A strong, direct statement on what one citizen feels is wrong with city hall as people begin to think about who the next city Councillors should be.

opinionred 100x100By Stephen White

August 28th, 2018



The Burlington Community Engagement Charter is not the Ten Commandments, and the last time I checked James Ridge was not Moses. Uttering a collection of sanctimonious pronouncements and expecting that suddenly things will change for the better or be done differently is not only naive but is foolhardy and absurd in the extreme.

Real engagement is not about a slick website with colourful pictures, or pretty PowerPoint presentations, or holding public meetings feigning interest while citizens rail on about the latest development proposal desecrating neighbourhoods. It is about real communication based on a respect for and an appreciation of the benefits that come from joint problem-solving, articulation of divergent viewpoints, and the search for viable solutions. Most importantly, it is a dialogue and sharing amongst equals.

The city holds budget review meetings that draw 50 people sometimes - seldom more. Putting questions about the budget on line and letting a panel of 5,000 people respond would give city hall a much bigger picture. They may not like the response they get - then what do they do?

Citizens at a budget meeting, reviewing a budget that has already been decided on. White wants that to change to a process that involves public input before the budget is cast in stone.

What we have in Burlington is a power imbalance that works for the benefit of a few against the interests of many. We have a Mayor who has really proven powerless to lead over the past four years, and who keeps trying to appease everyone with platitudes but really ends up pleasing no one. We have a Council who, despite multiple appeals and admonitions to the contrary over the past two years. has pushed their bloody-minded OP and Mobility Hubs agenda over the objections and against the wishes of residents.

All of this has played out against a backdrop of the business community, supported by the Chamber of Commerce and developers, who keep telling us, figuratively at least, to just shut up and drink the Kool-Aid, and whose grandiose promises extolling the virtues of development are over hyped while the negative externalities (e.g. traffic congestion, too few parking spaces, lack of green spaces, etc.) are dramatically under-reported. And watching it all from the sidelines are municipal public servants whose contribution to this circus performance is to continually prattle on about how we all need to “Grow Bold” and “intensify” while producing copious amounts of communications drivel intended to mollify an increasingly militant and wearisome public, all done in the name of “engagement”.

We can change our Mayor, and we change our Council, but those actions, in and of themselves, will not yield change post October 22nd. What we really need to change is the process and the players who manage it.

Beachway meeting April7-15 full house

Citizens gather for a public meeting on what should be done with private homes in the Beachway. Their views were not included in the final decision. The Region will buy every house when it comes on the market.

Consultation and dialogue needs to occur from the outset, not as an afterthought. We need dedicated resources at City Hall, not aligned with developers, who will aid citizens and support neighbourhoods when mounting objections to development proposals. We need City Hall support to create and sustain neighbourhood and ratepayers’ associations as a non-elected counter-veiling force to challenge developers and as a conduit to meaningful citizen engagement.

We need advisory panels whose members are reflective of the community, and not populated with special interest advocates. We need to build in the concept of engagement and communication into every business process that is conducted municipally, and not just some pious Engagement Charter that gets framed and hung on a wall somewhere and is essentially meaningless.

CHAT group photo

Members of ChAT – the Charter Action Team responsible for ensuring that the Engagement Charter is actually complied with.

Those who manage the process need to be evaluated and held accountable on how well they actually do it.

And finally, we need to open up a serious discussion around the continued employment of several municipal public servants whose past derisive comments and behaviour don’t exactly connote with the concept of “engagement”.

Related news story.

The Engagement Charter.

The Shape Burlington Report

Stephen White is a Burlington resident who lives on the east side of the city.  He comments from time to time on how well the city is run.

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15 comments to A strong, direct statement on what one citizen feels is wrong with city hall as people begin to think about who the next city Councillors should be.

  • Carie

    Replying to Mr. Mulkewich: The residents of Burlington ARE organizing themselves beyond what you are aware of, the communities in this City are connected, and the strength of these communities show through when they come together in the face of adversity. In 2014, they banded together to face the disaster of the flood. In 2018 these same communities are regrouping and banding together to face the disaster of City Hall. A revolution is coming.

    Mr. Mulkewich, I’m all about evidence based reports. When the City of Burlington, and the developers it’s beholden to , decide to have information “Open Houses” in the name of Citizen Engsgement, strategically held on random days in the middle of summer when most people are either on holidays or at work, with not more than a couple days notice in an obscure newspaper/online ad, how many residents logically will attend? The City clearly prefers the fewer the voices, the quieter the cry. For thorough , informative, two way engagement to occur, it is the ethical and legal RESPONSIBILITY of the City to create adequate awareness of the issues, promote and market “Engagement “ meetings with the objectives of the issues attached, and advertise openly through a variety of media, over a reasonable amount of time, to reach the greatest number of citizens. Not that difficult. If only citizen engagement was held as high in regard as promoting the Sound of Music festival, then maybe the people of Burlington wouldn’t be so fed up. We all have much invested in this City, with our families, and our future generations. We won’t be silenced or ignored any longer.

  • Fran - Tyandaga-Ward1

    Thank you Stephen! We “the people” have an opportunity “to be the change” – October 22!

  • Susie

    The sneaky underlying manoeuvres that are now being played out for an “illegal” political win, tells us technology intricacies can be very dangerous to turning out the wrong winner!

  • This lack of proper process is not limited to Burlington, unfortunately it can be found throughout Ontario. Hopefully change will begin in October by electing those councillors who will insist on both effective public representation and accountable government.

  • steven craig gardner

    My fear is that we will get a bunch of vocal people with no real background or training in what they are speaking representing their interests not necessarily all of Burlington. I see this in some of the delegations comments lots of anti-voices but no solutions or alternatives.

  • Gary Scobie

    Excellent dissection of what is wrong with the governance and administration of Burlington and some good suggestions on how to remedy the disease, Stephen. Thank you.

  • Hans

    I agree, 100%.

  • I wrote in my “Why I’m running video” we don’t want to be consulted on plans for the city we want to participate in plans.

    Steve is 100% correct just changing the faces doesn’t change the “consulting dynamic” at play.

    Basically, staff and council believe the primary participants in planning are provincial groups that are driving change. They are the experts advising them. The public are the “amateurs” that can’t possibly understand what kind of community will be “good for them.”

    This dynamic won’t reverse unless the new council is clear that residents decide what kind of city they want and the experts make it happen.

  • George

    “We need dedicated resources at City Hall, not aligned with developers, who will aid citizens and support neighbourhoods when mounting objections to development proposals.” I agree, currently it appears 6 of our 7 members of city council and mayor are aligned with developers with only Marianne Meed Ward representing the people of Burlington. My vote and support goes to Marianne who represents the wishes of Burlington citizens.

  • Walter Mulkewich

    Strong opinions without much specific evidence of support. Citizen engagement must start with citizens organizing themselves and I hope they do.

    • Stephen White

      Yes Walter: citizens need to organize themselves, but that organization, in and of itself, requires time, commitment, money and resources which members of the public don’t have in abundance. By contrast, developers have funding, time and resources to promote their interests.

      If you had attended any of the ECoB meetings last year and witnessed the challenges associated with trying to mount a grass roots campaign then you would have seen the mountain that has to be scaled in order to be effective. Fighting developers at the OMB takes money, and lawyers don’t come cheap. This is not a level playing field.

      This is an issue of power imbalance. Frankly, as a New Democrat, you of all people should have been acutely aware and sensitive to this issue. Alas!

  • Kevin Rutherford

    Couldn’t agree more Stephen

  • Ray Rivers

    Well said Stephen. In addition, I have long wondered whether there is an inverse relationship between the size of a municipal council and the degree to which it can adequately represent the various factions and interests in the public. It is one thing to participate in consultation, quite another to exercise power. Food for thought as Toronto experiences the pain of its transition to a less representative council based on federal political boundaries, rather than communities.

  • Lynn Crosby

    I think we should put this on a billboard.

    • Stu Parr

      Absolutely agree but I’m afraid that bylaw enforcement would insist that it be taken down. Just sayin’