Did Toronto Elect Tony Soprano? I can tell you how this story is going to end – and it ain’t pretty.

By Ray Rivers.

BURLINGTON, ON.  May 29, 2013.  The Sopranos, a cable TV series about your average mafia boss, living and killing in New Jersey, doesn’t seem such a fantasy anymore.  In fact, the escapades of Rob Ford and his brothers would make great crime TV.   Starring Rob, Doug Ford as a former drug dealer and brother Randy as an enforcer.  His sister is a victim of gun violence in the family home and she has a coke-dealing former boyfriend who once tried to kill Rob.  Somali drug lords have made a video of Ford purportedly smoking crack – then they go underground or worse, as a homicide investigation begins.  US website gawker.com raises money to buy the ‘Crackstarter‘ video but can no longer locate the sellers. 

Were they given an offer they couldn’t refuse?  Then, Ford comes forward to vaguely deny his crack use and claim there never was a video.   Screen play writers must be wringing their hands for a chance to get at this outstanding tragic comedy.

Except it’s not funny.  The Globe and Mail’s weekend expose on the Ford family history should have frightened and disgusted rather than amused and entertained Toronto residents.  Ford seemed like a breath of fresh air to voters in that last election.  He was unconventional, and almost charming in a red-neck kind of way, carrying himself like a beardless Old St. Nick, with a bag full of promises.  And voters, sick and tired from a long garbage strike, turned to the man promising them a ‘free lunch’ – he’d lower taxes and end the ‘gravy train’. 

But there was no gravy train and there is no free lunch.  Lowering taxes?  Hello!  Doesn’t Mr. Ford understand that the price of everything always goes up?  It’s called keeping up with population growth and inflation.  We don’t see electricity, gasoline or food prices declining.  Of course, you could always gut your basic programs, as ‘Mike-the-Knife’ did to Ontario’s health care and education systems. So grow up Toronto.  You can’t have it both ways. 

We know how it ends.

Take transportation.  The GTA is not going to get out from under ever-increasing gridlock without new transit systems, and that takes money.   Burlington’s mayor is quoted as saying that his constituents support expansion – he gets it.  And so does the new Premier, Kathleen Wynn, who is taking the lead to find smarter ways of funding.  Too bad Rob Ford hasn’t put as much energy into securing public transportation as he has performing adolescent distractions.  He has ruled out everything except subways and expects somebody else to pay for them.  His court is divided for lack of leadership, so the rest of the GTA and the Province have to take the lead, in his place.

And speaking of taxes, we should understand that Toronto residents pay below average property taxes as a proportion of their real estate dollar.  So the next time some con man named Ford, in a black Cadillac SUV, is offering you a free lunch – just smile and say, no thanks, I’ve seen the Sopranos on TV.  I know how it ends.

Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat after which he decided to write and has become a  political animator. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran against Cam Jackson.

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Abolish the Senate – send them all packing.


By Ray Rivers.

BURLINGTON, ON.  May 22, 2013.  Four Senators and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff either out of a job or wondering how long they are going to keep the one they have.  That is what happens when you don’t give the children something constructive to do – they just get into mischief. 

 The Senate serves no useful purpose.  This well financially padded play-pen for worn-out political hacks has no meaningful role in our democracy.   Senate reform, you say?  Sure, but why not just get rid of it? 

 Modeled after the British House of Lords, the Canadian Senate was supposed to be the chamber of ‘sober second thought’, a place from which the landed gentry could repel the populists, keep the mob from taxing away their wealth.  The kind of place where Conrad Black would feel comfortable pontificating, as he, no doubt, did in the ‘real’ House of Lords in London.

Why, when Trudeau patriated the Canadian Constitution in 1982, why didn’t have the good sense to ‘whiteout’ all the language describing the Senate, its composition and function?  Then we wouldn’t be needing a constitutional amendment to get rid of it now.  Can’t you just imagine the discussions which took place in Charlottetown and Quebec in 1864 – Sir John A and 35 other well-suited men, all crowding around a table trying to piece together the British North America Act.  As they neared a deal on the constitution they backslapped each other, agreeing on the dominance of the House of Commons and its location in Ottawa. 

 Still self-congratulating each other, they traipsed off to London two years later for the hard sell.  Queen Victoria, studied the plans for a moment, then looking up at these upstarts scowled, “What, no upper chamber? Pity.”   And that may well be how the Canadian Senate got created – a regal after-thought.

 Albertans like Peter Lougheed and Stephen Harper, had long preached the merits of an elected (triple E) Senate, but anyone with a serious grasp of political science would know they were talking through their ten gallon hats.  Two elected bodies?  Both believing they are the rightful government? How would that work?  Congressional grid-lock in the US would look like child’s play here, were we to go down that road.  There is no place for a second governing body in Canada’s parliamentary democracy.

 Why, when Trudeau patriated the Canadian Constitution in 1982, why didn’t we have the good sense to ‘whiteout’ all the language describing the Senate, its composition and function?  Then we wouldn’t be needing a constitutional amendment to get rid of it now. 

 Of course Ontario, Nova Scotia, B.C., Manitoba and Saskatchewan have already called for abolition, the Official Opposition is on-side, and we should note that every upper house at the provincial level, including Quebec’s, has been abolished.  So let’s do the right thing – put it out of our misery.

 Meanwhile back at the ranch, there is this Duffy affair.  Bizarre and stinking.  Who actually believes that Stephen Harper wasn’t aware of the payoff? And if he was, why the dance he’s been giving us.  A week ago, I would have believed him, but then I could swear I saw his face on gawker.com – or was that the Mayor of Toronto, smoking crack?  

Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat after which he decided to write and has become a  political animator. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran against Cam Jackson.


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Burlington a “banana republic”? At least one well informed citizen suggests that’s what he saw at a Committee of Adjustment meeting.



By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  May 22, 2013.  The surprise wasn’t that Jack Dennison, Councillor for Ward 4,  lost his application for a severance and several minor variances to his property on Old Lakeshore Road but how two members of the Committee of Adjustment conducted themselves.  We will get to that.

Dennison was applying for a severance to his property that would allow him to create a separate lot on which a two-story house could be built.  He required permission to sever the property and needed a number of variances as well.

A staff report did not recommend the application.

The vote went 3-2 against Dennison with Chair Malcolm Ramsay, members Grant Newbury and Robert Bailey voting against and members Dave Kumar and Sam Sarraf voting for.

Burlington’s Committee of Adjustment. All appointed by city council to serve a four-year term. From left to right chair Ramsay, members Bailey, Newbury, Kumar and Sarraf.  Peter Thoem, also a member was absent.

Five members of the community delegated starting with Dave McKay who gave the committee an overview of how Roseland got to be the community it is today.  He was  followed by Diane Gaudaur, president of the Roseland community Association who set out the case for saying no. Gerhard Gerber who lives right across the street from Dennison talked about the impact the requested severance would have on the streetscape which was a major part of the opposition to the application.

Christine Dwivedi followed with a very, very lengthy presentation during which the chair asked if she had anything new to add.  Mrs. Dwivedi stuck to her guns even though it was clear that at one point she had the members of the committee following her and taking in the many trenchant points she made but after more than an hour it was clear she had gone too far.

During her delegation we did learn that Dennison attempted to buy 10 feet of the west side of the Dwivedi property for $120,000.  Mrs. Dwivedi also reported a nasty dispute over work Dennison had done when he installed a new in-ground pool.

With the clock past 10 pm legal counsel for the Roseland Community Organization summed up the reasons for not granting the severance which included an Ontario Divisional Court ruling which is a binding decision.

Applications like this include levels of detail that can be mind numbing and that was certainly the case Tuesday evening.  There were some very interesting points made and they will be covered in detail at a later date making them part of the community record.

 The process has the applicant stating their case, the members of the community who oppose the application stating their case.  The applicant is then given an opportunity to rebut whatever those opposed have to say.

It then goes to the chair who asks each member if they have questions.  Once all the questions of the member of the Committee of Adjustment have been asked each is then asked to make their comments.

It is at this point that members of the Committee make it known if they are going to support or oppose the application.

The chair then polls each member individually to hear them say publicly and for the record that they are supporting the application or opposing that application.

Last night three opposed, two supported – one member was absent.  Peter Thoem, a former council member was absent – spending his time at Point Peelee watching birds.

Other than the lengthy presentation made by Mrs. Dwivedi , the hearing was like any other that is contentious with significantly different views on either side.

Councillor Dennison neighbour Christine  Dwivedi and lawyer Mark Nicholson prepare to delegate at a Committee of Adjustment hearing.

Where things went off the rails Tuesday evening was when committee member Sam Sarraf began to ask his questions.  He first directed a question to David McKay on what the boundaries of the community were and then literally fired a bunch of questions at city planner Jamie Tellier who was on hand to answer technical questions and support the report staff had prepared.

There was question after question on specific definitions.  Sarraf had clearly prepared and was directing Tellier to specific parts of the Official Plan and having him read them aloud.  On several occasions Sarraf  asked Tellier: “Would you not agree.”  It became clear that Sarraf had an objective and he began to move from being a committee member asking questions to a person advocating on behalf of the applicant.

At one point Sarraf asked a question on a piece of evidence that had not been introduced by anyone.  He asked if the property Dennison was seeking to sever was not at one point three separate lots.  Where did Sam Sarraf get that information?  Did he research the issue?  And if he did – why would he do that?  His role is to be an impartial adjudicator who hears evidence presented and makes decisions on the merits of the evidence and adheres to the procedures used by a Committee of Adjustment.

Dave Kumar had questions that were related to how this matter would be seen and treated by the  Official Plan.  His question was very technical, not something that would normally come from a person with a financial background. Kumar’s questions were also beginning to take on the tone of an advocate.

Committee of adjustment members Bailey and Newbury stuck to the issues.  They asked questions of staff that were intended to clarify a point.  Bailey had very few questions, Newbury asked for some clarification relating to the original design of the lot when it was first put together.

When Chair Ramsay was about to ask the members of the Committee for their comments, which is the time they get to say if they intend to support the application, Sarraf suggested to the chair that any decision be “deferred” until the applicant had a chance to return and address some of the issues raised, particularly relating to what any house built on the severed lot would look like.

Things like this are done for the applicant by the applicants agent.  It is not the role of the committee members to suggest possible actions for an applicant.

There was a time when Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward once advocated for a constituent at Committee of Adjustment.  The city’s Solicitor was brought in to read the rules to what were then newbie Council members.  Might be time for the city Solicitor to have a chat with the boys on what’s kosher and what isn’t kosher in terms of ethical behaviour.

It  was a long meeting, the room was far too warm and everyone was getting tired.  The hands of the clock were getting close to 11:00 pm and Chairman Malcolm Ramsay was letting things slip a little.

Jack Dennison usually goes all out for what he wants. Did he go too far at a Committee of Adjustment meeting on Tuesday?

One observer with experience in matters like this wondered why the chair did not move the meeting into an “in camera” session and have everyone clear the room and once the doors were closed, turn to the two members who were offside by a country mile and ask them: “What the hell is going on here?”

Was there collusion between Sarraf and the applicant?  That was certainly a question on the minds of many as they talked after the meeting.

While Dennison was reading his comments he was working from a document he had not made available to those opposed to what he was asking for.  In quasi-tribunal hearings such as Committee of Adjustment opposing parties make documents available to each other.  In higher “courts” lawyers are required to do so.

When Dwivedi was making her presentation she asked that Dennison not be given a copy of her comments because he had not shared his.  The chair didn’t disagree with Dwivedi but once the documents were in the hands of the committee members, Sarraf immediately passed a copy to Dennison who was sitting next to him.

There was the sense that these two guys were part of the same team.  It smacked all of that small town, old boys network stuff.

Both Dave Kumar and Sam Sarraf have run for public office – both in Ward 5.  Sarraf ran in 2006, Kumar in 2010.  Kumar is also a former city hall employee where he worked in finance.

The political class tend to hang together in Burlington.

Councillor Jack Dennison’s application to sever his property was not approved by Burlington’s Committee of Adjustment.  Two members of the committee came very close to becoming advocates for the application.  Did this amount to collusion?

When running for public office Sarraf said he had completed five years study at Mohawk College in both Construction and Civil Engineering he worked from 1983 to 1999 as a Land Surveyor and was responsible for surveying many of the development projects in Burlington during that period of rapid growth. These included The Maple Community, Mapleview Mall, Tyandaga, and Millcroft communities as well as The Orchard.

In 2000 Sarraf  became Project Manager & Planner for a local Engineering consulting firm and was instrumental in the development of several residential and commercial projects and subdivisions in the GTA including the environmentally sensitive Oak Ridges Moraine.

Kumar ran in Ward 5, hoping to succeed Rick Goldring who was running for Mayor in 2010.

Running for public office is noble – it isn’t easy work.  Those elected or appointed are in place to serve the people of the city –they are not there to serve their own interests or those of their chums.

Last night we saw what one observer described as what he expected from a “banana republic”.  “I never thought I would see that in this city”.

This observer added that Burlington needed an Ethics Commissioner.  That would put us on the same footing as the Senate in Ottawa.  Would that help us keep our Best City ranking next year?

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Federal Safe Streets Act is “fear-mongering and invidious exploitation of communal differences,”

By Ray Rivers

BURLINGTON, ON.  May 17, 2013.  Justice M. Green put it very well when he said, of the federal governments Safe Streets Act that it represented “…an ideology of unabashed Puritanism marketed through fear-mongering and invidious exploitation of communal differences.”

 Justice Green was writing about one of the Harper government’s signature legislative pieces, (Globe and Mail – May 2, 2013).  Indeed, if puritanism was the driving passion, then why not just bring back the pillory stocks, the dunking stool and the whipping post. 17th century puritans used to nail their prisoners’ ears to the stocks – so they would have to face their victims.  And, the multitude of crimes in those days included treason, sedition, arson, blasphemy, witchcraft, perjury, wife-beating, cheating, forgery, coin clipping, dice cogging, slandering, conjuring, fortune-telling, and drunkenness.  


Putting people in pillory stocks was a common practice in the 1800’s. We have progressed since then; haven’t we?

It took four centuries to narrow down the list of crimes and, more recently, two generations of socially progressive efforts, to whittle down the number of criminals in Canadian prisons.  And the reality is that crimes, criminals and costs have further fallen over the last two decades.  So Mr. Harper’s new law – Bill C-10, ‘The Safe Streets and Communities Act’ can only turn the clock back. 

 This legislation has the ultimate purpose of expanding the prison population and increasing the number of costly prisons required. Why?  A good question.  Since, ironically, the changes being instituted are happening while crime rates are falling and streets are generally safer in Canada.  It is also ironic that the very government which claims to be promoting safer streets is the same one which shut down the long gun registry and destroyed almost all of its weapons records.  It is also the government which has made our country more of a potential target for international terrorism through it’s unbalanced foreign policies. 

 If US-style laws and US prison systems are the models in Mr. Harper’s mind, then privatized for-profit prisons cannot be far behind.  And if profit-oriented US prison providers, like ‘GEO’, are to be engaged, we should expect that higher US-style crime rates will also follow.  The US, with the highest incarceration rates in the world is a poor model for us to emulate, by any reasonable person’s assessment.  

 These American for-profit organizations tend to feed on the underprivileged and the poor, while making greater profit from the increasing number of inmates facing longer sentences.  Looking objectively at the prison system in Canada, it is hard to miss the imbalance which already exists – how certain minorities are over-represented.  For example, less than 13% of Saskatchewan residents are aboriginal and yet aboriginals make up over 80% of the prison inmates in that province.   This is something the so-called ‘Safe Streets and Communities Act’ will do absolutely nothing to improve – it will in fact exacerbate the problem.

 ‘The Safe Streets and Communities Act’ will be the topic of a Town Hall Meeting I am moderating at McMaster Innovation Park (175 Longwood Rd. S.) in Hamilton, 7 PM, May 22.  The event is free and open to the public; it would be nice to see you there.

Ray Rivers

Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat after which he decided to write and has become a  political animator. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran against Cam Jackson.



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Horwath decides a better deal can be had; how can the government just drop the cost of car insurance.

By Ray Rivers

BURLINGTON, ON.  May 9th, 2013.   You know the feeling.  You have just ordered fish and chips and the waiter sets down a juicy hamburger for the guy at the next table.  You recall the price was the same and wish you’d ordered differently – then your fish arrives and you want to ask the waiter to change it for the burger.  That’s Andrea Horwath.  She demanded poorly from Kathleen Wynne, in the provincial budget, and now she’d like to order again.

 Take the 15% cut in insurance rates.  I didn’t think that could happen.  Aren’t the rates set on the basis of claims, as they’ve always told us?  Are we going to have 15% fewer accidents this year?  Possible, but I doubt it.  So that means we’ve been paying at least 15% more a year than we should have.  And look at your insurance bill.  Why are we paying for accident health coverage in a province with universal OHIP?  Talk about being over-insured.

 New Zealanders have true no-fault auto insurance.  They understand nothing is risk-free.  So if you are on the highway and have an accident, the biggest insurance pool in the country, the government, takes care of you – but you can’t sue a third-party for personal injuries.  I bought a used car there and my yearly insurance bill was $99.00.  Why can’t we do that here?

 The NDP platform on car insurance, when Bob Rae became the first Dipper Premier, was to nationalize it.  But he chickened out – wouldn’t do it then.  Has the NDP dropped the idea entirely, or did Andrea think it was too much to ask, and wishes she had now?  I mean BC, Quebec and Manitoba – all have variations of public auto insurance for their people – and they pay lower premiums.  Why are we fattening the big insurance companies?   Keeping that money in our pockets would be like a tax cut.  A good way to stimulate the economy.

 But the best we can do is fifteen percent, this time.  Horwath made her play and now she’s not so sure.  She’s hiding in her office, waiting to hear from… who?  You’d think she would have done that before she made her ask on the budget.  Now it is just about stalling, checking if the chips, which came with her fish, are salty enough before she slips one into her mouth.  But they are getting cold as she hesitates, pretending she’s not really all that hungry.

 Horwath is in a pickle.  The Liberals need her far more badly than she ever thought, and Andrea now wishes she’d asked for more – because she probably would have got it.  But she didn’t – so it’s time to lift her knife and fork and dig into that plate she ordered.  Act like the adult you want people to think you are, if you expect them to make you Premier some day.  Take the deal you demanded and make it work – then maybe, next time, be a little more careful about what you order up.

Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat after which he decided to write and has become a  political animator. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran against Cam Jackson.



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Hold your noses; they are about to pass a budget when what they’ve really done is pass gas.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  May 2, 2013.  The Premier of the province Kathleen Wynne got her Minister of Finance to produce a budget that might keep the leader of the NDP happy enough to not vote against it later this week but that really isn’t the problem we are going to have with this government.

When Kathleen Wynne told a Legislative committee that she didn’t know the cost of closing the gas plant in Oakville was $310 million she lost me.  For her to have sat at the Cabinet table where the decision to close the plant was made and tell us now that she believed the cost was just $40 million tells me the same games are still being played.

We had trouble believing Kathleen Wynne when she was Minister of Transportation and in town to convince us the government would never pout a road through the Escarpment.  Even harder to believe that she didn’t know the cost of closing the Oakville gas plant project was going to cost just $40 million when the true cost was $310 million.

Wynne is going to wear that rubber tire around her neck until it eventually brings her down and that is going to be close to tragic for the province.

I don’t believe Andrea Horwath and her New Democrats can govern.  And to have Tim Hudak as Premier of the province takes us back to the Mike Harris era – we are still struggling to get out from under the damage he did.

Hudak carries the same Harris blood line; one that is limited, simplistic and basically mean-spirited. Hudak does not seem to be able to see anything majestic in the human condition. .  Horwath hasn’t grown to the point where she can serve as Premier – and if she were elected – where would her Cabinet come from?  Wynne just doesn’t know how or want to tell the truth.

The budget will probably pass and then get reduced to a mess in committee that will slow us down for years to come.

The mistake the Ontario Liberals made was choosing Wynne and not Sandra Pupatello.

We would be in the middle of an election now had Pupatello been chosen as leader.  Pupatello would have cleaned Tim Hudak’s clock and we would have a majority government.

Premier Wynne is correct when she says the people of Ontario don’t want an election.  Having an election with Wynne as leader certainly doesn’t guarantee her a win.  It won’t put the New Democrats in office and it is doubtful that the Progressive Conservatives would win a majority.

It is not our view that Ontario wants what Tim Hudak wants for us.  What a mess

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The smell from the gas plant mess makes it difficult to know if there is anything sweet in the budget.

By Ray Rivers

BURLINGTON, ON  May 2, 2013.  Give the people what they want.  Dalton McGuinty transformed Ontario’s health care system from mediocre to one of the best in the country.  He was the education Premier who brought peace and productivity to the class room.  He banned cosmetic pesticides, driving with a hand-held cell phone and smoking while children are in your car.  He brought in the HOV lanes, the Greenbelt, and helped keep the auto industry alive during the 2008 recession.  But one of his biggest achievements was the Green Energy Act.

 Generating energy with coal is dirty, speeds up climate change and impairs our health.  So the Premier set up the Ontario Power Authority to make a plan – to phase-out coal but make sure the lights didn’t go out.  Solar and wind are the path to the future but they only work when the sun shines and the wind blows – so you need a backup and that is natural gas.  And gas, the utilities have been saying for years, is clean. 

One of two gas plant the provincial government chose not to complete – cost to quit – close to half a billion dollars

But don’t tell that to the voters in Oakville and Mississauga.  When they heard about the plans for new gas plants, they weren’t going to let Dalton put one in their back yard.  So on the eve of the last election the Liberal government, hoping to get its third majority, killed the partially constructed gas plants in those communities. 

 It turns out the cost of that decision is now known to be over a half billion dollars – compensation for the private entities building the plants – and new power plants will still have to be built somewhere. 

 The provincial budget came down this week, but it will have to compete for newspaper space with the gas plant fiasco.  The pundits expect the NDP will support this budget and continue to support the Liberals for at least a while – till they are ready to pull the plug.  

 It is said that voters have short memories, but will the teachers support the government which declared war on them?  Will the ORNGE, E-health and the Caledonia crises fade in the voters‘ minds?   And on the budget, will the public register its concern that Ontario has been in deficit for the last decade and its debt doubled over that time?   And, yes, don’t forget the gas plants.

Despite all the good that Premier McGuinty did for Ontario, his legacy will likely be tarnished by this one avoidable blunder.  Who would have advised him to pander to a handful of vocal constituents and to reverse himself on a sound energy plan?  That was an expensive lesson for all of us, and Dalton paid a huge price, falling on his sword and giving up his leadership.  This is also Political Science 101: Be careful with the advice you get from the kids surrounding you in the heat of an election campaign  The honey they are pouring into your ears may well turn out to be hemlock.  

 Next week I will be exploring the new Ontario budget.  If the NDP does indeed support the budget on first reading, the question is whether they will see it through committee and onto final reading.  Andrea must be asking herself why she would want to climb into bed with a Liberal government so shaken by something as destructive as the gas plant fiasco?  There are interesting times ahead.

 Ray Rivers will write weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat after which he decided to write and has become a  political animator. Rivers was a candidate in Burlington where he ran against Cam Jackson.


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Bridges, bicycle paths, roads and the way we get around in this city. Resident suggests we may not be getting it right.

By James Smith

BURLINGTON, ON.  May 2, 2013.  This past weekend yet another young man, 27, died on the railway tracks near Dixie Road in Mississauga. Another family is now linked with Burlington’s Denise Davy and her family by grief over the loss of a loved one on the Lakeshore rail corridor. More than just sad, this news is devastating because when someone dies like this, a family is left not only with the ache in their heart over the loss, but also left with so many unanswered questions. How and why did this happen?  Is it misadventure, suicide or is there something else at work? What are we missing in this picture that motivates people so they feel they have to cut across tracks in the first place?

I’ve never met Ms Davy, but I’ve been impressed with her commitment to attempting to get action on preventing other deaths on the tracks in Burlington. Ms Davy has successfully brought this issue to the front of mind, not only of Burlington City council, a success in its own right; Ms Davy has moved council to direct staff to act.

A couple of really inadequate signs alongside a path that leads up to the railway tracks – crossing is a snap until one realizes there is a train that you didn’t see or hear when you started crossing.

As I write this, I’m sitting on a GO Train making my way into Toronto and I can see how very easy it is for one to make it onto the tracks. Pulling into Bronte station, I saw two men walking away from the tracks. (Did they just cross them?) They likely didn’t give the train and the tracks a second thought. Just something to get around. One does not need to be an expert to see what danger lurk on the Lakeshore corridor.  Just look out from the seat of a GO train as I’ve just done to see the trails and paths, the tree forts, BMX jumps and graffiti.  Pretty quickly one can get the idea of where people regularly walk, play, lurk and take shortcuts. With GO moving to half hour service in June the peril on the tracks is about to become far greater. To mitigate the danger, I notice more brush being cleared and new fences on the rail corridor throughout Mississauga. Will this project carry on to cover Burlington and the rest of the GO network? I hope so – and I hope it happens soon.

Fences are only part of the answer, the spot where the latest death occurred happened on a section of track already with new fences installed.  To improve rail track safety Burlington and other cities need not so much better city planning around railways, but better transportation vision. Being hived off into four parts by railways and highways Burlington has created a neat two kilometer grid that isolates pockets of development as little land-locked islands ironically surrounded by transportation corridors. How do people get in and out of these islands? By car, or for the foolhardy, taking a chance crossing the tracks on foot.  This is a result of the dominant planning regimes of the mid-20th century where land use was neatly divided up into its own little planning ghettos.

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Burlington columnist links the Boston Bombings, Justin Trudeau and Tory attack advertisements

By Ray Z. Rivers

Ray Rivers will write weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat after which he decided to write and has become a  political animator.

BURLINGTON, ON. April 29, 2013.  ‘Root-causes’ you say?  Justin Trudeau dared to utter that phrase in his interview with Peter Mansbridge, shortly after the Boston Marathon bombings.   Trudeau was “committing sociology”, the Prime Minster accused, as if that was one of the unforgivable crimes the PM had included in the government’s new ‘safe-streets’ legislation.  

Afghan women being taught some of the basics through funding provided by the Canadian International Development Agency – getting at the root causes of political violence.

National Post right-wing columnist Barbara Kay had earlier taken her aim and fired a volley at the young leader – showing his ‘inner sophomore’, she accused.  She went on to draw a comparison to his father, when as PM he brought out the army to quell the FLQ hostage crisis of 1970.    True enough he activated the War Measures Act, but Pierre also dealt with some of the “root-causes” – the disenchantment and estrangement of Quebecers’ from their rightful role in the federation.  Lest we forget, he introduced official bilingualism, regional economic development, and the inter-provincial equalization program.

Of course Kay and Harper are playing politics, aren’t they?   Everybody knows that for every effect there is a cause…and a root-cause.  I mean why else is Canada providing social and economic aid to Afghanistan, except to remove the kind of ‘root-causes’ that contributed to 9/11, right?  Under Stephen Harper, Canada, proudly, has become one of the world’s top donors of economic development and educational assistance in Afghanistan, raising the levels of education, ensuring greater food security, and regional development of that nation, one of the world’s poorest. 

In 2011, Canada assisted over 1600 schools graduate almost 50,000 students, 85% of them girls.  And we helped Afghan small and medium businesses create over 20,000 new jobs, injecting $325 million in the national economy.  These are very impressive stats for a government that doesn’t believe in ‘committing sociology’ and in considering and reducing ‘root-causes’. 

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General manager walks the plank – but no one pushes him into the water. This is good news?



By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  April 17, 2013.   Scott Stewart, one of the toughest General Manager’s this city has seen in some time uses his smile and basically decent demeanour to get things done. But if that doesn’t work – well, Stewart came to us from Hamilton where he acquired certain skills.  Let’s just leave it at that.

Earlier this week Stewart, who now heads up what is referred to as D+I, which is the short form for Development and Infrastructure Committee – the place where all the hard work gets done.  All the paper bound tasks; legal, Human Resources, Information Technology and Finance got shifted over to  City Manager Jeff Fielding.

That realignment didn’t leave much for Kim Phillips to do and perhaps we will see some changes in that portfolio somewhere down the road.

Stewart, who drives hard and is remarkably responsive, brought a small report to council committee where he talked about how he feels his people have done and asked council to respond.  Stewart sat there with most of his Directors but they didn’t get to say a word.  Stewart was the mouthpiece.

Do you want more of this and less of that?  Are we delivering on the deliverables?

He came to us from Hamilton – that’s as much as anyone needs to know about General Manager Scott Stewart.

This is the first time we have seen anyone at the General Manager or Director level for that matter put himself on the hot seat – but I guess when you’re on the province’s Sunshine list you can do things like that.

The IKEA matter came back to council four times – and that was good – thought most council members; but the Tim Horton’s desire to be on Brant Street in the old Blockbuster location came back to council too often.

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Is Justin a New Deal for Canada? First day on the job and the attack ads start – is this their best shot?

 By Ray Rivers.

BURLINGTON, ON. April 16, 2013  Sometimes we Liberals can feel like Goldilocks.  First, the leadership vote kickoff in Toronto last Saturday felt… too empty.  Then the concluding meeting in Ottawa…well, it was so full they sold out the $20 dollar tickets in a flash.   The event was packed with big-name Liberals, including one-time opponents Jean Chretien and Paul Martin who sat on opposite sides of the room. It was a big deal.

The victory was conclusive and Justin Trudeau graciously took the podium to thank one and all.  The Party had opened voting to members and non-members alike, and over a hundred-thousand Canadians participated, picking Trudeau with eighty percent of the votes – a new deal  for political leadership.  Polished, humble and almost boyish, he delivered his first speech as leader of the third party - but now what?

Justin kicked off his leadership campaign by promising to rebuild the middle-class (by which he really meant middle-income Canadians).  But what does that mean?  Franklin D Roosevelt is credited with building the modern middle-class in America, a consequence of his New Deal in the 1940‘s.  Five factors played together for FDR; 1. a sheltered union movement to lift the pay of workers, 2. massive public investment to create jobs for the unemployed, 3. the break-up of corporate conglomerates, 4. progressive income taxation, and 5. trade protectionism.

 Chretien, in his remarks at the podium, noted that his Team Canada had landed significant deals in their excursions into China, while the best Harper could do was to bring back a couple of rented Panda bears.  And Trudeau, who has supported the Chinese buy-up of the tar sands and the Keystone pipeline, seems unwavering on business-as-usual for global trade, the kind that ensures we Canadians remain the hewers of wood and drawers of water we were at confederation.  Not much of a new deal here, I’m afraid.

 Trudeau has not yet spoken, perhaps wisely, on the other elements of how he plans to re-build the middle class.  He and the party’s policy wonks have their work cut out, developing options to restore and promote the middle-class, if he is to be believed.   Of course, Justin is not PM yet, just the leader of the third-party.  But if the polls are any indication, he might very well be in position to lead a Trudeau Liberal government after the next election. 

 Well thought-out and pronounced policy options to restore a more balanced Canadian society and a healthy economy would be a big deal, even if it not exactly FDR’s new deal.

 Ray Rivers is a retired civil servant, a former Burlington candidate for the provincial legislature and an author.  His book, The End of September focuses on how things could have been different during the Quebec crisis in 1983.  Rivers will write for Our Burlington on a regular basis – about twice a month.

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The Coronation

Ray Rivers was seen pontificating with a bunch of Burlington Liberals Saturday morning before he headed into Toronto for the Liberal Party of Canada Showcase where the six candidates running for the leadership of the party were giving their final speeches.  We asked Ray to give us a first person report on the event.  Ray, still with a belly full of fire for politics, reports:

By Ray Rivers.

TORONTO,ON. April 9, 2013  I could feel the mood as I descended the stairs from old Union Station to the near vacuous bowel of a structure, that is the Toronto Convention Centre.  Trudeau volunteers were everywhere, waving their skinny balloons, and making rallying noises.  They were mostly young people, which was so delightful to see.  The woman on the TV the night before, told us the Liberals would have trouble filling the seats at this event, and she was right.  The rows of seats were dispersed as best they could to disguise that the attendance was not what had been hoped.

At $150. per ticket, for which didn’t even get a bottle of water, let alone coffee and a doughnut, the low turnout was not a surprise but a disappointment.  There was this overly lengthy tribute to departing interim leader Bob Rae – sure, he deserves  recognition, but hey, I thought we were coming to listen to the candidates.  Then the organizers allowed twenty-five minutes for each of the butt-numbing speeches.   They were all good, of course, though I have to admit that I ran off to an ad hoc meeting and missed the last two speeches.  But then, like the rest of the crowd there, I was pretty sure that it wouldn’t matter.  Somebody in the Party needs to take a serious look at how they plan these events.

Joyce Murray had the most effective video and gave a very good speech.  She cautiously and slowly walked the crowd through her vision of co-operating with the NDP and Greens in order to beat Harper at the polls next time.  But it is a complicated matter, and so innovative, that I doubt some of the regular folks got it – or felt comfortable with it.  Joyce spoke of her commitment to small business and the environment and I couldn’t help thinking what a brilliant environment minister she would make in the next Liberal government.

The country watched as another Trudeau headed towards the leadership of a political party

Then came Justin, with a huge gaggle of groupies, Trudeau scarves casually around their necks, clapping their skinny balloons and chanting, as their hopeful gracefully climbed onto the stage and proceeded to inspire everyone with his speech.  He was confident and positive and delivered his well-written speech with passion and power.  Knowing the question was in everyone’s mind he commented about his father, saying that his campaign was about Pierre, then added just as it was about all of the parents (of the younger of us, I guess) – that it was about restoring Canada to the glory days before Stephen Harper screwed it up.  Perhaps he was just anticipating the Tory attack-ads coming the Monday following the vote count, but it certainly struck a chord with me – nice twist on a theme.

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They really set her up. They wanted to shut Meed Ward down – last night they did just that. The fallout, & there will be some, will not be pretty.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  April 9, 2013.   It was almost slick – if a little underhanded – the kind of thing we used to see with a previous Mayor.

While Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward was talking about one of the finer points of the Ghent Avenue development the Mayor looked directly at the Clerk, nodded his head and the Clerk nodded back at which point the Mayor interrupted Councillor Meed Ward and brought to her attention that she had gone beyond the 15 minutes of discussion she was permitted under the city’s procedural by-law.

Meed Ward was a little stunned and I don’t think she was fully aware of what had just been done to her.

At full Council meetings the Mayor presides and recognizes different speakers.  The city manager is in attendance and he is there to address Council on how the administration would handle an issue.

The Clerk plays a vital, semi-judicial and administrative role.  If Council passes a bylaw it isn’t in force until the Clerk signs the document.

Angela Morgan, Clerk, city of Burlington; powerful position.  She runs the municipal elections, she has the power to tell the Mayor what he is doing is wrong and advise him publicly not to do so.  She made the mistake on Monday of letting her Mayor mislead her.

The Clerk is the person the Mayor, or any member of Council for that matter, turns to for an interpretation of the rules.  The Clerk has an assistant who takes the minutes but it is the Clerk who has final say on almost anything and everything.

Angela Morgan, Clerk for the city of Burlington; is an attentive, polite, informed bureaucrat.  But Monday evening, April 8th 2013  – she did nothing to advance the civility of debate and discussion at Council meetings.  This is not something she did on her own – the Mayor put her up to it.

One must admit that Meed Ward does run on – frequently.  She has no friends at Council.  Her Ward 2 colleague Rick Craven has absolutely no time for her.  Councillor Taylor puts up with Meed Ward because he sees a lot of himself when he was a younger man in Meed Ward today.

Councillor  Dennison and the Mayor treat her with the mildest respect possible or with total disdain – depending on the issue.

Monday evening there was a very divisive debate on the Ghent Avenue development, which is in Meed Ward’s ward and she wasn’t backing down.

Mayor Goldring read the Procedural Bylaw carefully and found a way to collude with the city Clerk to shut down a member of his council. The days of innocence for this Council came to an end Monday April 8th, 2013

It isn’t a very pretty development and there are all kinds of issues surrounding the pre-sale of the 58 properties and the way the city chose to let the developer’s consultants provide much of the technical opinion.

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Now what do we do? We’re #1 – there is nothing else to aspire to. That’s what happens when you let others determine who you really are.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  March 21, 2013  Here we go again.  A magazine that promotes its readership with a list of the best place to live, the safest place to live and maybe even the nicest place to live and then all those locations promote this specious recognition.

Burlington, Burlington, Burlington!  We are better than some phony recognition given to us by a magazine promoting their circulation.

Unfortunately, you can bet real money that the Mayor will tout this phrase every opportunity he gets and the members of city council will do the same damn, stupid thing.

The nicest thing about this graphic put out by the city is the picture.

This city has huge potential but we will never rise above our provincial past as long as we let others define us.

It is what we do with what we have been given that should make us important.

Can we grow to the point where leading corporations choose this city because it has the very best schools, the very best sports organizations for our children and a performing arts centre that is the envy of the country because of the type of event it brings to its stage?

The Burlington Art Centre has one of the very best ceramics collections in North America – and we have it stuffed into boxes because there isn’t any adequate space to display that collection.

Much of the city grew out of a land grant given to a native who served the British Army during the American revolutionary war.  Born a native, became a savage warrior and grew into one of this country’s early statesmen – Joseph Brant is recognized by a pathetic little museum.  He was a great Canadian but we don’t seem to be able to tell our citizens that story.

Why oh why, oh why do we need outsiders to tell us how good we are?

The late Jane Irwin reminded city council that we are called Borington for a reason.  Time to grow up and be who we really are.

Has anyone noticed how vibrant the Alton Village community is becoming?  Are we aware of the way our downtown is going to change in the next five years?

Do we use the Escarpment as a place that provides the fresh vegetables we consume or do we just talk about how nice it is?

Can we grow beyond the festivals that take place on the waterfront?

There are a lot of things done in the city that are superb and we don’t need a magazine with a circulation smaller than the population of the city to tell us what we have going for us.

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They couldn’t resist it – Taylor warned them it was folly but they think they can fool you by saying it is a 2.07% tax increase. It’s 4.46%

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  March 19th, 2013 – City media release. The City of Burlington has approved the city’s 2013 current budget, which will increase taxes by 2.07 %, or $19.08 for each $100,000 of residential urban value assessment.

“I would like to commend staff, and the city’s budget committee for a job well done,” said Mayor Rick Goldring. “As a municipality, it is always a balance of priorities to look at the quality of life expectations of today with the long-term financial needs of tomorrow. I believe we have effectively made some decisions that serve the people of Burlington while still keeping tax rates competitive with those of other municipalities.”

“Council approved an increase to the hospital levy to $3.6 million, and an increase in funding for infrastructure, with $2 million dedicated towards the city’s local roadway resurfacing program.

“When approving the 2013 current budget, City Council focused on efficiencies in service delivery and the key strategic priorities, outlined in the city’s strategic plan, Burlington, Our Future,” said Ward 3 Councillor John Taylor, chair of the city’s budget committee. “Council takes very seriously every decision related to spending, whether it’s the operating budget or the capital budget. We are focused on what matters to the people of Burlington.”

It took them five paragraphs but they finally fessed up:

“The 4.46 per cent tax rate increase to the city’s portion of the property tax bill is combined with the Region of Halton’s increase of 0.8 per cent and an education increase of zero per cent, resulting in an overall property tax rate increase of 2.07 per cent.”

Councillor Sharman wanted to skew the budget numbers to make them look better.

Councillor Taylor told Sharman “playing with budget numbers for political reasons will come back to bite you.”

What council tried to do was use the regional portion of the tax levy along with the Board of Education levy, which were both a 0% increase over last year, and combine those two with the Police budget, which had a  small increase over last year – and use those lower numbers to make the city numbers look better.  That’s  what we call “trying to pull a fast one”.    It was Councillor Sharman, an accountant at heart, who first mentioned the 2% number.  Bit of jiggery poking on his part which Councillor Taylor warned would come back to bite him.  The surprise is that the Mayor went along with the scam.

At the Council budget debate, where they basically review and for the most part rubber stamp what was done at the committee level, the more contentious matters get a second hard look.

The public can delegate and this year there was a delegation from Bfast, a citizens advocacy group that wanted Council to defer the bus fare increase until there was an opportunity for some significant public comment.  On that level the Bfast people were correct: the city did not take the matter of a rate increase to the public.  So much for community engagement.

Transit, the funding of the Burlington Economic Development Corporation, the funding of the Performing Arts centre, finding the money to keep the roads in decent repair and ensuring that we maintain our contribution to the hospital were the items that got all the attention.

Did they develop a good budget for you?  It wasn’t a bad budget but it papers over quite a few problems and doesn’t provide enough money to fill all the pot holes.

Taylor appeared to be the only person who had much in the way of empathy for the people who can’t afford the cost of transit.  Meed Ward was with him on this to some degree – but the rest, they just didn’t get it.  Going without isn’t a part of their life experience.

“In 2012 the city generated a surplus of $2.3 million. The surplus was used to reduce the impact of one-time or temporary costs on the 2013 budget, said the city’s media release.

It went on to point out that “The city has a long-term financial plan that creates a sustainable financial position for Burlington.”   City Manager Jeff Fielding said:  “The budget is aligned to the City’s investment and operational priorities as outlined in that plan. We are in good financial shape, with a solid base budget, responsible debt management and adequate reserve fund balances.”

Was it a good budget?  It wasn’t a bad budget but given that the budget next year will be the last before this council has to go to the polls again – they’ve not left themselves much room to offer the voters some goodies to keep them happy and plump – before they get plucked again.  Councillor Dennison sent his regrets – he was unable to attend the meeting – can’t blame any of this on him then can we?

A 2.07% increase – nice try.  Just how stupid do your think these voters are?



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Freshman reporter attends first ever council meeting – he says it wasn’t pretty.

By Walter Byj,

Staff reporter

BURLINGTON, ON  March 19, 2013  I witnessed my first full council meeting on Monday night, and  left with mixed feelings. I was somewhat impressed with the knowledge base of the Councillors, but disappointed with some other aspects of the meeting. Following are my observations, in no particular order.

What was the reason for the barbs that were quite apparent between Councillors Rick Craven and Marianne Meed Ward?   Is there a personal history here?  To be fair, throwing barbs seems to be common among all of the Councillors. Maybe that is part of the political game, but one would think that it could be done in a more civil manner.  It appeared as if members were trying to achieve points over each other.

Freshman reporter Walter Byj thought the transit fare delegation made some strong points – doesn’t understand why their advice wasn’t taken.

Then there was the matter of the two delegations that wanted the proposed 8% bus fare price increase deferred.  Although it did lead to one council member re-evaluating and changing her vote (Meed Ward), others on the council seemed to take any opposition as a personal affront to their good judgement.  Is this ego at play, or are people just being stubborn?

Is this response common to previous or future delegations?  I got the impression that because the Councillors did a lot of hard work and have a great new plan, then their decision must be right. The fare increase is a go with only Rick Craven and Marianne Mead Ward voting against.

Councillor Blair Lancaster seemed quite upset at the way the discussion was and asked the delegation if  council should do nothing.  “We want to work with the people, not against them,” said Lancaster.


Reporter Walter Byj wondered if the amount gained with a transit fare increase would offset the amount being given to the Performing Arts Centre?

While council was eagerly raising bus fares, not sure how much will be raised, they were just as eagerly spending close to half a million dollars over the next two years for the Burlington Performing Arts Centre. Hopefully the bus fare increase will cover this expenditure. At least Councillor Ward was consistent as she voted against both the fare increase and the additional funds for the BPAC.

I wish the Performing Arts success, but not sure at what cost. Mayor Rick Goldring did mention that although the BPAC did lose money last year, the professional shows did turn a profit. Hopefully this does not turn out to be another pier, which was not discussed at all.  That was good news.

Was it the English accent or the cadence of his speech, but I got the impression that Councillor Paul Sharman seems to know what is best for Burlington. I kind of got the feeling that I was being talked down to.

Not sure if this is common to all the meetings, but there were no break scheduled for this meeting. Not sure as to why this is so, as even the most exciting of events plan a break so that everyone can take a moment to refresh. And trust me, the excitement level here does not compare to a sporting event.

Well, that is my quick review. Thank goodness we have reporters who do this on a regular basis and summarize the proceedings in their stories. If you can’t attend the meetings, at least read the articles so that you will have a better understanding of the proceedings.  As for me, I just might sit in on another meeting as making judgements on just one is not fair.  Not sure if I will attend the meeting live at city hall, or watch it on Cogeco Cable.

Walter Byj is a more than 40 year Burlington resident who lives north of the QEW.  He was employed as a Sales operations and planning manager with a major consumer products company for more than 30 years. He also worked in  the field as a sales representative calling on department store branches in south-western Ontario.  Walter also did his time at Dofasco where he did  follow through for customers in the Hot Roll and Plate section.  A graduate of Ryerson University Walter Byj completed a Bachelor of Business Management degree and diploma in Business Administration between  1967–1973 in a combination of full and part-time study.


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And just how much spin do you get for $10,000 – probably not enough. It’s beginning to get interesting at the bottom of Brant Street.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  March 8, 2013  The city manager is reported to have put out a Request for Proposals on supplying of communications services to the city as they begin to prepare to tell the public about the status of the legal problems related to the construction of the Brant Street pier and the various law suits that are currently in the process of getting ready for a trial.

Councillor Marianne Meed Ward, the one council member who wanted to continue discussions with Henry Schilthuis and Sons Ltd.,  the contractor that walked off the job in early 2010 after doing everything they could to resolve the problems related to the construction,  which many feel began to come to the surface when the crane doing some work on the site toppled and some of the steel beams were badly bent.

The contractor had problems with this project the day he walked onto the site.

While the messy part of the discussions with the contractor took place during the Cam Jackson  council, Rick Goldring, the Mayor who replaced him, had to make decisions of his own to not continue with Henry Schilthuis and Sons Ltd. and put out a new tender which was awarded to Graham Infrastructure.

Goldring and his council had more than one opportunity to resolve the differences and bring a fresh approach to the construction project.  At the time the contractor, Henry Schilthuis and Sons Ltd., and the city were less than $3 million apart.    The increased cost of completing the pier and the legal costs exceed that $3 million by a considerable margin.

The construction is coming along very well and short of something cataclysmic the pier will be officially opened in June, perhaps as part of the Sound of Music Festival.

The node that will have an observation deck as well as a beacon that will soar 12 metres into the air is well underway. Railings that will prevent people from falling over are being fabricated – all should be ready for a Sound of Music festival opening.

Construction is on time – on budget, so they say – but there are all kinds of expenses being racked up that are not being talked about.

The most recent is a suggested $10,000 that wold come from the city manager’s budget for “communications services”, related to legal matters about the pier.

The legal spat between the city and Henry Schilthuis and Sons Ltd. is now at the discovery stage where more than half a dozen companies are involved.  The process of Examination for Discovery, which is when each side gets to see information the other side has as they prepare for a trial.

It is not unusual for the parties to, after having looked at the documents, decide that they should think in terms of talking a settlement rather than go through an expensive lengthy trial.

Tom Eichenbaum, Burlington’s Director of Engineering is a vital part of both the city’s claim against Henry Schilthuis and Sons Ltd. and its defense of the claim the contractor is making against the city. It is not a pleasant time for Eichenbaum.

Discover hearings have been going on for the last month and got extended recently when Henry Schilthuis and Sons Ltd., asked to be able to question the city’s Director of Engineering at more length.

It is believed there was one attempt to get into settlement discussions and that the opportunity to do so was presented to city council but they declined.

It is reported that city solicitor, Nancy Shea Nicol, told council that there was “no smoking gun” and that is believed to be true.  However there does appear to be a consistent number of incidents which when linked together amounts to a preponderance of evidence that does not look all that good for the city’s case.

The argument appears to be focusing on the design of the pier which was done by a local firm Totten Sims Hubicki (TSH) who also served as the project managers.  TSH was replaced by AECOM, a multi-national firm that does business in more than 115 countries.  Their taking over the original designer made them the designers of the pier and the contract manager – a basic conflict of interest that Meed Ward pointed out during her election campaign.

Our Burlington is advised that the legal fees for one of the parties for the month of February amounted to more than $360,000 – if that is what one party is paying one can assume that the city’s legal bill is in the same range.  And they haven’t gotten to trial yet.

With the city now looking for communications talent one can only assume that something is up.  You don’t bring in specialized communications people unless you’ve got a specialized communications problem.

Donna Kell, the city’s Manager of Public Affairs is accredited with the Canadian Public Relations Society, which makes her a  certified communications specialist – and that doesn’t seem to be enough for her to take on this communications task.

Clearly the city is getting ready to tell at least part of the story as it relates to the two court cases; the city is suing Henry Schilthuis and Sons Limited, and they in turn are suing the city.

Councillor Meed Ward may find herself in a situation that only she will be amused with if the spin the city wants to put on the pier and its legal problems looks like an attempt to hide something.

Meed Ward keeps in touch with the 596 fans on her Facebook page and has asked them what they think of all this.  Her comment was: “Since the city launched the lawsuit on the pier, many discussions relating to the previous contractor and design engineer; the details of the options to finish the pier; and the legal strategy and associated fees have been behind closed doors. When the lawsuit reaches resolution, what information are you looking for?

Penny Hersh:  I have to question a City Manager who feels it is appropriate to spend an additional $10,000.00 for a consultant to SPIN the truth that residents and taxpayers have a right to know. If the City is transparent this should not even be a consideration.

Russ Campbell : Is this one of those “nice-to-haves” in the city’s budget? Just shows how city hall wastes money. If we are farming out communications will we be cutting back on communications staff: “The city currently has a full-time manager of public affairs.

Kim Lalonde:  Curious as to how the building department didn’t keep better tabs on the project before it began and during to avoid the mistakes that happened ? Also the phrase you get what you pay for comes to mind since the cheapest bid was accepted on the original project.

Daniel Silverthorne:  Don’t waste 10,000 dollars….the day Jesus comes back is the day the pier will be completed.

Clearly not a lot of support for spending any more money – but the money will be spent.  The question that lurks out there is this:  who tipped off the Post.  This type of investigative reporting isn’t their style, they don’t cover some of the council committee meetings and are never seen at any of the advisory committee meetings.

The Post has been tipped off in the past and it has come up for discussion at closed council meetings.

What does all this mean?  Stick around – it is just beginning to get interesting – but you are going to have to listen closely and read between the lines.  The city will make all kinds of noise with the “grand” opening of the pier and slip in small news items late at night or on the weekend “explaining” what went wrong and how much it is going to cost.  When those questions come forward ask: Why didn’t you settle when you had the opportunity?  Which council member do you think was the loudest to argue against any settlement?

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Me, the Mayor and the media; a relationship that is stronger because of the almost daily stress.

By Pepper Parr, Publisher, Our Burlington.

BURLINGTON, ON.  February 21, 2013  We were accepted as full members of the Ontario Press Council last fall.

The Press Council serves at the body that listens to the public when they feel media have been unfair.  Anyone can take a complaint or a concern to the Press Council.  The address is set out below.

Ontario Press Council, 890 Yonge St., Suite 200, Toronto M4W 3P4.  Telephone: (416) 340-1981

There is no cost to anyone going to the Press Council.

As member of the organization we are required to abide by their decisions and publish any decision they make.  Because we are an electronic publication any Ontario Press Council decision related to anything we have published remains on our web site for anyone to see.  The decisions of the press council are also on the Press Council web site.

Many people don’t understand the role of media in a society.  Communities with small local newspapers are often poorly served by those publications.  Burlington’s “information deficit” was brought to light in 2010 when the Shape Burlington report was published.

That document, written by former Mayor Walter Mulkewich and the late John Boich,  set out quite clearly what the problem was and where the responsibility for the information deficit lay.

One of the Shape recommendations was to create a Community Engagement Charter and the city is in the last phase of finalizing that document and deciding what it wants to do with the numerous recommendations that have been set out in draft versions of the Engagement Charter.

Another recommendation was for the city to fund some form of media that would help reduce the “information deficit”.  The city should not be in the business of funding media, look at City Talk, the city’s quarterly magazine that is filled with puff pieces written by Council members or their staff.  Terrible waste of money.

John Boich convinced me to use my 30 years of publishing experience to produce some form of electronic media; that conversation resulted in Our Burlington that came out October 2010.

The relationship between the different organizations in the city and the media is usually a strained one.  People and organizations want nice things said about them.  Our job is to say nice things if there are nice things to say but we are also there to report and explain.  We have chosen a cheeky and irreverent style.  We are constantly amazed at how bland most of the statements that come out of city hall, the Region or the offices of the MP and the MPP are; self serving puff pieces for the most part.

Here is what the Mayor had to say about us last summer.

The two or three media people who cover city hall are there to observe and report.   Running a city is a complex business and its matters are complex.  Saying the tax rate is going to be increased is a statement of fact – but those facts have to be put in context.   One percent of the tax increase last year was to pay for the city’s portion of the hospital re-build.

Saying the pier is now on schedule does not mean we don’t also say that the thing is over the initial amount it was expected to cost by more than 200% – and then asking why this happened.  Getting a straight answer is easier said than done.

Asking why city council always goes into closed session when the city solicitor speaks about the law suits the city is involved in over the pier and continually asking how much has been spent on legal fees is part of what media does.

We also reported on the 58 Burlingtonians who were awarded Jubilee medals.

We see more of the council members and staff than most people and we arrive at conclusions.  There are some very good people doing fine jobs at city hall; there are others just putting in the time until the can leave on a pension.

There are some that are always helpful and others that snow you with a dozen documents or refer you to someone else when their job is to provide information and inform.

Our Burlington has had some major differences with some people; some of those differences get resolved, on others we just disagree.

City hall has 1000 people on the payroll and is run by a top tier team of three people – with five layers of management between the city manager and the entry level clerk.

There are more really smart, energetic enthusiastic people at city hall than there are slugs.  And more often than taxpayers realize, they give very good value.

Our relationships with the members of council are all different because they are different people with agendas of their own.   Their public image is basically a brand they use to get themselves  re-elected.  Re-election for a council member is like a promotion to other people; they work hard to get them.

The Mayor is, we believe, in place to show leadership.  While the Mayor has just one vote he  does have the opportunity to lead and to set the tone.  For those who don’t think the style of leadership and the tone of the city council is important,  look back to how quickly this city decided it didn’t want Cam Jackson as Mayor, even though he had served the city as its MPP for many years.  Adapting a Queen’s Park skill set to city hall was something Jackson was not able to do.  Voters saw that inability and chose someone else to be Mayor.

While we have been critical of Rick Goldring in the past, and will be critical of him again in the future because that is part of what media do – we will never forget the evening he basically said goodbye to John Boich a week before he passed away.  He treated John Boich with great dignity, deference and sympathy and in doing so reflected what this city is about.

We really liked the comments the Mayor made about Our Burlington a couple of months ago – note sure Goldring would say them today but they reflect the kind of man he is.


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Standing room only if you are delegating at city council: so much for accommodating the aging population.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  February 11, 2013 The late Jane Irwin tweaked city council’s nose during the meeting she attended last Monday evening, before she died the following Thursday, when she remarked,  pointedly, that  council members and staff sit in comfortable seats while delegations have to stand.

Many of the delegations use a walker to get to council meetings and need their canes to get to the podium.  They are given ten minutes to speak and then remain to answer questions.  For some that is not a comfortable physical experience.

This delegation left her cane on the table where she could make use of it if needed.  A chair to sit on would have been appreciated.  Our Council chamber is not geared to people with ambulatory problems.

The City Clerk’s Office say they are looking to have a chair available for people to sit at but that means getting a table they can sit at as well – and right now there isn’t anything in place where a speaker can sit, have access to a microphone and a place to put their notes.

Our Council Chamber has a wee bit of a shabby look to it, a sort of retro-fifties feel and a sense of it being a “tired room”.  The “optics” are terrible.  For a city what wants to attract those high-tech companies and their well-paying jobs what we have in the way of a council chamber is a bit of an embarrassment.

To add to the visual presentation one must add a comment of the sound system.  When the city manager is meeting with council he sits inside the horse show where the microphone he has to use is of such poor quality it is often close to impossible to hear what he is saying – and with this city manager you want to listen very carefully.

Burlington talks of its aging population.  It talks of its engaged citizens but then does very little to make them comfortable at council meetings.

It got to be a little too much for this delegation – she had to take her cane off the table and use it to lean on while she shifted herself from foot to foot. Delegations are made to stand before Council like serfs with their hats in their hands. We need to upgrade our manners.

Cathy Unsworth came to Council last week to talk on a heritage matter that impacted property she owned in the west end of the city.  Before getting into her delegation she commented on being asked by the Clerk’s office if she was going to speak for the staff report or against the staff report.  Ms Unsworth just wanted to talk and didn’t feel she had to say she was for or against something.

She makes a very valid point.  People who choose to address Council need to be treated with more respect. And consideration has to be made for their ambulatory needs.

When a person calls city hall to register as a delegate the Clerk should send them a Briefing paper explaining the rules and procedures that are followed.  Including a letter from the Mayor welcoming the person as a delegation would be a nice touch as well.

There should be paper, pencil, a pitcher with water and paper cups for delegations to use.

Burlington isn’t some little hick town.  We are a city with a population approaching 175,000 people.  Our Council Chamber should reflect both who we are and how we want to be seen.

Time for an upgrade.

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Don’t miss the Winter Market on Saturdays @ TERRA Greenhouse in North Burlington.

By Margaret Lindsay Holton

BURLINGTON, ON  January 31st, 2013  Looking for something a bit different to do with the family or grand-parents on a cold Saturday morning this winter? Bundle up the gang and head over to the TERRA Greenhouse on the north side of Dundas Street between Guelph Line and Brant Street.

Perfectly situated on the dividing line between North and South Burlington, the downtown lake-side crowd will be pleased that they don’t have to venture too far up into the ‘unknown hinterland’ of the escarpment. North Burlington country folk will be pleased that they don’t have to ‘dress up’ to descend into the tony suburbia of Burlington. This well-placed winter market is casual, inviting, and tasteful. Literally.

Large & lush TERRA Greenhouse welcomes vendors and visitors on Saturdays from 10am to 3pm.

As you stamp off the snow from your boots, your tootsies will soon warm up in this well-heated sun-lit huge glass greenhouse. You’ll be welcomed by tasty samples of a wide range of delectable consumables, like raspberry-saturated truffles or mouth-watering bacon-smoked fresh salmon. Taste testing is encouraged by most vendors, but careful what you nibble.  I had one mouthful of the smoked salmon pate and promptly plunked down ten dollars for a critical winter’s supply …

Smokeville’s husband-and-wife team offer mouth-watering smoked rainbow trout and a variety of delicious smoked salmon products.

Exotic highly spiced teas compliment a wide variety of freshly baked ‘local’ pastries. Hardy rustic uncut sour-dough bread loaves beckon, as do delicately decorated orange-chocolate cup-cakes. Fresh meat pies can be had with a quart of well-scrubbed late-harvest turnips or beets. And don’t forget to get your quota of concentrated sour cherry juice: an excellent all-round good health elixir.

A familiar face from the Burlington Mall summer market, this mother-daughter team offer concentrated sour cherry juice, guaranteed to fix what ails you.

Artfully arranged around the greenhouse’s bubbling fountain, strategic floral arrangements by TERRA green the space. Tables are stacked high with local wares by food and craft artisans. There’s really something for every taste. Yes, a tad more expensive then your local super-market, but frankly, it’s such a pleasing mish-mash of enticing stuff, you’ll soon find yourself enthusiastically supporting these local mum-and-pop enterprses.

Tired of standing? Rest your bones in the convenient festive TERRA garden furniture displays. You never know, you just might decide to re-do your summer patio. TERRA attendants are on hand to assist with your purchase if you do. I found their service helpful and informative, not pushy.

The Little Truffle Maker offers her wares. Taste testing is obligatory! 

If you’re not interested in the excellent food produce, you can always sniff exotic expensive hand-crafted soaps or hand-made packets of room freshening lavender. Or, try on a well-knitted toque and scarf combo in a wide variety of joyful colours. Grab a budding cactus or ruby red orchid on route.

It’s always great when a new venture hits pay dirt. Timing is everything. Would this IDEA have worked two years ago? Hard to say. But today, the TERRA greenhouse on Dundas Street has a ‘hit’ on its hands. So much so, there’s talk of opening another Winter Market up in Milton.

Nothing succeeds like success. Without a doubt, this is a win-win venture.  The TERRA greenhouse could well have remained dormant over the winter months, but this resourceful interpretation of ‘space’ welcomes all who seek an enjoyable and novel Saturday sojourn. Local food vendors now have a warm and inviting place to sell their specialty items without incurring a crushing overhead.  Visitors won’t be disappointed.  It is a festive and welcoming event.

Pies ‘n Such offered great gift packages of 5 tasty items for five dollars.

Do head over earlier rather then later. Doors open at 10am on Saturday and close at 3pm. The place was packed last Saturday by 10:30am.

The Winter Market runs until the end of March. Free parking. Free entry.

And don’t forget to try those FREE lip-smacking taste-testing morsels.
Don’t miss the Winter Market on Saturdays @ TERRA Greenhouse in North Burlington.

Margaret Lindsay Holton is both an environmentalist and a community activist.  She is an artist of some renown and the designer of a typeface.  She is also a photographer and the holder of opinions, which are her own, that she will share with you in an instant.   She appears as an Our Burlington columnist every two weeks. All photographs are by MLH unless otherwise indicated.






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