Engagement with the public on a much different and highly desirable scale is taking place during the summer.

background graphic greenBy Pepper Parr

July 28th, 2019



One of the really big issues during the October election was that city council was not listening and that city staff weren’t much better at listening either.

There were enough of the 40% of the population that took the time to vote who saw it that way and put in a very different council.

What has taken place within the halls of city council since the new council took over? Any positive changes? Actually yes.

The group re-examining the downtown policies in Burlington’s adopted Official Plan reached out to a number of groups asking them to take part in the creation of an engagement and communications plan that included key groups of citizens and community organizations.

In their reaching out they said: “Over the next few months, the City of Burlington is re-examining the downtown policies in the City’s adopted Official Plan. City staff have direction from Council to engage the community in this work.

“To make the engagement plan the best possible, we need your help to create an engagement and communication plan that will encourage a broad section of the community to participate and have their say. In re-examining the adopted Official Plan, the City wants to hear from all interested in the project and/or affected by the outcome, including those that were not represented in the previous engagement on the adopted Official Plan.”

In their first meeting with groups they set out the direction they wanted to go. “For today’s discussion, there are a few things that are helpful to remember. Council has directed staff to complete the re-examination, including the following project milestones:

1a Milestone list1ax milestone list1bb milestone list1c Milestone list1d Mile stone list

The staff people leading the sessions began by seeking “input on the development of the engagement and communication plan.”  Statements like that were not heard all that often.  Thee Gazette is aware of at least one meeting with members of the community and a group of planners where a senior staff member shouted at one of the participants.

In the outline material people were given at this session the staff facilitators said: “Now that you know what is up for discussion, we also want you to know what is not up for discussion. We think these points are important in order to be up front about which aspects of this process cannot be influenced.

1. The re-examination is focused on the downtown only, not the whole city

2. Planning policy is guided by legislative requirements, such as Provincial Policy Statement, provincial plans including Urban Growth Centre policies, Halton Region Official Plan, Bill 108, Big Move/Metrolinx

3. The scope of work, timing and resources including the terms of reference, has been approved by Council through a staff report that includes the development of two land use scenarios as a starting point for the conversation with the community

4. Previous development approvals will not be revoked

Urban growth centre

Coming up with a plan that creates a way to communicate with the public that wanted change in the way thee downtown core is grown in the future.

5. The proposed downtown plan and policies must be developed with the objective of being able to withstand possible appeals to the LPAT

6. The basis of the re-examination is the adopted Official Plan, not the current, in-effect Official Plan

7. The Interim Control ByLaw (ICBL) Land Use Study is a separate study

8. Halton Region is the authority that approves the City’s Official Plan and decides whether to approve any modifications endorsed by the City

9. Modifications must be endorsed by City Council by March 2020

10. The City doesn’t have control over the speed of change related to development, e.g. developers are guided by market forces.

The Scope of Engagement was explained:

“Through discussions at Council meetings, Council has identified a list of topics that need to be included in the engagement with the community. These topics are listed below.


This is what citizens didn’t want.

• The height of buildings

• Density of development

• Location of intensification

• Degree of change

• Options and trade-offs

• The development of policies that ensure development respects and maintains downtown Burlington’s identity/sense of place, and its role as a shared core area for all residents of the City

Lakeshore at Brant with hist bldg kept

Is this what the downtown core is going to look like – how will it relate to the rest of the city?

• How the downtown connects/relates to the rest of the City

• The use of mechanisms to achieve desired amenities and infrastructure (including office space, retail space, affordable housing, seniors’ housing, parks, open space, street trees, public spaces)

• The approach to policy development, e.g. the use of strictly defined development maximums or flexible development ranges

• Compatibility with established neighbourhoods that surround the downtown

• The development of policies to protect the waterfront, small retail spaces, and cultural heritage resources.

Participants were asked to share their thoughts on the list.  They were asked if anything was missing?

The facilitator added:  “Looking at the direction from Council, we want to talk to you about techniques, tools and communication approaches that will help ensure broad participation in the re-examination.

One of the exercises was for the participants to develop two land-use scenarios for downtown.  They would gather input to develop criteria for the two land-use scenarios which will be used as a starting point for the conversation.

The sessions are taking place from Mid-July – mid-August 2019.

The participants were given a list of engagement techniques

Engagement techniques

to consider and asked:

Budget 2012 large group + Ford

The city used to hold public meetings on budget proposals – they were for the most part city staff telling the public what was going to be done with little in the way of feedback that got much further than the room they were uttered in. The initiative taking place now appears to be an attempt to change the way the city engages its public.

• Which of these techniques do you feel would be most successful in gathering representative input from the community?

• Can you think of any others?

• Which of these techniques do you feel would be most successful in gathering representative input from the community?

• Can you think of any others?

“Thinking of the ideas you’ve provided; can you give us some guidance on time of day and days of the week that you think would be the most successful for gathering representative input from the community?

“To provide as many people as possible the opportunity to participate in the re-examination of the downtown policies, can you share ideas for communication approaches and outreach techniques that would be successful in reaching a broad section of the community? Have you seen other approaches that worked well?

“What would a successful engagement look like to you?

“In your opinion, is there any communication approach that should be avoided?

The ideas and feedback that come out of the sessions will be used by City staff to create an engagement and communication plan for the re-examination of the adopted Official Plan.

The approach that has been set out is as good as it gets.  All the bases are covered and staff seem to be fully committed to the objective.  This is not one of those ‘check off the boxes’ exercise.

During the hectic period during which debates were taking place in all six wards courtesy of ECoB – two Councillors could find nothing decent to say about the organization.  Kudos to staff for inviting ECob into the conversations.  They earned the right to be there.

Someone at city hall deserves a lot of credit for taking the direction the facilitators are on; it augers well for the kind of thinking that we should see in September.


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4 comments to Engagement with the public on a much different and highly desirable scale is taking place during the summer.

  • Perry Bowker

    Good idea. Get a bunch of your buds together and form a group. Make your case. Support it with facts, logic, and intelligence. Invest serious time and money.

  • Carol Victor

    Too bad we don’t have this on the provincial level and it will only get worse with a conservative win federally.
    Congrats to our mayor for setting a collaborative tone overall…and for organizations like ECOB
    and WELOVEBURLINGTON…civic engagement should never be dismissed…this level of government is the most important for each one of us as it affects us directly.

  • steven craig Gardner

    Now I only hope the key stakeholders up their game to the same level as it was always a toss up who was less effective council or stakeholders. Glad to see wxclusions related to project too many people seem to need civics lesson. You elected Ford and McKenna who are against all the things the folks you voted into council. See a problem here? What makes a group a key stakeholders a I did not think any of those mentioned represented a very large percent *less than 1%) of the citizens. Can I get a dozen of my buds together come up with a catchy name be angry about something and that would make me a key stakeholder?

    • Tom Muir

      Well said gardner!

      Stakeholder groups are almost always feckless because that’s part of the design that staff uses and is a foregone conclusion. Power is closely guarded.

      And I agree with your question about who are key stakeholders? And what do they say?

      Please add me to your dozen buds – we can work on a name and we won’t have a problem with sounding angry.

      But that presents a problem for being made a key stakeholder. To be one of those you can’t publicly express anger as that’s against the rules of engagement. You have to be nice even when being ignored in fact as things are decided. This is the cost of speaking to power and bureaucracy.

      But if you can figure a way around this (or even if you can’t) I’m in.