Councillor Sharman will do well on the budget part of his portfolio - can the same be said of the Strategic Plan part of the job?

By Pepper Parr

January 4th, 2023



When Mayor Meed Ward announced her Deputy Mayor initiative she assignef ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman the Strategy & Budgets portfolio.

Smart move – he is the only Councillor who could deliver on budget matters and while we have reservations as to what he will do on the Strategic Plan side – he has been around long enough and done any number of Strategic Plans to be able to get that job done.

Councillor Paul Sharman gets to wrap himself in a Strategic Plan document. what kind of a difference e might he make.

He will bring the strength and experience needed on the budget side – how he manages to square the spending that has been decided upon (Bateman High school reuse; the real cost of the Skyway Arena and the purchase of the LaSalle Park land currently owned by the city of Hamilton) is something we will know before Easter.

How Sharman manages to bring around city Treasurer Joan Ford on whatever debt level get decided upon will make for interesting political gamesmanship. Ford has dedicated her career on being not just fiscally prudent but rock solid in keeping debt to that 12.5 % limit.

The bigger, long term concern is the Strategic Plan. Whatever mistakes get made with the budget will correct themselves, at the expense of the taxpayer, but what are taxpayers for if not to clean up after the politicians?

The right Strategic Plan is something else. It is very difficult to correct the mistakes. When they get it wrong the errors tend to define the city.

The Burlington Strategic Plan is a 25 year looking forward document that takes us to 2040. It is monitored, reviewed and evaluated on an ongoing basis.

It will be interesting to see how the Staff report that is presented to Council, which will be the starting point for the 2022-2026 review, has to say about how well council has done with its Strategic Plan so far.

Strategic Plans were four year documents until then city manager James Ridge brought in outside consultants who came back with a bigger picture plan.

The city took a four pillar approach as the guidelines that would be used to come up with a plan that creates a city that grows (population), a city that moves (transit), a city that is greener (private tree by law and a city that is engaging.

Population growth has been mandated by the province – we have to do what we are told to do; transit is going to be a challenge on several levels, something we will return to. On engagement council will point to a consultant’s report that struck the Gazette as spurious. The public didn’t get to see the details on the questions that were asked.

The Gazette has never seen Paul Sharman as a visionary person; his tendency is to be more comfortable with policy and an almost limitless need for data, more data.
It seems there is never enough data for Sharman to make a decision.

The eleven half days spent producing the Strategic Plan in 2012 had ideas pouring out on to sheets of paper that were set out for review and comment. It was a group thinking at its best – the problems was that Staff and Council members didn’t see the outcomes in quite the same way.

In order to come up with a vision there has to be an understanding of the population- demography you are dealing with; the geography you have to work within and the upper level of government pressures you have to deal with.

Each member of council has a personal vision of what they would like Burlington to be. There has never been much in the way of a consensus amongst the members of council on what Burlington should be or what it could be.

What we do know is that they don’t like tall buildings and especially not in the downtown core.

The members of this council keep taking complaints about each other to the Integrity Commissioner – like grade school students squealing on each other.

They don’t seem to have found a way to work with the development community – the best Burlington has been able to do is provide the legal community far too many opportunities to send invoices setting out the billable hours they spent defending the city at Ontario Land Tribunal hearings.

Frank McKeown, on the left chats with Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman at a Strategic Planning session. The body language says it all in this picture

When the Goldring council decided to take the creating of a Strategic Plan seriously – up until that point the document was a collection of photographs, they spent several days at McMaster University site on the South Service Road.

At the closing session staff and members of council were asked to set out their priorities. The result was not a pretty picture.

Frank McKeown, Chief of Staff to Goldring at the time, commented that there wasn’t much opportunity for positive change with Staff and Council so far apart.

Is anything different today?

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

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5 comments to Councillor Sharman will do well on the budget part of his portfolio – can the same be said of the Strategic Plan part of the job?

  • Perryb

    I spent a good part of my professional career in strategic planning, both internally for my employer, and as a consultant, and then for a couple of volunteer gigs. I suspect there are others around town who have similar experience and expertise, willing to help if anyone would ask.

    In my experience too many organizations just extrapolate the present into the future. Sure, they may add in some innovative ideas, but rarely any significant, aspirational goals. This is not too surprising; as Yogi Berra might have said “making predictions is hard, especially about the future”. What is hardest, especially when governments are involved, is including a range of risk factors to various elements of the plan. As we know, governments can spin on a dime, usually for reasons related to immediate retail politics rather than strategic logic or sound judgement.

    To be specific, Burlington’s plan will be heavily driven by population protections mandated by the Province – covering the next 25+ years! All based on top level population targets created by some bureaucrat and a team of tame consultants, designed to satisfy aspirational economic and political objectives (themselves usually based on the fantasy of infinite economic growth).These are then divided and subdivided and assigned to the regions and municipalities. But what is the risk that they are wrong? Past experience says it is high, even in the short term, much less over several decades. Who knew, just three years ago, that today downtown office space in big cities would be emptying with people working remotely? So the real question is: does our plan leave room for a plan B? Empty towers cannot easily be un-built. Greenfields cannot be un-paved.

    So in my view the main challenge in building the next strat plan will be to aggressively and thoroughly challenge the underlying assumptions about the future before rushing to build a response. And to forget about 10, 20, 30 years from now. The only certainty is that it will be something we cannot imagine.

  • Dave Turner

    A few observations (my opinion) on statements made in this article.

    Why is an Integrity Commissioner appointed by council?

    Well the answer to that question is the Integrity Commissioner is appointed to be an office to which members of council and residents of the city can take a complaint or concern about the behaviour of a council member and have that complaint or concern investigated by an independent third party, with the findings being made public. Those complaints or concerns will be in relation to the city’s Code of Good Governance, which includes the code of conduct.

    The Gazette it would seem has a problem with council members using this Provincially legislated mechanism. Whereas it is supportive of residents using it. e.g. Muir. Why is that? Why should a councilor not use the prescribed process to have a complaint/concern addressed? How else would a councilor’s complaint/concern be dealt with? Behind closed doors? That would smell of cover up and lacking in transparency.

    The Gazette says council members don’t seem to have found a way to work with the development community. Using a development analogy it’s a two way street. Equally, the (tall buildings) development community has not found a way to work with the city. In my opinion it hasn’t even tried to do so. Why is that? Because it knows it doesn’t need to having the OLT in its pocket. So outrageous applications are presented to the city with a total disregard to the zoning and other bylaws. “Working with the development community” is Gazette speak for the city should cave to the outrageous liberties developers take with our official plans

    The Gazette has today indicated in a separate article that the city has secured a victory at the OLT in relation to the Waterfront Hotel application, which I believe is the first downtown core application adjudicated under this administration’s official plan. A welcome decision and a rebuke to those (including many here in the comment forum) who said the city should not have opposed the application due to the costs involved. If the decision stands post appeal, it is a huge victory for the mayor and council

    • We believe there are a few facts that could well reverse this verdict if utilized and then it will cost twice as much. That is not to say we support this application as we have not done our homework on it to havean opinion, as our attention has been elsewhere. Further our opinion of OLT is not one that gives it any credibility in terms of many Burlington decisions it has made.

  • Blair Smith

    I totally agree that the Strategy and Budget portfolio is tailor-made for Paul Sharman – at least the Paul Sharman that we used to know and respect. The question is which Paul Sharman will show up. The Paul Sharman who formed a ‘coalition of fiscal responsibility’ with Kearns and Stolte on the rainbow crosswalks or the Paul Sharman who was a co-signatory to the Mayor’s letter to the Spectator on the Galbraith conflict of interest. Indeed, while Bentivigna, Nisan and Galbraith seem to have retained their “spots” (leopard-wise), Kearns, Stolte and Sharman appear to have ‘thrown it in’ (towel-wise). Personally, my expectations of this Council have never been lower.

  • Jim Thomson

    Kind of hard to have a strategic plan when Doug Ford is Premiere.