Can the Mayor and the two Councillors who voted for the Free Monday transit for seniors find a fourth vote to make the basically no cost pilot take place?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

January 22, 2016


It’s called being between a rock and a hard place, The rules will ‘get ya’ every time.

Your city council and the staff at city hall will say, whenever they get the chance, that they are always transparent and always accountable and that they are there to serve the people of the city.

The words “citizen engagement” are sprinkled throughout the Strategic Plan that is working its way through the bureaucracy.

Look at this situation and see if you can find the transparency or the accountability or even a smidgen of citizen engagement.

Director of Finance Joan Ford does a great job of providing the data ad her department does a good job of collecting the taxes as well. It's the spending side that is causing the long term financial stress. Ms Ford doesn't do the spending.

Director of Finance Joan Ford does a great job of providing the data.

Burlington has a very good finance department; some of the most diligent people on the city payroll work in that department. They usually always have their fingers on whatever number a member of council might want. Whenever Treasurer Joan Ford doesn’t have a number at her finger tips or makes a small mistake she actually blushes with embarrassment and correct the error very quickly.

Our only beef is that the finance people are not particularly interested in engaging the citizens of the city – they are interested, and are very good at informing the public. These are two different approaches to civic government.

But that is not the current issue. The finance people set an aggressive agenda to get the 2016 budget completed. Debates on the budget take place within a Standing Committee.

Staff set out several days for the process of budget delegations and debate to take place.
Tuesday, January 19th: 10:30 to 6:30 – the meeting ended just after 4:30 pm
Wednesday January 20th: 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
Thursday January 21st: 3:00 pm to 5:30 pm. This meeting did not take place; the Standing Committee was able to adjourn at 4:00 on the Wednesday when they set they recommended a tax increase of 3.16%

Delegations were held on the Tuesday during the day. For some reason they saw no reason to hold evening sessions- why not?

Why wasn’t there more in the way of public notices – the Gazette would have cheerfully run an advertisement for the city had they chosen to use our medium – which gives better value than any other media in the city – but I digress.

The delegations were strong, factual and well delivered and members of council certainly engaged those who were on hand to speak.

The Council debate took place the following day – the Gazette and the Spectator were the only media present.

It was a good debate – we saw some staff behave in a very disrespectful manner when a member of council put forward some data that was supplied by Oakville on their Free Monday for seniors program. A city Director came very close to saying he didn’t believe the numbers read out to him from the Oakville Director of transit. Our city manager, a former Canadian Armed Forces Captain, knows what insubordination is, quite why he didn’t intercede is a question he might want to answer.

When it came to a vote – those wanting the Free Monday transit for seniors lost on a 4 against – 3 for vote.

Councillor Craven is reported to have told an Aldershot resident that he liked the program – but he did not vote for it – that may have been because almost anything Councillor Meed Ward puts forward, Craven opposes. He didn’t speak at any length on the matter during the debate.

Councillor Paul Sharman

Councillor Paul Sharman voted no – he wanted more data.

Councillor Sharman always wants more data before he makes a decision – there does come a point when a decision has to be made based on experience and wisdom. There was the sense that the asking for additional data was punting the ball off the field.


Councillor John Taylor – he voted no – saw free transit as social welfare which most people didn’t need.

Councillor Taylor couldn’t help but see Free transit as some form of social welfare; his mind is still stuck in that old style thinking.

One wonders why Taylor does not label the $225,000 that is forgone in terms of parking fees for the free parking members of staff get every year. With that kind of money the city could make the transit service free to everyone.

Votes can be changed at city council; members can change their mind when they have new information.

But here is the rub. If council votes a second time on the budget matter of free transit for seniors on Monday’s and the vote is lost a second time – it cannot be brought back to council again for the balance of the term of office of this council – two and half years, unless the motion is brought by one of the people who originally voted against the motion – and that vote must pass with a 5-2 for vote just to get it on the table.

That is a high hill to have to climb and would make anyone who wanted to attempt to have the vote over turned at council think twice. Forcing the vote kills the opportunity for the balance of this term of office – which we suspect is exactly what some of the Councillors wanted.

A wiser mind would get into discussions with any member of Council they thought could be swayed – and if the votes were not there – then go to ground and wait for the right opportunity.

There is nothing to prevent council from asking the transit people to prepare the document that would set out what the metrics would be to measure a successful pilot program.

At one point Director of Transit said he could have the document done in a day – when pressed a bit he said he would need a couple of weeks.

Transit Director Mike Spicer, in the yellow shirt, shows Mayor Goldring what he wants in the way of new buses. The MAyor and council obliged and gave Spicer the go ahead to buy smaller buses.

Transit Director Mike Spicer, in the yellow shirt, shows Mayor Goldring what he wants in the way of new buses.

The pilot program wasn’t due to start until April – so Mike Spicer, the Director of Transit has all kind of time to prepare a report – he might use some of that time to meet with his peer in Oakville and learn just how they made their program work.

There is a sliver of hope for the program. Mayor Goldring suggested that the transit people might want to use the pilot project as a marketing initiative – their response to that was they already had a number of marketing programs.

And how well are they working ? is a question the Mayor might have reasonably asked.

Rick Goldring doesn’t yet fully understand what it is to be a Mayor – as the Chief Magistrate he has a “bully pulpit” which he hasn’t learned to use. He could have and should have asked the Director of Transit to re-think his response and then invite the City Manager and the Director in for a cup of coffee and a chat.

Flood Goldring with chain of office

Mayor Rick Goldring on one of the few occasions that he wore his chain of office during an interview.

During the debate James Ridge, City Manager, wouldn’t touch the question. He said – and he right – “this is a political decision.”

That chain of Office the Mayor wears isn’t just a piece of bling. It is a symbol of the office he holds and the authority given him.

There was an opportunity to do something bold, something visionary and, in the words of Jim Young, a chance to show Burlington as a caring, conscientious community.

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11 comments to Can the Mayor and the two Councillors who voted for the Free Monday transit for seniors find a fourth vote to make the basically no cost pilot take place?

  • Steve

    How is losing revenue by giving free bus rides to a huge portion of Burlington’s demographics a “no cost” program? It’s a concept only socialists could wrap their minds around.

  • Karen Dumfey

    Oh yes there are plenty of senior citizens in Rick Craven’s ward. He actually told a group of seniors that wanted a grocery store in Aldershot that they should get out and walk…that it would be good for them. These are probably the same seniors that voted him back in.

    Sad and disgusting to think…that Craven opposes almost all that Marianne Meed Ward puts forward…even if it is for the betterment of the tax payers. GET THIS MAN OUT OF COUNCIL!!! RESIGN NOW!!!

  • Roger

    Paul Sharman from Ward 5 was first elected by promising free transit to seniors. However, if offered – would the seniors take it – if not then the money would be not spent well.

    I would agree we need to offer free transit for seniors however they need to use it and one would hope the ones that have cars would drive less.

  • John

    Council debated the proposal and ultimately decided this was not a program that was the best use of tax dollars. Meed Ward herself advocates the process and understands that not all proposals will be excepted by council.

    “When it came to a vote – those wanting the Free Monday transit for seniors lost on a 4 against – 3 for vote”
    Meed Ward ran a great post about a year ago entitled “Win Some Loose Some” explaining how this works and why it’s important to try.

    “Councillor Craven is reported to have told an Aldershot resident that he liked the program – but he did not vote for it – that may have been because almost anything Councillor Meed Ward puts forward, Craven opposes.”
    Meed Ward advocates, when discussing important issues we should not assume motive, I agree.

    Attempting to change the outcome of a vote by her collogues just doesn’t seem consistent with her views. A departure from her positions now would pose a question worth asking.

    Hopefully the Mayor and Councilor Lancaster respect the vote of council members at committee and again when they meet Monday as council, I am sure Meed Ward will.

    • Tom Muir

      John, I agree that it is difficult to impute what motivates people to do what they do, but I don’t agree that we should not assume that there are motives.

      We are talking about a political arena. In this arena especially there are several motives for political actions and votes that come to mind.

      How about self-preservation, or political ambition, or favors to favorites, or demigoguery, or influence peddling, or personal wants and use of power to get it, or frank corruption, the list goes on.

      Imputing motives can arise from repeated observations of behaviour and voting patterns on issues over time. I think Pepper meets this criteria for voicing his opinion based on the patterns he has observed in 5 years of covering city hall.

      I can say that based on this criteria I can impute possible motives from my experience over time.

      Nonetheless, I agree that being correct in this motive imputing is another thing. The solution is to get engaged, pay attention, and do your homework.

      In any case, Councilor Meed Ward points to the reality that the Council votes determine the decisions made. That’s our system.

      However, within this system one can make efforts to change a previous Committee vote outcome and try it at Council.

      But it is truly win some lose some, and that’s that.

      • John

        I agree motives always seem to be present, particularly in the political arena.
        Repeated observations and patterns are certainly a reliable methods to determine possible motives, comparing what is said to what is actually done also provides insight.

        In this case the information used in support was incomplete, ignoring an in-depth study of the Oakville experience and only highlighting one aspect. The four councilors opposed got it right, their reasons could not support the motion, motives aside.

        What I have pointed out is Councilor Meed Ward has provided strong positions both on votes and motive, I agree and continue to believe she represents these positions.
        At the council meeting yesterday Meed Ward did not bring the motion to council, good political move, but does not match what she has said about votes. This mismatch of words and actions begins to look like a motive, I am not yet convinced however, I will quote Pepper as he seems to think this motion had a motive.
        From a Gazette Jan 19 post,
        “Meed Ward has delivered big time for the seniors- she will be rewarded when she decides to run for a different roll on city council in 2018”

  • Glenda D

    Guess there isn’t enough seniors in Carven and the other councillors wards to care if seniors get a transit perk…perhaps they all still drive cars… Craven and his buddies will vote yes when the Mariana comes calling with a delegation for more funds to cover the detailed design phase for their marina expansion….10,000 dons of rock into the harbor…ah yes city money for a private club in an area of town where visiting boaters can’t even walk to downtown…bet they won’t advertise that meeting.

  • Frank Rance

    Unfortunately, Councillor Paul Sharman is a shining example of a victim who hides behind “ANAYLSIS PARALYSIS”. I think we can do better.

    • Yvonne

      Love that expression analysis paralysis !!!!!!!!! Councillors voted in to make decisions ,not command study after study Someone needs the “balls” to make a decision on their own

  • henri de beaujolais

    I would assume the existing transit marketing initiatives aren’t working too well as the transit department had a $750,000 (approximately) deficit last year…

    Time to try something new.. such as a new Director of Transit… new Council members.

    Really Mr. Sharman, still need ‘more data’? From the last 5 years, you always want more data. Not a sign of a true leader.

    Staff get free parking – ‘Free P’ for them all year long. $225,000 per year. At approximately $5,000 in taxes per household, 50% of which goes to the City, that is close to 90 households whose sole purpose is to pay for parking for City staff… Mr. Sharman should be all over that number.

  • Monte

    I follow the “debate” and “discussion” following transit in Burlington. I rarely get involved since it is at best a “wheel spinning” exercise. The only thing that can be concluded is that Burlington Transit will look the same in 10/15 years as it does now.

    Nothing bold in the way of initiatives or suggested experiments. Lets wait until some other community does something then we will sit and collect more data and then do the same thing. Where has imagination and vision gone? Canadians did not land the U.S. men on the moon by sitting, with no vision.

    First a decision must be made “do we want to do something re transit”? If not then let’s turn discussions to something we know from the 50’s, like perhaps build more roads, purchase more large busses to service small areas off of the main arteries and continue to run them with the same ridership as present. Listen to citizens complain that busses have no, or few, passengers on them and then collect more data and then do, as always – nothing.

    Sound frustrating? Only because the present discussion is going nowhere and will go nowhere as long as there is no vision and imagination.

    Turn this transit discussion into something POSITIVE and BOLD and only then will things change.