The Nutcracker will be performed three times on two days at the Performing Arts Centre

eventsblue 100x100By Pepper Parr

November 25th, 2019



The Burlington Performing Arts Centre is doing what they are there to do. Bring world class performances to the city.

The Nutcracker is a must see for every young person who is going to have at least an understanding of the arts. For the truly young it is spectacular; for those in high school and their parents it is great performance.

The Russians do The Nutcracker superbly – the National Ballet Theatre of Odessa’s production of The Nutcracker is in town for three performances from December 6-7, 2019.  (Some of the people of the Ukraine are going through a bit of a war trying to get out from under the thumb of the Putin Russian government.)


Energy and colour – will delight the eyes and hearts of the very young.

The dancers will dazzle Burlington audiences with the timeless holiday classic. Set to Tchaikovsky’s music, including Waltz of the Flowers and Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, The Nutcracker is a cherished holiday adventure that follows a little girl’s journey through a fantasy world of fairies, princes, toy soldiers, and an army of mice.

Following in the footsteps of Moscow’s famous Bolshoi Ballet, The National Ballet Theatre of Odessa (which happens to originate in Ukraine) will be dancing the same classical choreography with 55 of the Ukraine’s brightest ballet stars. This production of The Nutcracker has fast become a Burlington family tradition for the young and young at heart.

The Odessa National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet is the oldest theatre in Odessa, Ukraine.


Classic ballet – the performances show the way it is supposed to be done.

It is not cheap –

Regular: $69.50 (All in)

Member: $64.50 (All in)

Youth: $35.00 (All in)

National Ballet Theatre of Odessa:
Friday, December 6, 2019 @ 7:30pm
Saturday, December 7, 2019 @ 2pm and 7:30pm
Main Theatre
440 Locust Street, Burlington, Ontario

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What would happen if the Loose Leaf Collection program was killed?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

November 25th, 2019



Recall those occasions when you put two and two together and realize that the total is five?

This crew will probably not be clearing the leaves from your property. They were working along New Street when this picture was taken.

This crew will probably not be clearing the leaves from your property. They were working along New Street when this picture was taken.

Keep that in mind as you look through what we have written about the Loose Leaf Collection Program and read the comments carefully.

Could it be that City Council is giving serious thought to the idea of killing the program as part of a tax saving measure?

The program is expensive and no matter that the city does – something goes wrong.

Leaf collection 2017 truckWhy not just get rid of it early in their term of office; give the native’s time to get used to the idea and boast about how you have managed to keep the budget at just a pinch above the 4% increase last year.

If that doesn’t fly – how about a Loose Leaf Collection levy?

This is a story that still has some legs – let’s see where the tail that wags the dog takes us?

Salt with Pepper is the musings, reflections and opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette, an online newspaper that was formed in 2010 and is a member of the National Newsmedia Council.

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Has the market for condominiums in Burlington changed?

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

November 25th, 2019



Every month the Rocca Sisters produce a report on residential real estate sales in Burlington where they break out houses and condominiums data.

In their most recent issue they report the following:

Rocca combined

The trend line for condominium sales is consistent while the number of units sold moves around a bit.  The high so far for the year is 67 units with a low of 40.

For the purposes of the point we want to make – let us use 65 units per month as what can be sold.

At this point in time there are about 1500 condominium units that will come on line.  The Berkley is selling units that you can move into; same with the Paradigm. The Bridgewater, Saxony, Gallery, and the Molinaro development on Ontario Street are under construction with perhaps something coming out of the Revenue Property development that is at LPAT waiting for a decision on their 23 story request – they are already approved for 17.

CORE rendering

Can the market absorb these two developments that are side by side in the “football”?

Football - east end cropped


The CORE development for 27 floors, the Old Lakeshore Road (Carriage Gate people) development also looking for 27 floors and their other development on Perl (29 floors), are at the early application stage.

Simple math –  1500 divided by 65 –  suggests that it is going to take 23 months to sell those units.

There are other projects that have been put on hold.

Has the development community realized that there are limits on what a community can absorb ?

Maybe the demand isn’t what many have convinced themselves it is.

The Gallery development opposite city appears to have decided to sleep for the next while; construction on the site has come to a halt.





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We Love Burlington gets recognized by the Town of Oakville. Huh?

News 100 yellowBy Pepper Parr

November 25th, 2019



The We Love Burlington (WLB) crowd finally got some  recognition for the work they did to prevent a change in the status of the municipalities in the Region of Halton.

The provincial government did a Provincial Review and, after a lot of banging away by the municipalities across the province, the top tier governments and citizens groups, the province backed off and said there would not be any changes in the status of the cities.

Fenn and Seiling

Michael Fenn and Robert Seiling were the two members of the Provincial Review panel. Their report was never made public.

Many thought the plan was to create a city of Halton with the existing three towns and city becoming almost administrative units.

The city of Burlington didn’t get all that fussed over the issue. Other than the Mayor, little was heard from individual Councillors even though half of their pay cheque comes from the Region.

Blair Smith and Lynn Crosby were the leads on what the Burlington We Loves were doing. They had patterned themselves on the We Love Oakville group and worked closely with them. Burlington and Oakville were not able to raise much in the way of interest in Milton. Halton Hills Mayor Bonnette did take a strong position and worked closely with Mayor Meed Ward at the Regional level.

The Burlington We Love people have sort of morphed themselves into a group that is going to pay a lot more attention to the way Burlington is getting itself to the point where it will have an Official Plan that meets its needs, will get approved by the Region and be something they can defend at LPAT hearings and any other tribunal it finds it has to run up against.
We Love wants to ensure that citizen interests are front and center as the process the city is currently involved in works its way forward.

Food ticket

A reported 1000 people took the city up on the offer.

At this point there are two “concept” for the downtown core that have come out of the Action Labs, surveys, Food for Feedback plus the Walking Tour. WLB hopes to generate stronger citizen involvement.

We Love in Oakville.

From the left: Blair Smith, Jorge Gomez (Chief of Staff to Mayor Burton), Mayor Burton and Lynn Crosby

Back to the event at the Oakville Town Hall. Mayor Rob Burton and several members of Oakville Town Council acknowledged the efforts of the citizen groups that fought against regional amalgamation and the Halton MegaCity. The celebration was primarily focused on WeLoveOakville and the residence associations, Mayor Burton publicly thanked and recognized WeLoveBurlington as well, and presented them with a certificate of appreciation.

For the first time in Oakville history, Keys to the City were presented by the Mayor and the inaugural recipients were the WeLoveOakville committee.

Related news stories:

We love Burlington delegates at Provincial Review

Decision pushed back – again.

Minister decides not to make any changes – report doesn’t get released.


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RBG Master Plan Update meeting is shown more than 50 poster sized graphics of the ideas that were being worked on.

News 100 greenBy Pepper Parr

November 22, 2019



It was the second public meeting to update people on the 25 year Master Plan that the Royal Botanical Garden is putting in place.

The RBG is a sprawling 2700 acre property that has dozens of nooks and crannies that many, probably most, don’t know anything about.

RBG Laking Gardens

Formerly a market garden, Laking Garden is home to RBG’s herbaceous perennial collections.

There are of course the obvious Laking, Hendrie, Arboretum and the most recent Rock Garden but did you know about the Rock Chapel? The South Shore Commons?

The RBG has a core group of supporters that are rock hard. They see themselves as stewards there to support management and ensure that no one infringes on the place.

Other than some American Republicans everyone knows we no longer have weather – we have climate change. We are also becoming much more aware of the relationship of the climate we live in and what it does for our overall well-being.

The RBG is an operation with a $50 million budget of which 65% is generated internally.

They are in the process of expanding their revenue options while at the same time taking a look at what in the way of problems is coming their way.

The recent news of the waste water that was allowed to seep into the water is just one example of what RBG has to cope with.

RPG Full house

It was a full house of people who see themselves as stewards in place to support management to ensure that no one infringes on the RBG

The RBG is part of a bigger picture; it is impacted and impacts the Great Lakes, the Escarpment and local agriculture. Pollution is an ongoing concern and adjacent land users need to have an eye kept on them.

The objective is to ensure that the RBG is ecologically resilient and reflects the changes in the way the public now sees the place.

Drew Wensley, a principal with MT Planners, said they were looking for a way to change the “landing points” for the RBG adding that he didn’t think it appropriate for the entrance to the RBG be a parking lot. He thought the entrance point should be a garden of some sort.

Thought was being given to improving transit to the site and also looking for way to use “green transit” on the site.

All this is a part of the 25 year plan – how does RBG adapt to the public change in attitude towards the changing climate? And how do they continually take the RBG’s environmental pulse?

RBG People looking at posters

People attending the Master Plan Update meeting had more than fifty poster sized graphics to see in detail the changes that were being thought through.

Thursday evening well over 150 people turned out to learn more and get an update on the Master Plan being developed by a team of consultants led by the Primary Consultant, MT Planners. The long-term policy document will identify short-term capital projects to be addressed in the next five years as well as longer-term projects for the next 25 years. The plan is expected to be completed at the end of February 2020 and approved by RBG’s board of directors in mid-March 2020.

Called a “bold initiative” it will be the roadmap for Royal Botanical Gardens to ensure future generations will connect with plant-life in a unique environment, fostering awareness and care for a world that is under increasing ecological threat. RBG aims to instill in everyone they reach, a deeper awareness of themselves, their place on this planet and their role as protectors and stewards of the environment.

“The Master Plan will be the roadmap to achieving RBG’s goals; namely to build the financial strength and independence to serve its future and to enhance infrastructure and amenities for current visitors and for new, more diverse audiences from local, national and international markets.

RBG Mark Runcimen

Mark Runciman – the xx of Royal Botanical Gardens; runs a tight ship.

“RBG plans to achieve this by creating new revenue streams and leveraging and enhancing its existing land use plan. RBG will explore not only the living framework of the landscape, and its business and market, but the aspirations of RBG’s members and governance body.
“At the heart of this plan is the critical need to nurture and protect ecosystems on a local, national and global scale. While the need to achieve financial sustainability is clear, RBG exists to affect real and positive change in how humanity interacts with our environment and has pledged to take full advantage of our resources, knowledge and reputation to make significant strides in this direction. To bring this Master Plan to fruition, significant fundraising efforts will be required and formalized throughout the planning process.

Kelvin Galbraith headshot_Super_Portrait

Kelvin Galbraith,Ward 1 Councillor, is the Regional representative on the RBG Board

Kelven Gailbraith, who is the Regional representative on the RBG Board noted that: “There was a large crowd at the event last night and many were very excited about the future that this master plan will bring to the RBG.

“Many of the people I spoke with were frequent users of the gardens and use it as an escape from our busy society.”

The Gazette will have an opinion piece in how the meeting went – what worked and what didn’t work.

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Loose Leaf Pickup Program takes a hit - climate change gets blamed.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

November 22nd, 2019



Well – this comes as no surprise.

People are livid over the changes in the Loose Leaf Pickup Program.

Ward 4 Councillor Shawna Stolte told her fellow councillors she “understands how frustrating this week has been regarding the changing plans and communications around the program.

“Let me start by saying that I was notified on Wednesday, at the same time as the public, that the service was being dramatically reduced.

This crew will probably not be clearing the leaves from your property. They were working along New Street when this picture was taken.

This crew will probably not be clearing the leaves from your property.

“We have spent the last few days attempting to access additional resources from both the Region as well as outside contractors in order to fulfill the expectations of the community, but unfortunately the vast majority of contractors have already switched their equipment over in accordance with their Snow Removal contracts.

“We have worked diligently to find some resolution with City Staff, but the final decision has concluded that Zone 1, 2 and 3 will only receive one Leaf Pickup this season and Zone 4 Leaf Pickup has been cancelled.

“Once cold weather with freezing temperatures and snow arrives, the sweepers and leaf clearing units cannot operate effectively in below zero temperatures.

“We have also experienced this in the other years where the leaf collection program has been cut very short when winter has come early.
“I fully understand that this decision will frustrate many residents and I assure you, as a resident myself, I share your frustration.

Loose leaf Nov 19-3

This was the announcement that was put out by the city. Councillor Stolte advises that Zone 1, 2 and 3 will only receive one Leaf Pickup this season and Zone 4 Leaf Pickup has been cancelled.

“Senior staff have stated that any decision of this nature is not taken lightly and is carefully considered and balanced against available resources, weather and the priority of winter road and sidewalk clearing.

Shawna quiet

How come Council members were not given a heads up when the leaf collection program was being revised? They might have had some comments – perhaps. No word from the Mayor – not at our level.

“Please try to bag or mulch any remaining leaves. The Region has confirmed that they have extended their yard waste collection service until December 20, 2019.

“If you are unable to clear the leaves previously raked to the curb, it would be helpful if all storm sewer grates are cleared to prevent flood risk.

“We are in the midst of an operational review of this program to see how it can be better managed in the future.”

Does that cut it? Will the visceral frustration ease?

This is Burlington.

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Israel, Moscow, Alberta and Ontario - corruption is everywhere? Has Burlington been left out.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

November 22nd, 2019



If you are a political follower like me, you would have been glued to the TV watching the US House of Representatives impeachment hearings for the last two weeks. It is the best entertainment on the tube – better than the latest season of the Crown. And the Democrats have been brilliant, unfolding their story so there can be no doubt about Trump’s guilt in his latest attempt at corruption.

Call it quid pro quo, bribery, international blackmail, breach of trust, abuse of power – take your pick or tick all the boxes. It’s corruption – dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery. And Trump will almost certainly be impeached by the House of Representatives, though politics being what it is south of the border, he is unlikely to be removed from office.

Corruption seems to be contagious these days. Trump’s closest ally, Israeli PM Netanyahu, has also been indicted for corruption. But at least he didn’t betray his nation’s security as Trump has been doing since his election, given all the irrefutable testimony of the last two weeks.

Rivers -Trump and Ukraine Pres

Donald Trump with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Trump has been accused of withholding military aide until Zelensky opened an investigation into Joe Biden who wants to run against Trump in the 2020.

Few countries can hold a candle to the former Soviet republics when it comes to corruption, and Russia and Ukraine in particular. So Trump figured – what’s a little more corruption – they must be used to it? Or maybe he was just trying to please his master in Moscow.

Canada has had its own share of corruption. Stevie Cameron’s best seller, ‘On the Take’, gives an uncontested accounting of the slime we’d seen over the Mulroney years. And don’t forget the former PM accused of accepting brown paper bags full of cash from that Karl Heinz character. Of course there was the Sponsorship scandal which ultimately kept the Liberals out of power for almost a decade and at one point relegated them to third party status.

Andrew Scheer thought he had hit pay dirt, letting rip accusations of corruption and criminality at Mr. Trudeau over the SNC prosecution. But it turns out there was no smoking gun, just a lot of smoke. Mr. Trudeau had been cited by the Ethics Commissioner a couple of times and he has apologized at least once. But then even mild mannered Stephen Harper ran up a sizeable laundry list of potentially impeachable offences.

Rivers - Kenney H&S

Jason Kenney fired the province’s elections commissioner who was investigating just how Kenny got elected.

The latest unwinding of Canadian corruption takes us to Alberta and Jason Kenney. When the province’s elections commissioner investigated some of Kenney’s dirty tricks getting to office, and charged him with over $200,000 in fines, Kenney just borrowed a page from the Donald Trump’s playbook and fired him. And when opposition leader Notley objected, the speaker kicked her out of the legislation and the majority Conservatives just let Kenney off the hook.

Doug Ford had brazenly attacked the Kathleen Wynne government as corrupt. But he must have known that was pure fiction. Indeed the Liberals had an imperfect record during their decade and a half in power, and especially regarding McGuinty’s gas plant mess. But there was no corruption. Even the former premier’s budget numbers were proven to be accurate, at least in light of the auditor general’s observations.

doug-ford hard face

Are the people who voted for Doug Ford experiencing buyers’ remorse?

Ford’s popularity has tumbled in Ontario – it’s called buyers’ remorse. Anyone expecting the PC’s to better manage the treasury can’t be happy that the deficit is now climbing to over $2 billion more than it would have under the Liberals this year, despite Ford’s best efforts to slash and burn public services. And that slash and burn will end up in a war in the not too distant future as teachers and other public service employees confront ignorance and a lack of respect from this hostile government.

Ford has been boasting about his other war, the one on the environment. He is proud of how it only cost taxpayers an additional $200 million dollars to cancel and roll back some 800 renewable energy projects. But didn’t Ontario voters support climate action in the last federal election. His actions mean that our growing electricity demand will now have to be supplied with climate damaging natural gas.

And speaking of climate change, tax payers are on the hook for as much as $2 billion dollars a year since Ford cancelled Ontario’s cap and trade carbon pricing system. And we’re also paying for his $30 (plus) million ideological court battle with the feds over the carbon tax – which everyone knows he will lose.

There is no better example of the Ontario government’s abuse of power than forcing every gas station in the province to stick a political message on their pumps. Fortunately the labels seem to want to fall off. Having managed his family’s label making company, one would think that labels would be the one thing Ford could get right.

The Ford government has even messed up the cannabis file having wasted over $40 million dollars this year and failing to get an effective private distribution system in place. The Liberals had planned to use the experienced and profitable LCBO by contrast. Instead something like 80% of the province’s cannabis is still delivered through the blackmarket today.

Given the Ford family’s history around Ontario’s drug culture, one would think that pot would be the other thing he’d be able to manage without screwing up. One can only speculate into whose pockets some of that $40 million went.

Rivers Ford Doug and police nominee

Doug Ford poses for a picture with Ron Taverner, his first nominee for Chief of Ontario Provincial Police.

We all live in glass houses when it comes to calling out corruption and it wasn’t long before the cracks started appearing in Ford’s. So far it’s only been a little bit of patronage, nepotism and cronyism. But he has still got two and a half years to go.

Particularly troubling is his government’s intention to muck with judicial appointments. As we’ve learned from the US impeachment hearing, that is perhaps the number one source of Ukraine’s corruption. Can we really trust this government to avoid that pitfall? Can we really trust this government?

Background links:

Israeli Corruption –    Mulroney –    Harper

Alberta –     Ontario Budget –    Ford Cronyism

Ford Cannabis –     Black Market Pot –    Politicizing the Judiciary

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Getting students the education they need for the career futures they see for themselves.

News 100 blueBy Staff

November 21, 2019



The Halton District School Board has announced it is hosting its second annual experiential learning event, Halton Pathways: A Future that Fits, for approximately 1,500 Grade 10 students, on Friday, November 29 at the Mattamy National Cycling Centre (Velodrome) in Milton.

Pathway graphicThe daylong event will feature an opportunity for students to explore high school Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) programs and to meet the teachers and employers related to each SHSM sector.

The event will include more than 45 local businesses, providing a full day of hands-on interactive activities for students.

Colleges and universities will attend and provide displays related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), Police Foundations, Trades and Technology, the Environment, Energy, and Arts and Culture. Activities will include a robotics display, healthcare medical simulation mannequin, construction and DIY projects, sound, lighting and equipment, a virtual reality trainer, fire trucks and fire extinguishers, cupcake decorating, welding simulations, therapy dogs and a fingerprinting session.

“This event will give our students the opportunity to explore many different businesses and learn about programs, like the Specialist High Skills Major and the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program, that allows them to engage in specialized programming and real-work experience in high school,” says Veronica Kleinsmith, Specialist High Schools Major Resource Teacher for the Halton District School Board.

The HDSB currently offers 60 Specialist High Skills Major programs and 15 Concentrated Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Programs with approximately 1,500 Grade 11 and 12 students enrolled in more than a dozen different sectors such as Business, Arts and Culture, Transportation, Construction, Justice, Community Safety and Emergency Services.

For more information on A Future that Fits, CLICK HERE

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Gould looking for young people to serve on her Youth Advisory Council.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

November 21st, 2019



The biggest task every politician faces is finding ways to keep in touch, close touch, with every demographic and interest group in the constituency.

Gould as a bandit

Karina at a baseball game when the city had a ball team – is she arguing with the umpire?

That and being seen – do that and you can be around for a long time. The really solid Members of Parliament are stronger than the party they represent and they can often keep their seat even if their political party loses power.

Sworn in Nov 20 2019

Burlington MP Karina Gould signing the Register after being sworn in as the Minister of International Development.

Burlington has politicians who are open, transparent, know their job and do their jobs. The city also has politicians who think that keeping your picture in the paper is what it is all about – and if the paper won’t print them then the politician does in their newsletters and on the Instagram pages.

The city has one politician that you can seldom even find.

Burlington MP Karina Gould who was sworn in as the Minister of International Development yesterday, has put out a request for any young people who would like to sit on her Youth Council.

Such Councils are not unusual – unfortunately they are at times window dressing.

A perceptive politician will tap into the views and opinions that are out there. A politician is only as good as the people advising them.

Anyone interested in serving on the 2020 Gould Youth Council should check out the link.


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School Board Invites parents to Take part in a formal Bateman high school closing event.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

November 21st, 2019



The request was to be expected.

The Halton District School Board does make a point of holding an event to celebrate the history and the story of a school when it is to be formally closed.

Bateman parents

The parents and students did everything they could – they had a convincing argument but they were up against an iconic high school a couple of km away.

For the people in the community and the parents who fought to hard to keep the school open – it will not be a joyous event. They fought then and think now that the closing of the school was a mistake.

They were right then and they are right now.

But – time moves on.

The Robert Bateman High School’s Integration Committee is seeking subcommittee members and volunteers to form two subcommittees to help commemorate the school, in preparation for the school’s closing in June 2020.

Interested students, staff, parents/guardians, alumni and community members are invited to complete an Expression of Interest Form by Friday, Dec. 6, 2019.

The subcommittees will be formed prior to the first meeting on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020 at 7 p.m. at Robert Bateman High School.

The Artifacts and Memorabilia Subcommittee is being created to assist in the identification, gathering and cataloguing of the school’s artifacts and the development of a plan to honour and display memorabilia. Members of the Closing Celebrations and Activities Subcommittee will assist in the planning of closing celebrations and activities.


The Boards data told the tale.

Hopefully one of the banners that was used during the many demonstrations will be included.

“The Integration Committee looks forward to working with members of the Robert Bateman community to celebrate and honour the history of this school,” says Robert Eatough, Superintendent of Education for the Halton District School Board.

Collard and Miller

Ward school board trustee Amy Collard, livid at the time over the decision the Board was getting ready to make on the closing of Robert Bateman High school stares down the Director of Education.

There is no decision yet as to what will happen to the school.  The ward trustee, Amy Collard has some ideas; she can be very persuasive and the Mayor of Burlington appears to be prepared to do everything she can to keep the property available for use by the community.

The fear that the site will be converted into land for a condo development is not on the table now and never will be.

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Karina Gould still a Cabinet Minister - different portfolio

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

November 21st, 2019



Burlington still has a Member of Parliament in Cabinet. Karina Gould was sworn in as the Minister for International Development.

Just what does a Minister of International Development do?


Burlington MP Karina Gould

We have asked the Minister – who is usually very good at answering questions – unlike several of the Burlington City Council members. But we digress.

It is always useful to have an MP who is a Member of Cabinet; all kinds of goodies flow from that office.

Our bigger concern is – what happened to the job Gould had? She was the Minister of Democratic Institutions. Was the move to International Development a promotion or was it just a place to put Gould.

There does not appear to be a Minister of Democratic Institutions.

The promise in the 2015 election that the Liberals would change the way Members of Parliament are elected would be changed. That didn’t happen during the last Parliament. And it doesn’t look as if it is going to happen during this Parliament.

We have asked Karina Gould what the duties of her new job are – and what happened to the idea of change on the democratic institutions side of things.

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Councillor Sharman: So, what should we do, you might ask? He doesn't like the look of the numbers.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

November 21st, 2019

Burlington, ON


There is one thing you can be absolutely certain about with the current city council: when Councillor Sharman is upset – you will hear from him and his words will be very precise.

Councillor Sharman asked the Mayor for the floor to make some comments on November the 18th.

He said:

Let me begin by making the following statements:

a) The consulting report is the subject of my discontent in these notes, it is not personal towards any person or staff.

Sharman July 2016

Councillor Sharman: “Let me begin by acknowledging …”

b) My business background coupled with my consulting and professional accounting career lead me to hold reasonable expectations of consultants when it comes to them guiding investment decisions, especially using hard tax dollars, which must be performed with sincere concern for the public trust.

c) I fully support the concept of increasing the modal split in the City of Burlington and the Region of Halton.

Let me begin by acknowledging that my analysis of the business plan, as already communicated to you by Tom Muir, (via the Burlington Gazette) is correctly reported. I will confirm and add to what has already been reported:

1. There was no assessment of the actual Burlington market, its operations, long term history or projected short, medium, and long-term rider demand.

2. There was no analysis or forecast of demographic and related ridership changes in coming years even though we already have a reasonable expectation of what is likely.

3. I will add a new point. Most people are bothered by the huge level of congestion on Burlington streets at peak hours.

This is probably the most significant motivator of increasing modal split. A few considerations:

a. Peak hour traffic will only be reduced by the amount of automobile traffic that can be redirected to GO transit. However, since most of the peak hour traffic relates to people coming into the City from outside (70% according to Transportation staff) or travelling from outside and exiting through the City (30% according to Transportation staff) are most likely not well served by GO transit. Then the probability of those people continuing to use their cars is high. But we have no analysis.

b. Given that the City is still growing, and new residential communities continue to grow to the north, west and south of Hamilton, the number of vehicles on Burlington roads will increase for the foreseeable future. But we have no analysis.

c. Since Burlington Transit essentially serves only the trips of those who travel within the boundaries of the City, increased service cannot be expected to have any material impact on ridership growth in terms of re-directed commuter trips.

4. Halton modal split numbers are theoretical. Our purpose should be to figure out in realistic terms if, how and when they can be accomplished.

5. Our consultant used Canadian Urban Transit Association standards to determine what that meant in terms of how many more buses, drivers, maintenance staff, overhead staff and facilities we will need to add to the budget in each year going forward. CUTA standards are aspirational goals that have been demonstrated to not actually represent any Burlington peer municipality (Jeff Casello, Waterloo University 2012). They are more representative of highly intensified big city circumstances, which we are not… not for a long time anyway.

Intense to the point of making delegations uncomfortable ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman does know how to drill down into the data and look for results.

Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman does know how to drill down into the data and look for results.

6. When you look at the numbers in the tables provided, they are all premised on a 23% average ridership growth that is required to achieve theoretical modal split goals. For some reason it was assumed that growth will somehow occur in a way that is highly front end loaded with a 36.5% growth in year 1 of the plan, i.e. from 2,000,000 riders in 2019 to 2,730,000 in 2020, with no explanation of how.

7. The critical concern is not so much the report per se, but that the 2020 budget for the City of Burlington includes funding to purchase 4 new buses and hire 8 new drivers. The report proposes that the City should do that in each of the following four years at a cost of millions of dollars each year.

8. The risk is that that the City is about to pour all sorts of real hard dollars into a plan that is completely devoid of any substantive assessment of ridership projections or a realism.

9. Keep in mind that a 1% increase in the City of Burlington budget equals a $1.6m spending increase. Further, that transit revenue, presently, represents less than 25% of the transit operating cost. This is at a time when the City is built out and new sources of property tax increases are drying up. Remember the 2019 budget use of reserves to keep tax rate increases low. This is not going to get any easier.

10. My concern is that costs will go up way more rapidly than ridership… so will taxes in a period of low tax growth, therefore increasing taxes by perhaps 10 to15% in total just for extra transit spending over the next 5 years. What does that mean giving up?

11. We can agree that “more bus users” would be good, but we do not agree to getting there by any means or a hope and a prayer.

So, what should we do, you might ask? Well:

1. Hold off a year to see what happens in 2020 with the new grid network;

2. Hold off a year to see what happens when the new buses and drivers approved in the 2019 budget actually come on line in the next month;

3. Use 2020 to remedy the concerns I have advised you of above;

4. Use 2020 to plan acquisition of electric buses instead of traditional diesel fueled vehicles;

5. Use 2020 to plan a complete transition of Burlington Transit to a 100% electric service;

6. Use 2020 to plan the implementation of on-demand service to undeserved neighbourhoods

I hereby move that we refer this to staff

Related news stories:

Muir on the transit problems.

Council doesn’t like what the consultant had to say – neither did the Director of Transit


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The numbers that were 'all wrong' didn't get the review that was expected - the report that had been referred back to council got zip in the way of debate.

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

November 20th, 2019



Someone on city council made the point: We are a transit friendly council.

How friendly – well they are putting a tonne of your money into new buses and they are boasting about the significant increases in transit use.

The numbers are early: Presto, the people who operate the card system that is replacing tickets, are a little on the slow side on getting data out.

The increase in transit usage was reported to have risen by 10% on a month to month basis for July of 2018 and July of 2019.

The free transit use during the off peak hours for July through to September was reported to have improved by 40%.

Mayor Meed Ward called those number “astounding” and added that “we don’t need a plan to know that we need more buses.”

The Mayor has said that she wants transit to be free for everyone – every day.

She has also said that she thinks transit should be a Regional matter.  She will have to wait until she is Premier of the province before we see anything like that.

This council has got a head lock on the idea of making the transit fleet completely electric. Director of Transit loves that idea theoretically but cautioned council that converting from diesel to electric is not a simple matter – electric buses are complex and a lot has to be learned by the people who are going to drive the electric buses and those who are going to maintain them.

connor and Dennis 2

Sue Connors, Director of Transit, does not appear to be very happy.

Council was discussing transit because a report that had been discussed at a Planning and Development Standing Committee meeting was unhappy with some of the numbers that were contained in a report – unhappy is an understatement.

They decided that rather than make any decisions they would refer the matter to the council meeting – which took place Monday evening.

Sharman on transit

Councillor Paul Sharman

But – there was nothing to discuss – whatever the concern was over the report, which could be fairly described as faulty, no one was going to talk about it Monday evening. Councillor Sharman read a statement into the record – we have asked for a copy of that statement, He added that with the changes in the grid structure and the new buses that have been added to the fleet it would be a little premature to put much stock in numbers that had been generated by the consultant. So hold off for a year.

Fine – but then – why was there a report from the consultant? And when is the public going to see the revised numbers ?

This council is sometimes a little fast and loose with numbers that they deem to be positive.

Related news story:

Councillor Sharman said the numbers were all wrong. He was right

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Leaf collection schedule changed - parts of the city will not get coverage.

News 100 greenBy Staff

November 19th, 2019



We are experiencing the effects of Climate Change.

The city announced earlier today that: “Due to the cold temperatures and the early snow fall, the loose-leaf collection schedule is changing.

• Leaf Collection Zone 2 will resume Wednesday, Nov. 20 to Nov. 29, if weather allows.

• Leaf Collection Zone 3 will run between Nov. 25 and Dec. 6, if weather allows.

• Leaf Collection in Zones 1 and 4 is cancelled. Residents are encouraged to mulch their leaves or bag them for Halton Region’s yard waste pick-up.

Loose leaf Nov 19-3

Loose leaves pick up for districts 1 and 4 are cancelled.

To ensure the safety of collection crews and avoid damaging equipment, please keep the loose-leaf piles free of debris and sticks. Leaves mixed with debris and waste will not be collected. Please help prevent flooding, by keeping catch basins and ditches clear of leaves.

To ensure a successful pick-up, residents can:

• Rake leaves to the edge of the curb or roadway in a loose pile
• Remove basketball nets, cars and other obstructions from the road during pick-up dates
• Clear leaves from sidewalks and walkways
• Avoid playing garbage bags, bins, Blue Boxes or Green Carts on top of loose-leaf piles
• Give crews distance to remove the leaves when driving

After the collection program is complete, any remaining leaves should be placed in yard-waste bags for curb side collection by Halton Region.

Mark Adam, Manager of Road Operations said that: “The early snowfall has covered many leaf piles and has interrupted our collection program. The cold temperatures limit the effectiveness of our leaf vacuum units and street sweepers as frozen piles of leaves cannot be swept up or vacuumed. Long-range forecasts show a short period of favourable weather in which crews will do their best to complete Zones 2 and 3.”

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Arrest Made After Theft Of Poppy Donation Boxes In Burlington

Crime 100By Staff

November 19th, 2019



The Halton Regional Police Service has made an arrest after three Royal Canadian Legion Poppy donation boxes were stolen from various locations in the City of Burlington.

poppy boxThe first incident occurred on Monday, November 11, 2019. The female accused attended a grocery store on New Street. During the moment of silence for Remembrance Day, the accused took a Royal Canadian Legion Poppy donation box and concealed it on her person. The accused then stood for the remainder of the moment of silence before leaving the store.

The second incident occurred on Tuesday, November 12, 2019, at a coffee shop on Brant Street in Burlington. While the accused was in the store she took another two Royal Canadian Legion Poppy donation boxes and concealed them on her person before leaving the store.

The accused was quickly identified by Halton Regional Police Service officers and was arrested on November 15, 2019.

Accused: is a 32 year old female who lives in Milton.
Charges: 3 counts of Theft Under $5000

The Gazette normally publishes the names of those accused – we have not done so in this  case.

The accused was later released from custody on a promise to appear.

That the police were able to identify the suspect so quickly suggests she was previously known to the police.

Burlington either has a small petty thief who exploits every opportunity to steal or we have a person who needs help. If it is the latter one would hope that the Legion might choose to be part of providing that help.

No one was born to be a thief.

Tips can be submitted to Crime Stoppers “See Something? Hear Something? Know Something? Contact Crime Stoppers” at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS) or through the web at


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Council clears its agenda in an hour and a quarter: Mayor sets out what has to be done if you want to build in this city.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

November 19th, 2019



City Council meetings are sort of like a big rubber stamp. The details in Staff reports get discussed at length during the Standing Committee meetings which run rather long. Council meetings are usually under an hour and a half. Former Mayor Rick Goldring once got through one in just over twenty minutes.

One has to listen carefully and watch closely to pick up some of the detail that gets skipped over.

The Council meeting Monday reported that there were 24 hours of meetings between November 4th to the 12 during which there were 34recommendations put forward and 4 bylaws proposed.

City Council has to approve all that to make it the law of the land.

There were two items that we observed during the Standing Committee meetings that were going to get some attention at the Council meeting; those were the stiffing that Councillor Nisan got from the Transportation department over changes in the speed limits in Kilbride and the problem the Director of Transit had with data in a report that was being discussed.

Councillor Sharman had, as is his want, looked at the numbers carefully and came to the conclusion that there was something very wrong with them.

Sharman on transit

Ah – for the love of faulty data: Councillor Paul Sharman

As he put it at the Planning and Development meeting – they were just plain wrong. None of the other members of Council appeared to have the same grip that Sharman had on the numbers; the suspicion was that they either hadn’t fully read the report or failed to see the errors that Sharman identified.

After much discussion the Standing Committee decided to refer the report to City Council, which happened last night.

connor and Dennis 2

Direct of Transit Sue Connor giving a consultant a very hard look. She was not happy.

The problems appear to be more serious than originally realized. Council decided to refer the report back to the Standing Committee during its next round of meetings.

They basically punted the ball up the field where they would deal with it when they get to that point.

How are you liking the Burlington version of transparency so far?

Councillor Nisan said that he still didn’t have the speed limit changes he had promised his Kilbride constituents but he was still working at it. I think we were seeing an example the tail wagging the dog.

There is a process at city meetings whereby a Staff report can get approval if there aren’t any council members who want to say something. These are referred to as Consent items – they just get passed.

Among those that were consented to were: The report on Vision to Focus; the Active Aging Report and the Cootes Escarpment initiatives. Councillor Sharman had learned of an event that takes place in Detroit where more than 1,000 people show up for a community walk. |He was going to bring it up at the Council meeting and had run it by Parks and Recreation Staff who told Sharman that they didn’t need a Staff Direction – they would just do it.

Rory Nisan

Councillor Nisan still doesn’t have the speed limit changes he promised his Kilbride residents.

Now either Councillor Sharman has skills that Councillor Nisan doesn’t have or the Parks and Recreation department fully understand the relationship between Council and administration. Sharman has the community walk idea as a good to go; Nisan might have to stand on the road in Kilbride and wave a sign to slow down the speed of traffic.

Councillor Lisa Kearns chose to make some comments on the mammoth development that CORE Development Group want to build within the football – 27 storeys in a place where eight are possible as of right and up to 15 if there are benefits given to the city.

The Gazette has been advocating for some bold moves in that part of the city. We learned from Mayor Meed Ward that the acceptable benefit is for the developer to buy the land on the south side of Old Lakeshore, deed it to the city and they can have the additional seven floors.

Site south side Old Lakeshore

The Mayor seemed to be saying that all the Core Development Group had to do was buy the land inside the black box, deed it to the city, and they would be allowed to build 15 storeys instead of just the eight permitted. The developer has an application in for 27 storeys. Nothing can be built on the land, there are top of bank issues that would make any development not feasible.

That is the first time we have heard the Mayor be quite that specific. Something to think about.

Councillors Kearns reacted to a comment in the Gazette where we wondered why she had not moved the motion to receive and file the report on the development that was to have retirement apartment units in one tower of a two 11 storey tower development on New Street and nursing home care that would include what were referred to as “memory units” intended for people with dementia, in the other.

Lisa excited

Excited – this is as good as it gets.

Councillor Kearns told her colleagues that it is not her practice to “get too excited” in public nor does she “get upset” in public. She said that what Council was hearing was the extent of her public comment.

Meed ward election night 1

To the victor go the spoils.

Both Councillor Kearns and the Mayor commented positively on the development with the Mayor saying that “Burlington was open for business” and that Council wanted to “shape where it goes and the use it is put to.”

“Take note” she added: “Do it right and you get a thumbs up”.

Those comments will stick in the craw of the development community but it is what she said she would do when she ran for the Office of Mayor – and she is doing what she said she would do.

Related news stories:

Transit Director gets sloppy data – Sharman spots the errors

Nisan credibility takes a hit


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Festival of Trees returns to Performing Arts Centre.

eventsred 100x100By Staff

November 18th, 2019



The 3rd Annual Festival of Trees will be on display in the lobby and mezzanine of the Performing Arts Centre from November 20 – December 21, 2019.

Festival of treesThe pre-lit trees, donated by the Canadian Tire Burlington store, will be available to the public by auction. The proceeds go to Performing Arts Centre’s ‘Live & Local Artist Development Initiative’, which provides performance opportunities and support for Burlington-based artists.

Over 10,000 patrons are expected to visit the Centre during the Festival of Trees which will run from November 20th to December 21st from noon – 4pm, seven days a week.

Each tree is individually sponsored and decorated by a local business in Burlington. Patrons and visitors to BPAC will have the opportunity to take one of these trees home by silent auction.

“The Festival of Trees has quickly become a holiday tradition at BPAC, and a great opportunity to bring the joy of the season to our many visitors,” said Tammy Fox, Executive Director.

Festival trees - lobby

The look of the Family Lobby last year.

The silent auction will close with the lucky winners announced during The Andy Kim Christmas.

The full schedule of BPAC Events during the season is here:

Sponsor a Tree!
Promote your local business or organization to over 10,000 local visitors, while supporting BPAC, by sponsoring a tree!

The Sponsorship Commitment:

$250 Tree Sponsorship

Decorate your tree at BPAC on November 18th or 19th (9am – 7pm)

You provide the decorations and ‘gifts’ – have fun making your tree a spectacular and seasonal reflection of your business!

Your Sponsorship Benefits:
Promotional Signage in the BPAC Family Lobby beneath your tree for over 4 weeks, seen by over 10,000 visitors to BPAC!

Recognition in 14 ‘BPAC Presents’ house programs (8,000 programs!)

Recognition in all Festival of Trees advertising and promotions, include activation on BPAC’s social media channels!

Recognition on BPAC’s website, with a direct link to your website (22,000+ visitors per month)

Recognition in a promotional eblast – sent to 28,000+ patrons! (a $200 value)

2 complimentary tickets to The Andy Kim Christmas on Dec. 21st ($139 value)

Opportunity to draw and announce your tree winner’s name on Dec. 21st

All proceeds support The Burlington Performing Arts Centre’s ‘Live & Local Artist Development Initiative’, which provides performance opportunities and support for Burlington-based artists.

Related news stories:

Twenty five pre-lit trees auctioned in 2018

Festival of trees supports the arts


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Mayor listens to a report that kept adding dollars to the budget she and her council were going to have to pass in a couple of months: she wanted staff to plan and act at the same time.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

November 18th, 2019



The 2018-2022 Vision to Focus Financial Plan is complex, expensive and a different approach for Burlington.

The meeting was to receive  the Financial Plan for the implementation of the strategic initiatives as defined in the 2018-2022 Burlington’s Plan: From Vision to Focus (V2F).

The portions of that vision that were to be tackled by council and Staff were:

Promoting Economic Growth
Focused Population Growth
Increased Transportation Flows and Connectivity
Healthy Lifestyles
Environmental and Energy Leadership
Good Governance
Community Building through Arts and Culture via Community Activities

On April 11, 2016 Council approved the city’s 2015-2040 Strategic Plan; transforming the Strategic plan into a central policy document and guiding the community’s key activities, investments and actions.  Realize that the city council we had in 2016 is not the city council we have today.  Nevertheless the Strategic Plan created then is still in place.

What city council has done is approve the creation of a Business Plan that has been named Vision to Focus (V2F) which sets out what Council and the Burlington Leadership team have identified as the key priorities for the balance of this term of office.  This document establishes the strategic actions and initiatives that will focus the city’s efforts over the next four years.

The V2F work plan intends to deliver on five focus areas, with a total of 75 initiatives which are aligned to the 25-year Strategic plan.
The five focus areas are as follows:

• Focus Area 1 – Increasing Economic Prosperity and Community Responsive Growth Management
• Focus Area 2 – Improving Integrated City Mobility
• Focus Area 3 – Supporting Sustainable Infrastructure and a Resilient Environment
• Focus Area 4 – Building more Citizen Engagement, Community Health and Culture
• Focus Area 5 – Delivering Customer Centric Services with a Focus on Efficiency and Technology Transformation

V2F timeline

It’s a solid plan – can the city deliver on council’s expectations? And do enough of the city Councillors fully understand what it is about? They are at phase two and have hit some speed bumps.

The trick is to ensure that the five focus areas and the initiatives within them are aligned with the budget – that translates into – are we sure the money to do all these things is going to be in the bank.

Phase 1 of the Financial Plan for the 2015-2040 Strategic Plan was approved in July 2016 and provided a long-term financial plan to build for the long-term implications that would be realized with a 25-year vision.

None of this is going to be cheap.

A Strategic Plan Reserve Fund was established to hold funds to administer and deliver the initiatives laid out in the plan. Any unspent dollars from the annual strategic plan base budget funding is allocated to the reserve fund.

Retained Savings: Minimum of $500,000 towards the Strategic Plan reserve fund provided the city’s retained savings is $1 million or greater.  Retained Savings is what most of us know as the surplus – money that was budgeted but not spent or revenue projections that turned out to be better than expected.

Base Budget Funding: The following is a list of annual base budget funding that will be used for strategic plan implementation;

Strategic plan implementation $150,000
Policy initiatives reserve fund for planning initiatives $100,000
Culture reserve fund for cultural initiatives $50,000
Community Investment reserve fund for community engagement and empowerment initiatives $80,000

That’s a cumulative total of $380,000 – before any goodies that might come from Burlington Hydro.  Policy is to allocate future special dividends received from Burlington Hydro towards the strategic plan

The following financial plan was approved by Council to meet the funding requirements at that time and plan for future requirements.

This is to cover “much of the core planning and policy work associated with achieving the implementation of the 25-year vision of the city’s Strategic plan. Also, there are certain distinct initiatives that begin to directly deliver some of the plan commitments. Incorporated within the Focus Areas are references to many other important documents, such as the

Official Plan,

Zoning By-Law Review,

Integrated Mobility Plan,

Transit Business Plan, and Mobility Hub Plans, to name a few.

These documents will represent a holistic approach to planning ahead and form the foundation for the future success of many of the initiatives laid out in the V2F work plan and the overall strategic plan.

V2F focus areas

Type is small – if you can read it – is this what you want your city to do for you?

All this planning got Mayor Meed Ward “fussed” as she put it.

The Urban Forestry Management Plan has her asking why trees could not be planted while the planning was being done. We know we are going to be planting trees – so let’s start doing just that, said the Mayor.

With the Staff report read into the record the meeting moved on to asking questions of Satff

Meed Ward H&S profile

The Mayor was not impressed – she describes council as nimble and agile and wants that reflected in the work that gets delivered to them.

Meed Ward had had enough.

She said that what we have here are plans to develop plans.

We will be spending a lot of money without seeing any change happen.

This council has shown itself to be very action oriented

Can we not reduce the time frame or the cost for all this – preferably both.

Can we not go outside and get some of the help we need?

Meed Ward said she understood that Planning and implementation are joined at the hip but we need to see changes on the ground.

So what can we do she asked.

City manager Tim Commisso responded saying he understood and that the report was a snapshot of where we are.

We are starting so that we have something to measure; we want to be able to nail down the numbers.  Meed Ward still wasn’t happy.

She said she wanted to see “expedited” and added that she gets a little jaded about plans and added to that that in her time on council she has seen four or five different master plans.

Trees are something we can measure while we plant.

We want to be a nimble, agile council; can we act and plan at the same time ?

City manager Commisso said “yes we can”.

That was the best the Mayor was going to get out of staff that evening.

The report was moved as received and filed.

But a message had been delivered.

Council was told that “Following the quick wins and initiatives that are transitioned to operations, 51 initiatives remain.

Of these, 19 initiatives are well defined, financial resources are clearly identified and the target for completion is within the four-year time-frame.

The other 32 initiatives are multi-faceted. Multi-faceted initiatives have a foundational and an implementation component. The foundational aspect of the initiatives represents comprehensive planning that needs to occur in order to lay the foundation for future work and decision making. This planning period will occur over a four-year time-frame (2019-2022) and the resulting documents will collectively assist in guiding the City through critical decision points on executing the completion of the initiatives. The implementation component will extend beyond the four-year time frame and the required costing and timing will become available once the planning work associated with it is complete.

The following plans/ reports (not a comprehensive list) are scheduled for completion and/or initiated within the next four years;
• Adopted Official Plan
• Audit and Accountability Report

• Mobility Hub Plans
• Transit Business Plan
• Integrated Mobility Plan
• Climate Change Action Plan
• Green Fleet Strategy
• Fire Master Plan

It was close to mind boggling.  The challenge is to determine if the Staff are available to do the work and if the funds are there to pay for the consulting that is going to be needed.

There will be more on this file in the months ahead.



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Organizationally - this is part of what city hall is going to look like.

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

November 15th, 2019



Along with the decision to move Angela Morgan out of the Clerk’s office and have her head up a new Customer Service initiative the city manager released a new organization chart and a new configuration for the Clerk’s Office once a new Clerk has been hired.

The organization chart set out below:

Corporate structure Nov 2109

Heather_MacDonald COB planner

Heather MacDonald: probably the most effective front line staffer the city has. She came into a department that was in rough shape facing a work load that was beyond anything the city had ever seen.

Heather MacDonald will serve as the Executive Director of Planning, Regulation and Mobility; Allan Magi will serve as Executive Director of Environment, Infrastructure and Community Services while Angela Morgan will serve as the Executive Lead of the Customer Experience.

Commisso alone

Tim Commisso sits at his space in council where he observes and speaks when the direction of the discussion needs a bit of a reset or course direction. Said to be a “nice guy” – but he is no pussy cat.

Tim Commisso explains that the executive lead will have strategic management and operational decision making within their direct the scope of  responsibilities.   Their authority however is still at a staff level and they all report to me directly.  The EDs will be part of a New Strategy and Risk Senior Management Team that will regularly report to Council on matters related to corporate strategy and risk management;  the Vision to Focus Work-plan will be one of their major focal points.

The title Executive Lead is used for the Customer Experience initiative as it involves leading both both a major corporate project  (CRM implementation) and well as ongoing functional responsibilities including Service Burlington.  The position is new, will be in place for next three years and is a result of redeployment of an existing staff complement position.

The Executive Director of Strategy, Risk and Accountability is currently being advertised.

Every city manager puts their thumb print on the way they think the administrative and service delivery side of the things should be managed.

Tim Commisso recently told the Gazette that he will not be a front line hands on manager.  He will work at the strategic level and give staff every opportunity to strut their stuff and show what they can do.

City manager Jeff Fielding: About to put his stamp on the way the city has to be run.

Former City manager Jeff Fielding: certainly put his stamp on the way the city has to be run. But he left before the glue on the stamp took hold.

It’s certainly a different approach that Jeff Fielding brought to Burlington and radically different than what James Ridge saw as the way to get things done.  Fielding left for greener pastures and served as the City Manager in Calgary for five years and returned to Ontario where he serves as Chief of Staff for Toronto city manager Chris Murray, who was prior to moving to Toronto the city manager for Hamilton.

In the municipal world it is a game of musical chairs – except in the municipal world everyone gets a chair.

Developing a career in the municipal sector has been a challenge for those who work in Burlington.  The significantly different leadership styles that have existed for the past five years is unsettling at best.  The lower salary rates doesn’t keep people in Burlington for long and the cost of housing doesn’t help either.



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Resident questions data in a transit report; finds that City Councillor agrees with him. Watch for some sparks at the Monday Council meeting.

opinionviolet 100x100By Tom Muir

November 15th, 2019



At a November 4 meeting of Committee of the Whole, transportation staff was giving Council Committee an overview of their five year business plan for Transit.

Councilor Sharman had read the report carefully and he had major problems with some of the numbers. He didn’t like the math, and he had some very challenging words to staff on what he thought.

Subsequently, he made a motion to forward the staff report to the Council meeting Agenda of Monday, November 18 for further scrutiny and discussion. This motion was carried 5-2.

Table 5

The disputed Table 5

It will be interesting to see what happens at this meeting and how Council responds to his concerns and position. This analysis and startling assessment of a staff report, by a Councilor, is very unusual in my experience and is what motivated me to write this opinion piece.

“The numbers are all completely wrong, and there are a number of things where they don’t make sense”; “Table 5 is completely wrong”; are the gist of what he was reported to say in a story by the Burlington Gazette.

Muir with pen in hand

Tom Muir – if there is a flaw in your data – he will find it.

Since I was a citizen member of the City Development Charges Consultation Committee that considered the transportation and transit service plans, and I had expressed serious concerns of my own to this Committee on the transit plans and unfunded costs to 2031, and Councilor Sharman was the Committee Chair, I reached out to him to ask what was behind his serious concerns and the words he chose.
I found we had a lot in common in our views of what is really a complicated situation that is a big deal in its own right, but in particular, for laterals to the City Budget, which happens to be under review right now.

Significantly, the stated focus on Table 5 of the 5 year business plan report goes to the heart of his discontent as the Table summarizes the finances of the 5 year business plan – Planned Operating Costs and Revenue, wherein you can see the bottom line Net Operating Costs, dollars that need to be mostly funded from somewhere in the Budget, going from about $13.5 million to almost $20 million annually from 2020 to 2024.

Sharman July 2016

Councillor Paul Sharman

And peering a little closer into some line items you can see another possible alarm bell in the fact that the Operating Costs are comparatively “hard”, if implemented, but the Revenue estimates, which are based on the assumed ridership associated with the services provided by the costs, are decidedly “soft”, and to the both of us, not believable.

As far as I can discern, neither Mr. Sharman nor I have any idea where this growth is going to come from, and this was also discussed at the DC Committee meetings. This is also being pushed by the Halton Region in their DC study to increase the modal split by assuming it can be done.

In our discussion I think the crux of the matter is shared – the lack of a rationale to show how the transit system configuration proposed will work to provide real results. Remember, this is a Business Plan, and it seems obvious that such a thing should have a firm evidentiary foundation in support of an expectation that it will work.

Mr. Sharman put it this way; I summarize

Sharman at transit

Councillor Paul Sharman explaining what was wrong with some of the data in a transit report.

1. There was no assessment of the Burlington market, economic factors, routes (maybe 80% of ridership is all routes 1 and 101), long term history of transit numbers, forecast City demographic change and ridership mix impact.

2. Burlington ridership and routes are not much different than they were 20 years ago i.e. primarily between Burlington and Hamilton south of the QEW. The report has no analysis of ridership split between handivan and regular buses routes. Presumably, since we have been adding handivan buses and drivers, and with the increasing elder population % ridership growth the projected growth would be worth knowing.

3. The numbers in the report are entirely unrepresentative of anything to do with Burlington. The report is entirely premised on Region of Halton Modal Split targets for the next 5 years and from there calculating what ridership numbers would have to be in order to meet the 5 year target, which is 23% average growth per year.

4. The consultant then used Canadian Urban Transit Association standards to determine what that meant in terms of how many more buses, drivers, maintenance staff, overhead staff and facilities would need to be added to the budget in each year going forward. CUTA standards are aspirational goals that have been demonstrated to not actually represent any Burlington peer municipality (Jeff Casell, Waterloo University 2012). They are more representative of highly intensified big city circumstances.

5. So when you look at the numbers in the table provided, it shows that the 23% average will be highly front end loaded with a 36.5% growth in year 1 of the plan, i.e. from 2,000,000 riders in 2019 to 2,730,000 in 2020. When Mr. Sharman challenged the consultant on the number he was unable to explain the distribution.

6. The critical concern in this is not so much the report per se, but that that the 2020 budget for the City of Burlington includes funding to purchase 4 new buses and hire 8 new drivers. The report proposes that the City should do that in each of the following four years at a cost of $millions each year. Keep in mind that 1% increase in the City of Burlington budget equals $1.6m. Further, that transit revenue, presently, represents less than 25% of operating cost.

The risk is that that the City is about to pour all sorts of real hard dollars into a plan that is completely devoid of any substantive analysis, ridership projections or realistic plan.

Muir making a point

Looking for a Plan B.

We want to see a Plan based on a modal split that is realistic, and will work to service the needs and wants of residents without forcing people onto buses, or blithely assuming they will walk or bike (doubling from 5 to 10%; remember winter?)), and there will be fewer cars.

Is there a Plan B, and what form does it take? What rational criteria or indicators are being used to stage or trigger additional service supply, and when do you stop or lag additions? What constitutes success?

What about “failure”? – remember the biking trial project failure (New Street Road Diet) ; and stagnant transit ridership, at a 2% modal split, that must be completely reversed and exponentially energized upward continuously by 600% by 2029-2031 or so?

For most of my needs, the bus doesn’t go there. Walk, and bike and bus all you want, but most people basically have to drive to survive in Burlington and surrounds. It’s called needs, and work, and distance, and time, and family and so on in reality.
How to get to Costco, Walmart, Longos, Fortinos, Sobeys, Clappisons Corners, Terra Landscape, Connons Garden Center, Canadian Tire, and so on.

The bus doesn’t go there. I need a case of beer, a lawnmower, lumber, groceries for a week, hockey for the kids, music lessons, all of this on Saturday, etc. etc. Try walking, biking or busing this stuff there and home.

For most commuters, except as noted for route 1 and 101, the bus doesn’t go there I believe.

I have never sensed a significant latent demand for such a transit service on the part of the majority of residents.

These are big decisions you have to make that are interrelated and not explained.

Have you done financial risk assessment for all costs? When do you stop the experiment? Do you have a fail-safe mechanism?

Remember, Burlington cannot fund transit from Development Charges (DC)  – the transit plans to add services are considered to be largely “benefits to existing” residents. So there are large cost additions to be funded, and very small contributions for transit from developers as part of the ever-growing need for transportation services due to growth in Burlington and Halton Region. Also remember the provincial policy drivers that are forcing a renewed Grow Bold, at higher cost to the city.

Muir with pen in hand

Tom Muir – uses a sharp pencil when looking at numbers.

It’s time that this transit cost burden on the city, and not the development responsible, be reconsidered or the transit plans will not be sustainable and fully funded, which is what the transportation staff have said is needed and the goal.

In conclusion, If staff are going to direct the city to implement the transit and transportation quantitative plan identified, and Council agrees to approve this, with all the costs identified with no visible tracking of results, and triggering of rational incremental system steps based on results, and financial risk assessment and management controls in place, then they must be held transparent and accountable for showing how it is realistic and founded on evidence, visible trends, and realistic/rational possibilities for changing the behavior of city residents in the substantive way described.

I was told that this issues set identifies an area where we have to improve and that’s communication. I believe we’re looking for the same things and that’s a sustainable, funded transportation system that moves us (likely slowly) away from total auto dependency over the long run while keeping in mind that the auto is still the primary mode of travel.

Burlington Transit getting new buses - to deliver less service.

Couple of million in high priced talent welcoming a new bus into the fleet.

You can buy and supply all the buses you want, but getting people to demand and use these is an entirely different matter, conceptually and practically. I don’t think it legitimate to try and force people into acceptance of a rejigging of their lives.

I see nothing presently, or moving forward from this, that shows awareness of what the actual problem is other than attributing it to people not liking it or the change. The change is not the problem. It’s the change based on impossible levels of different behaviors people are expected to manifest for no reason.

I see no fact-based explanation for why people should or could use a significant and costly increase in transit and pay the estimated large cost share, as calculated. I support some transit increase, but I see no demonstration and evidence-based reasoning to support what I see here, never mind the DC Plan to 2031.

This needs evidence, and not just rationalization, to show how the transit system configuration proposed will work to provide real results.

All I have seen so far are assumptions that people will somehow and magically change.

Finally, remember a basic principle governing any planning exercise is; “that everything that starts with a faulty premise is bound to fail”

Editor’s note: Mayor Meed Ward has said she wants transit to be free for everyone. Factor that into the Muir comment and the Sharman point of view.

Related new story:

The numbers didn’t add up.

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