The death of Vaughan mayor Lorna Jackson has created a leadership crisis at the top of what was Canada's fastest-growing city in the past decade, the area's MPP, Greg Sorbara, says.
"Over the course of the years, Vaughan Council has often been very fractious. Lorna was able to manage that fairly effectively," Mr. Sorbara said in an interview. "With her gone, I think the jockeying and the power vacuum is going to give rise to some interesting politics in the next little while,"
Ms. Jackson, who died of cancer last week, was mayor of Vaughan for 20 years, and though she was not as flamboyant as her long-serving contemporaries Mel Lastman in North York and Toronto, and Hazel McCallion in Mississauga, she was as dominant a local politician as they.
As Vaughan Councillor Mario Ferri put it, "she was synonymous with the City of Vaughan. The characteristic that I'm going to miss was that she always forced us to rise above the politics of the issues and forced us to look at what is best for the people."
Markham Mayor Don Cousens said Ms. Jackson was effective because she could connect with all cultural groups in Vaughan, such as Muslims and Jews, and the dominant group, the Italian community, "felt very comfortable that she was in charge and she was always someone you could trust."
Vaughan Council will meet next week and will have to decide whether to hold an election to fill the remainder of her term or to appoint regional councillor Michael Di Biase, who has been the city's acting mayor since Ms. Jackson's cancer was diagnosed. That happened just as she was re-elected in November, 2000.
"There's a working assumption that Michael will be appointed. This arises because this passing is not unexpected. Lorna [had]been very sick. The jockeying has gone on for a long time," Mr. Sorbara said.
He said that if Mr. Di Biase is named mayor, the council will have to decide who becomes regional councillor to replace him, and if a ward councillor is moved up to regional council, who would move into that vacancy.
"That just fills the various positions. It doesn't answer the question of exercising the leadership that is necessary to bring together a fractious council," he added.
Mr. Ferri said he does not know whether the council will opt for an election or appoint a mayor. It will have to listen carefully to the public, he said.
Although vacancies may be filled by appointment, Mr. Cousens predicted that it will be hard not to hold an election for any that develop, because the council term is less than half over. The cost is the price of democracy, he said.
Mr. Sorbara said Ms. Jackson's successor faces a number of issues: speeding up the pace of infrastructure development, what to do about Vaughan Hydro as the electricity market is deregulated, the possibility the development of new subdivisions should pause to let hard services catch up, and the location of a new city centre.