It takes courage to stand up and ask the hard questions; that courage would appear to be thin at the city council level.

By Pepper Parr

December 12th, 2022



We, unfortunately, hear frequently from different readers about “those people who are always whining” about issues in the city.

The really naive tout that statement that city hall communications people come up with – Burlington being the greatest city in Canada to live in.

We tend to forget those who have the courage of their convictions to step forward and speak “truth to power”. The first time I heard that phrase was when Marianne Meed Ward, running for the ward 2 seat in 2010, used it to describe what she was setting out to do.

Now that she has power – the truth seems to be getting a rough ride.

Ralph Nader

Does anyone remember what Ralph Nader did for the public ? He gets direct credit for the American enactment of the Freedom of Information Act, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Clean Water Act, Consumer Product Safety Act, and Whistleblower Protection Act.

Do we remember Daniel Ellsberg, the man who gave who gave the Pentagon papers to the New York Times. They spent a small fortune publishing the information and fighting all the way to the US Supreme Court to argue that they had a right to publish the document.


That courage to stand up and speak out is a hallmark of a civilized society.

We wrote last week about that missing word – asbestos – the one that didn’t appear anywhere in the Staff report to city council on the“adaptive reuse of the Robert Bateman High School”.   There is an impressive use of public relations speak.

While many people knew about the existence of the asbestos in the Bateman High School not a single member of this freshly elected city council ever asked the question – what about that asbestos ?

Reader reaction in the past few days has sparked spirited response from readers. They are all part of what some people call the “whiners”.  We are lucky to have them.   Some samples:

Knows the rules:

“Except, after purchase COB must follow Section 10 of O.Reg. 278/05 – Owner’s Responsibility before requesting tender or arranging work – requires that an owner shall have an investigation carried out in order to determine if materials, that are likely to be handled, dealt with, disturbed or removed during the alteration of a building, are asbestos-containing and, if so, whether the asbestos-containing material is friable or non-friable and to identify the type of asbestos in the material. Section 10 also requires that the owner shall have a report prepared detailing the investigation findings which is to be provided to any prospective constructor.

“The absence of any mention of asbestos by COB, and the associated costs is nothing short of alarming.”

Female – a parent:
“We definitely all knew during the PAR process about the asbestos at Bateman. In fact one day at the very early stages, I was placing a Save Central sign on a lawn when a worker at a nearby home came to ask me what this was about. He then told me that he worked on the construction when Brock moved to Elgin and it became Bateman and asked if I was aware of the huge amount of asbestos there, the worst he’d ever seen. This was later confirmed by the HDSB.

“It is unacceptable that staff and council don’t have an entire section on Asbestos in their reports with detailed plans and costs about its removal, and that this wasn’t discussed in detail in the public meetings. How can they even have agreed on a price for the building without such a specific plan? It’s laughable how they keep touting transparency. Oh right, we can give input (like that is ever listened to), without all the information, after the decisions have been made.

“Are they planning to not remove it? I certainly hope not. Now is the time. Asbestos can be inadvertently exposed during even minor renovations or maintenance, which could happen any time. I’ve heard of this happening recently at another school. Dangerous to students and staff and costly to fix urgently.

“Of course when you’re dealing with politicians who care so very much about photo ops at a shiny new building, I suppose they don’t want to talk about nasty negatives like dangerous and costly asbestos? They even tried to blame Stolte for telling the public about it back during the infamous complaint. Even our hired gun commissioner threw that out, saying this is common knowledge. Telling though. Will they get Kwab to speak for them – again? Can council members ever speak for themselves, and without spin? Kwab must be the busiest person at COB.”

A regular delegator:
“Another major example of failed transparency in terms of their duty to make all decisions in the best interests and well-being of Burlington residents. Newbies is no longer a credible excuse. Transparency was a huge deficiency of this Council, 2018 – 2022 and during the election. It will remain, along with lack of accountability until enough of the electorate begin to use the tool we have been given by the Procedure By-laws – the petition and the Municipal Act – Judicial Review. Unfortunately to get a Judicial Review on the table you have to have councillors willing to expose the issues that require such review. We have yet to see a desire to do the right thing for our city from our Council. Or the need from any media except the Gazette. We are ready and willing to lead such a venture but we need committed signature collectors from among the ranks of those who ran against such Council deficiencies, to make it work.”

Male, deep government experience:
“If the staff report is silent on the costs and logistics of asbestos removal/remediation, this is a significant and actionable omission. It is always difficult to state with total confidence what someone knows and at what time. However, given the many, many times that the existence of asbestos in the Robert Bateman building has been raised, recently in posts related to the proposed sale and at least as far back as the discussions around which High School(s) would be closed in Burlington, it is difficult to believe that any member of Council is ignorant. And given the role played by our current Mayor in both endeavours, to believe that she does not or did not know begs a massive “willing suspension of disbelief”, in my opinion. Mr. Ako-Adjei had best be most careful and most diligent in his response to your direct and reasonable questions.”

From the FAQ on Bateman
“What is the plan for the asbestos at Bateman?

“The City and HDSB are both fully aware of presence of asbestos and this has been factored into the due diligence process by the City and is also addressed in the negotiations between the parties relative to the purchase price.”

“The “due diligence” didn’t include a plan , yet somehow it was factored into the purchase price.”

We asked the Director of Communications and Engagement the following questions:

Was asbestos used when the building was first constructed in 1969

Was it used during the 1973 addition and was it used in the 2003 addition.

Was any asbestos ever removed from the building.

Where in the financial parts of the Staff report is the cost and timing of the removal of any asbestos mentioned.

He did say he would get back to us and he usually does. It would be useful if the information were available before the 13th – Oh – that’s tomorrow – not a hope.

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5 comments to It takes courage to stand up and ask the hard questions; that courage would appear to be thin at the city council level.

  • Penny Hersh

    Mr. Turner,
    Councillor Stolte was absolutely correct when she mentioned asbestos was an issue in Robert Bateman High School. It was public knowledge as indicated by others commenting. In reality this issue should never have been considered a breach of confidentiality.

    There are 6 other councillors who seem to forget that Asbestos in a building is a very serious matter. Some documentation indicates that removing it can cause more of an issue than most think.

    I find it interesting that the word “Asbestos” is rarely used by staff when discussing this issue. “Designate Substance” seems to be the preferred term. This was repeated over and over again in the answers provided by Allan Magi, Executive Director when questioned by council.

  • Dave Turner

    Burlington Gazette and Ms Hersh, why not direct your questions about asbestos at Bateman to your favourite Bateman whistle blower, Councilor Stolte?

    Why is she so silent now?

  • Kurt Koster

    Great, but scary article on the asbestos issue. I am looking forward to reading the responses to your four questions.

  • Penny Hersh

    Ward 2 Councillor is the Deputy Mayor for Community Engagement.

    Deputy Mayor for Community Engagement & Partnerships: Ward 2 Councillor Lisa Kearns
    This assignment builds on Councillor Kearns’ experience in resident’s groups even before being elected, her professional experience in corporate stakeholder management, and her Institute of Corporate Directors governance designation.

    The portfolio will include:
    Reviewing our current community engagement models, including our advisory committee structure, with a view to community capacity building.
    Liaising with our partner agencies/boards/committees on governance, and ensuring strong connections with the city, and council
    Co-sponsor with the Deputy Mayor for Recreation & Community Services on community funding opportunities at the City and Region and private sponsorship opportunities for city projects. ”

    My question – Should this position not start with representing the residents to ensure that all information is forthcoming, not simply reviewing engagement models etc.?

    It is very telling that not one of the councillors asked about the white elephant in the project ” ASBESTOS”. WHY, were they told not to????

    • Jim Thomson

      They didn’t have to ask. Councilors knew about the asbestos this time last year.

      It was one of the things Councilor Stolte was accused of violating confidentiality over.