Lawson Hunter underwhelmed with council's response to his delegation.

opiniongreen 100x100By Lawson Hunter

November 5th, 2019



The deafening silence that followed my delegation to Council of the Whole on Nov. 4th spoke volumes. I was there to urge Council to back up their claim of a ‘Climate Emergency’ as they pondered the Proposed 2020 Budget.

V2F coverThe agenda item, “2018-2022 Burlington’s Plan Vision to Focus Financial Plan” was no doubt expected to be ‘received and filed’. However, as this would be Council’s (and the public’s) first glance at the new Budget – I jumped right on it and registered to delegate. I don’t think anyone expected that to happen. After all, a fuller report goes to Council November 18 after three closed Council Workshops to discuss in detail what is being proposed. Staff would like all this Budget stuff wrapped up by year’s end. Note: the 2019 Budget wasn’t finalized until March 26th of this year.

I visited the City’s website to gather some background and see what had been proposed. I clicked on Budget 2020 and there revealed was my first dilemma – the budget listed was for 2019.

Nevertheless, I had the 2019-2028 Approved Capital Budget and the latest version of ‘Vision to Focus’ (V2F) the guiding document that grew out of Burlington’s 25-Year Strategic Plan. Ambitious goals but no Operational budget numbers.

After an admittedly lame attempt at humour, I painted a nightmare scenario where the City took no action to address Climate Change (I called it a Climate Crisis). I asked, “What would people think of Council’s inaction 20, 30, 40 years from now?”.

In the Staff Report it stated:
It is important to note the V2F work plan is not being implemented in a vacuum, but rather aligned with organizational objectives and work plans and being cascaded down and linked into service plans.

If this is true, how is it that Council is being asked to approve a Budget without a Mobility Hub Plan; an Integrated Mobility Plan; a Climate Action Plan; an Urban Forestry Management Plan; a Green Fleet Plan; not to mention an official Official Plan?

The budget process provides a venue in which decisions are made to ensure the appropriate balance between affordability, service levels and financial sustainability are maintained.

There’s no balance to be had. We must act on all fronts and start the process today. Enough with studies. There are plenty of examples as to what other cities are doing to fight climate change. In fact, I gave various Council members a list of 103 actionable items that others cities in Canada have already put in place. Grab those concepts with both hands and start putting them into this Budget, I pleaded.

On the day before my delegation I stumbled upon the Proposed Budget 2020, all 686 pages of it. (

Approve the 2020 Operating Budget including any budget amendments approved by the Committee of the Whole -Budget to be applied against the proposed net tax levy amount of $173,597,452;

Capital Budget for the City of Burlington, with a gross amount of $85,791,551

Property taxes represent 65.5% of income for the City. The rest of the $264.9 million the City expends come from various revenues sources (think recreation fees, fines & debentures). However, the Budget default is already set at a 4% increase. Why look for any extras?

One thing that popped out at me was:
Business cases to address climate change impacts of $921K result in an additional tax increase of 0.55%

So what are we saying here? If you want to do something about climate change it’s going to go over-budget?

Additional Items for consideration (not included in the proposed budget)
I think says a lot when you dangle nice concepts such as ‘Free transit for children under the age of 12”, and ‘Additional Forestry staff to implement a City-wide Tree By-law’ out on a limb, easy to chop off so you can say, “At least we kept the Budget increase at 4%”.

I also turned to the proposed Capital Budget to get a flavour of how the City viewed long-term actions. Even though it’s a bit of ‘apples to oranges’ the ‘Vision to Focus’ listed one of its 5 Focus Areas, “Supporting Sustainable Infrastructure and a Resilient Environment” the Budget lists many of the same items as “A Healthy and Greener City”. Say it quickly – it sounds very ‘environmental’. But including Cemeteries, Parks & Rec, and Organized Sport Support are a bit of a stretch for me.

When looking at the Capital Budget, I focused on things that could possibly relate to Climate Change: Tree Management – OK, Environment and Energy – yep, Storage Water Drainage – well, maybe. And where was Transit? That came under ‘A City that Moves’ along with Parking, Roads and Transportation.

So I tallied up the 324 Infrastructure spending items in the ‘Adopted Capital Budget 2019-2028’ and organized them as: Transportation, Roads, Bridges & Streetlights = 56.5% (of budget); Parks, Community Centres, Splashpads = 29%; Erosion, Culverts, Cycling & Trails = 10%; and finally, Transit = 4.5%.

I’ll leave it up to you what you consider Climate Change adaptation, and how much emphasis the City places on my motivating concern.

Flood presentation - Burlington creeks

Lawson Hunter wanted maps which he finds don’t exist. This is the best the Gazette has.

With a minute to spare, I concluded by noting some of the shoreline clean-ups that I, and many others have done. I mentioned the Repair Café (next one on Nov. 16), my weekly environmental podcast, and the fact that I took the bus to City Hall. I’ve asked the City for floodplain maps and ‘buried creek’ and culvert maps – apparently, they don’t exist! This was not to put myself on a pedestal but to merely observe that I, and others in Burlington, are doing their best to combat Climate Change, often without much in the way of thanks.

Now it was time for City Council to do their part come Budget 2020.

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2 comments to Lawson Hunter underwhelmed with council’s response to his delegation.

  • Penny Hersh

    David, I happened to be watching the Meeting and heard Lawson Hunter’s delegation. His delegation was thoughtful and informative.

    It is unfortunate that when Council declared ” A climate emergency” it was done so without the necessary studies to see how this would impact the budget. I do believe there is a climate emergency, before you suggest that I don’t.

    What do you think about adding a tax surcharge to cover the cost of putting in place what residents would like to see done? This surcharge could also include monies going towards purchasing electric buses.

  • Lawson Hunter

    Hi David, I wasn’t looking for praise or thanks from anyone. It’s not about me, I merely used my efforts as an example to highlight the many residents who are doing great things day in day out to protect the planet. Now it’s up to Council to do their part. Please re-read the last paragraph anď chill.