Resident thinks high school closings, the kind of development planned for the city and the age of city Councillors are issues to be discussed.

opinionandcommentBy Rory Nisan

October 19th, 2017



When I grew up here in the 90s, North Burlington was a suburb of a suburb. It was not at the centre of Burlington, itself a suburb of the behemoth known as Toronto. The streets were quiet at night, schools were safe, neither over- nor under-filled. Many readers will know that Burlington enjoys a high ranking on various lists of places to live and it was equally considered a top destination when my family moved to Brant Hills in 1989.

Yet, Burlington has changed. For example, it has grown. More people and more traffic. And big change is ahead for our town.

Odeon theatre + Royal Bank

Burlington has indeed changed – the old Odeon Theatre entrance and the old Royal Bank building are shown.

One of the biggest changes for North Burlington in many years may be upon us, as my alma mater, Lester B. Pearson High School, is on the verge of closure (though not if we can stop it), leading to MM Robinson and Hayden becoming XXL schools with kids spending much of their careers in portables and struggling as numbers in a big system.

A lesson that many of us who have worked to save Robert Bateman and Lester B. Pearson high schools have drawn is that we must send our best and brightest to public office, and then hold them to account between elections as well as at the ballot box. We were lulled into apathy and thus caught with our guard down when Pearson was first recommended for closure one year ago.

That unnecessary recommendation was followed up by a process of ‘consultation’ that led to little more than a rubber stamp by the Halton District School Board (HDSB) trustees, who voted on June 7, 2017 to close both Robert Bateman and Lester B. Pearson high schools. Now we as a community are dealing with the fallout caused by HDSB trustees, including several in Burlington, who were not up to the task.

Meanwhile, the city’s other elected body is overseeing major changes in the name of “mobility hubs” and “provincial growth targets” that mean that the next months and years are going to be critical to developing the character of Burlington for decades to come.

As a Gen-Y’er, I can’t help but notice the city is looking many years ahead, and including mobility hubs and the condos and young professionals that go with them in their plans, yet our voice is nowhere to be found on city council.


Haber Recreation centre – best in the city is in North Burlington.

Meanwhile, North Burlington is sometimes left out of the discussion of Burlington’s future. The city would usefully innovate and invest in building community and infrastructure in North Burlington to bring equality of outcome for North Burlington residents compared to those in the core. The south has Spencer Smith Park and all of its events; it has city hall and the lake as natural draws to bring people together.

North Burlington residents paid equally for the pier, the Burlington Performing Arts Centre and the Art Gallery.

With all of our tax dollars that have been invested in the downtown, we deserve more support for community activity in the North and the kinds of innovation, investments and energy that is brought to the downtown community.

The North has received some investment, yet we are seeing that investment being hampered in some cases. For example, the Haber Recreation Center, public library and Dr. Frank J Hayden High School complex is impressive, but its success is undermined by the conversion of much needed parking spaces into 12 unplanned and effectively permanent school portables. Furthermore the public library is being over-run by students because there isn’t enough space for them in the high school.

Podrebarac and Ridge

City Manager James Ridge, on the right, was the city council voice at the PAR committee meetings – he didn’t have much to say.

Our City Council has been nearly silent on the fallout from the HDSB’s mismanagement of pupil spaces in North Burlington, and especially on the foolhardy and nearsighted decision to close Lester B. Pearson high school, which will only make students’ lives worse. We need to hear from them on this decision that affects so many of us.

Finally, we do get out and enjoy the downtown when we can make the trip. And we want to see it continue to be a destination for everyone in Burlington and the surrounding area. Like almost everyone else, we do not want to see the lakeshore and downtown dominated by skyscrapers. With the Ontario Municipal Board being replaced by the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal soon in order to empower cities, now is the time to say “no, thank you” to 22-story buildings on the lake, and demand only the best in terms of high-rises.

Bridgewater opening with red line

Development is taking place – the three structure project on Lakeshore Road will limit the public view of the lake – the read line in the middle of this photograph is the width of the opening to the water.

Development is inevitable and can be part of making a city better, but only if the development is carefully managed to not undermine what makes the city great. There is no reason we cannot hit our development targets without the highest of high rises in the downtown core, and that should be the goal. While we’re at it, we need to stop any high rises blocking views of the escarpment as well, or otherwise changing the character of neighbourhoods.

Finally, while City Council is telling us that the city is going to grow upwards rather than outwards, it is underinvesting in public transit to the point where safety is a concern.

At a city council meeting in September, one member made it clear that ‘throwing money at the problem’ wasn’t a sufficient answer. He may be right, but that member could be usefully reminded that it is their responsibility to lead the city towards innovating and investing to bring Burlington’s public transit up to par. For Burlington to be a modern city in 2017, these investments need to be made before the growth occurs, not after.

To make Burlington truly better, innovation and smart investments are key. With a strong tax base, we have every reason to expect this from City Council. They approved a tax increase above and beyond the recommendation of the city in 2017, so it is now up to them to show us they are making our tax dollars work to bring about a modern city in 2018.

We must watch them closely and ask for the best, because (a) our taxes are high enough as it is, and (b) Burlington is capable of greatness, but only if that greatness is nurtured and effectively managed by our elected officials.

Rory Nisan is a long-time Burlington resident and Lester B. Pearson High School alumnus. He has been an active member of the Save Pearson community organization.


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9 comments to Resident thinks high school closings, the kind of development planned for the city and the age of city Councillors are issues to be discussed.

  • George

    Good Points Tom & Diane,

    Rory I remember a delegation you made to the Halton District School Board (HDSB) Trustees back in May. Your presentation was excellent and well organized as was an article you wrote for the Gazette illustrating how wrong the process to close Lester B Pearson high school was.

    The recommendation by the HDSB Director of Education and the votes by the HDSB Trustees did not intelligently consider the many delegations made against high school closures and thus fostered a discredited and faulty process as evidenced by the Ontario Ministry of Education decision to grant an Administration Review of the HDSB Pupil Accommodation Review (PAR) and control thereof.

    This has resulted in extensive anguish and trauma in this once fine community of ours. Burlington residents this nonsense with the HDSB has gone on long enough you need to make your voices heard.

    Burlington people you should consider telling the HDSB Trustees to reconsider their vote or come next Octobers election we need to change all but one Burlington HDSB Trustee and selected city councillors and replace them with intelligent persons who think clearly and express themselves well like Rory.

  • A very disappointed parent in burlington

    Wow Rory I completely agree with you. Burlington is only expanding and elderly residents are selling their homes and who are moving into those homes but young families with children who will need schools. Schools are the centre of our community but the Halton district school board and it’s elected trustees have destroyed that. That decision on June 7, 2017 has destroyed Burlington. This was all included in my delegation as well as many others but the ignorance of the Halton district school board to ignore listening to the residence was apparent . There is no need to close any schools in the north but to change boundaries. Of the 1800 empty people spaces or that was a rolling target each meeting 1500 1800, 1284 or south of the QEW Rather than allowing the very innovative residents of Burlington to come up with innovative strategies for empty people spaces the school board close to schools very prematurely. I also delegated of the unsafe situation in the parking lot at Hayden high school with the overcrowding of 12 portables because if there was a true medical emergency on the football field fire and EMS would not get to their patient in a timely fashion but these portables are acceptable by our school board and it’s acceptable by the school board

  • Diane

    Well said Rory.
    Hope that a lot of new faces/voices will be in the running not just for council but for the trustee positions. As one can see the impact by these elected officials have major ramifications. Make your voice count. Become involved. City issues and outcomes impact residents on a daily basis.

  • Tom Muir


    This is a great story from someone showing wisdom far beyond his young age.

    I think it shows us insights from 2 generations before mine, and the generation that will inherit and have to live with whatever the present decides to do.

    I am told all the time, last night at a North Aldershot meeting being the latest, that the new OP and the Mobility Hubs will take a generation to emerge, and so I don’t have to worry about tomorrow.

    Well, I disagree that we don’t have to be concerned about what our politicians and planners decide “tomorrow”, so to speak, as decision time is almost upon us.

    If this is really about the future generations, then I am sure that young men like Rory need to be heard and heeded.

    He’s not saying he doesn’t want change. He is just telling a sensible story about things he thinks are important to him, and I say they are important in general.

    I hope our council, planners, and residents in general think on his words, and factor them into their own perspective about what we are going to leave young people like him.

  • Glenda D

    And it seems all but one is gung ho on spending millions of dollars on a break wall for LaSalle Park Marina…something that will benefit a few hundred boaters and do nothing for Burlington other than looking pretty on a brochure….but of course a few council members and our Mayor seem to think it will “benefit” the City greatly…just like The Pier – Burlington Performing Arts Centre – Art Gallery – New Joe Brant Museum – and as a few boaters hope rocks in the bay for an extended Marina…..and our schools have portables.

    • Phillip

      Given the significant negative environmental impacts of this breakwall on the environment at LaSalle, particularly on the wintering of trumpeter swans–a provincially significant species, this mayor and council should ponder the politics of pandering to a few hundred boaters while alienating thousands of birders and environmentalists. Not a smart decision by any metric–but then, this mayor and council have proven over and over again that they known so much better than the residents?????

      • Hans

        Re: “…this mayor and council have proven over and over again that they know so much better than the residents?????” – That is indeed what they seem to think, and apparently they also think that winning election(s) makes them smart. If only that were true….

  • Hans

    Having lived in Burlington in the 70s and for the last 27 years, IMO it has suffered historically from *very* poor planning and the current city council leadership is failing in that regard as well.

    In addition, only one member of that council saw fit and had the courage to become involved in a school board issue that is of vital importance to residents; it was very much a political issue and council members had a duty as community leaders to become involved, but 6 out of 7 would not. The mayor avoided the uncomfortable issue by delegating it to the city manager. The same mayor presides over a (too small) council that allowed the transit system to become a major problem.

    Bottom Line: Burlington needs better quality leadership, not some career politicians who win office through incumbent advantage rather than the good judgment and work that they are very well paid for, and not someone who avoids difficult issues and won’t even tell us the true full cost of that ugly expensive mess on the waterfront.

    I’m looking forward to the next election and Rick Goldring’s early retirement.

  • I agree completely Rory – the city has to work for tax payers. Not just function as an experiment for urban planners.