A little more depth in that State of the City address would have been nice; telling the full story and sharing the concerns is better practice.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  January 24. 2013  It was back in 1986, when Roly Bird was Mayor of the city.  At that time there was a regular Mayor’s Breakfast – an event that gave the wheelers and dealers and wanna be’s an opportunity to get together and network – they didn’t call it that then – it was just the way local politics was done.

Someone came up with the idea of having the Mayor give an annual address.  They needed a name for it and decided they would model it after the State of the Nation address used in the United States.  Burlington was keeping one step ahead of Oakville which still have Mayor’s Breakfasts.

Burlington has been doing this ever since.  This morning, on a crisp Canadian winter day, more than 400 people drove out to the convention centre on Burloak, drove around looking for a parking spot and did what Roly Bird introduced them to back in ’86; get caught up on what’s happening at city hall.

These State of the City addresses gives the Mayor a chance to trot out the list of things that have been done – sort of like a shareholders meeting where all those holding preferred shares get to enjoy their dividend.

This event is put on by the Mayor; his office controls the flow and the event.  No questions get asked and you’re given phrase after phrase of the kind of stuff only a public relations specialist can write.

On balance Burlington is in good shape.  At some point the people at city hall are going to stop trotting out all the MoneySense magazine ratings.  It is a fine city but we seem to have let ourselves be defined by our geography.  The “gem” or the “jewel” of a waterfront (with a pier that is coming in at three times it original cost) and an Escarpment that makes the city both rural and suburban at the same time.  The city is not yet at that point where it can say it is urban or urbane.

We now know that the property either side of the QEW is our Prosperity Corridor and we were assured that city council will approve the Official Plan and the rezoning that is going to be needed to get IKEA into the property it has optioned on the North Service Road.

Council will pass the changes  to the Official Plan and give IKEA the rezoning it wants and it’s then a done deal, said the Mayor except for three words that are laden with possible very serious problems.  Goldring mentioned “two other processes” that we must go through – the Regional government and the Conservation Authority.

Region because Walkers Line is a Regional Road that is nearing capacity and the Conservation Authority because of a creek that is on the eastern edge of the property.

While Burlington wants the IKEA move to happen – the Region isn’t as close to the issue and are not facing the same pressure.  There are 1 million visits to IKEA now – making it the city’s biggest tourist attraction (which got the only laugh Goldring was going to get with this address).  The new location is expecting to get 1.5 million visitors annually.  Walkers Line in its current form cannot handle that traffic and the two lanes that make up the North Service Road certainly can’t handle the traffic going into the location.

THE QEW cannot be made narrower so is any width for the North Service Road going to come out of the land IKEA has optioned?   The next problem then is the railway line at the north side of the property.  Is IKEA’s hope to  make their site wider?

That red line is the railway tracks – the thin black line is the creek on the east of the property.  Getting 1.5 million cars through the Walkers Line intersection is not going to be an easy transportation exercise.  Mayor Goldring misleads when he doesn’t tell the full story.

In the world of planning and design all is possible – but it is not easy and the Mayor misleads his audience when he says “two other processes” – when he should have said two bloody big hurdles that we don’t know quite how we are going to get over and if you’ve got any good ideas – give me a call.

The QEW is a provincial road so we are going to have to work closely with them

The Mayor then used some rather good public relations spin and turned this problem into what you are going to hear called THE PROSPERITY CORRIDOR which will stretch from Guelph Line to Appleby line on both sides of the QEW.  That prosperity is going to amount to two million square feet of new office and industrial space and 6,000 high value jobs.

The Mayor talked about the role the IKEA project played in “helping us shape the new direction for the Burlington Economic Development Corporation” (BEDC).  That was an impressive piece of public relations spin.  The Mayor’s former Chief of Staff, Frank McKeown felt the best thing that could be done with the BEDC, which wasn’t performing all that well, was to “blow it up”.

There are some 20 people on the BEDC board.  It looks like a federal cabinet that has to meet the demographics of a large diverse country.  A board that size has people there to ensure that their interests are protected.  The objective should be to get the smartest people you can find to do the job forget who they represent.  Paul Subject, a member of the board, didn’t expect to have to jump into the fray when he put in more time than he expected working through the way the BEDC would re-shape itself to meet the very real problems it was facing.

The city hasn’t approved the budget that is going to be needed to re-shape the BEDC; the Mayor didn’t mention that one either.

The proof is always in the pudding – and this one is still in the pot.  The people who do the thinking in this city are going to find themselves re-thinking and perhaps re-shaping the council that leads them.  See that as a heads up.

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