If James Smith wins the ward 5 council seat – will transit have traction at city hall?

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

April 14, 2014


This isn’t the first run up the hill for James Smith, he has run for the ward 5 council seat before and did credibly well in 2010.  Federal liberal in 1988

For James the issues in the 2014 election are personal – he is passionate about the need for public transit, worked himself ragged to get the Freeman Station onto a site where work at restoring the structure could begin.  In his campaign material Smith says:  “As president of the Friends of Freeman Station I learned some very valuable lessons about consensus building and finding solutions to problems city council couldn’t or didn’t want to tackle.”

James Smith has been around politics a large part of his life.  His first political encounter was back in 1968 – during the days when Paul Hellyer, was a force – he became the Minister of Defence and merged the armed forces putting them all in the same colour of uniform.

Smith hung around political offices and did all the usual stuff young people do in elections.  He did what that generation did and took the “trip to Europe” with some friends.  Met a woman who had a cousin and married the cousin – they’ve been married 34 years and have two grown children.

Smith worked for Sears in western Canada for nine years as a store planner; they sent him east where he worked in Scarborough.  The work was decent but Scarborough wasn’t for him.  They liked the High Park area but prices weren’t within their budget. “We kept moving west, found Burlington and have been here ever since” is the way Smith describes his introduction to the city.


James Smith, second from left, at the signing of the Joint Venture with the city to move and refurbish the Freeman Station.

There was a family to be raised and the Harris government took over the province – not much room for Liberals in those days.  Smith hunkered down and raised his children.  Smith is a former Director of the  Burlington Arts Centre; a past member of Burlington’s Official Plan citizens advisory committee and a founding member of the Burlington Conserver Society – the group that saved the Sheldon Creek Woodlot

Smith was a member of the Shaping Burlington Committee – they advocated for the adoption of the City of Burlington Engagement Charter.  Council accepted the Shape Burlington recommendation but the public hasn’t seen much of the concept since then.

Smith, whose father was a broadcaster is the co-host of Transit Talk on Usual Sources Radio CFMU-FM 93.3  In 2013 Smith established the Save Skyway Arena Campaign and stopped the closure of Skyway Arena.

He was host and moderator of BFAST’s (Burlington for Accessible Sustainable Transit)  Town Hall meeting in June 2012; an event that brought some of the best minds in transit in the province to Burlington.  Smith is the     Burlington Representative on the GTA West MOVE Task Force and co-author of the soon to be released MOVE Task Force Report

BFAST takes credit for saving the John Street Bus Terminal.

An finally, Smith is a founder (one of several) and Past President of The Friends of Freeman Station; he has been tireless in finding a home for the station and leading a sound board and team of volunteers that will soon be out refurbishing the station that now sits on Fairview – next to the fire station.

Smith is an active Catholic as well.

The campaign to win ward 5 this time around is based on three premises: Planning, Moving and Prosperity.  What the public has seen from Smith is a consistent approach to the way we move people around.  He argues that grid lock, the increasing cost of gas, an aging population that will not be able to drive a car at some point and the impact of carbon on the environment make it vital that the city look at different forms of public transit.

GO works well and the service is now more frequent which keeps cars off the QEW.  Smith tends to focus on local transit and our ability to get from community to community. Getting Burlingtonians out of their cars is a little like spitting into the wind.  Car culture dominates and Smith doesn’t believe this council and particularly the member for ward 5 really understand transit.  Their arguments tend to focus on the cost to the city while James believes cost is certainly a concern but that there is a bigger concern that isn’t being seen.  Were Smith to be elected there will be different conversations around the council chamber horseshoe.

James Smith believes that the city needs to do a better job of planning.  He is pretty blunt and direct when he says: “Burlington has no green fields left to pave.”

Urban sprawl, he points out,   costs us all in additional services and hidden costs. He then adds that the only thing people seem to hate more than Sprawl is Intensification.  Smith fully understands the province’s “Places to Grow” legislation and the city’s official plan – not something that can be said for every member of the current council.

Smith makes the uncomfortable point that “with no more room to build, the fact we have built to the edge of our urban boundary means intensification is coming.  We have to be ready for and understand how to make the changes we want to see in our communities.”  Not exactly great vote getters but they do reflect the reality Burlington faces.

Smith has serious issues with a number of the decisions made by the current council and while he earns a very good living as an architectural technologist – he took time last December to hunker down with family and friends and decide if he could win an election and if he felt he could – mount a campaign and work at it full time.

What the public often does not realize is that the people who run for office do so at their expense.  They have to put quite a bit of their own money into the campaign and they have to give up on their gainful employment and go door to door in the ward listening to votes and seeking their support.

Smith has been delegating to city council for years – he takes on an issue and will work his way through the work plan and get it done.

He’s Irish and while the temper is seldom seen, it is nevertheless there and on an unfortunate occasion he set aside the words he had prepared and asked council if they “were on coke” – they were going through a transit report that should have been before council several weeks before.  Smith just lost it.

How we get around has been an overriding issue for Smith.  He believes we have to work with other governments and agencies to develop an action plan to build a CN grade separation on Burloak before 2020.  Smith is adamant – we have to use the Gas Tax monies we get for transit; that is what the funds were intended for.  Smith and his Bfast colleagues get close to apoplectic when they see gas tax monies being spent on roads.

While there has been a lot of talk about working with employers to put active transportation plans in place – there hasn’t been much actually implemented.

Smith wants to re-allocate resources and review transportation budgets for waste and duplication with the Region of Halton and plan for a Transit system people will use and can rely on, with a City commitment to funding transit at least to the level of the GTA average

If James Smith makes it to city hall expect him to press hard for a commitment to work with Oakville, Waterdown and the province to plan and build the Dundas BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) called for in Metrolinx’s BIG Move.  Should he end up with more votes than anyone else in ward 5, the city will finally have a true transit advocate on council.

Burlington now has Prosperity Corridors.  Smith isn’t overly impressed with the public relations language and points out that with a fixed urban boundary the city has to look for creative new ways to attract new development, industry and residents.  He seems to have forgotten that the city has an Economic Development Corporation, albeit one that hasn’t done very much and currently has its head buried in a governance exercise.  Smith would like to establish a Task Force on unlocking the potential of Employment Lands.  He will be walking into a hornets nest on that one.  He wants to involve residents in the earliest phases of planning to develop community supported new development.  The BEDC has yet to ever invite the public into its deliberations – anything Smith can do to open up that operation will be welcome news and certainly in line with the objects of the Community Engagement Charter that can’t seem to get outside the doors of city hall.

Smith wants mixed use for all Employment Lands to at least be considered and to insist on a residential component for all retail re-development – he would like to add in a residential and an affordability component as well.

So who is this guy?  Irish that’s for sure.  A citizen who has paid his dues and shown that he can get things done.  City council basically threw its hands in the air with the Freeman Station – Smith was part of a team that saved the station so that citizens could refurbish it.

In 2010 there were eight candidates running for the council seat.  Paul Sharman won that contest after deciding that he wouldn’t run for Mayor – he filed nomination papers for that job first. 

The candidates were: Serge BERALDO, Rick GOLDRING, Paul KESELMAN, Dave KUMAR, Anne MARSDEN, Cal MILLAR, Peggy RUSSELL, Paul SHARMAN and James SMITH.  Goldring dropped out as a ward council candidate and ran for Mayor.

David Kumar went on to his heaven by getting appointed to the Committee of Adjustment, Cal Millar went on to become president of the federal Conservative Party association in Burlington.

While Sharman has yet to file his nomination papers for re-election in ward 5 (maybe he is going to file to run for the office of Mayor and mean it this time?) the race is currently between Ian Simpson and James Smith. 

Background links and related stories:

Smith loses it.

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1 comment to If James Smith wins the ward 5 council seat – will transit have traction at city hall?

  • Roger

    Paul Sharman may not have made it formal but his website says different (www.paulsharman.ca)

    James should be applauded for the work he has done for his ward, city and community.

    James has proven he can take on city issues and make them work and has taken a bold stance on the employment lands.

    He will be an excellent Ward 5 councillor and a welcome additon to city government.