It was really more ignorant than unusual. Five people with informed opinions who have served this community well got ignored.

By Pepper Parr

Five of the very best people the city has took time out of their evening to appear at a city council meeting to delegate to the city on the budget that got passed last night.

Doug Brown, James Smith, former Mayor Walter Mulkewich, Ken Woodruff and Bob Wood each brought their considerable knowledge about transit in this city to the podium.  They each spoke for their allotted five minutes.

Doug Brown brought the story he has been telling for years, which is as relevant and as important today as it was when he first told it. Burlington spends just half of the GTA average spends on transit.  Today Burlington has just half the transit ridership the city had in the mid 1980’s.  Does no one see the link between the lousy funding and the poor ridership numbers?

The portion of the gas tax that Burlington spent on transit was 30% – this budget knocked that down to 20% – but just for the one year explained Council members.  When the Master Plan is complete the gas tax portion level can be raised again.

Treasurer Joan Ford was trotted out to affirm that the city could in fact use less of the gas tax and what they were doing was legal.  They usually get lawyers to do this kind of thing but Burlington may have spent its lawyer allocation on the Pier.

Like the statutes on Easter Island, Council members sat mute while five informed men spoke intelligently about the need to confront the serious transit funding problem.

Speaking for Poverty Free Halton, Doug Brown asked Council to respect its own planning process and not approve a cut in transit funding from its gas tax.

The gas tax payment to the city is an amount the federal government pays out to municipalities.

Bob Wood was next and approached the podium to speak as a sometimes regular but mostly occasional transit rider.  He takes what is called “the best performing route in the system” to get to work.  It’s a 75 minute trip door to door from Pinedale in the east end of  Burlington to Main and Catherine in downtown Hamilton.  Bob Wood was late for work recently and he took Council members through the travails of transit in Burlington when connections are missed.

He then pointed out that the consultants working with the city to develop a transit master plan have said Burlington’s system is underfunded.  Other consultants have said the same thing before.  As an aside, Councillor Taylor said he has seen five different consultant reports during the 20 years + he has been on Council and they have all said the same thing.  That would take us back to the mid 1980’s when transit traffic was twice what it is today – is there a link between ignoring what consultants say to us and what we do?  Just asking?

Bob Wood said that “as far as he can tell the Federal Gas Tax Fund is an excellent and most appropriate source of funding to address the transit systems capital needs” – Toronto certainly thinks so – they apply 100% of their gas tax funding to transit.

Wood noted with dismay that “council would consider making such a significant change to transit before the consultation is complete”.

Next was the Grand Daddy of speakers.  Walter Mulkewich drew his large frame to the podium and leans in as he speaks.  Walter wanted Council to remove the decision to reduce the portion of the gas tax that goes to transit from 30% to 20%

Mulkewich gets technical on them and points out that the January 2010 agreement that has federal tax money going to municipalities requires the “investments will see Ontarians enjoy cleaner air, cleaner water and reduced greenhouse gas emissions” and that local investments in roads and bridges “contribute to sustainable outcomes”. Mulkewich argues that there is nothing sustainable in the “shave and pave” program unless you’re talking about the benefit in recycled pavement.

Mulkewich points out that the transit review so far is that “Burlington Transit will require significant investment to make it what it must be to meet your own strategic and official plans, financial goals to build the economy and to maintain the city’s quality of life for the future. Burlington’s future is in transit – not roads”.  Words of wisdom that fell on deaf ears.

He then makes an embarrassing and telling point.  Throughout the budget debates most of the comment was focused on the infrastructure deficit.  We are short by about $15 million – give or take a couple of million for the next dozen or so years, which as Councillor Craven pointed out is a very serious problem that has to be faced.   Not a word, that I can recall,  was uttered about the very significant transit infrastructure deficit. It’s about the state of our roads, the state of our roads – they have to be fixed and Councillor Dennison sliced and diced this budget to the point where he moved more than a million dollars out of different programs and into the “shave and pave” program that is going to save millions long term.

These characters couldn't speak - what excuse did Council members have Monday evening.

There was an opportunity to put a bit of a dent in the transit operating deficit by increasing fares – but Council  decided that decision could wait until there was a complete report and a Master Plan in place.  Then why not wait until those documents were in place before hiving 10% off the amount of the gas tax that currently – well at least until last night – goes to transit?  Increasing transit fares would mean putting up with uncomfortable calls from voters.

James Smith also walked to the podium. His delightful little Swiftian rant is detailed elsewhere.  Lovely bit of hilarity in an otherwise dull meeting, which was broadcast live.  It was even worse than watching the Toronto Leafs lose 8-0 to Boston.

Next was Burlington Green President Ken Woodruff who tried to convince Council to take just 5% away from transit rather than the 10% planned.  His association just didn’t support taking money away from transit to fix roads, “not at this critical juncture”.

Woodruff believed Burlington’s Green’s Transit Master Plan recommendations and the Transit Master Plan itself will require the funding, especially in the early years. “We would prefer to see increased funding with in-depth analysis and adjustment to ensure a world class transit system”.  Most people in Burlington would settle for a system that is funded at levels close to comparable communities.  Right now Burlington is number 14 on a list that has the names of  municipalities on it.  No one of an equivalent size spends less than Burlington does.  The Mayor and members of Council continually remind us that Burlington has more seniors than anyone else in the Region and that we are going to have even more seniors that the other municipalities in the Region.

Any resemblance between these statutes and the seven members of Council would only be appreciated by those who sat in the public gallery last Monday and to the hundreds that watched the meeting broadcast live.

When people delegate to a Council meeting they are given five minutes to speak and then they answer questions from Council members.  There is usually a question or two and on occasion a lively and informative debate.  I’ve seen this Council swayed by the debate.   But on Monday evening, five men who are close to the needs of the community, who have served the community well in the past, stood and waited for questions.

Not one question was asked.  All seven members of Council sat there mute.  Like the Easter Island statues staring  blankly and appearing to be waiting for something to happen.   These are your Council members – they’re the people who are supposed to make things happen and for this group to not even attempt to engage the five people who chose to speak is unfathomable.

There were two additional delegations on other subjects  – they weren’t asked questions either.  Mayor Goldring then said “ seven delegations and no questions from council members- that’s unusual”.  It was really more ignorant than unusual.


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2 comments to It was really more ignorant than unusual. Five people with informed opinions who have served this community well got ignored.

  • […] Burlington Council has voted to reduce the portion of the gas tax going to fund transit from 30% to 20%, and diverting those funds to road paving. Meanwhile, a transit service review is in progress. […]

  • Joan Gallagher-Bell

    What a truly sad dismal day for residents in Burlington. It is a hope that all the residents find out about this dreadful travesty. Everyone that attended could write their perspective and thoughts of what happened. While I am not sure of the vote it stinks.
    Why is our quality of government declining along with the quality of life in Burlington?
    God Bless us all!…………Joan GB