Getting down to the short strokes. Candidates to square off at two events giving us a chance to see what they can do.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  September 24, 2011  Well the candidates know there is going to be an election of October 6th and the people working with them are out there beavering away but that is just about the extent of it.

Peggy Russell, the NDP candidate is doing what many politicians do – let themselves believe what really isn’t possible.   The commitment needed to get into politics and run for office has to be so strong that at times it overcomes you and reality gets away.

There is not going to be an orange wave in Ontario and certainly not in Burlington.  What Peggy Russell will do, hopefully, is sharpen things up at the two major debates that are to take place this week.  She is a tough debater and while the people who put on the events don’t really allow true debate – they see themselves as a little too polite for the tough questions, the thrust and the parry of debate that brings out who a candidate really is and what they really think and believe.

Go back to the 1984 “I had no option” debate between John Turner and Brian Mulroney to understand how vital real debate can be.

The Chamber of Commerce cheats the community when they spurn real debate and limit the event to moderated questions and answers.  It’s part of the ‘coziness’ that is a part of Burlington.

It will however not be easy to limit Russell and her direct style.

Jane McKenna is being shepherded and supported by Keith Strong and I suspect a lot of time is being spent on coaching her and preparing her for the all candidate events.  She has to show up at these two events – there is just no getting out of that.  So far she has skipped the all candidate events.  We will see if she has a handle on the issues and has developed enough as a politician to take a seat at Queen’s Park.  If the Progressive Conservative Association had not dithered for so long in finding a replacement for Joyce Savoline and chosen McKenna a year ago – it just might have been possible to get her to the point where she could handle herself and not clutch the PC Change Book to her chest and hope that the words in the book will get her though it all.  It will be interesting to see how she does.

The PC Association has a lot of explaining to do.  Bert Radfordd sould do what he forced Rene Papin to do – which was fall on his sword and back out of the nomination race.  Time for Radfordd to find another occupation

If they lose the riding – and that is within the realm of possibility – they will have four years to rebuild.  Perhaps in that period of time Brian Heagle can convince them that his blood is truly blue.

Speaking of Heagle – he makes a very good point on his Facebook page with the following data: while “ it’s completely unscientific and not equivalent to polls or even lawn signs – the  “Likes” for each Burlington candidate’s Facebook page are close right now: Liberal=129; PC=118; NDP=114.

Once this interesting bit of analysis by Heagle is out expect the political parties to rush to those Facebook pages and flood them with “Likes” which will make the data Heagle gleaned the best we are going to get from that source.  Interesting though.

Karmel Sakran kept himself busy with two press conferences at which he huffed about the terrible things Hudak would do to the province if  he were to form a government.  Hudak shut down the one issue – hospital funding – by releasing a statement that said he would ensure the hospital was funded if he formed a government.  In the meantime the city of Burlington and the hospitals Foundation are going to have to carry the load.

Sakran is the more accomplished speaker – comes from being a lawyer.  However, Russell has put him off his stride at previous candidate events.  He will need to stay focused and on point – something he should be able to do.

It is interesting to note that the Liberal and Progressive Conservative candidates are sticking pretty close to what their leaders have to say rather than saying very much about how they would advocate for Burlington.  What kind of an MPP does Sakran want to be and what kind of MPP does McKenna want to be?  It is pretty clear where Russell is coming from – she will listen to the party line but if she doesn’t like what it is – she won’t support it.  That is not to suggest Russell isn’t a team player – more to the point – she is an independent thinker.

McKenna doesn’t appear to have a clue as to what Queen’s Park is all about but she learns quickly and one can assume that if she wins, that Joyce Savoline, the retiring MPP, will be available to coach her.

Sakran understands what Queen’s Park is all about and he could, at some point, make it into the Cabinet – but a lot of that huffiness will have to go first.  As a lawyer he has more than enough friends to steer him around the place.  The procedures will come naturally to him.

What we don’t know about either McKenna or Sakran is what they are going to do for the community?  Will they toe the party line or will they be advocates for Burlington?

The most recent polls indicate that there is a very, very tight race with the Liberals and Conservatives in a dead heat.  That leads to talk of a minority government and we hear party leaders saying what they would and would not do if they had to team up with someone else to form a government.  When Andrea Horwath said she would talk to any party about forming a government she must have shaken her supporters to their very roots – the idea of the NDP supporting a PC party so that the Progressive Conservatives could form a government must have Walter Mulkewich, former Mayor of Burlington and head of the NDP fund raising committee,  tossing and turning in his sleep.

Turnout for the Chamber of Commerce Event and that being put on by the Canadian Federation of University Woman are the best chance this city has to see and hear the candidates.  Seats will be at a premium – and no walks ins for the Chamber event.

We are indebted to (yes it happens) Ward 2 councilor Marianne Meed Ward for the following:

Beat the rush on voting day and vote in the advance polls. Open daily, 10am-8pm now till Sept. 30. Locations in Burlington: 3230 Fairview St, Unit 115; Brant Hills Community Centre, 2255 Brant St; Fortinos, IKEA Plaza, 1059 Plains Rd. E; Good Neighbour Ministries, 5270 New St; St. Luke’s Anglican Church, 1382 Ontario St.

 

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So far a very quiet campaign – does that mean the minds are made up?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON September 19, 2011 – At the half-way point – no political party is losing the race but no one is winning it yet either. The citizens seem to be burnt out with the federal and municipal elections during the past 10 months. Very, very few lawn election signs and those are the ones that count.

During a two hour drive about the city we counted less than 50 signs for all three parties. McKenna had 21, Sakran 13 and Russell 4. We didn’t count the signs outside campaign offices nor did we count those clearly on commercial. We went looking for those individual homes in places like the Queensway community, south of the QEW and west of Guelph Line where McKenna had support that surprised us.

What is confusing is this: Each political party must have at least a couple of hundred members, that is people who pay their dues annually, and we wondered why those members did not have signs on their lawns. They wouldn’t say no if asked. Does this suggest that the political parties are so poorly organized that they don’t have a sign crew that gets out and puts signs on lawns. Or are political signs on lawns passé?

Clearly there is no excitement about the election. It’s going to take place and the people of Burlington seem to be comfortable with that and on election day – they will trot out to the polls and cast a ballot. Will we see another less than 50% turnout?

Province wide – no one candidate has scored big points. They have all made significant points and there is a clear difference between what Dalton McGuinty and his Liberals are prepared to do to help immigrants, with credentials that are not recognized, get a job. The Progressive Conservatives see this as unfair and point to the 50,000 Ontarians who are unemployed. The philosophical differences between the two parties is perhaps most clear on this issue.

What will it mean in Burlington? Jane McKenna, the Burlington Progressive candidate was very vocal on this one and managed to put both feet in her mouth and have Burlington described as home to the Conservative lunatic fringe.

Karmel Sakran didn’t goof to the same degree but he did suggest that if the downloading deal the municipalities have with the provincial government is ended by the Progressive Conservative government, we will all experience financial hardship as the result of the $168. increase in our property taxes. That increase would amount to 50 cents a day – not exactly financial hardship territory.

Political campaigns do bring out the hyperbole and exaggeration. It all needs to be taken with many grains of salt.

Both Karmel Sakran, the Liberal candidate and Peggy Russell, running under the NDP banner, are seen in the community and their organizations pump out press releases every day. McKenna seems to have withdrawn a bit and is running what is called a “bubble campaign”, which is when the candidate goes to places where the reception will be pleasant and no one asks hard questions. The Progressive Conservative campaign now has a small recreational trailer that drives about the city. They haven’t issued any press releases at least nothing we saw

If the Tories are to retain the seat they must hold their traditional vote and that means getting McKenna in front of every Tory they can find that is still breathing. If they can keep the traditional base – they should be able to retain the seat.

Sakran’s strategy was to be seen by the conservative community in Burlington as a moderate they can trust and, given the way McKenna has mismanaged her campaign so far, many conservatives may choose to sit on their hands October 6th or actually vote for a Liberal.

Less than three weeks to go. The two all candidate meetings will let the community see how McKenna stands up to Russell who is well briefed and can be forceful. It should be interesting to watch her. Sakran, who is equally well briefed, but we’ve yet to see him in a forum where he has to perform under some pressure.

 

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So what do we know at the end of the first week of electioneering for the Burlington seat at Queen’s Park?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON September 12. 2011 End of the first week – and where are we in the provincial election? Well it is getting a little heated.

The biggest event was the visit to the Liberal campaign offices by the Premier. The campaign office was packed – and it wasn’t exactly a small office. A number of Tories were seen in the crowd. Liberal candidate Karmel Sakran was ecstatic.

Then there was the war of words over the immigrant job tax credit of $10,000. That was part of the Liberal platform. McKenna came out swinging on that one and managed to make a couple of solid points.

Where is the race going? The Liberals certainly have the best campaign at this point but they have been gearing up for some time and their candidate has been in place for months whereas the New Democrats have had their girl in place for less than a month while the Progressive Conservatives were a last minute nomination situation.

The Liberals however cannot win this seat without pulling some support from the traditional New Democratic base and that base is still very solid – more so since the tragic and untimely death of national New Democratic leader Jack Layton. The NDP locally still hopes for a bit of that orange wave to work itself into the provincial campaign, not likely, and then to have some of it seep into the Burlington campaign – very unlikely. However their base will hold and they may succeed in pulling back those who voted NDP in the past.

The Liberals appear to have woken up their base. It has always been around, part of the Paddy Torsney legacy. But if the Liberals hope to make this riding Liberal red they are going to have to attract some of the softer NDP vote and hope that the Progressive Conservative base continues to sit on its hands. Have you noticed that the Liberals aren’t using the bright vivid red of the past – more of a wine colour.

The Progressive Conservative base is unhappy. They did not like the way Tory headquarters in Toronto kind of imposed a candidate on them – but they have only themselves to blame for that debacle. Had they managed to develop a really solid local candidate the Toronto PC’s would have left them alone. Joyce Savoline, the current member of the Legislature for Burlington, didn’t leave the new candidate anything in terms of an election organization. She has been out on the campaign trail with McKenna and Ted Chudleigh, the member for Halton, which includes part of Burlington has shared events with McKenna while she learns the ropes.

The nomination mess has left a bit of a bad taste in the mouths of the quieter stories in town. There is nothing a political party likes more than a local constituency organization that has money in the bank and a local favourite with a good profile. Brian Heagle thought he had that to offer but he brought too much political baggage with him. Rene Papin was certainly a “good old boy” – having been a past president of the association, but for reasons that are not yet clear Papin was sort of asked to step aside. Could it have been his being a man of colour? Karmel Sakran wants to hope that if that was the case that the Tories were dead wrong?

Does Burlington want just white people representing them? Rude question perhaps but a question that the people of this city want to ask themselves.

McKenna to her credit appears to be putting up a stiff fight and talking back very loudly but then Jane McKenna has always been a very “in your face” person. If will take another week to figure out if she is more soundly briefed then when we first talked to her. If she is – look out folks. This is a driven woman.

A bit too early to tell if the lawn signs are really an indicator of support. Every political party has friends with commercial property that are made available for signs – those are expected. It is the lawns signs on the residential streets that tell the tale. If those Tory blue signs don’t sprout up quickly – that would suggest the base is going to sit on their hands and that would mean the end of a reign that started in 1943.

 

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Salt with Pepper: Community Student Threat-Assessment Training? They’re not kidding.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON September 10, 2011 – I guess it’s something we have to do – but these are our children and that we have to train people to see what we as parents sometimes do not see – a very disturbed child that chooses to act out and harm members of the community.

A media release from the Halton Regional Police Service explained that ” in conjunction with the Halton District School Board, Halton Catholic District School Board, Conseil scolaire Viamonde, Conseil Scolaire de district catholique Centre-Sud and the Provincial Schools Branch (Milton), continues to provide its staff and community partners with exceptional training in the field of student threat assessment.”

People are being taught to assess and interview students they suspect could be a threat to the community. Given the tragedies that have taken place in schools in the past, and we are not talking about just the United States, it has happened in Canada as well, prudent policing would call for this type of training.

The media release went on to say: “Professionals in the school and community system participated in Level 1 Threat Assessment Training this past June. This month Principals, Police, Social Workers and Community partners will gather for additional in-service Threat Assessment Training referred to as “Clinical Interviewing in Threat Assessment.”

“The intensive two-day training session on September 13th and 14th funded by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correction Services focuses on strategic interviewing of key individuals including the threat maker(s), target, collaterals and parents/caregivers as part of the threat assessment process. A more comprehensive look at types of high-risk youth is presented to the participants.”

And so we have Correctional Service people teaching school board staff how to identify, evaluate and asses our children? Looks that way.

Family life is not what it used to be. Separations, divorces, unemployed parents – all this bring stress into a household and children react to that stress. One of the way they react is to act out against the community they don’t understand and have difficulty living within. We are doing something wrong as a society.

The press release went on to say that: “The Canadian Centre for Threat Assessment & Trauma Response, led by Mr. J. Kevin Cameron assists schools and other professionals in understanding the impact of trauma on systems and how to respond in ways that allow schools and communities to deal with serious situations in ways that encourage healing and foster growth rather than divisiveness.”

J. Kevin Cameron we are told, led the crisis response team following the 1999 school shooting in Taber, Alberta and was subsequently seconded by the Alberta Government to the Taber Response Project. He spent 13 months consulting with U.S. sites that experienced school shootings as part of his study of traumatic aftermath including threat related behaviour. Mr. Cameron is an official with the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and a Board Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress. In concert with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Behavioural Sciences Unit he developed Canada’s first comprehensive, multi-disciplinary threat-assessment training program.

The in-service training will be held September 13th and 14th at Gary Allan High School 2350 New Street, Burlington. For more information, please contact: Inspector J Gordon at 905 825 4749.

Someone somewhere has decided we need this kind of training. I think the money would be better spent on more phys-ed teachers and an upgrade to the library.

 

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How do you make a Mayor ? Treat him as a catcher and throw everything at him.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON August 17, 2011 – He is getting better. He is more in control than he was in his first six months. He has a better command of the job and is much more of a Mayor now than he was in his six months ago. He thinks now, whereas he tended to react to situations that he wasn’t always comfortable with.

The trestle has been almost as much of a headache as the Pier.  It was essential to have a trestle in place to do the construction work. Whoever gets the contract to complete the construction of the Pier is going to need a trestle.  The one in place now belongs to Bermingham Construction who was a subcontractor to  Harm Schilthuis and Sons, who walked off the job.  The trestle owner wants his trestle back or wants to be paid.  The city has said – take it out by the end of September.  That should solve that problem – right?  It’s never that simple with our Pier.

The trestle has been almost as much of a headache as the Pier. It was essential to have a trestle in place to do the construction work. Whoever gets the contract to complete the construction of the Pier is going to need a trestle. The one in place now belongs to Bermingham Construction who was a subcontractor to Harm Schilthuis and Sons, who walked off the job. The trestle owner wants his trestle back or wants to be paid. The city has said – take it out by the end of September. That should solve that problem – right? It’s never that simple with our Pier.

The latest bit of crap to land on his desk was an attempt on the part of a contractor to get the city to pay for a service he had provided – in this instance it was Bermingham Contracting that wanted the city to pay that company for the use of a trestle that had been put in place by the company the city originally contracted with to build the Pier. That company, Harm Schilthuis and Sons Ltd walked off the job – they basically abandoned it – and the lawyers begin serving Statements of Claim on each other. Great for the lawyers – they have to earn a living too – but not so good for the city who has to pick up the tab for some pretty expensive legal talent.

Add to this, a city that has residents, who, before fully informing themselves, write Letters to the Editor and declare the city should just tear the darn thing down.

“First of all,” said the Mayor in a statement, “I would like to state that the City of Burlington does not wish to fight a legal battle in the media. However, some points need clarification. The following responds to information conveyed by the media regarding the trestle built to construct the Brant Street Pier.

“The city has no contractual relationship whatsoever with Bermingham Construction Ltd. Bermingham has a relationship and business agreement with the original contractor on the pier. The city is not a party to that agreement.  The city does not owe money to Bermingham.”

The Mayor went on to say: “I understand Bermingham’s motivation and interest in looking for a way to recover perceived losses. The city is not prepared to use the taxpayer’s money to resolve subcontractor issues.”

“The city has had discussions with Bermingham to determine if the trestle can safely be used to complete the pier. Bermingham insists that the trestle, as it is today, is not available for use in the construction project and cannot withstand the construction loads.”

Bermingham has written to the city indicating their financial requirements, including the cost of testing the trestle for usability. That amount of money, a figure substantially higher than that reported in the media, is not satisfactory to the city. As a result, the city has asked Bermingham to remove the trestle by Sept. 30, 2011.

We look forward to the receipt of tenders on Aug. 17, 2011, at 2 p.m., and to recommending a contractor in about six weeks’ time to complete the Brant Street Pier.” Said the Mayor.

Earlier in the week Steve Zabos, acting as City Manager, released a prepared statement that was somewhat different than the comments the Mayor made. It was probably the former that made it necessary for the latter – if you get my drift.

Here is what Zabos released: “The city does not substantiate information provided to the media if that information could negatively affect any litigation that the city may be involved in. Bermingham Construction Ltd. is a subcontractor of Harm Schilthuis and Sons Ltd., a company with whom the city is currently involved in litigation.”

The people in the legal department must have had conniptions over this exchange of comments.

There are all kinds of hurdles popping up and so far Mayor Rick Goldring is getting over all of then. But one of his team thinks the whole pier mess is “disgraceful”. Is that hurdle he has to get over or something in a cow pasture he wants to step around ?

 

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The things a professional, running a publicly funded institution, has to do to get the funds he needs when an election is on.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON August 11, 2011 – There he was, a top notch professional, an experienced hospital administrator trying to re-shape and redevelop a hospital that is badly in need of an upgrade, An institution that has not had any major work done on it for more than forty years in a community that has grown significantly in the past ten years with a population that is aging and in need of different kinds of care. A hospital that went through a deadly C difficile epidemic that cost 78 people their lives because the hospital was old and very hard to keep clean enough to prevent the spread of newer more virulent viruses.

Nice guy, great at what he was hired to do.  Got abused by the politicians.  Made to stand up and basically say nothing.

Nice guy, great at what he was hired to do. Got abused by the politicians. Made to stand up and basically say nothing.

They had him up there on a platform, looking a little like a monkey on a chain tethered to an organ grinder who was peddling the same old tune. Poor Eric Vandewall had to stand up there and say what he has been saying for years, give me the funds I need and I will get you the hospital you need and deserve.

He is the President and Chief Executive Officer of one of the largest employers in the city and responsible for one of the most important institutions in the city. And he had to be excited and say how happy he was, and indeed he is happy, but he doesn’t yet know just how the government is going to get him the funds to build the hospital he has to run. And given that it looks as if the provincial government is going to go the Alternative Funding Plan route(the government doesn’t have the money to pay for the hospital) – Vandewall may not have all that much say in just what kind of a hospital he will get to run. They’ve got the guy tending to the minutia and not focusing on the bigger picture and ensuring he has the best team he can recruit to give the community the hospital it needs and deserves.

A member of the provincial government was on hand at the “announcement” event to spout for more than ten minutes, assuring the community that the hospital was going to be redeveloped. That it was going to happen.

Of course it is going to be redeveloped. The question is exactly when and how much has the government actually committed to the project. Where are the time lines ? Where are the funds ?

The event was an announcement of “historic” proportions. What was historic about repeating what has been known for some time – that the government is going to re-build the hospital ? They couldn’t not re-build, not if they want to have a hope in Hades of ever getting elected in Burlington. It’s been a long time since a Liberal represented Burlington in the Legislature – 43 years and counting.

Ted McMeekin, former Mayor of Flamborough, former member of Hamilton’s city Council and now the MPP for Ancaster, Dundas, Flamborough, Westdale was on hand to make the announcement along with MPP Sophia Aggelonitis, MPP for Hamilton Mountain who is also the Minister of Revenue for the province and the Minister Responsible for Seniors as well.

Aggelonitis was supposed to be on hand for the announcement but was reported to be struck in QEW traffic. This on the day that Premier Dalton McGuinty announced that if the GO trains were more than 15 minutes late riders would have the cost of their fare refunded. Aggelonitis could have taken the GO train like the rest of us and been on time.

Vandewallderwall must have wondered why he spent so much money on renting a fancy white tent that was filled with just about every politician drawing a paycheck – and there were a lot of those on hand, each congratulating themselves on how wonderful this announcement was.

What announcement? Nobody said anything new. We weren’t told how much money the government has committed to the redevelopment of the hospital. We weren’t told when construction would start – not one single dollar amount was mentioned nor was one date mentioned.

Liberal Candidate Karmel Sakran, who sat on the hospital board and was on the committee that hired Vandewal said after the press conference that all one had to do if they wanted to know what was being spent was do some research. Wonderful idea but there are no numbers on the hospital web site nor are there any construction start dates. It was a little on the embarrassing side for Sakran. Here he is, running for office with a campaign that is in very good shape, doing all the right things and ahead of his competition who has yet to open her campaign office and he finds himself sitting in a room with everyone waiting for an announcement that really didn’t get made.

The press conference was originally going to be on the Tuesday but got moved forward a day. One would think the government could plan things well enough to ensure that the Minister making the announcement could get into the riding the Liberals have a slightly better than even chance of winning and have at least a shot at the Halton seat.

Ted McMeekin, member for Ancaster, Dundas, Flamborough, Westdale has shoved Joyce Savoline aside and is doing every media event he can. Savoline, the current MPP for Burlington, is the Progressive Conservative member of the opposition for Burlington, was not at the event. McMeekin , said he had called Savoline four times but she never got back to him. A very reliable source informed me that Savoline apparently wasn’t invited and was very disappointed because the hospital was one of her favourite projects.

After the dignitaries had done their bit, McMeekin said the reason dollar figures were not announced was that the government didn’t want to say publicly what was going to be spent so that contractors wouldn’t know how much money was going to be available. What a crock! Either McMeekin didn’t know – unlikely, or he had been told that announcement would get made by Aggelonitis. Or the government doesn’t want to talk at this time about their Alternative Funding Plan, whichever, it was a cock-up on the part of the government and a waste of everyone’s time.

In his press release Mayor Goldring said: “Phase 1 of the Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital redevelopment is more than  $300 million. The planned local share is $120 million. The Joseph Brant Hospital Foundation has committed to raising $60 million through a fundraising campaign in addition to the city’s contribution of $60 million.” The city already has $4.8 million sitting in a bank account and they are going to sit on it until there is a rock solid Memorandum of Understanding in place. The city’s money may get used to build the parking garage. How embarrassing.

It was a non-event, waste of taxpayers money – and all apparently because Minister Aggelonitis couldn’t get to Burlington on time to tell the whole story and tell us just how many big bucks were going to be spent.

 

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Innovation is like trip to dentist. Mayor is going to take you through that kind of experience – it will be good for you.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON July 28, 2011 Innovation is something we all talk about but few of us really know what it means to innovate and fewer still actually do very much in the way of innovating in their lives. Ask yourself this: When was the last time you changed the way you do something and did so with a real solid innovation?

Innovation doesn’t come easily. Too many interests get rubbed the wrong way when someone innovates. Corporations can do it because they are profit driven and the innovation is put in place to improve the profit level.

The City of Burlington isn’t driven by profit. It will tell you it is there to serve – but it isn’t always clear who it is that is being served. But that is not the direction I want to go with this piece.

Mayor Rick Goldring understands the need to innovate and while he may not have a lot of experience at actually putting new innovations into practice, he knows they are needed and has begun to take the first tentative steps to bringing some very significant innovations to the city.

He is going to see the Pier completed. It wasn’t a problem he created, it was someone else’s mess, but he is going to clean it up as well as he can. He is going to spend more money than we should ever have spent on the project but that isn’t something he has a lot of control over.

He is going to deliver a Strategic Plan. It may not be the plan he had hoped he could deliver when he started the process, but there will be more than enough meat on the bones of the Plan he delivers to satisfy most people. Once the plan is approved at Council – and yes after as much deliberation as the Mayor can get the citizens of the city to give him – he will move forward with a firm policy that will deliver numerous innovations.

He will be out looking for a new City Manger. Some interesting features in the process of hiring a new City Manger. The interviews are done by the full Council. If a Council member happens to miss one of the interviews they are not permitted to sit in on any other interviews – or as the Mayor explained it: “They get voted off the island”. That process will begin in the fall.

The Mayor will be out in the community meeting as many people as he can to talk up and sell his Strategic Plan. He is taking his – not sure I want to call it a vision – so let me call it the program he wants to work within, one step further and will begin talking about Burlington using the language that the software/computer applications people use.

There is the Web; then there was the Web2. We have an iPhone3 and an iPhone4 with an iPhone5 out there on the near horizon.

Goldring is going to talk about a Burlington that was; the Burlington that is and the Burlington that we are going to have – and he has labeled them Burlington.1; Burlington.2 and Burlington.3. Get ready to hear a lot about Burlington.3 – because that is where your Mayor wants to take you – and he would like to do it with as much input from YOU as possible.

Burlington is a city that tends to be a little placid and shows up at city hall in droves only when it is unhappy. We have a Mayor that is learning his job very well thank you. But he cannot do this all on his on. He is innovating and that means change and change is disruptive and while he is not a disruptive man by nature – he knows that the city has to innovate if it is to maintain the advantages it has.

Your Mayor is doing his part – you need to do your part and pay attention to the direction he is going to take us.

 

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Everyone benefits from the homeless who live at the Riviera Motel. They get lousy digs but a great view.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON July 11, 2011 – This business of municipal politics can get pretty sticky and complicated.

Try this on for size. A developer, Mayrose Tycon has the right to put up a building that can reach 21 stories into the sky on the property that is home to the Riviera on the Lake Motel, located to the east of the Waterfront Hotel on the south side of Lakeshore Road. The height and density of the structure are basically cast in stone. What it will actually look like isn’t known yet.

At a Waterfront Advisory meeting a few months ago committee member Michael O’Sullivan passed around a news clipping from 1995 that showed a drawing of what the developer had in mind back then. It is pretty close to what people understand the plans being talked about now are calling for.

Mayrose Tycon have been trying to put together a deal since 1995 with a company that would do the actual building and take over the property, but haven’t yet found the right company to partner with. Minto and Tridel, two very large, well established builders walked away from the opportunity. Mayrose Tycon is now talking to a major mid level hotel group about a possible deal that would be a combination of hotel and condominium.

The close to defunct Save our Waterfront people were worried that a structure would go up that prevented a view of the lake. While the height and density of whatever is built is a done deal, the actual site plan is something the community has been assured they would have some say in.

But as Jeff Marten, a member of the Waterfront Advisory Committee, said at a recent meeting: “I would like to be alive when the ground for construction is broken.” That isn’t going to be this year and many wondered if the Pier would be completed before shovels went into the ground for the 21 storey landmark structure.

Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward has been telling her constituents that she is “on the file” but there isn’t very much she can do except prod and probe and ask questions which she did at a recent meeting with the Mayrose Tycon people.

Is there a by-law enforcement officer that would let the badly damaged floor of the motel room balcony at the Riviera Motel remain the way it is if they knew about the condition.  They know now.

Is there a by-law enforcement officer that would let the badly damaged floor of the motel room balcony at the Riviera Motel remain the way it is if they knew about the condition. They know now.

A lot of people would like to see the building torn down because it is something of an eye sore – and who by the way would want to stay in the motel – it looks like a dump. Well – guess what; both the city and the region have an interest in keeping the dumpy looking motel right where is it, thank you. And the developer doesn’t mind one bit – renting out rooms in the motel brings in some revenue

The revenue stream is your tax dollars – money the Regional govern pays Mayrose Tycon for the use of the motel as a place to house homeless people. And as of last Friday the place was full.

There is an interesting aspect to all this and that is for a city that talks about making the waterfront accessible to the public, precious little is actually done to improve the access.

A Waterfront Advisory sub-committee recently did an excellent piece of investigative work to find out just how many “windows on the to the lake” there actually are – good report – that has gone exactly nowhere. Meed Ward hasn’t brought up the matter at a Council committee nor has Councillor Craven. Grahame Richards, who was part of the group that did the field work on the report said he couldn’t add much more: “the people at city hall aren’t answering their phones these day.”

The Mayor sits on the Waterfront Advisory Committee – has he asked legal to look into those situation where private property owners whose property abuts public property have taken steps to actually prevent the public from getting to the edge of the lake.

Lots of issues regarding the lakefront getting to the waters edge and then being a bit stunned when you see the condition of at least one of the buildings. Comes pretty close to being the kind of building run by slum landlords.

There is more than just the one damaged balcony – much of the building probably doesn’t meet building or safety codes.  Why hasn’t the city done something about this situation?  Because it houses homeless people?  Because the Region is renting the building?

There is more than just the one damaged balcony – much of the building probably doesn’t meet building or safety codes. Why hasn’t the city done something about this situation? Because it houses homeless people? Because the Region is renting the building?

Were the public able to walk along the pathway at the lake edge in front of the Riviera Motel they would see the deplorable condition that building is in.

A close look at the building suggests the city’s by law enforcement people might want to take a look at the condition of the structure. But bylaw enforcement in Burlington is a reactive process – they respond to complaints and no one so far has complained. That is about to change.

The Medical Officer of Health might also want to take a look at the structure. Maybe that department is also reactive as opposed to being proactive.

The Riviera has been around for a long time, still has guests who have one of the best views in the city.  At the edge of the property there is a brand new walkway – waiting for the public to stroll along the waters edge where they can gaze upon a dumpy looking eyesore.

The Riviera has been around for a long time, still has guests who have one of the best views in the city. At the edge of the property there is a brand new walkway – waiting for the public to stroll along the waters edge where they can gaze upon a dumpy looking eyesore.

The city gets tax revenue on the property and the developer wanting to get something in the way of a return for the property, rents the units to the Region who use it to house homeless people and immigrants that the Region has to house.

Someone suggested that the city could rent the motel and the land around it from the developer for $1 a year and demolish the eyesore and use the land as a temporary, short term park; and given that this project has been on hold for at least 15 years the public could benefit. Might be a good idea – depends on what the taxes are on the property. Sounds good, seems to have some merit. Why not give it a shot?

The city could enter into an agreement with Mayrose Tycon to forgive the property taxes as long as the city uses the land for a public park. When the developer eventually has a partner who is ready to actually build the city gives up the space as parkland and lets the construction equipment in.

You can get to the walkway that gets you to the edge of the lake – all you have to do is slip through the fence and then wander along till you meet up with the eastern edge of Spencer Smith Park – great view of the unfinished Pier from this location.

You can get to the walkway that gets you to the edge of the lake – all you have to do is slip through the fence and then wander along till you meet up with the eastern edge of Spencer Smith Park – great view of the unfinished Pier from this location.

There was a bit of a land swap involved in the assembly of the property that will at some point become the city’s one skyscraper. A small patch of city land was traded and the developer ceded the right to a small strip of property at the water’s edge that is ready today for pedestrians to stroll along – problem is- the pathway isn’t open to the public. The walkway is in place and will eventually join up with Spencer Smith Park

But don’t hold your breath waiting for either Councillors Meed Ward or Craven to propose this at a Council committee meeting and put forward a Staff Direction to have this looked into. Even if they did, the City Manager would bury this one for a couple of years.

If the motel were torn down the Region wouldn’t have a shelter for the homeless and, while the place is a dump, Burlington doesn’t want to get into a discussion about building a homeless shelter – that would bring out every NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) in the city howling at a council committee meeting. Disappointing, that a city with so much cannot find its way to actively looking for a place to build a shelter for the homeless. We manage to raise money for just about every other group but we’re not very good at helping the truly disadvantaged.

The best place for a shelter would be in either Wards 1 or 2 – can we expect Councillors Craven and Ward to ask the city to look for a suitable location in which to house the homeless and at the same time open up some lake front property for more parkland – even if it is going to be temporary. The location would be a great spot for the sidewalk superintendents in the city to sit out in the fresh air and keep an eye on the Pier construction.

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Salt with Pepper – Steal of a deal for you Scott.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON June 30, 2011 – Scott – have I ever got a deal for you. Scott is my buddy at City Hall – he knows “stuff” and has a “no crap” policy with most of the things he does. They give him thousands of dollars every year just for showing up but he can swing the hammer. Right now, as General Manager Community Services, he is shepherding the construction of the Pier and, as you know, there have been some problems down there. But Scottis on the case and this guy is no Inspector Jacques Clouseau of Pink Panther fame.

I was at the “Sneak Peak” Brenda Hetherington gave for the Burlington Performance Arts Centre and bumped into your buddy Jason Stoner, head honcho of the Waterfront Hotel, and he says he knows nothing about who paid for the advertisement on those cycling races the city ran in the Spectator. (You will remember me Steve old buddy, when we begin accepting advertising, won’t you?)

But I digress. As you will recall, we have been talking about those outdoor lights, the twelve that we bought and paid for that were to be installed on the Pier to light it up at night. You need 12 of the things but you can only find paper work for nine of them and you can’t fine even one of the nine that the city is pretty sure it paid for. The ones that they don’t make anymore either – those ones ? Well Stoner says if the price is right he will buy the nine from you for his parking lot.

Gosh, golly gee Scott – there ‘s a chance here for you to get rid of something that doesn’t meet your needs and sell it to a guy whose credit is said to be good. This is sounding like one of those win, win, win situations.

All you have to do now of course is find the light standards so you can deliver them if you do manage to sell them to the hotel people. You can do that can’t you?

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Salt with Pepper > City of Burlington lawyers hide behind old practices – ‘say nothing, tell them nothing’.

BURLINGTON, ON June 18, 2011 – Our friends down the road at the Bay Observer published the following. We couldn’t agree more.

From the Bay Observer, June 15, 2011

There is something wrong with a legal system that prevents opposing sides from coming to a mediated solution once lawsuits have been commenced. A prime example is the Burlington Pier debacle where the city is suing the original pier contractor along with the original project manager and designer of the structure over structural problems that have halted the project.

We now learn that more than two years ago that Walters Group, an internationally-respected structural steel contractor tried to broker a settlement that would have allowed all sides to save some face not to mention money but was rebuffed. A prime reason for the lack of dialogue is the fact that legal action has been commenced and therefore goes the collective wisdom, everybody involved must clam up for fear of prejudicing their case.

This is the kind of advice that Burlington councillors get from lawyers who have no incentive whatever in shortening or ending the litigation. And maybe the advice is sound maybe it is dangerous to try to resolve a dispute after legal action is commenced but if that is the reality; then it needs to be changed. Whether the Walters Group proposal to finish the pier is the right one, is irrelevant. The intent was to try to inject some common sense into a process that seems to be taking on a life of its own, with attendant spiraling costs.

The current Burlington administration has the construction of the Pier back on track and there is every reason to believe that the June 2013 opening date will be met. There will be cost over runs and given the nature of Mayor Rick Goldring, we can expect Council and the citizens of Burlington to be made aware of those costs.

Learning what was spent on legal costs will be like pulling teeth from hens. The legal department in Burlington doesn’t understand and doesn’t want to understand what transparency means. It is not in their interest to tell the taxpayers what was spent to handle the legal problems surrounding the construction of the Pier.

That however may change.

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Salt with Pepper – An embarrassing situation that could be turned into a golden opportunity.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON May 16, 2011 It has been embarrassing. Many people worked very hard to make the elite cycling event that was to include five different races including a dramatic, exciting race through the downtown streets of Burlington – but it didn’t happen.

City staff put in hundreds of hours and the Halton Regional Police Service put in almost as many. The project may well have been doomed from the start when the promoter, Craig Fagan failed to show up at a Council meeting to talk to the plan in 2010, but the people involved didn’t know at the beginning what they know now – they were working with a most incompetent and unreliable event promoter. His behaviour is a mark against all the semi professional cyclists in Canada and one would hope that the Canadian Cycling Association would take steps to enforce some discipline on Craig Fagan and the Midweek Cycling Club. They put the city and the Regional Police though hoop after hoop.

Every time Fagan failed to appear for a critical meeting there would be an excuse and each time the people working with the promoter would shake their heads and try again. Fagan was taking advantage of everyone’s good will. We were had.

Is there a lesson for us here and an opportunity as well? I think there is. One of the things we have that no one else has is geography and if the cycling groups want to work with a city that puts real effort into making something happen – well maybe they will get in touch with us.

Fagan is now complaining about the cost of policing the event – and indeed the costs did seem very high, but he was aware of those costs right from the beginning. Fagan’s hope was that there would be significant sponsorship to offset the costs – but that sponsorship failed to appear.

We can cavil forever about how incompetent Fagan and his Midweek cycling colleagues were – what we need to do is look for the lessons and learn from them and then figure out how we can take the geography we have and get it in front of the people who want to use it for an elite level cycling event.

And here the city is going to have to lead, for it is Burlington that stands to reap most of the benefit. We will also have to partner with the police and work with them to find ways to get the policing and traffic management costs much lower. While the police may not see economic development as part of their mandate; working with the communities they serve and protect is most definitely a part of their mandate.

So – how would we best do this? The first step would be to learn more. When Fagan and his MidWeek people first approached Burlington we knew next to nothing about the intricacies of elite cycling events and we were constantly waiting for Fagan to give us information. We were far too dependent on a guy who didn’t show up for meetings and didn’t know how to balance a cheque book.

The city can, and should consider putting together a small team, three to five people, and have them research this business of elite sport cycling. Find out who the ‘players’ are. How does it work as a business ? Who makes the rules, who governs the sport and what are the financial basics ? Learn what the sport wants and then put together a report and have the city determine if there is an economic benefit for the city and if there is what will it cost the city to develop that benefit ?

We have an economic development corporation in place that does this kind of thing every day and while I have difficulty seeing Kyle Benham, Executive Director of the Burlington Economic development Corporation (BEDC) peddling a $7500. bicycle through the streets of Burlington, I can see him applying his keen mind to the financial inputs and outputs and advising the city on what might work. Sports tourism is big business and there is no reason why Burlington cannot be a sports tourism destination. We flood Spencer Smith Park with people during the Sound of Music Festival and the Rib Fest. There is an opportunity here – but the city is going to have to show leadership.

The team of three to five people I am proposing would spend less time on the research side than city staff spent in meeting after meeting being jerked around by an incompetent event organizer who was consistently dishonest with the people he was working with.

There is significant potential for the city with the geography we have. Can the city pull all the pieces together and make it work for the city? The first thing Scott Stewart needs to do is pull his people together and do a debriefing and figure out what went wrong and why it went wrong. His staff did a superb job of trying to get the thing off the ground. Not as sure that the policed did as well as the city staff but that can be brought to the surface in a debriefing.

The police could over time develop significant expertise in traffic management and working with communities to handle the different but very legitimate uses of our rural roads. The farmers need to be able to haul hay along those roads and the strawberry growers want those roads passable so that people can get to their fields. Surely there is a way to work with the calendar and figure out a way for everyone to use those same roads.

The police could become experts at this type of road management and traffic control and market their expertise to other municipalities and organizations..

Last weekend Toronto all but shut down parts of the city while thousands ran a marathon. The same thing happened in Mississauga. Properly organized Burlington could have an annual sports cycling event that would bring thousands of people to the city that would get national exposure.

At one of the Budget Orientation meetings earlier this year the BEDC talked of sending a delegation to Appledoorn, our sister city in Holland, on a search for a Dutch company that might be interested in locating in Burlington. Council didn’t warm up to that idea but they just might take to the idea of using some of the BEDC budget to look into Burlington becoming a sports cycling centre.

 

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Salt with Pepper. How does “politics” work in this town anyway? If your councillor isn’t going to get it for you – who will?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON May 5, 2011 – She gave it her best shot. Ticked off the Mayor no end as she went through four amendments to a motion and then called for a recorded vote on each amendment. Marianne Mead Ward was doing battle and there was no stopping her.

The first amendment was to reduce the number of units at a development in the Queensway community – south of the QEW and west of Guelph Line. The developer had asked for 74 units, city planning was prepared to go along with that but the community didn’t go for it so it got reduced to 64 – which still didn’t work for the community so it got cut back to 58 units – and nothing, but nothing Ward 1 Councillor Marianne Mead Ward could do would get it any lower. She did manage to get a foot path through the project rather than the road that was originally planned.

What I found interesting was that Mead Ward had to fight to limit the change that was going to take place in HER. I always thought that a Ward Councillor sort of ran things in their ward. The Council member was seen as the “go to person” if you had a problem or something you wanted done. Jack Dennison makes phone calls for his constituents, Paul Sharman in Ward 5 holds Town Hall meetings and Blair Lancaster can be seen at many a meting in the northern part of the municipality listening to “her” people. Council members identify very closely with the ward that elects them – if they don’t – they don’t get re-elected.

In Aldershot Craven is the equivalent of the Marlborough Man – he’s the go to guy and others keep off his turf.  Mead Ward is going to have to up her game from that of a Girl Guide to perhaps a Wonder Woman.  Maybe a little more lobbying would help.

In Aldershot Craven is the equivalent of the Marlborough Man – he’s the go to guy and others keep off his turf. Mead Ward is going to have to up her game from that of a Girl Guide to perhaps a Wonder Woman. Maybe a little more lobbying would help.

Every council member will tell of occasions when they drove out to pick up some garbage that had not been collected. The council member sort of “owns” the ward. Rick Craven of Ward 1 is almost a “Marlborough Man” responsible for Marlborough Country – which some of you may know as Aldershot. If it happens in that community Craven knows about it and probably made it happen.

So when Mead Ward was asking Council to go along with amendments to a motion that was before Council approving a development application, she didn’t get support from the majority of Council. She forced them through one amendment after another. When she had lost the vote on her first amendment she moved on to the second amendment

The first was to:

Refer Planning and Building Report PB-28-11 back to staff with instructions to reduce the total unit count by 10 units and present the revised recommendation to a future Community Development Committee meeting.

She lost that one. The she said – well how about this and introduced an amendment to:

Refer Planning and Building Report PB-28-11 back to staff with instructions to keep low-density zoning for the southern portion of the site and present the revised recommendation to a future Community Development Committee meeting.

She lost that one as well. At that point Mayor Goldring turned and asked if she was done and in the spunky voice of a Girl Guide on a mission Mead Ward piped back. “Nope, got two more”. And proceeded to introduce her third amendment which was to:

Refer Planning and Building Report PB-28-11 back to staff with instructions to allow a pedestrian only access to Glenwood School Drive and present the revised recommendation to a future Community Development Committee meeting.

Mead Ward believed that the development was just too much for that part of her ward and that traffic was a serious problem now, before the development had even begun, and was only going to get worse. She battled this one every inch of the way.

Round four and an amendment to:

Un-delegate the future site plan application by 1066834 Ontario Limited, a Division of 967686 Ontario Inc, 4305 Fairview Street, Suite 216 Burlington, Ontario, L7L 6E8,  for the lands at 2359, 2365, 2373 Glenwood School Drive & 2360, 2366, 2374 Queensway Drive by as a result of neighborhood concerns.

And here Mead Ward won an critical point. Usually the details of a development – referred to as the Site Plan, are delegated to the Planning Department who work with the developer. It is out of the hands of Council and handled by the administration. By un-delegating it meant that the issue comes back to Council and that the community has input – and if you know Mead Ward – there will be lots of input.

Now that’s a lot of detail – but the point to be made is this: Why does a Council member have to fight every other council member for something she wants to see done in her ward and which the people in the community want to see done. The only person who spoke up FOR the development was the planner representing the developer.

What Mead Ward was asking for was not something that was going to impact the city – it was very specific to her ward. Everything she wanted for her people was within the Official Plan and kosher with the zoning bylaw in place.

I was amazed that the other council members didn’t support Mead Ward. There was nothing precedent setting about what she wanted to do. There was going to be growth – the community just didn’t think that taking a land assembly that used to have six houses on it and plunking down 74 units was good for the community. The Mayor disagreed and made his remarks at the end of the debate.

My question to this Council, its Council members and the ratepayers at large is this. At what point do other Council members butt in and get involved in the detail and minutiae of a development in a municipal ward that is not theirs? If Council members can prevent or impede what another Council member wants to see done in their ward why elect council members for a specific ward? Just elect them all “at large” and then anyone can decide on anything.

Struck me as odd that the other council members were adamant and consistent in ensuring that the development that was not in their ward was going to proceed the way the Planning department had proposed even though neither the community or the Councillor for that ward wanted what had been proposed. We do politics different in this town.

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Salt with Pepper. – Brain refresh exercise taking place at Paletta. Positive results are expected.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON May 5, 2011 – There is a better way to do things and both Burlington Council members and senior staff are learning that it isn’t very productive to jam eight hours of meetings into a single day and forget about arranging for breaks.

I’m not sure who – either the Mayor or the City Manager – is responsible for setting out agendas and determining what happens when in a meeting but in the very recent past Burlington has held meetings that run for four straight hours. There was to be one day in May where the City Manager was prepared to have 12 hours of meetings. Ward 3 Councillor John Taylor said he wasn’t going to do that – and Taylor was right – as he often is.

Council and senior staff are meeting with a pair of consultants out at the Paletta Mansion,learning how to approach the creation of a Strategic Plan. A Strategic Plan is the document that sets out what the city wants to do longer term. Sort of the vision for the city for the next 20 to 25 years which then gets broken down into what this council can get done in the three and a half years it has left.

This is all very sound management – something this city administration, and council to some degree, have not been very good at. The tendency is to focus on what is in front of them now. First it was the budget and senior staff set out a schedule of events that was brutal, especially for a council that had three new members and a Mayor who was new to the job.

Before really knowing what the job was your Council was faced with issue after issue as they struggled to get on top of things. As they were getting ready to actually get into the budget they learned there as this very, very significant surplus – like $9.3 million, that had been budgeted for but not spent. The Council members didn’t know each other all that well and there was a stunned pause the day that Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman said he wanted to see a 0% tax increase when the Mayor had already said he was heading for an increase of about 2.5 – 3 % increase each year for the four year term.

The Sharman “bombshell” took a little time to digest but he was right. The city is awash with cash that it wasn’t using. Burlington was quite proud of a .9 – that’s less than 1 percent – tax increase which was made possible to a considerable degree by the surplus. Hamilton, a dysfunctional municipality if there ever was one, came in with a budget increase of point eight (.8) percent and they didn’t have a massive budget surplus to play with. Your Council is going to be keeping a much closer eye on the flow of cash each month and hopefully make sure the city’s Executive Budget Committee doesn’t pull another “gapping” stunt.

Let me loop back to the training sessions your Council and senior city staff are going through out at Paletta Mansion. There are going to be five sessions – each half a day long. Each is led by a very skilled facilitator who set up a horseshoe type seating arrangement and had council and stiff mixed in together. They were there to work as a team and not have staff on one side and council on the other.

Every 60 to 75 minutes there was a break. Coffee, juice and stuff to nibble on had been set out. Everyone was asked to put their cell phones on vibrate which brought out a very telling remark from John Taylor but we don’t need to go there – do we?

Georgina Black, the lead facilitator from KPMG , a national consulting firm, would pause often and double check with a council member or a staff member to ensure there was agreement on the direction they were going. What was impressive was the pace put in place. Unlike the Budget Orientation meetings which had one staff member after another standing at the podium the Council Chamber droning away at how well they were doing.

These facilitated sessions had the objective of creating something, working towards a common goal, with everyone buying into the concept as they moved forward. If there appeared to be some hesitation, Ms Black would pause and double back and tease out what someone was trying to say.

Every hour or so the “team” and they were treated as a team in these sessions, would break out into small wok groups with six to eight people at a table – half staff half council members – and work through an idea and then report back to the whole group. Then a break to refresh and talk with each other one on one.

It was an impressive session – there are four more to take place. Some will ask – how much is it costing ?– and indeed it does cost – but the city is getting exceptional value for the maybe $25,000 being spent for the five sessions. So before you go standing up on your hind legs and howling about waste at city hall – accept the fact that you now have a council and senior staff learning how to use some of the more advanced management tools. It’s quite a sight to see these men and woman sitting together and learning. John Taylor is having the time of his life. Councillor Craven however is still saying the jury is out. Good thing Craven is not involved with the Freeman Station crowd – he’d miss the train.

Now – if some of this professionalism that Council and Staff are rubbing up against out there on Lakeshore Road can get transported into the Council chamber, citizen – you are going to have a very effective group of people doing a first class job on your behalf. Stand By – I’ll keep you posted on this.

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How do our planners handle applications for increased height and density from developers. Do they get the best deal for the community?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON ON, March 8, 2011  –  Have you ever had a Section 37?  Would you care for one?  I suppose it would help if you knew what a Section 37 is.

A Section 37 is a part of the Municipal Act that allows a municipality to give a developer greater density than that set out in the municipalities Official Plan in exchange for something that is a benefit to the community.  The next Section 37 trade off will probably be related to the Molinaro Group application for an increase in density for the project that want to build at the intersection of Brock and Elgin Streets in the western part of the downtown core.

Planners doing a little horse trading?

Planners doing a little horse trading?

It is common practice for the planning department in a municipality to do a little horse trading with a developer.  It can be fraught with potential conflicts and there have been abuses in some municipalities.

Ted Tyndorf, Chief Planner for the city of Toronto in 2006 talked about Section 37 at a Symposium on All About Planning.  Tyndorf said a Section 37 is NOT an incentive and he refers people to the wording in the Act.  “The Council may by by-laws, authorize increases in height and density otherwise permitted in return for such facility services or matters set out in the By-Laws”. Tyndorf focuses on the words ‘in return for’ and says the legislation contemplates an exchange in the context of good planning and under the conditions set out in the Official Plan.  Some call this “let’s make a deal” planning and then complain that the negotiators settled for too little.

Section 37 has been around since 1983.  A point Tyndorf makes is that the community benefit derived from the granting of additional height and density should be based on local community needs, intensification issues in the area, and the nature of the development. Application and strategic objectives and policies of the Official Plan.

Burlington is in the process of gearing up for an Official Plan review – there is a lot to look at and a lot of public educating to be done if there is going to be a plan that satisfies the tax payers.

Mayor Rick Goldring points out that if Burlington is to meet the Place to Grow requirements – and we don’t have a choice with this  – and if we are basically built out then the new housing units are going to be high rise units that will provide the intensification.  Right now that kind of growth seems to be taking place in the western end of Ward 2 and in the Aldershot community.

Residents are content with seven story buildings and they have yet to hear what they think is an adequate explanation for why the 14 and 22 story units are going up.

Goldring also wants to find a way to get beyond the intense community fights over each application for increased height and density applications. “Developers would much rather  build in Burlington but these noisy community meetings don’t make the city all that attractive for developers.”  Some in the city would say that is just fine with them – let the developers go somewhere else.  It’s not quite that simple.  Burlington is going to change – the trick is to get change that maintains the character and scale that everyone wants.

The planning consultant for the Molinaro Group explained to a community meeting that the provincial Places to Grow legislation called for Burlington to create 2000 new housing units in the next ten years and then went on to point out that the Molinaro project was in fact helping the city reach their objective –which one has to admit is a pretty slick piece of public relations work for a client.

Telling an unhappy crowd of resident that increasing the height and density of a project would help the city meet an objective is a stretch. One would like to think that the planning department would have come forward with recommendations to the city that zoning in that part of the city bound by the Lakeshore, Maple, Ontario and Brock be subject to height variance and then set out what the city wants in return.

Ward 2 Council member wants her citizens at the table when the city gives height and density increases to the developers.

Ward 2 Council member wants her citizens at the table when the city gives height and density increases to the developers.

Where Marianne Meed Ward has a problem with this activity is that “you are not at the table” she explains and goes on to add that planning departments have been notoriously bad at getting the best deal for the residents of a community.

The planners give away far too much says Meed Ward “and the community doesn’t get value for what it gives”.  And Meed Ward emphasizes – “the community is not at the table and they have no idea what the city is getting.”

The community knows what the developer is asking for – in this case a rise from 7 storeys to 14, which was a bit much for the more than 50 people who attended the community meeting were prepared to swallow.

It was a meeting at which voices were raised and the city planner on the file, Charles Mulay had to struggle to maintain some control over the meeting.

Meed Ward would have the community that is undergoing the changes at the table.  She told an audience at the required public meeting for a higher density application that she would like to see the community gather and have the developer and the planning people at that meeting where all three can talk openly about what could be ‘given for the get’ and then have a couple of people from the community actually sit in on the negotiations that take place between the city and the developer.

Those familiar with the way these things get done say that “that is never going to happen”.  But if there is a strong enough voice for a different approach this city council just might listen or perhaps be convinced to give it a try.

They are addressing the Shape Burlington recommendations and talking about an Engagement Charter and more public involvement – letting the citizens into the room would be an interesting exercise.

One last comment about the way citizens get involved in property decisions in their immediate neighbourhood and that is the 120 metre range that is used to determine who gets a notice from the city when an application is being made for height or density change.  Every meeting I have attended has people wondering why the range is so small.  Turns out that the requirement is set out in the Planning Act which says the minimum range is 120 metres – and that is all Burlington appears to do.  Nothing however stops the planners from sending the notices out to a larger range.  Seems to me that this is an opportunity for council members to better serve the interests of their constituents by having the Planning Department advise the council members when a notice is to be sent out and asking the council member to suggest what the range should be.

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Here is what I heard

BURLINGTON, ON  December 1, 2010  – A new start, difficult when the problems from the immediate past are there staring at you.  But Mayor Rick Goldring did his very best and while he still isn’t quite used to the idea that he is THE Mayor he got the city off to a good start.

It wasn’t a “rousing” speech but, OK, so he isn’t an orator.  He made the points he wanted to make and did all the “nice, nice” things.  The Burlington Teen Tour Band was there announce the arrival of the new Council into the chamber and there was a real Judge who signed documents.  The city does need to get a better chair for people to sit in while they sign documents after reading the oaths – think the budget can handle that.

The Council Chamber was filled with the usual dignitaries who were introduced.  One former Mayor seemed to be ready to make a speech but that was avoided.  The audience was pretty white though and for an event that was “by invitation only” there were at least four empty seats that I saw.

The Burlington Post in their December 1st issue, pointed out how graceless the previous Council had been in the way it handled itself at the closing meeting of that Council.  For a city that prides itself on its civility there is clearly some distance to go.

Mayor Goldring laid out a pretty decent set of goals – wants to keep the tax increase to 10% over the term of office – that’s still 2.5% a year at a time when the Region has come up with a 0% increase for the next year and Toronto, a city that really knows how to spend money is calling for a 0% increase as well.  Can we not do with less than 2.5% MORE each year?  Where is the value for this extra spending?

Our new Mayor declared that the Pier would be finished but he is less than fully candid when he makes that statement.  Every member of the old council and by now the members of this new Council know that the Pier could get completed eventually if we want to spend a lot more money,  but it won’t happen in 2011 or 2012 and, again, it is going to cost a lot more than this Council is prepared to tell you.

The Shape Burlington report recommendations will be acted upon – “addressed and implemented in some form” was the language the Mayor used.  City staff expect to have their response to the report ready for some time in February – that’s eight months after the report was delivered to Council.  It took the committee that put the report together just four months.  Is there a little foot dragging going on within city hall?

We learned from our new Mayor that Council is going to leave the running of the city to the people hired to do that job and that “Council cannot micromanage staff and expect to hold them accountable at the same time”.  Dead on – but let us be sure to actually hold city staff accountable.  Our Mayor wants there to be “clearly defined expectations” and is proposing “a community based service review in the first year of Council”.  He didn’t tightly define what that means but the one things that is always evident with Rick Goldring is that while still somewhat naïve – he is earnest and decent.  The kind of man who puts a bit of a spit shine on his shoes and makes time to talk to anyone who wants to talk to him.

The citizens of Burlington sent a clear message”, our Mayor told us and “they expect Council to operate differently, to be more open and accountable, to be more respectful, to listen and work with the community more closely, and to finish the Pier”.  The Mayor was dead right on the message the citizens sent and hopefully a Council on which half of the members are new will be able to make the three people who were part of the old Council deliver in a different way.  Cam Jackson isn’t there anymore – so they can’t blame him.

Our City is being led by a very decent human being who is going to take the next few days to attend a course in Orillia with other men and woman who are newly elected  Mayors – Mayoring 101 if you will – a good start.

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What did Crombie teach us?
Will we rise to the challenge?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  January 16, 2011  – He came and as always he was entertaining and informative.  He knows what he is talking about and he loves what he does.  Well into his 70’s former Mayor David Crombie spent an hour with Burlington’s Waterfront Advisory Committee and talked about what he had done with his Royal Commission to create the Waterfront Trail that runs from Niagara Falls to Quebec city – 800 kms.

Crombie made a number of very trenchant points.  Will the Committee have heard what he had to say?  Will they absorb what he is talking about?  Will the community rise to the challenge he set out?

Burlington used to be a leader in waterfront development and the Spencer Smith portion.

The sign is showing its age – much like the thinking being done by the Waterfront Advisory Committee.

The waterfront is certainly something to be very proud of, but, as Crombie pointed out,  that leadership isn’t being seen anymore.  The Pier issue isn’t helping but Mayor Goldring is rock firm in his resolution to resolve that problem. 

  • We are fighting with our developers instead of partnering with them.
  • We don’t appear to have strong working relationships with our neighbours to the east and west.  Oh we get along with them, there is no animosity, but how are we working with Oakville to integrate our park at Burloak into what Oakville has done to create a waterfront that is alive and active ?
  • And what are we doing to connect ourselves to Cootes Paradise?
  • Crombie pointed out that the waterfront extends up and through the creeks that flow into the Lake – does Burlington see it’s creeks as part of its waterfront?

Our own western beach is just sort of sitting there – there doesn’t appear to be a long term view; the Waterfront Committee has yet to gel into something that will take ideas to the city, pull the city together and create a focus or challenge the city to be today what it used to be waterfront leaders.

Slip over to the eastern part of the Hamilton waterfront – there are restaurants and people roller blading on the paths.  Even a hot dog stand and washrooms that are not a disgrace.  

Part of the problem with the Waterfront Committee is that it was created to solve a political problem.  The Save our Waterfront people were pressuring city hall to do something about the Pier and the rumblings of development in the Old Lakeshore precinct and former Mayor Jackson created the Committee and put a political friend in as chair.  The waterfront had the potential to become a very significant political issue during the election.  Turned out that the election was about the then Mayor and not the waterfront.  Now we have a committee that seems to be struggling to find itself.  The chair doesn’t have a tight relationship with his committee members.  Craig Lewis had to resign due to work conflicts and the chair wasn’t able to say which ward Lewis represented.  The committee has yet to become the “working together team” it is going to have to become if it wants to achieve anything.

The political makeup is different today.  Marianne Meed Ward now sits on the committee along with Rick Craven of Ward 1 and the Mayor.  Will these three energize this committee?

The Old Lakeshore road area doesn’t seem to have a “plan”.  There is going to be an exceptionally tall building (22 stories) on the south side of the road at the bottom of Pearl, within spitting distance of the Lake. The community has yet to realize has yet to  realize how it will come to dominate the shoreline.  It is described as a “landmark” building – something to locate Burlington on the shore line and it is certainly going to do that.  There are drawings of what that Landmark site will look like but the general public hasn’t seen them yet.  That is not to say the planning office is hiding anything – there just hasn’t been the kind of transparency the public was expecting.

The 22 storey building is far past the point where the community will have any input – a done deal as they say.  The site planning is the last stage for community input and it is not yet clear if the planning department is going to do anything radical to involve the public. 

Burlington is fortunate to have one of the best planning minds in the province.  SOW chair Michael Jones talks to David Crombie at Waterfront Advisory meeting.  Maybe some ideas went from the former mayor to a growing activist?

Krushelnicki wrote the definitive book on how one deals with the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) but does that background and depth of experience translate to ideas and activities that involve the public.  It is time for some energy and vitality from both the Waterfront Advisory Committee and the planning department.

Scott Stewart has in the past come close to pleading with the Waterfront Committee to do something.  They still seem to be in “thinking mode”.  Perhaps the jolt needed will come from Michael Jones, the new chair of Save Our Waterfront.  Somebody needs to do something.

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Being transparent is not easy, but it is a sign

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  February 4, 2011  –  Each of the media in any community look to see what the other guy is doing.  They read us, we read them and the television guys scalp from all of us.

And so it was with interest that we noticed the comment Burlington Mayor Rick Goldring made about the size of the legal bill the city has had to pay regarding the Brant Street Pier.  In an interview with Tina Depko of the Burlington Post, Goldring said he was  “tracking the expenses but was unable to disclose the cost until the legal process has ended.”

What possible impact on the legal process could telling the people who provide the money to pay the bills have on the Court case – if it ever gets to trial?   The real issue here is, the Mayor is worried about the backlash that will come from those taxpayers.

And here is where His Worship sets himself up for that backlash.  If you treat your children like children – they will behave like children.  This happened with the council member pay issue – but that’s another story that we will cover in more detail when it next comes before Council – but we do want to add that the council members are entitled to a pay increase under a formula that was written by a committee of taxpayers.

Back to the Pier and the legal costs.  We have already heard that there has been some very disappointing bad faith on the part of one of the organizations involved in the building of the Pier.  The city didn’t have as strong a dispute resolution as it should have had in its contract and we got caught up with people who chose not to be fair or responsible.  Things like this happen from time to time and your Council is dealing with it – rather well I might add.

But there is still that reluctance to get all the facts on the table, to tell the public what you have done with their money and explain why – and when you make a mistake – tell them.  This city isn’t made up of stupid people, most of them understand that things get complex and are at times complicated.

When Paul Sharman, council member for Ward 5, was asked about the problem with the dispute resolution clause he replied: “… despite the clause, it and the whole contract are never the less legitimate. The City is the buyer and is not in the wrong to any degree. The parties who are responsible to fulfill the contract are obliged to perform and we expect them to do so. The frustrating part for the citizens of Burlington is that they should have been told all this ages ago. I am satisfied that the City is presently doing the right things.”

For the most part Paul Sharman has it right, however he will nevertheless go into yet another closed door council meeting soon and hear what you should be hearing.  It is time to begin treating the taxpayers as intelligent, responsible people who read and understand the issues and also time for the tax payers to inform themselves and understand the complexity of the issue and the job their city council is doing for them.  The Mayor could however make it a little easier for the taxpayers to understand things by being straight with them and stop hiding behind legal excuses.

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Incredible opportunity but read the fine print

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON December 31, 2010 –  Keep these three phrases at your finger tips: transparency, Shape Burlington and legal advice.  Transparency – not hiding information; being open and direct.  Shape Burlington – that was the report that former Mayor Cam Jackson commissioned and which was accepted unanimously by Council. Legal counsel’s advice.  Listening to what your lawyer tells you to do.   Can you see where I am going with this?

A couple of businessmen who own a football team ask for a meeting with the Mayor at 4:22 pm Christmas Eve.  Must be serious, eh! The Mayor agrees and takes a council member with him along with an advisor.  The meeting goes fairly well.  The football guys explain that they want to move to Burlington, have financial players lined up and a piece of property with the zoning they need is available.  Will the city talk to them?  Is the Pope Catholic?

Nothing all that specific – just an “are you at all interested, and the Mayor says he is and they part ways with an agreement to keep in touch while Hamilton, the current home town for the football club decides if it is going to be able to build a stadium that meets the needs of the football team.

The Burlington Mayor immediately calls all his council members and briefs them on what took place.  That’s transparency, good transparency.  Phone calls are made, the media picks up on it and a council member who is: 1) new to the job and 2) has some difficulty playing on a team heads for the TV cameras to explain that it will not work, cannot work and is “financial lunacy”.  Thirty peer reviewed reports get mentioned but we don’t get to see the contents of those reports or who published them.  Reference is made to a conversation the council member initiated with a “representative of the football team – but we never learn the name of this representative.  That is not transparency.

Shape Burlington in its report to the community on what the problems were said there was a lack of trust between the council and the community; people didn’t know what was happening and they didn’t have enough input.

Legal advice: The city is embroiled in a very messy, expensive dispute with the contractor hired to build the Pier.  Numbers get thrown around, rumours abound and the city is seen as having no credibility.  They continually say – they can’t talk because the lawyers have advised them that doing so will damage any claim they have against the contractor.  And heaven knows, if the lawyer says don’t open your mouth – then even if you look really dumb, you dummy up and say nothing.  Burlington is in this unfortunate situation with the Pier – they are listening to the lawyers.

But with this proposed sports complex – there are no lawyers and there is a very clear set of recommendations that this council is now required to work within.  The old Council voted for the report and two of the newer council members were in involved in preparing the report.  And just in case there is any doubt as to what each council member said about public trust and transparency  click here for their words – read the comments each member of council made on trust and transparency.

Here is a heaven sent opportunity for the city to show that they know what transparency is by holding a public meeting, just the way Councillors John Taylor and Blair Lancaster did with the proposed Mid Peninsula highway.

The Mayor could explain what the football team wants to do, set out what they have in the way of facts and figures and fully inform the community and promise to continually inform them.

The event could be covered live by Cogeco – they could even arrange for people at home to call in with their questions.  Heck – set up a cash bar and have a food concession.  Make it an event that covers it’s costs.  Collect names and email addresses and promise to keep people informed.  It is what they all ran for election on – remember?

This is an occasion to be wide, wide open and not get caught and tied up in someone else’s agenda.  Our Mayor is a decent, honest open person and is still in his honeymoon stage with the electorate.  He needs to be open and deliver answers to the questions that will be asked. This could be citizen participation at its best – it certainly worked for Councillors Taylor and Lancaster.  And it is what Marianne Meed Ward has been talking about since the day she formed Save our Waterfront – time to walk the talk missy.

The Mayor needs to get in front of this parade and not let individual council members head for the TV cameras with information that is partially true but woefully incomplete. 

The Mayor can hold a public meeting (but please, don’t wear the orange shirt this time). He has the budget and he can compel the various players in the game to attend and explain what the plans are and lay out the facts and figures.

The stadium is part of a planned complex – it was never intended as a stand alone thing in the middle of a field.  There is to be a hotel, a small office building and an arena that could be expanded to house an NHL team. A four story parking garage added to the GO site is part of the thinking. There would be at least one medium to high end restaurant on the site and you know there would be a Tim Horton’s in there somewhere.

This is a great opportunity for Burlington but only IF the numbers are right.  Walk the talk people.

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