York Regional Council Update – Thursday, April 22, 2021

Regional Council calls for a balanced approach to COVID-19 measures

On April 7, 2021, the Government of Ontario declared a third provincial state of emergency under section 7.0.1 of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. On April 19, 2021, the government introduced further restrictions and extended the province-wide stay-at home order an additional two weeks. Strengthened public health measures under the stay-at-home order include limiting outdoor gatherings to members of the immediate household, stoppage of all non-essential construction, capacity limits of 25% for permitted in-person shopping and the closure of outdoor recreation amenities.

Over the past number of weeks, confirmed cases of COVID-19 have increased in York Region, putting pressure on public health resources and hospital capacity. While Regional Council appreciates the actions of the province, they remain committed to better balancing the mental and physical well-being of residents with practical restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.

It is the position of Regional Council and York Region Medical Officer of Health Dr. Karim Kurji that protecting the mental and physical health of residents is just as critical as protecting public health and safety. For that reason, York Region has called upon the Government of Ontario to reconsider current public health restrictions and reopen as many outdoor recreational amenities as possible in York Region and across the province for non-organized sport activities.

Regional Council also extended thanks to the Government of Canada for taking action to suspend all incoming passenger flights from India and Pakistan for the next 30 days. Variants of concern, including the new B.1.617 double mutation variant which originated in India and reached our communities through international travel, have higher transmission rates and are primarily responsible for recent surges in case counts in York Region, Ontario and Canada.

By working in collaboration with partners at all levels of government, Regional Council is confident we can bring case numbers down, protect the health and well-being of residents and support the reopening of our local, provincial and national economies.

York Region’s continued response to COVID-19

Regional Council received a number of updates on York Region’s continued response to COVID-19 and implementation of the York Region Mass COVID-19 Vaccination Plan.

In his weekly address to Regional Council, York Region Medical Officer of Health Dr. Karim Kurji provide an update on vaccination efforts and York Region’s balanced approach to vaccinating priority populations while also trying to break transmission of COVID-19 in the community.

In addition to all eligible priority groups, York Region is targeting vaccination efforts to high priority communities, also known as hot spots, where infections, hospitalizations and fatalities have been highest. At the same time, mobile vaccination teams continue to target workplaces in these hot spot areas that have encountered the greatest number of outbreaks and repeat outbreaks.

Overall, York Region continues to make great progress with the Mass COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy. Through 10 York Region and partner-led clinics, along with the availability of AstraZeneca vaccines through pharmacies and primary care provides, more than 340,000 doses of COVID-19 have been administered to York Region residents thus far.

Regional Council also received an updated on the corporate response to COVID-19, which provided an overview of programs and services provided to residents throughout the pandemic, along with the projected financial impacts for 2021.

In response to the growing and varied needs of residents, York Region has implemented a number of new initiatives to provide continued support to residents. Virtual programming to support families and children, including virtual feeding groups and parenting consultations, have been introduced through social services and EarlyON partner agencies. The York Region COVID-19 Self-Isolation Centre provides residents a safe location to isolate when recovering from a COVID-19 infection and Social Services Relief Funding has been used to create longer-term housing solutions for those in need.

In addition to community supports, York Region continues to offer a number of virtual programs and services along with the essential services residents and businesses rely on every day.

These programs, along with the broader public health response to COVID-19, have an estimated financial impact of $87.3 million for the first quarter of 2021. This is an average cost of $6.7 million per week.

Preliminary financial estimates suggest that the costs to deliver the public health response and mass immunization program are between $60 and $90 million higher than anticipated in the 2021 budget. However, funding commitments through senior levels of government are expected to help address these financial impacts.

More information on York Region’s continued response to COVID-19 is available at york.ca/covid19

Paramedic Services implement new protocols to support COVID-19 patient care

Regional Council received an update from York Region Paramedic Services on the impacts of COVID-19 on patient care and resident health and well-being.

Due to increased capacity strains faced by York Region’s local hospitals, along with an increase in 911 emergency calls and emergency department visits, York Region Paramedics implemented Assessment of Patients with Possible COVID-19 Medical Directive – Auxiliary on Thursday, April 15, 2021. This medical directive allows paramedics to assess and consider patients for release from care.

York Region paramedics will work collaboratively with local hospital partners to evaluate capacity constraints in their local emergency departments and implement the directive as an alternative option for care. Prior to releasing each patient from care, paramedics will obtain authorization from the base hospital physician.

Implementation of this directive is an important step to help alleviate pressures on the health-care system. York Region Paramedics Services continues to support our communities, providing the highest quality of care throughout this pandemic.

York Region Transit continues to provide efficient and safe service during COVID-19 Pandemic

Regional Council was updated on York Region Transit’s (YRT) system performance. In 2020, COVID-19 significantly impacted transit service across the country. York Region Transit (YRT) saw ridership reduced to 10.7 million riders compared to 22.9 million in 2019. As an essential service, transit continued to run with an enhanced cleaning and safety protocol to provide transportation options to essential workers, people travelling to grocery stores and medical appointments. To address decreased ridership, efficiencies to some routes experiencing low ridership were found by replacing conventional service with Mobility On-Request, an on-demand transit option reducing costs.

In addition to finding efficiencies throughout the system and service effectiveness to routes with low ridership, YRT also moved forward important initiatives including:

  • Purchasing the Newmarket Bus Terminal and completed modifications to improve the terminal
  • Launching the first six electric buses in operation in the Region
  • Adjusting fare categories across the YRT system to match those in the GTHA, a positive step towards fare integration
  • Opening the last two segments of the Viva Rapidway along Yonge Street

YRT will continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure staff and travellers remain safe as well as having access to safe and reliable transit.

York Region appoints representative to Rouge National Urban Park Advisory Committee

Regional Council appointed City of Markham Regional Councillor Jack Heath as the York Region representative on the Rouge National Urban Park Multi-Stakeholder and Public Advisory Committee.

This committee provides the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister of Parks Canada with recommendations, knowledge and guidance on the responsible management of the park and implementation of the Rouge National Urban Park Management Plan. The committee also serves as a forum for ongoing collaboration between Parks Canada and Indigenous Peoples, local government, community partners and the public.

Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville Mayor Iain Lovatt will sit on the committee as the representative from Whitchurch-Stouffville and the City of Markham will put forward a name for representation.

York Region appoints representative to Canadian National Exhibition Association

Regional Council appointed Town of Georgina Regional Councillor Robert Grossi as the York Region representative to the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) Association.

The CNE Association is responsible for the planning and presentation of the annual Canadian National Exhibition, Canada’s largest community event and one of the top agricultural fairs in North America.

$355 million being invested in roads and transit infrastructure

Regional Council approved $355 million to continue building road and transit system improvements in 2021. This contributes to an overall investment of $3.3 billion, the highest to date, over the next 10 years which will continue to build and maintain infrastructure to ensure York Region communities have access to a safe, reliable and responsive transportation network.

To enhance roads and transit, nearly 100 construction projects are planned across the Region. These projects include:

  • Reconstructing and widening of roads and bridges
  • Upgrading intersections
  • Building or expanding transit terminals and operations maintenance facilities
  • Road rehabilitation and preservation

In 2020, $272 million was invested to advance construction on several major projects, bus purchases for fleet renewal as well as expansion programs.

Slow down: speed limit revisions at seven locations

Regional Council approved revisions to speed limits on seven sections of Regional roads.
Roads with revised speed limits include:

Several factors are considered when revising speed limits on Regional roads, including:

  • Adjusting speeds in areas with new community growth, increasing traffic volumes, intersections, driveway connections, pedestrians and cyclists requiring the need for travellers to slow down
  • Reducing frequent changes to speed limits on a stretch of road to reduce confusion and increase compliance
  • Revising speeds to allow drivers to have an appropriate time to react to potential hazards

To notify travellers of the speed limit changes, “new” signs will be posted above the speed limit signs at the beginning of each changed speed zone.

Traffic bylaw amendment to support HOV lane designation

To increase the total number of people travelling on Major Mackenzie Drive West between Barons Street and Highway 27 in the City of Vaughan, Regional Council has approved a bylaw amendment to support the designation of a high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane.

This dedicated lane for use by buses and passenger vehicles with more than one person will help minimize delays to buses, improve reliability for transit service along this corridor and encourage carpooling.

The HOV lane will be in effect 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, as of Thursday, April 22, 2021.

Safely crossing Regional roads

Regional Council approved a Pedestrian Crossover Policy for use on Regional Roads. Pedestrian crossovers provide protected road crossing opportunities and safety benefits to people who use them. With the approval of the new policy, a consistent method will be in place to determine appropriate the locations and types of crossovers on Regional roads.

Until now, the Region has been exclusively installing pedestrian signals to assist those wishing to cross midblock. Pedestrian crossovers clearly assign the right-of-way between pedestrians and motorists at otherwise uncontrolled crossings, providing pedestrians with protected crossing opportunities by requiring motorists to stop when pedestrians are present in the crosswalk.

The first pedestrian crossover will be installed on Yonge Street at the Holland Landing Community Centre in the Town of East Gwillimbury.

Agreement with Canadian National Railway (CNR) to rail grade separation

Regional Council has approved an agreement with Canadian National Railway (CNR) for the construction and long-term maintenance of Rutherford Road bridge at the MacMillan Rail Yard, west of Rotational Drive, in the City of Vaughan. The widening of the bridge will accommodate the planned expansion of Rutherford Road to six lanes.

This road and bridge widening will benefit residents of Vaughan and York Region by improving flow of traffic through increased transportation options on this busy east-west transportation corridor.

York Region continues to meet highest drinking water standards

York Region continues to receive excellent drinking water scores with the 2020 Drinking Water Systems Report.

York Region received excellent scores in the 2019-2020 Chief Drinking Water Inspector’s Annual Report Card with a score of 99.98% for water samples meeting Ontario’s drinking water quality standards and an inspection score of 100%. In 2020, all Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks inspections at York Region’s 15 drinking water systems scored 100%.

The 2020 Drinking Water Systems Report highlights York Region’s actions to protect water quality and compliance under the Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002. Despite COVID-19, safe and uninterrupted water and wastewater services continue to be maintained for York Region residents and businesses. York Region’s robust and rigorous compliance approach includes source water protection, operator training, water treatment, extensive monitoring and testing and emergency preparedness.

Water quality reports for your community water systems can be found through the online report highlights tool at york.ca/drinkingwater

2020 research and innovation update

York Region continues to be an industry leader in research and innovation. Despite the uncertainties of the past year, Environmental Services participated in several research initiatives to support water, wastewater, waste management, forestry and energy conservation program delivery.

Joining the Canadian Water Network’s COVID-19 wastewater coalition last year, York Region partnered with leading scientists to help develop methods to test for COVID-19 in wastewater. The provincial government invested more than $12 million in COVID-19 wastewater surveillance to determine how this information can assist the public health response.

Ongoing environmental research supports the improvement of facility and field operations, asset management programs and helps shape the design of future infrastructure. By working collaboratively with industry partners, York Region is able to leverage a larger funding pool to achieve more meaningful research for all involved. This research enables informed decision-making and leads to industry best practices.

Lake Simcoe Protection Plan: 10-year review

The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan includes a legislative requirement to review every 10 years; with most recent stakeholder comments due March 3, 2021.

York Region staff focused their recommendations for the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan Review on how best to implement and achieve goals and targets of the existing plan, proposing a number of concrete actions to advance work over the next 10 years. York Region staff recommend focusing on removing phosphorus from runoff. This is considered the single most effective means to reduce phosphorus entering Lake Simcoe.

Other recommendations include:

  • Participating in programs like the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) Phosphorus Offsetting Program, requiring zero net increase in phosphorus from new development
  • Investing in green infrastructure, such as reducing shoreline hardscapes and increasing tree cover to naturally reduce contaminants to the lake
  • Advancing municipal sewage treatment, such as the proposed Upper York Water Resource Recovery facility, to achieve economies of scale and use best-in-class wastewater treatment processes to return high-quality water back into the environment

New provincial vision for social assistance

Ontario’s vision for a renewed social assistance system will help more people move towards employment and independence. Through this new vision, the Province will centralize all eligibility and financial decisions for both Ontario Works and ODSPCentralizing and automating financial administration is intended to provide additional time for caseworkers to provide person-centred client support.

The Province’s Recovery & Renewal: Ontario’s Vision for Social Assistance Transformation will be tested through 2021 to 2024 with full implementation expected by end of 2024.

Growth continues across York Region communities

Despite significant economic impacts of COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, The Regional Municipality of York continued to grow in population, construction value and the housing market.

Contained in the 2020 Growth and Development ReviewAnnual Development Activity Summary and Centres and Corridors update reports, below are some highlights of last year’s activity:

  • York Region’s population grew by 11,100 people, the third highest in the GTHA, following the Region of Peel and City of Toronto
  • Development activity increased 3% over 2019
  • Development industry remained strong with 5,832 building permits issued for dwelling units, a 25% increase from 2019
  • Housing completions increased by 19.7% to 6,339 compared to 5,294 in 2019, with an additional 10,400 units still under construction
  • Residential building permit and construction activity within York Region’s four key urban centres (Centres and Corridors) was one of the strongest years on record; approximately 68% of all new apartment units were within the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (VMC) and 12% of permits were for purpose-built rentals
  • Along the proposed Yonge North Subway Extension, 17,000 apartment units and 550,000 square feet of commercial/retail spaces have been proposed since 2018; the Yonge North Subway Extension continues to be top transit priorities for York Region

Similar to other communities across Ontario and Canada, York Region experiences a higher than average level of job loss in 2020. Industries most impacted included retail, service and tourism and hospitality. The York Region 2020 unemployment rate ranged from a low of 3.6% prior to the pandemic to a high of 13.7% due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and ended the year at 8%.

As we look to COVID-19 recovery efforts, there are some positive indicators for 2021 and beyond. York Region remains development ready and has a healthy supply of residential units nearing completion and strong development activity is expected to continue. York Region’s employment growth is also forecasted to occur in both 2021 and 2022. Total employment is expected to return to pre-COVID-19 employment levels in 2022.

ventureLab 2020 Annual Result update

Regional Council received an update on ventureLAB 2020 activities which highlight the innovation centre’s ability to alter their services and programs to assist businesses across York Region during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This was achieved through:

  • The launch of a new Innovation Hub Membership model to support tech start-ups and meet the demands of a hybrid and remote workforce
    Regular meetings with senior level decision makers to offer guidance on key challenges faced by small and medium enterprises
  • Continued collaboration with small and medium enterprises to help navigate the impact of COVID-19

ventureLAB is York Region’s provincially recognized Regional Innovation Centre and helps drive Regional economic growth and job creation by supporting the development and delivery of programs and services, targeting technology-based entrepreneurs looking to start or grow a business.

York Region extends thanks to Transportation Services Commissioner Paul Jankowski

Regional Council extended thanks and appreciation to Transportation Services Commissioner Paul Jankowski, who leaves the Region for an exciting opportunity as the CEO of the newly created Edmonton Metropolitan Transit Services.

Over two tenures with York Region, Commissioner Jankowski oversaw some of the largest transit initiatives in York Region’s 50-year history. This included launching an electric bus trial to advance the electrification of the Region’s fleet, building an integrated and focused transportation department and overseeing numerous infrastructure projects, resulting in hundreds of new lane-kilometres of roads, new freeway interchanges, bridges and other structures.

Council offered their best wishes to Mr. Jankowski in this new role, while also thanking him for his dedication and commitment to the Region.

Ann Marie Carroll, the General Manager of Transit, will serve as the Acting Commissioner of Transportation Services, effective May 1, 2021.

York Region recognized for innovation and excellence in public works

York Region received five awards from the Ontario Public Works Association for innovative work on transportation and wastewater projects.

York Region’s 2020 Public Works Projects of the Year awards included:

  • Environmental Services’ Emergency Groundwater Management where staff were able to manage an uncontrolled water flow from an artesian well, mitigating risks and reducing impact on the surrounding habitat
  • Environmental Services’ Schomberg Water Treatment Plant Emergency Filter Rehabilitation Project
  • Transportation Services’ Norman Bethune Avenue and Aristotle Avenue Project in partnership with the City of Markham and City of Richmond Hill

The 2020 Management Innovation Award recognized Environmental Services’ Drinking Water Compliance Data Validation and Public Visualization Project and York Region Director of Environmental Promotion and Protection Laura McDowell was recognized as a 2020 Public Works Leader of the Year.

York Region has also received an award from Ontario Good Roads Association under the 2020 John Niedra Better Practices Competition. This award recognized Transportation Services’ Leslie Street Low Impact Development where York Region undertook an innovative approach for the storm sewer management on the Leslie Street road widening project between Elgin Mills Road and 19th Avenue in the City of Richmond Hill.

The OPWA Awards Program was established to recognize outstanding individuals, groups and organizations representing the best in the public works profession.

Stronger together, celebrating National Public Works Week

National Public Works Week will take place May 16 to 22, 2021 celebrating the efforts taken to deliver many services throughout the year. This year’s theme is Stronger Together, will be highlighted in a number of virtual activities planned for the week.

Public works services include:

  • Providing safe and clean drinking water
  • Roads maintenance
  • Monitoring traffic control and signal operations
  • Transit
  • Planting, protecting and enhancing York Region forest and street trees

More information on the fun and educational virtual events taking place throughout the week will be updated on york.ca/publicworks

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