Has the Mayor moved into election campaign mode ? It’s a little early isn’t it? – but we don`t set the political agenda.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  July 27, 2012  Municipal elections have fixed dates in Ontario and the tradition has been to get out on the campaign trail mid-summer and then ramp things up in the fall with the hard push in October with the ballots cast in December – but Burlington`s Mayor appears to have looked at his prospects and decided he needs an early start.

The next municipal election is not due until December 2014 – but some residents saw a piece in their mail box that looked like an election pamphlet to me.

The Mayor says he dropped by the house – I wasn’t home. Documents like this were dropped off at 500 homes – tough weather to be out going door to door.

The Mayor announces that he dropped by, but I wasn’t in, and he wants my opinion on key issues – which he sets out on side two of the printed piece.

While the envelope was convenient – the address on it is city hall. If this is pre-election material, and it could certainly be described as that, the postage costs has to be absorbed by the Mayor personally.

Included is an envelope I can use to reply to the small survey.  The return postage is pre-paid with the envelope going back to the city.

What would prompt the Mayor to do such a mailing  at this time?

Professional politicians – and that`s not an insult – make a point of keeping their ears, eyes and noses to the ground.  It is essential that they pick up every nuance possible and be aware of the different, competing interests so that they can look for ways to balance those interests and develop policies that grow the city.

Is Rick Goldring now a professional politician?  It would seem that way.  He was a one term ward Councillor and ran for Mayor because he couldn’t stand the job the Mayor at the time was doing.  He had no idea he would win, many people in the city didn’t really know the man.

What resulted in Goldring`s win was the level of distaste for Cam Jackson.  No one knew how deeply people felt about Jackson and the job he was doing.  A full understanding of the way this city works is revealed in any close study of the 2010 election results, especially when they are laid over Jackson`s provincial election results.

Politics is the art of the possible and while Goldring really didn’t know what was possible he did tap into a vein of Jackson resentment which got Goldring elected.

We then watched Goldring fit himself into the office of Mayor.  He is close to that half way stage of his first term  and has decided this is something he will do for some time.

Thus the mailing that was dropped off at a number of houses in the city.  We are told that 500 of the pieces shown in this article were printed up.  I’ve no idea why the Mayor dropped one off at my house – my guess is that he didn’t know where I lived.  Had I come to the door when he knocked I`m not sure which one of us would have been more surprised.  But I digress.

Mayor Goldring is clearly using the summer months to get a sharper sense of what the issues are and what the sensitive spots might be.

He asks about taxes, he wants to know what you think about the Strategic Plan (which I`m prepared to bet less than 500 people (outside city hall) have actually read.  Not a word about the Pier, not a mention about the Beachway development; nothing about the downtown core and what we can do with what we have.

He asks about our rural areas but not a word about the Performing Arts Centre which is not as flaw free as many would like to think.

These were the questions the Mayor wanted to ask me. We could have had an interesting conversation.

While this is just a survey, an attempt to get a sense of where people are coming from, the Mayor doesn’t appear to “champion” anything.  What does this Mayor actually stand for?   What is it that really matters to him?

During a Council debate he once said: This is not a hill I want to die on – clever phrase – but what hill is he prepared to die on?

Well, he didn’t want a casino in the city.  He was so strongly opposed to gambling that he directed the city manager to reply to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation letter saying Burlington would take a pass on the opportunity to be considered as a Casino location and the opportunity to have slot machines in the city.

Many in the city would perhaps have seen merit in slot machines – didn’t matter.  The Mayor was not going to have any of that here.  It might have been more politic to have let people talk about the idea.  There was no public statement on this that we are aware of – don`t know if the Mayor sounded out his fellow Council members on his response either.

There was no mention of the Official Plan review in the survey and while there was a very small mention of transit and the Car Free Sundays the city held, transit didn’t get the kind of attention many in this city thinks it needs.

Does the survey suggest what the Mayor`s priorities are?   Probably too early to tell.

What the survey does tell us is that the Mayor is making sure he does his best to fully understand the lay of the political land he has to walk on.

Is “she”  likely to run against him?    She,  being Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward.  Not a chance – unless something with the Pier goes terribly wrong – and then she will pounce all over Rick Goldring.

Meed Ward has a loyal following that isn’t really understood by her fellow council members. They feel she is doing the city more harm than good. Not a view shared by all that many people outside city hall.
Would she be a good Mayor – could be.

Could she beat him ? – possible if he really screws up on the way he handles any problems with the pier.  And make no mistake, there are problems with the pier and there are problems with the city`s legal case.  Recall that the city sued the contractor for not completing the job.  If the contractor can show that the job couldn’t be done with the plans he was given – that paints a significantly different picture.

Meed Ward wants the job of Mayor so badly she can taste it – but she is smart enough to know when she doesn`t have a chance of winning; and political office is so attractive to her that she will not risk losing her ward seat to take a long shot at the office of mayor.

Meed Ward doesn`t have one `friend`on city council, which doesn`t bother her all that much.  She has an agenda – and it isn’t all that bad an agenda either.

Goldring on the other hand doesn`t have an enemy on council.  He is conciliatory by nature and prefers consensus and will go some distance to get that consensus – but he does have a limit.  Roman Martiuk, the former city manager, learned that the hard way.

It will take some very fancy footwork for the Mayor to step around the problems the pier construction and its legal case could become.   We don`t know if there is going to be a serious pier problem – but the possibility is certainly out there and you know the people who are close to the situation huddle with the Mayor and the city manager regularly  to get a grip on what is going on.

The Mayor hung on to his “official opening of the Pier during Sound of Music in 2013” for far too long.  That suggests a bit of a tin ear when it comes to politics.  His “quality over expediency” is a much better phrase for him to use as he speaks to people.

We don’t know yet how much of a hands on Mayor we have.  He wanted the city manager, Council decided to hire  and the two work well together.  Jeff  Fielding brings considerable depth in civic administration as well as tools that this city has not used in the past.  He will make Rick Goldring a better Mayor than he would be on his own.

The legal side of the pier situation is being handled by lawyers the city hired.  The lawyers on the other side are a bit tougher than the Toronto based fellows we hired.  Many thought this case was one that had to do with simple contract law – we hired you to do a job and you didn’t do it – pay us for the damage you caused.  It is turning out to be quite a bit more complex than that – the original contractor is claiming that the structure he was asked to build could not be built using the design he was given.

Contractors work from drawings they are given that have the seal of qualified and certified architects.  The problem with the pier seems to be with those drawings.  The original contractor is believed to be claiming that he had no control over the drawings.  When a contractor sees an architects seal on a set of drawings – he must assume they are valid and structurally possible.

The city hired the design people.  If they have a claim it is with the people who did the original design work.

Senior city staff continue to claim there were no changes to the specifications between those given to HSS and those used in the second tender that was awarded to Graham Infrastructure.  That may not be completely true – but that will come out in the discovery process which is close to wrapping up – at least for one of the parties.

Obstreperous at times, noisy as well and leans a little more to the right than the demographic in his ward appreciates. Has developed some core resistance within the public transit advocates who could do him serious harm come 2014. Sharman didn’t win in 2010 – he just got more votes than the other guys – there is a difference. And he hasn’t managed to consolidate the base that voted for him

After many efforts to gain public office Blair Lancaster now has to learn how to develop a real working relationship with her constituents – she’s not there yet.

At some point all this is going to come back to city council where we will see all kinds of posturing on the part of the politicians.  Councillors Taylor, Dennison and Craven were part of the Council that decided the pier was a good idea.  Councillors Sharman, Lancaster and Meed Ward were new and can`t have this one hung around their necks.  The Mayor was the Ward 5 Councillor when the first layer of problems came to the surface – but he wasn’t part of the crew that made the decision to build the pier.

Come the 2014 election – there is the distinct possibility that Dennison and Taylor will not run again.  Both have been in Council a long time; both are tired and a real mess might be something they will choose to avoid and take a well-earned retirement.

That could be a problem for Burlington. Dennison and Taylor have the best council experience.  Craven is a strong council member and the pier mess doesn`t seem to have done him any harm.  He has a solid base in Aldershot that probably cannot be damaged.

Councillor Sharman has several problems of his own on his hands.  The transit mess is to a large degree his doing.  Did we lose the Director of Transit because of the way Sharman treated her

Lancaster isn’t making the inroads she needs to make within her ward.  She certainly didn’t earn the Dutch vote with the way she handled the naming of a park for our twin city Apeldoorn, and many of the people in the Beaudoin school district didn’t come away with the sense that their council member really went to bat for them..

Lancaster could learn a lot from Craven on how to serve and woo a ward.  She will never do what Meed Ward does and she is going to need a strong identity with her ward if she is to win re-election in 2014.

When you look at the possibilities: Sharman and Lancaster could be in trouble.  Dennison and Taylor could accept their gold watches and ride off into retirement.  That leaves Craven and Meed Ward (no love lost between those two) and the Mayor who has a good working relationship with Craven but not much time for Meed Ward.

The Mayor is learning.  Has he learned enough?  Does he have the capacity to learn all that he has to learn?  One wag very close to the political scene in this city made the comment that “the Mayor hasn’t turned out to be what we thought he would become, but he is the best we have and we need to make the best of that”.

That’s probably the best that can be said at this point in time.


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