Despite delays with critical reports there are solid reasons to be excited about the development potential and the way city hall is run.

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

August 18, 2015


Part one of a two part feature on the development potential for the city

Each city council, at the beginning of its term, meets for a number of weeks and hammers out a Strategic Plan.

That Plan sets out what the city council wants to get done during the four years they are going to serve the citizens.

There is very little in previous Strategic Plans worth remembering, except for the plan approved in 2011. For the most part they were a collection of pictures and motherhood statements.

I had the opportunity to look at six or seven previous Strategic Plans – something I doubt the majority of the current Council bothered to do.  Councillors Taylor and Dennison were at the table when those documents were approved.

The Strategic Plan approved by the previous council, which was made up of the same people we have in place now, was a very impressive departure from anything done before.

Both Council and staff worked very hard – sometimes at cross purposes – to produce a document that served the city well. There were some very moving occasions when we got to hear how Councillors felt about the city they were leading.

In the closing session Councillor Jack Dennison spoke very emotionally about the need to ensure that the downtown core was given the attention and the resources needed to grow and become a large part of the focus for Burlington.

We also got to see some of the character traits from some of the Council members that were disturbing then and disruptive now.

The city was fortunate to have an excellent facilitator who not only led the group but educated several of them on what works and the way Strategic Plan development gets done.

Perhaps hoping to build on what was achieved the last time around Council set out to craft the Strategic Plan for this term of office. It is not going very well.

Strategic Plan Workbook

It may well be 2016 before the Strategic Plan is approved. will it be as good as what this Council did in 2011?

The city hired KPMG to direct them in the creation of the Strategic Plan for the current term but did not manage to get the same facilitator.

There is now a team in place that is going to do tonnes of research and bring back a large handful of options. Unfortunately,

Taylor and Black

Georgina Black did a superb job of getting a new city council through the creation of a significantly different Strategic Plan. Councillor John Taylor loved every minute of it.

Burlington wasn’t able to get Georgina Black back – she was the facilitator who did such fine work with council in 2011.  Much of the work that KPMG is going to do was already being done by Frank McKeown, the Executive Director of the Economic Development Corporation. McKeon wasn’t able to attend the meeting at which all the research work KPMG is going to do was discussed.

McKeown explains that he wasn’t told of the meeting until two days before it took place and that he was already committed to be elsewhere.

McKeown adds that he had not seen the agenda. When it was brought to his attention – I think we heard him gulp. McKeown will resolve that problem and will have the needed discussions with KPMG.

The creation of the 2014 – 2018 Strategic Plan is not off to a very good start. Council will not meet on this matter until the second half of October. They will have been in office for a year by that time

There are going to be some very sticky Governance issues that do not look as if a reasonable resolution is going to be found. Despite the comments made regularly by Mayor Goldring – his is a very fractious council that is deeply divided on some critical issues.

The amount of time, attention and financial resources to be given to community based initiatives will be limited by budget constraints due in no small measure by the cost of the 2014 flood.

Some exceptional work has been done within the cultural sphere – the city now has two new people running major cultural institutions. Robert Steven is running the Art Gallery of Burlington and Susan Haines will take over the running of the Performing Arts Centre in September.  Hopefully the Centre Board has retained retiring Executive Director Brian McCurdy to serve as a consultant for three to six months to oversee the transition.

The Performing Arts Centre had gotten itself to the point where it was finally stable financially and the program being offered was working. Community groups were now a real part of the program offerings. There is every reason to believe that Haines can continue the work McCurdy did and eventually grow her board to the point where she can put her own stamp on the place.

Brant Museum rendering

The concept might have merit but there is no way this kind of an installation is going to work on a single lane road that is the main entrance to the hospital once the redevelopment has been done. Lakeshore Road has to be widened for the hospital traffic.

The Museums have their work cut out for them but it doesn’t look as if they are going to draw on the city for financial support. There is however, some very hard thinking to be done on just what happens to the Joseph Brant Museum. The plans on the drawing board are just not going to work – someone needs to have the courage within the Museum Board to look at the facts and the changes that are going to take place on Lakeshore Road when the hospital re-development is done.

Ireland House on the other hand is a gem; it offers some exceptionally good programming.

Development: what does the city want and where does it want any development to take place – and what kind of development as well.

Waterdown Rd from QEW looking south

Waterdown Road is being widened – a precursor to some significant development. The Aldershot GO station was named a transportation/development hub – the developers may get their shovels in the ground and have walls up before the city arrives at some decisions.

There is all kinds of development taking place in Aldershot – there is some dissension amongst the more active citizens and the council member does need to learn to listen a little better. Understanding who he represents would be a useful contribution Rick Craven could make to the quality of civic government in this city.

Councillor Meed Ward continues with her, unique for Burlington, approach to involving the people she represents.

There are two areas of development that can re-shape the kind of downtown core Burlington is going to have – both are in her ward.

Before going into any detail on those two opportunities – the culture at city hall needs a closer look.

There are departments that work exceptionally well – finance is perhaps the best run shop at city hall. The team if focused and well led. They were given the task of revamping the way budgets were prepared and presented to the public and told to make personal accountability part of the way city hall does business.


Scott Stewart and former city manager Jeff Fielding – they were quite a tag team for as long as it lasted. Fielding always let you know what was in the works – the new city manager has yet to reveal a management style.

Then city manager Jeff Fielding challenged the finance department to bring about the change – then he departed for greener pastures and became the city manager in Calgary to the work that gets done.

The finance department did deliver; unfortunately there isn’t a champion on city council to ensure that the work done is continued and that staff get the direction they need.

A significant cultural change is taking place within the planning department; the hiring process for the new city planner is at the short short list. That decision may have already been made.

This is a critical choice – the department is in the middle of completing a much delayed Official Plan Review; we may not see that document until the end of the year.

A rapt audience listened to an overview of the 2014 budget.  What they have yet to have explained to them is the desperate situation the city will be in ten years from now if something isn't done in the next few years to figure out how we are going to pay for the maintenance of the roads we have.

A rapt audience listened to an overview of the 2014 budget. What they have yet to have explained to them is the desperate situation the city will be in ten years from now if something isn’t done in the next few years to figure out how we are going to pay for the maintenance of the roads we have. Add in the cost of the 2014 flood and the city has a whopper of a budget to explain.

Public engagement is a sorry mess – few remember the recommendations that came out of the Shape Burlington report that every member of this council heartily endorsed and then forgot about.  There are reports of an initiative the city will announce in the fall that is neighbourhood oriented – it will be interesting to see the details.

The current city manager doesn’t seem to have all that much appetite for real public engagement, the communications department is asking the public what they think about City Talk, a magazine format distributed to every household, that does more for the members of city council than anyone else.

Council members love the thing; the communications department spend endless hours making revisions and the public for the most part doesn’t know it exists. There is a savings opportunity there.

Now to the development potential in ward 2.

Part two of a two part feature.

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

1 comment to Despite delays with critical reports there are solid reasons to be excited about the development potential and the way city hall is run.

  • Paul

    You are right that Craven must understand who he represents and I believe he does–young and old, house owners and condo dwellers, students who want to keep neighbourhood schools, keeping everything balanced. Or did you mean he must first and foremost cater to a couple of sentimental and vocal residents whose existensial angst makes them resist change? Time is marching on I’m afraid , change or not.