How NOT to communicate with your constituents; Ward 6 Councillor fails to communicate.

 By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON. May 29, 2013.   How do you keep the natives happy?  How do you answer all the phone calls, take care of the problems – big and small?  Get to the city council meetings, and then the Regional Council meetings and read all the reports? Burlington recently had a committee meeting that had a 1000+ page agenda.

Councillor Rick Craven once got a call from a new home owner complaining about the noise from the rail line that passed behind a berm near the home and wanted him to do something about the noise.  Apparently the home owner didn’t know there was a rail line behind the berm.  Councillor Marianne Meed Ward found herself out Christmas Day one year picking up a couple of bags of garbage.

Municipal politics are local and you get everything – wind rows from the snow plows, garbage not picked up, not being able to get your child into a Parks and Recreation class.  The Seniors’ in Burlington, and there are a lot of them, have their own special needs.

Did I mention transit?  The list goes on and on.  And yet Burlington has two Council members who have held their seats for 20 years and more .  One of the them did recently get himself black-balled by a community organization.

Councillor Blair Lancaster gets out to almost every photo-op there is and has served as the lead spokesperson at a number of NGTA community events with crowds of 250+. Her constituents are not happy with how she is handling the Air Park issue.

Blair Lancaster, one of the crop that got elected to Council for the first time last election has been around politics much of her life.  A former beauty queen, Lancaster has created a business and a personality that serve her well.  She can be tough when she chooses to be.  She brings her own personal style to the job and at times has difficulty fully grasping the details of an issue but she is pretty quick, most of the time, to get the sense of what is happening and follows along.

She brings a bit of that old Conservative Ontario sense of entitlement: you know that, “we deserve this” and the sense that she is here to serve is not always top of mind.  She means well.

Lancaster has in the past, held community events at the Air Park.  We attended one such event and thought it was something Lancaster had put together; it wasn’t.  It was an annual event the Air Park people put on for the community – Lancaster had just piggy-backed on the event.  For many in her ward that was getting just a little too close to a company many in the community had major issues with.

There is now a major issue with the Air Park that has ward six residents writing their council member.  Here is a sample of a couple of those letters and the Council members response.

My name is Teri Jaklin; I am a resident of Rural Ward 6. We have not yet met, which in itself may be telling given the note I am embarking on now.

Blair, I have been following the new activity that is percolating, once again between the air park and the rural community in your ward.  And I respectfully suggest that you have some serious work to do when it comes to effectively representing your constituents (in rural Ward 6) in a fair and balanced fashion.

Ward 6 is full of people who have made their homes and lifestyles here for the very treasures it holds. Greenbelt, an internationally renowned Biosphere, the beauty of the escarpment and the promise to protect these for generations to come.  These are people who are willing to fight harder than the politicians, it would seem, to protect same. And for the fourth time in less than eight years these very people were gathered in a private home, once again, discussing how to protect themselves from this area’s greatest threat, Vince Rossi and the Burlington Airport.

You can speak to any of the people on this distribution list, or anyone living in this area to learn how the noise and air pollution caused by years of fill activity has compromised safety and quality of life – you can speak to neighbours who have been hit head on by the very trucks carrying the fill, not to mention the countless near misses on Appleby Line, those whose properties have been used by rogue truckers as “alternate” dump sites when the airpark gates have been closed, those who have sustained direct property damage as a result of the sheer volume of truck traffic, and you can – and should – speak to one of our neighbours whose beautiful country home has literally been turned into a sink hole – with no regard or respect to her what so ever. Certainly there are personalities at play but wouldn’t you be upset Blair if mountains of fill surrounded your home, covered with weeds, with no landscaping or concern for your quality of life – and no reasonable response from the City?

For years and years this activity has gone on under the veil of “federal jurisdiction” and has been broadly supported by the City’s love affair with the prestige of having an airport in Burlington.  But who is talking to the people that live in Rural Ward 6? Who is managing the balanced and sustainable development of the airport? Yes, an airport is “federally regulated” but it is your job Blair to understand exactly what that means in every way and strictly manage this development so that it is consistent with Provincial and Regional environmental mandates in Burlington as well as the City’s commitment to the conservation of these unique and spectacular lands.

The City’s own words on their environmental commitment are “where people, nature and business thrive” – not where one thrives at the expense of the other.  Over the many years that the residents of your ward have been struggling to be heard, we have spoken with every level of government and the common answer has been that ultimately the buck stops with the City, yet when we have engaged the City on the subject, we get a “deer in the headlights” look and no authoritative response. Does the City even care about life north of the 407? Imagine how frustrated we are.

Blair, your job is no insignificant role. You represent rapidly expanding urban growth and the commercial interests therein as well as the uniqueness of environmentally sensitive lands, a rural community and a growing Airpark. This is a huge responsibility for a new councillor. It also begs the following questions:

What is your understanding of and experience in aviation? What aviation expert has the City of Burlington engaged to support you in airport matters and when will that individual sit at the table with the City, environmental agencies and other stakeholders?

Does the City truly understand the rights and responsibilities of the airpark to the City, or is it just taking Mr. Rossi’s word for it?

What are the 1, 3, and 5-year plans for the City with regard to the development of the Airpark and Rural north Burlington?

When is the City going to engage the passionate people of Rural North Burlington as allies in these plans?

There is more in them thar hills than an enthusiastic airport developer Blair.

Nobody here is opposed to the airport, it was here before many of us moved in, and mostly we maintain a civil relationship with Vince and his managers. But what is going on with the airport borders on negligent with respect to the greater picture, and specifically with regard to the environment and the lives of your constituents.

You are largely viewed as having partnered with the airport to the exclusion of any other stakeholders – and by that I mean the people whose lives are directly impacted by airport activity. What is your position and what are you doing for the residents of Rural North Burlington? When are you going to talk to us? How long can we expect our quality of life to be compromised – or is that your plan for our future?

Poor communication leaves a door wide open to speculation, gossip and frustration. We have come to the Ward 6 Councillor in the past and expressed a desire to work collectively, from a positive perspective, with the City and the airpark – to the point where we had several meetings together. Then came an election, and, well, here we are,  I guess we have to start all over again.

If I have missed information that would shed light on any of my concerns then I stand humbly corrected and welcome the new input. If not, then I look forward to hearing from you, as I am sure may of my friends and neighbours do. Please advise when that will be at your earliest convenience.

 I look forward to your response,

Councillor Lancaster responds with:

Thank you for caring so passionately about our rural residents.

I will address your concerns individually starting with your comments about not having met.  I thought Michelle introduced you and Mike to me at the first Niagara GTA meeting in December 2010 .  We really appreciated Mike offering to video and photograph the event for us.  Since then we have been in contact with Mike many times about the Airpark and NGTA.

I have also provided many other opportunities to network with Ward Six Rural residents such as: three Airpark open houses, The Rural Summit, The Rural Cycling Safety meeting and the “Ward Three and Six” Rural Open House at Conservation Halton.  Of course, all of my public meetings in the urban part of my ward are open to rural residents as well.

We regularly communicate with Ward Six Residents through our newsletter, facebook and my city webpage as well as special distribution lists for specific issues, such as the Airpark.  I understand that Mike is on the Airpark mailing list, if you would also like to be included, please email Michelle directly as we cannot communicate with you without your express written permission.   You may also subscribe to our Ward Six e-newsletter, the link is below in my signature.

As you are aware, the Airpark is regulated by the Federal Government.  I spoke with city staff last week who, in an email, reiterated their position that the city did their due diligence several years ago on issues related to the Airpark and they are comfortable with their assessment that items related to the provision of aeronautics fall under the jurisdiction of the FAA, Federal Aeronautics Act.  They were referring to issues such as the fill.

I have had many meetings with residents who live close to the Airpark who have concerns regarding the noise and safety from the Flight School training program.  Students continuously fly over their homes repeatedly taking off and landing.  Unfortunately, the City of Burlington has no opportunity to enforce a height restriction or noise bylaw as they do not regulate or measure air activity.  Although I have no authority to enforce change, I have met with residents and Airpark officials to help facilitate discussions.  A remedy is still to be achieved.

I am not aware that there is an issue regarding collisions.  There have been no complaints made to my office.

There are no joint City and Airpark plans for the development of the Airpark.  As for rural Burlington in general, I have attached the workbook from the Rural Summit held in January of this year.  The City of Burlington engaged residents by inviting them to attend a Rural summit and over a hundred people participated. The City also had an online survey for residents who were unable to attend. As well, over 500 people attended the Niagara GTA meetings.

I have no experience in Aviation and it is not part of my role as a councillor.  The Federal representative responsible for the Airpark is Lisa Raitt, I noticed you did not include her in your correspondence, I have provided her contact information for you here.

A ward 6 resident, Barbara Sheldon,  who lives across the road from Terri Jaklin responds the Councillor Lancaster’s response with one of her own. 

April -2013

I respectfully forewarn you Ms. Lancaster: this may be one of the most politically incorrect letters you’ve yet to receive since you took Office. To that point, I suspect if there’s not an authentic and noticeable change in your commitment, actions and accountability towards the rural residents of your

Ward whose lives are being destroyed by the owner of the Burlington Airpark, you will receive more like this before you leave Office.  Last week, you received an intelligent letter from Dr. Jaklin, a well-regarded member of our community, asking you to step up to the plate and do the job for which you’ve been elected. She asked that you represent the best interests of your constituents in this community with a fair and balanced process, to paraphrase Dr. Jaklin’s request.

Dr. Jaklin’s letter has been widely distributed and cheered by our community. Two days ago, the letter that you signed back to her soared thru cyberspace to the same recipients. No cheers for you.  In fact, the shock and disgust at your letter were thicker than all that smoke you blew in it. Not only did you NOT address the main concern Dr. Jaklin raised, you dared to insult her intelligence, and consequently the rest of our community for whom she spoke.

Who wrote that for you, Ms. Lancaster? Surely, you didn’t. Someone who genuinely stood on a platform of “BEST PRACTICES” in order to win votes could never have crafted that.

Barbara Sheldon feeds geese on her spring fed pond and wonders just how much more land fill is going to be put on the air park property that is next to her home. Sheldon doesn’t mind the noise of the light aircraft flying around – her problem is with heavy construction equipment noise and what the land fill is going to do to the value of her property and her right to the peaceful use of her home.

Make no mistake about it, Ms. Lancaster – even though you did not visit our community when you were running for Office, we followed your campaign very closely. Good campaign, Ms. Lancaster – however it would appear that once you took Office, you took a page from your predecessor’s notebook when it comes to turning a blind eye to the Burlington Airpark’s destruction of our rural residential and agricultural community within your Ward.

With that in mind, I wish you’d take a page from Marianne Meed-Ward’s playbook. She has clearly demonstrated common sense, integrity, intelligence, compassion and willingness to represent the best interests of her Constituents, as well as the entire city.

Here it is plain and simple for you Ms. Lancaster: We want you to demonstrate the exact same traits exemplified by your colleague and represent the sensible and reasonable interests of this community with regards to the activities of the Burlington Airpark THAT ARE NOT GOVERNED BY TRANSPORT

CANADA – and do it in a fair and balanced process.  I would be disappointed if you did not know by now which activities are not governed by TC, but here it is, plain and simple again for you: the only thing that TC has jurisdiction over at the Burlington Airpark is aeronautical safety. Accordingly, the landfill operation is NOT GOVERNED federally.

Oh – and about your previous Open Houses at the Burlington Airpark? Not a BEST PRACTICE, Ms. Lancaster – not if you genuinely wanted to understand and represent the best interests of this community.

Councillor Blair Lancaster has held several community meetings at the Air Park. Here she meets with constituents in August of 2012. Many North Burlington residents feel it is inappropriate for community events to be held at the air park.

Let me make this ‘plain and simple’ for you again: Asking us to set foot on the land of a man who’s been willfully and selfishly achieving personal gains at the documented expense of destroying our lives, homes and livelihoods, makes about as much sense as asking breast cancer survivors to meet with you, in your capacity as the ED of the Breast Cancer Support Services, at a location known for hosting carcinogenic elements…like a cigarette smoke-filled patio. Doesn’t make much sense, does it – let alone reflect your sincere interest in helping those people.

Nor does your counter statement to Dr. Jaklin make any sense – the one in which you stated how you can regularly communicate with us through your newsletter and social media. For gawd’s sake, Ms. Lancaster, we are not asking to be ‘communicated’ with. And since when did ‘one-way’ communication become a BEST PRACTICE????

Conversely, Ms. Lancaster, we are asking you to participate with us, your Constituents, on a matter that is entirely under your mandate. If you are uncertain of your role with us, I politely ask that you re-read your Councillor manual, specifically Burlington’s Procedural By-law 58-2005, article A: (You are) To represent the public and to consider the well- being and interests of the municipality..

Notice that you are not restricted to solely represent and consider the well-being and interests of a private Company?  To this point, I want a straight answer from you now. Are you willing to come to our community, during the day, and accompany us on a personal tour to witness first-hand the needless and intentional destruction of the properties and welfare of your Constituents, as well as that of the tourists and travelers in our region, resulting from the massive landfill operation directed by Mr. Rossi? I assure you that we will be able to schedule a time that is convenient to you.

This is a simple yes/no question, Ms. Lancaster – requiring no political doublespeak, so please withhold that, as well as any smoke you may be tempted to blow up my ***, like you did Dr. Jaklin’s.

But a caveat, Ms. Lancaster: if you feel compelled to invite any parties associated with the Airpark to join you on this tour – please don’t. Plain and simple: they are not welcome at this time. However, we encourage you to bring your colleagues from Council – it’s about time they were brought up to speed, not by hearsay or by what the Airpark people want you to hear, but by viewing the evidence in person, so they may truly understand the realities and the gravity of the situation.

We are not your enemy, Ms. Lancaster. As dedicated stewards of the rural lands and lives in Burlington, not only are we some of the nicest, most responsible, hard-working and compassionate folks you’ll ever meet, we are your Constituents – you know, the folks you’ve declared on your website as being THRILLED to have the opportunity to represent. Are you ready to make good on that – or did someone else write that for you as well??

Barbara Sheldon

And so it goes in the life of a Burlington city Councillor.  Lancaster has indicated that she intends to run for office again in 2014 – that was before this barrage of letters.

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3 comments to How NOT to communicate with your constituents; Ward 6 Councillor fails to communicate.

  • Stephanie Cooper-Smyth

    I understand that Ms. Lancaster replied to Barbara Sheldon’s letter over 4 weeks ago, in which she agreed to visit the damaged properties but never made good on her agreement.

    On the other hand, the Mayor and his Chief of Staff were so concerned, they requested and visited the properties within 4 days after the Rural Burlington Greenbelt Coalition formally presented the situation to the City Council and attending staff members.

    I watched the webcast of that Council meeting. Ms. Lancaster neither addressed nor seemed upset with a single concern that has been raised by her constituents as outlined in their letters and substantiated that evening by the RBGC. Yet, she had the gall to defended Mr. Rossi’s opportunity and right to make money with the landfill.

    Your slip is certainly showing Ms. Lancaster….need we bother asking who’s really buttering your toast??


  • Playing the ‘blame game’ with the Federal Goverment,is soooo lame, the councillor should make sure she has her ducks in a row,as Ms. Sheldon clearly does regarding the important facts, please keep me aware of future developments. Thank you.

  • Congrats to Barbara Sheldon and Dr.Jaklin for their well researched and passionate letters to Lancaster. This area is supposed to be one of the “Jewels” of Burlington, so let’s listen and take action before it is too late.