Jim Young tells about what he heard at a city council meeting - palpable feeling that there may have been a settling of old scores between some members of council

opinionandcommentBy James Young

November 15th, 2017


In November of 2016 Jim Young said to city council during a debate on the amount of time a citizen would have to delegate that: “Sometimes it may seem as if we delegates are the enemy of the process. That we somehow stand in the way of the great works and plans you all have in mind for the city.

“The democratic processes of our city demand that qualified, talented professionals like the city staffs and managers, we are fortunate to have in Burlington, apply themselves to a certain vision of the city.

“That they nurse that vision through the often tortuous process to council for approval and implementation, only to have someone like me, a citizens delegate, put a flea in council’s ear, a spoke in staff’s well-oiled wheel and force a review all of their efforts and the inevitable delay that brings.”

Jim comments on the most recent meeting of city council.

On Monday night Burlington City Council, ignoring the more than 1400 signatures on a petition and the 13 delegations opposed to it, voted to break their own rules governing downtown development and allow the development of a 23 story building in contravention of their own 12 Story bylaw. (Only one delegate, the developer, spoke in favour of the project.)

This was a sad display of council voting against the vast majority of citizen opinion, a rejection of local voices made even sadder by the fact that compromise may have been possible. Instead entrenched positions and a degree of “Not in My Wardism” were allowed to carry the day.

Jim Young

Jim Young delegating before city council.

We all know and understand that council cannot be swayed by every nuance of public opinion, we elect them to lead and expect them to do so, but in this instance the opposition was so overwhelming and the possibility of compromise so obvious that the wisdom of the five Councillors who voted for the amendment, in a the year before an election, must be seriously questioned.

Why, for instance, could the developer not have settled on 15 or 17 floors, there would still be ample profit in this, it would still meet intensification targets and be much less intrusive on the character of the area?

Why was there no offsetting land allocation for park or green space? Why does council not hold the developer responsible for affordability units in the development? (Only vague and non-binding considerations on affordability are embodied in the proposal)

While sensible intensification and increased density are supported by all of council, city staff and the majority of citizen opinion, last night’s decision to allow a development so far removed from the official plan, existing bylaws and any sense of building proportion, may well prove to be a tipping point in the eventual destruction of Brant street as we know it. Other developers have already snapped up adjoining properties and now have the green light on non-complying developments.

Ironically, the idea of downtown walk-ability and community vibrancy that the downtown plan seeks are the very things that will be destroyed by developments like this as the floodgates open and they become the new downtown.

On Monday night, there was palpable feeling that there may have been a settling of old scores between some members of council and ward 2’s Councillor Meed Ward. It would be a sad day indeed if decisions of this importance are based on past enmities. Hopefully, electors will such behaviour accountable in next year’s civic election.

Jim Young

Jim Young as he thinks through a point he is making at a transit meeting.

On the subject of elections, if I may be so bold as to offer Councillor Dennison some advice: Questioning the integrity of a well-intended citizen petition is just not smart politics. Even if a few of the more than 1400 signatures were not fully vetted, disparaging the integrity of the signatories as well as insulting a lot of citizens, ward constituents and voters, is hardly the way to encourage civic engagement by well-meaning citizens. If a few signatures were disqualified would 1399 have swayed you?

Mayor Goldring had to remind the gallery of the rules of decorum at the groans which accompanied one Councillor’s suggestion that this would not set a precedent for future downtown development, (by Wednesday, one more developer had requested approval to add two more stories to a proposed building at Locust and Elgin Streets) or that council’s rejection of citizen input is a template for future engagement.

While he insisted, we will listen in future and staff will listen in future. The groans from the gallery suggested: “Then why are you not listening now?”

Burlington City Council loves to parade their national and international honours and laurels for civic engagement. They now have to learn that when you talk the self-congratulatory talk you must also walk that walk!

When you ask citizens to come together, ask for their input, then, when they do, you overwhelmingly reject them, you can no longer claim that high ground on civic engagement.

You either listen to your voters and compromise or they will assume their voices are only heard at election time with all the future electoral consequences that entails.


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22 comments to Jim Young tells about what he heard at a city council meeting – palpable feeling that there may have been a settling of old scores between some members of council

  • Gary Scobie

    I was among the delegates at City Hall objecting to this high rise. It was a very disappointing night. After much thought since the meeting, I have a few observations, building on others’ comments.

    First, why did the Planning Department, after much claimed consultation with the public, decide this was a premier location for a signature building? Did the public request this? I’m just not sure that dwarfing our City Hall helps accentuate Civic Square in any way. And why 17 storeys? Is there some magic in prime numbers with planners?

    Second, with their new zoning plan in hand (but not yet passed), why would the Planning Department, with all its time, work and expertise put into the new plan, blow right by its own recommended height for the site of 17 storeys and go straight to 23 storeys for its final new recommendation? Why it didn’t even hesitate at the next prime number 19, but had to skip right along to 23.

    Hard to figure out why we have a Planning Department when they don’t even want what they say they want. I think a lot of people are as confused as I am.

    Third, why would it be only the Ward 2 Councillor (who is elected to care about her ward) and the Mayor (who is elected to care about the whole city, including its downtown) be the only ones who cared enough to even question this violation of the Planning Department’s own zoning of 17 storeys in its yet unpassed future Downtown Mobility Hub Plan?

    Do other Councillors care so little about the downtown that they turn a blind eye to the Planning Department’s over-stepping of their own self-imposed boundaries? Do they care so much about their own wards and keeping this type of over-building out by putting it anywhere but their wards, to act so cavalierly at the Council table? That’s the only answer I can come up with in this 5 – 2 vote pattern.

    I thought all Councillors were elected to at least keep an eye on staff departments that were over-reaching their mandate. I guess I am mistaken. This vote, while also ushering in the “new era” of over-building in the downtown, also signals a greater problem in lack of oversight by Council on its own administration. Both issues should worry all citizens of Burlington going forward.

    • Hans

      It certainly worries me, even though I live north of the QEW. Next I expect the “Planning Department” to allow some enormous development on the Pearson HS property, which would destabilize a very nice and livable part of the city.

      It seems like the 5 who voted for 23 stories must have Master’s Degrees in Rationalization and the “Planning Department” (should it still be called that???) has gone rogue.

  • Josie

    Good point Karen! Maybe we can put couple of 20+ storey buildings in Mr. Taylor’s ward. He apparently doesn’t mind them, only highways bother him. I wonder if people in his ward know this. I have to believe that the rest of the city cares and will see this vote for what it was; bad politics.

    • Hans

      I think you are right – I can’t speak for Headon Forest (which is where I live) but I am completely opposed to the creation of a high rise downtown and I believe that my neighbours feel the same way.

    • Stu Parr


      I believe that many people in Mr. Taylor’s ward are opposed to over-intensification and over-building in Burlington’s downtown. Several, such as Gary Scobie, have been very active in opposing the current directions endorsed by Council and the Planning Department. Unfortunately, Mr. Taylor does not appear to listen to people in his ward or, if he does, he is hearing things a lot differently than I am. He is well within his statutory right to vote as he sees fit. However, I no longer believe that he reflects my values or represents my interests.

      • Hans

        Your comments would apply as well to the ward I live in, because I do not feel that Blair Lancaster is representing the residents or doing what is best for the city.

  • Karen

    Here is an idea..let’s build 20+ story buildings all over the city so all citizens of Burlington can experience the positive effect city planning and the other councillors think this monstrosity will bring to the core. More the merrier!

  • Rob Wheeler

    There is so much evidence that high rise development creates alienation and abandonment of downtown cores,certainly by smaller businesses like coffee shops & family oriented establishments. The lack of green space and traffic congestion created by apartment ghettos will kill the downtown core slowly but surely and now that the dam has broken it may not be that slow. The city spent millions on bicycle lanes that are rarely used and completely empty in the winter while destroying 4 lane cross town routes in the process. Ever try to go west on New street or the Lakeshore when there is a problem in the Skyway? Where are all these high rise residents going to work, not downtown for sure. I have a ddegree in regional planning from McMaster U. Too bad our city planners dont

  • George

    Burlington needs a Madame Defarge from Charles Dickens “Tale of Two Cities” to record the identities into her knitting of the City Councilors and Halton District School Board Trustees who have betrayed us.

    Then come the revolution or 2018 municipal elections the peasants (voters) can assure they lose their heads (comfortable seats) for their failures.

  • Lynn

    Fantastic article. Maybe it’s now time for the citizens to go to the OMB. Certainly time to elect new people.

    Craig; it’s about a lot more than the signatures on the petition. Council voted to go against their own rules and decided their new Official Plan is worthless. No matter your thoughts on condos, this should concern you as should the disturbing and unacceptable way the public was treated. Because some day it could be an issue that you are opposed to and you won’t want to be treated like this.

  • Penny

    Craig, if the City want residents to walk, cycle, and use public transit then there has to be something to go to. By that I mean if all the shops on Brant Street are replaced by high rise buildings it only encourages residents in that area to take their cars to get what they need. The new vision is high rise buildings with far less commercial space available and probably at rents that would be unaffordable for most small businesses. A vibrant community, in my opinion, is not simply noisy festivals a few times a year, it is the ability to walk to get your groceries, shop for clothing, get your prescriptions filled, meet a friend for coffee. Yes, in my mind 1400 signatures in 4 or 5 days is an indication of what people think. Also many of the people that live downtown are seniors and not are necessarily computer literate which means their voices were not heard.

  • Joe Gaetan

    I have never wanted to be more wrong in all my life, but I still believe this building will be the straw that broke the camel’s back and will mark the descendance of Burlington’s lofty position and reputation as a place to live, work and play. The sad fact is the people who enabled this to happen, planners, and 5 councilors, will have moved on in the case of planning, and will have retired in the case of councilors (because the unwritten Law of Incumbency means the 5 yeah councilors will continue to be elected as long as they run, and they know it) and future residents will have to live with the aftermath. That’s why I hope I am wrong and the hope the writer is wrong when he says this was about settling old scores.

  • James

    It’s funny how a mere 1400 signatures on a petition (representing less than 1% of the population) are somehow being interpreted by some as the will of the majority of the Burlington residents. Those of us that follow municipal politics know that if the public is in support or indifferent, they remain silent. Only those in opposition speak up.

    While Monday night’s Council Meeting may have seemed one sided based on those in attendance, I believe Council got this one right. They did their jobs, did what they were elected to do, and represented all of Burlington’s residents, not just the 1400 opposed.

    Believe it or not, there are MANY in Burlington who support major highrise developments downtown. That’s exactly where they should go. This silent majority remains so, as they agree with the direction downtown Burlington is heading. Well done Council.

    • Tom Muir


      There you go again, talking with exaggeration about things you provide no evidence to back up, while at the same time dissing facts put on the table, with erroneous claims that are your mere opinion. This is your habitual mode of comment.

      It is not a general truth that only opponents speak up. Show me the evidence of this besides your claim of “knowing”.

      You are always speaking in support, often in tandem with pen name Pauline, which contradicts your own claim that all supporters are silent.

      So why don’t you show yourself and tell us your story? Come to city hall so we can see who you are and what your full name is? Show those opponents what the real world of supporters, that you know all about, is really like, and what their case is.

      And how do you know the Council decision represented “all of Burlington’s residents”? You can’t possibly know that.

      And how do you know that MANY in Burlington support major high rise developments downtown? Where is your petition or even any evidence at all. Again, you can’t possibly know that.

      I have been reading a lot of actual public comments and what they say disagrees with you mostly, but there are a few supporters that speak – it’s not as you say.

      Where is your analysis of actual people that we can all see?

      Oh, I forgot, they don’t count because the supporters are the silent majority according to you, and you know better than anyone else that they want what you say they want.

      Council voted the way they did, and people who wanted to had their say out in the open. The lines were clearly drawn at that meeting – the way this Council works without compliance with their own laws, and ignores the only, and minimal citizen engagement that is given to them, on this, has been shown clearly.

      As we move forward we will see how this all works out. If this Council wants to allow this 23 stories, with all the collateral damage so evident, then we will see how it all works out, and we will have to live with it if it really happens.

      The game has just begun.

      • James

        ((yawn)) Sorry I forgot, your opinion is better than mine.

        • Hans

          You’re right about that.

          • James

            I just love how you guys attack anyone with an opinion different than yours. At least you managed to do it in only 4 words, so kudos to you.

          • Tom Muir


            You don’t write “opinions”, and I am sorry that I didn’t refer to what you say as assertions or claims, always made with no attempt at providing evidence. It’s not you I attack, but the way you write in this way.

            You write fallacy, putting together unsupported premises, as assertions, and then you customarily use extreme and strong language to conclude whatever you want to. You are always attacking.

            Do you ever really read your own writing? Even your reaction statements are tinged with self-righteous sarcasm, projecting your style to others.

            Let me tell you, it has all the hallmarks of flim flam and propaganda.

            Try to make an argument with some facts or data, as evidence, and then tell us what you think it means.

            If you don’t, you will get called out on the same grounds.

  • craig

    are we to assume 1400 names represent the wishes of the majority of the electorate for all of Burligton?

    • Hans

      A petition against something is a type of complaint.
      Typically, only about 3% of people take the trouble to complain when they have an issue so that 1,400 signatures on a petition could easily represent the opinion of much more than 40,000 people.
      That may not be a majority, but it is too great a number to ignore or rationalize as somehow insignificant.

    • Tom Muir

      Can we ask craig how many names would satisfy him as representative?

      A majority – 50% plus 1 – would be about 100,000 in round numbers.

      How does craig propose to see how and if that number can be reached?

      This problem is why surveys use sampling frames and methods to get enough responses to make significant inferences about what the population sampled thinks.

      This is not on, unless he can get a sponsor.

      The petition is, as Hans says, a type of complaint. Just take it at face value that this many people cared enough to say something.