record for running in the most elections ever, makes an appearance in Peel Region even though he lives in Brantford.

As of this writing, it is undetermined whether current Peel Regional Chair Frank Dale will seek to get elected for his post. Dale might choose to do so, but even so I doubt scores of people who are most likely not serious and just looking for their 15 minutes of fame would pass up an opportunity like this anyway. Good luck to them.

Should Dale choose to retire instead, however, that would make the list of candidates even longer as traditionally, minus a strong contender, you could see up to 25 candidates on one ballot for one seat. A Carolyn Parrish or a Charles Sousa might narrow the field to a more manageable few, but the race for Peel Regional Chair would still be interesting to watch.

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