Media election coverage: how we will report on the municipal election.

council 100x100By Pepper Parr

July 5, 2014


One evening after a city council meeting a number of months ago, a member of council asked me: “How are your relationships with the members of council?

I was a little taken aback by the comment, because I don’t see myself as having a relationship with any of the council members.  I have, on occasion had lunch with several of them, a drink at the end of the day with others but these men and woman are not part of my social circle.


They are all running for re-election: should they all be re-elected?   That is a decision you make – but only if you vote.

I serve as an observer of what the seven members of council do and report on the way they handle the city’s business.  I was fortunate enough to be able to sit in on all of the 11 half day sessions when the seven of them, along with all the senior members of the administrative side of the city corporation, developed the Strategic Plan.

I talk to the city manager and the general managers frequently and observe how they do their work.  A combination of my age, my experience as an observer and the fact that I am the only outside observer who has attended city council meetings, advisory board meetings and most of the workshops held by the city, I have a unique view of the seven people on council and the senior staff.  Other journalists cover Standing Committee meetings but none cover the Advisory committee meetings regularly.

Due to a health issue – had to have a hip replaced – I have not taken in the Standing Committee meetings live for the past five weeks but I have watched the webcasts and worked from that footage.  There is however nothing as good as being in the room and watching how staff react to a comment made by a council member or how one council member interacts with another.

Craven with gavel and papersOne of the most revealing off-camera events was when Councillor Craven slid into the Council chamber, seconds after the vote on a very significant development in his ward.  It is very, very rare that Craven misses anything that relates to Aldershot.  That just doesn’t happen, but it was politic for him not to be in the room for what is referred to as the Bridgeview development.

Like anyone else I have favorites and work at making sure the likes and the dislikes don’t get in the way of what I do.  My objective, and the purpose of the Gazette when it was formed, is to get the very best people leading the city.  The decision as to who leads, is made by the people who vote.  My job is to inform them, and do so in a manner that includes reporting the facts, putting those facts in context and then analyzing all the material and explaining it in as much detail and as entertaining as possible.

1028 Lakeshore Rd., one of six cottages owned by Mr. Terry.  AAA  This cottage was demolished in 1989. Note the second row of cottages in background which are located along the beach.

What used to be 1028-Lakeshore-Rd.-was-demolished-in-1989. Note the second row of cottages in the background, which are-located along the-beach.  Will the Beachway decision,  made at the Regional level, become an election issue in ward 1?

Every time the amount we pay the members of council becomes a public issue, there is a howl about the amount they are paid.   Good people are entitled to a decent income; they have no job security and while there are stretches of time, when there isn’t much work to do there are occasions, when these people work very long hours and are expected to make decisions on some pretty weak data.

The members of council have to raise the money to get themselves elected and be careful, just who offers to donate to a campaign.  They end up using some of their own money to get the job.

There is a certain amount of ego involved in running for public office; there are those who abuse the authority they have, some spend far too many years serving as members of council, while others fail to realize they are just not cut out for public service and don’t know how to bow out gracefully.

The personal lives of the members of council take a hit.  They are on duty 24 x 7 and many feel their member of council is supposed to solve all their problems.  One council member was out picking up garbage bags on Christmas Day.

Burlington’s council members are not yet at the front of the pack, when it comes to involving their constituents.  The idea that the voice of the community is like electricity – always on and always providing the light and the energy with which council members direct their actions and decisions, has yet to become the norm in Burlington, but we are getting there.

There are members of this council that just don’t like people and are too frequently rude and impolite.  We have members of council, who are not advocates of some of the services the city provides, and while they may be necessary and vital to some people – some council members see their personal views as more relevant than those of the people they represent.

Sharman Lancaster - Council April 7-14

Councillors Sharman and Lancaster – both elected to Council for the first time in 2010 and both members of the Shape Burlington group – have either of them advanced the cause of citizen participation all that much?

Some council members have grown into their jobs – others have been in their jobs too long.  Public life is hard work; there are no courses to take to learn to become a good council member.  It is the community at large, that makes good council members by calling them to account and expecting them to represent the core values of the community and to strive to be consistent and do their very best.

Market - Lakeshore-foot-of-St-Paul-looking-west3-1024x682

Was the decision to sell a short stretch of waterfront property owned by the city and the province a mistake?

Mistakes do get made – it takes a strong person to admit that a mistake was made and then fix as much of the damage as possible, and learn the lesson the mistake offered.  This council has yet to show that there is a common purpose that they are collectively working towards – and I have yet to hear the Mayor admit that something was a mistake – an honest one, but a mistake nevertheless.

In the months leading up to the municipal election, we will review and report on what the members of your council have done for you.  We will also interview every person that is nominated for office and strive to set out what the issues are for each ward, and what the key issues are for the city over all.

Air-Park-construction-site - early

Has the city got a firm grip on the air park matter? They have won all the legal battles so far, but the decision to hold on invoking a new site plan bylaw, when they learned the air park owner is going to present a site plan, has some north Burlington people scratching their heads.

Burlington has some very significant challenges ahead of it.  While we a wealthy city with many advantages, we have some major problems in attracting new business to the city; we have an aging population that will require more in the way of funding, and we have an infrastructure that was not properly maintained by previous councils and now need millions to repair roads.


Approving the six story Maranantha project on New Street was a bold move. Was it the right move?

We have several developers, who own large swaths of land, who want to convert much of that land from employment uses to residential, which is much more profitable for the developer but expensive for the city.

By all the standard metrics Burlington should be an ideal place for those high paying, high tech jobs and there have been some brought to the city, but there haven’t been enough of them.

The city finally has a reconstituted economic development corporation, but it took more than 18 months to change the leadership of that organization and hire someone with the depth and understanding needed to entice corporations to make Burlington home.

Burlington aerial of city looking at Locust up

Does the word “vibrant” really apply to the downtown core? Is there a lot more hard thinking to be done, to get a core of the city that works?

We have a city that cannot get out of the travel by car habit, and a city administration that has yet to come up with the solutions, that will get people on to public transit.  This at a time, when gasoline prices climb daily and the province is providing some of the best public transit scheduling.


Know your ward; know the candidates and make an informed decision – your taxes pay these people – and these people set the tax rate.

In municipal elections most of the attention focuses on the election of a Mayor: does the public want the one they have and is there anything better being offered.  This year it does not appear that the Mayor is going to be challenged; he should be – he needs to be called to account for some of his decisions and a tough election race will make him a better Mayor if he wins.

Some ward council seats get very competitive – ward 6 is an example this time out, with at least six people running for the seat Blair Lancaster currently holds.

Ward 4 is going to be an interesting race – there are some fundamental issues related to conflicts of interest and this city has to decide, what is acceptable in terms of looking after one’s personal interests before those of the city, as set out in its Official Plan.  The community has to make clear, what the core value is.


The waterfront and the pier were issues in the 2010 election.  With the pier officially opened for more than a year – its cost is now the issue – will the voters ask for more in the way of accountability and at least some transparency on how the cost ballooned so much?

In 2010 the attention was focused on ward 2, where Marianne Meed Ward wanted to bring her populist approach to city council.  Meed Ward used the Save our Waterfront Committee to very good affect as the lance with which she went after then Mayor Cam Jackson.  Meed Ward felt the waterfront was not getting the attention it deserved, and that the city has made a mess of its legal problems over the pier.  She believed the city could have and should have settled with HSS, the original contractor.

There was a settlement, but not the one the public was told they were going to get.

Elections are about choices.  Choices can get made, when people have information and not have to look at the ballot and put an X beside the name they recognize.

We will strive to provide you with in-depth balanced portraits, based on what we saw and heard, of each person running for public office.  Your job then is to cast a ballot.

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4 comments to Media election coverage: how we will report on the municipal election.

  • Joan

    I certainly appreciate your contribution Pepper through the Gazette. In the home we grew up in any discussion on Politics was Not permitted or on anything else for that matter. How then to learn? I find many people who are unsure of the w-5 of politics do not know where to go to find out. For eg. one person was discussing one of the parties and the leader and I asked did they know who the local candidate for that party was and they replied no. This is the case for many questions and I appreciate the Gazette but still feel there is a real need for ongoing Civics classes and Citizenship classes for everyone who does not know the answers from boundaries to candidates to parties and issues and the responsibilities of all parties and for citizens new to the country and long time to abide by the laws both official and diplomatic.

  • Pat

    Ditto to what Tony said – thanks Mr. Parr.

  • Joan Bell

    In previous reports you always use facts. I share your thoughts. Plus as a bonus share the articles with others. Burlingtonians on a regular basis do not receive ‘what’s up at Council.’ Thank and we all are thankful you have returned. God Bless.

  • Tony Pullin

    Pepper, great article! I will be sure to pass it on to others who may not yet read the Burlington Gazette. Those who do read the Gazette are grateful no doubt, for your huge contribution which keeps us educated and informed.