Scobie on the betrayal

By Gary Scobie

October 1st, 2021



The comments section of the Gazette is heavily used.  At times there is a lot of tooing and froing – so much so that one wonders just what the writer is trying to say.

However, on occasion a writer responds with statements that are painfully true.

Gary Scobie, an intelligent, retired Burlington resident who has delegated frequently before Council, responds to David Barker who asked:  Are you are really saying the Mayor and our councilors pretended to work on stopping the over-development of the downtown? Because that’s what you wrote. You used the word “pretend”. If you are really saying that, your credibility is shot.

The Scobie response is too pungent, too painfully true to be left as just a comment to a reader.

David, here is the inaction that they created. They were well and often advised during 2018 that the only way to stop excessive numbers and heights of high rises in downtown Burlington was to

1) Remove the Downtown Mobility Hub that was a farce and

2) remove the Urban Growth Centre from the downtown.

It was named as a Mobility hub which was enough for some smart lawyers to argue that it served a mobility purpose equal to that of Pearson Airport.

The Mobility Hub was the easier one and Jane McKenna helped in showing how it could be done in the Official Plan. The Urban Growth Centre was going to be the harder one. Therefore it needed to be tackled as soon as the new Council convened in January 2019.

Gary Scobie in the middle of a delegation to city council.

The new Council decided to do one thing instead that would not help – bring in the Interim Control Bylaw (ICB) for one year that would delay processing applications but not stop their time-stamping. They decided to do a second thing that would just make it look like they cared about stopping excessive high rises – start out on an updated OP that reduced somewhat the zoning but still allowed a concrete jungle in the downtown that few citizens in the work groups supported.

This OP took months and months to update, months and months to sit on the Regional Council agenda before being rejected for a few issues. Even when it was given support, it took months again to get provisionally passed.

In the meantime, applications piled up and appeals were initiated at the “new” OLT (just an OMB remake). Time marched on and Council waited two years until 2021 to actually begin asking the Province to move the UGC to the Burlington GO Station.

Two years of wasted time on the most important task in saving the downtown that could have been started in early 2019. Even today it is still not in force until the province passes the legislation, if they actually do.

Scobie maintains this Council has betrayed its citizens

As I said earlier this year, it’s too late baby. The chance has been missed. You can’t go back in time and negate all of the high rise applications filed in good faith under the old OP and the UGC in the downtown. It bothers me and my like-minded friends so much. Council failed its supporters and pretended to work on it instead. We were betrayed.

Scobie was seldom impressed with the responses he got from members of Council.

There’s your timeline. Oh and by the way, the Interim Control Bylaw – it’s still huffing and puffing along after two and a half years of applications piling up for downtown high rises. It won’t go away until every appeal is dealt with at the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT).

Some legacy.

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12 comments to Scobie on the betrayal

  • Sunalwaysshines

    So glad to be leaving Burlington

  • Alfred


    You are crying over spilt milk. If these development applications are so outrageous and so out of keeping with all the desires of all the citizens in Burlington. Then may I suggest a Ministers Zoning Order issued by the Minister of Housing to make all this so-called over development go away. Once issued there is no appeal process. To crush all these applications made in good faith??? Nice.

  • Penny Hersh

    I discovered, through a friend ( an engineer) who at the time was working with the expansion of the Toronto subway, that Metrolinx had provided a 1 year opportunity to make changes to the MTSA and the UGC locations for those Municipalities who were working on their Official Plan ( November 2017-2018). Burlington was in this position. This was in December 2018 so Burlington had lost this valuable opportunity.

    I was certain that this information had been kept from the Council at the time. I approached a council member and asked if they knew about this. The answer was “Yes, but they didn’t think that the MTSA or the UGC location was an issue”. How short sighted can a member of council be?

    Most of us, as Blair indicated, who worked tirelessly to make changes in 2019 have felt “led down a garden path”. Council members who were running for reelection were well aware that it would be extremely difficult or impossible to make the necessary changes at that point in time but ran a campaign promising what they could not possibly deliver.

    It is my hope that for the next municipal election a group of residents get together and do “Fact Checking”. Doing this would keep the voters in the loop and result in decisions based on facts.

    • Nothing wrong with the word pretend David. This council is a master at it. After all they have been pretending since inauguration that we were on our way to an approved OP when the new Plan was never submitted to the Halton Region Council. rather it was reputedly approved by Curt Benson. These are simple facts to check right now without waiting for election. Gary and Penny and the Gazette do have the facts in Official Plan or Official Scam, every day is April Fool’s day in Burlington.

      • Cathy

        Yikes. These aren’t the facts. The OP IS approved at the Region. The Region’s Head Planner, has delegated authority from Regional Council.

        Because the OP has been appealed (which was inevitable), the OLT is scoping the appeals to determine which parts of the OP can be in force and which parts remain under appeal.

        The “pretend” and “betrayal” accusations, that are based on misinformation, undermine the credibility of the accusers.

        I agree residents must be actively challenging the planners on their recommendations and council on their decisions. Sadly, the group, Engaged Citizens of Burlington, languished and is no longer the vital force it once was. It’s been MIA since the last election.

        Hopefully, another group will come along to take its place.

        • Tom Muir


          1. Are you saying that the OP was factually approved at a meeting of Regional Council where all members voted, or was it approved by Curt Benson alone using his delegated authority, without any Council vote affirming this approval?

          Also, Can you please direct us to where in the Regional public record, or meeting minutes, where it is stated that this approval was done by Curt Benson in the absence of members of Council voting, and/or where Curt Benson officially informed Council of this approval? This is vital information to prove what you say, and to prevent more misinformation.

          2. The comments from Blair and the story from Gary, and just the most recent stories from residents indicating that challenges to planners are tightly controlled by planning procedures and laws, and City Hall politics ascribing how consultation takes place and what it consists of. There are other things, mainly obstacles and limited opportunities that virtually gag residents from “active challenges to planners and Council.”

          3. As someone who has been in organized groups several times over the last 30 years, let me tell that you should try to join on and lead on something to do what you say is needed. I, like Blair and Gary, and unnamed others, just sort of gave up wasting our time when after years of effort generated the truth that it was futile. That’s what you are seeing here and now.

          Residents need to keep engaged constantly for frustrating years and years in order for them find out at the end that the system is rigged to do what it wants to regardless of all the talk about public process, consultation, engagement, and so on ad nausea.

          The point is that most people do not have the interest or time or commitment to keep at it basically for practical forever years to actually have the experience to realize that it really is all a charade, and an essential depressing waste of all that time if you expect anything to really change.

          I have been there and have literally hundreds and thousands of email and written record on many issues and specifics over decades to prove it. Residents don’t really count in the big decisions – it’s just made to look like that so the charade characterization. These people are really just doing their job.

          All my discontent doesn’t mean, to me at least, quitting. When I worked I had a big paper note on my wall that said “Only Losers Quit”.

          4. I agree that ECoB did a great job of organizing residents in the city, I think the most extensive by I know of. But, in my opinion their enthusiasm met up with the inherent resistance and inertia of the system, and the limits of access to the powers that be in the decision-making.

          It’s just politics from the Province on down, and this is all about money and power and and how the development and planning laws and policies are set up to print money through the approvals of development and property rights to build.

          The system does what it wants and while appearing maybe to listen they only hear what they want, and residents really have no real say in what matters and what ECoB wanted to do is up against the rigged system and time needed to do it.

          I too have noticed a lull in the activity of ECoB as a group. There is an election coming for the Province and for for Council, so there is the time to getting back on the horse. Maybe Penny Hersh is saving and collecting more ammo.

          • Cathy

            With a little effort, the final Notice of Decision by Halton Region was easy to find:

            Curt Benson approved the OP because of his delegated authority. See page 20 of this document outlining the delegated authority process:

            I agree with your comments that “this is all about money and power”. The development industry has an out-sized influence on Queens Park, with no party is willing to challenge the status quo where money controls local municipal planning. Toronto-based bureaucrats at the OLT seemingly serve the interests of those with the deepest pockets.

            I suppose shouting “pretenders” and “betrayal” and feeling jaded, defeated and fatalistic strangely provides emotionally-satisfying recompense. But who wants to live like that?

            There is much moralizing on this page about the conduct of council, but little understanding of our specific context or how planning decisions are made by the City or Region.

            The previous term’s deputy city manager set a ticking time bomb with the Grow Bold Official Plan setting an approval deadline by the Region days after the new council was sworn in. The Region’s rejection of elements of that plan stopped the clock.

            Stopping the clock didn’t mean then that the city has all the time in the world to make adjustments to the Official Plan, including first doing away with the UGC. The city bought itself time by introducing the ICBL, i.e. 1 Year.

            Municipal politicians can’t simply vote away the UGC, and they can’t simply ask the Minister of Municipal Affairs to make the change with zero planning justification. And let’s not forget this minister is strongly pro-development, returning the old, egregious OMB rules and reducing the powers of the Conservation authorities.

            Add to this that 3 of the 7 council members are quite fine with the hyper-development in our downtown, and would never accept a plan for “no new highrises for our downtown”.

            And the new OP is not a document that is crafted by council, but is developed by city planning staff. Planners were excited about Grow Bold and believed they were the vanguard for re-making our city. With turnover, some of those planners are now imposing those ideas in other communities in Ontario. The remainder though still believe in the primacy of intensification at the expense of other goals.

            None of these factors should ever stop us from striving to push city staff or our elected representatives from aiming higher for our community. But ignoring political and planning realities, while thinking that a delegation in council chambers is enough and bailing from the process a year after a newly elected council being sworn in doesn’t strike me as impressive or praise-worthy effort. And the moralizing is tiresome.

          • Dave Turner

            Cathy a well articulated, even handed comment but still saying it as it is to those who do not recognize the actual realities. Thank you. It’s very welcome to this medium. I rarely enter the fray here because it is so rancorous.

  • Cathy

    Gary Scobie is right to call out the the threat of over development to our downtown, but he seems oblivious (even willfully blind?) to the planning and political realities.

    The newly elected Council could not have simply changed the Grow Bold OP without any planning justification. That would have led to a fast no at the Region, seen as political interference.

    At the beginning of this term, many of the city planners who had proudly worked on Grow Bold, would have resisted any changes to what they felt was a great plan.

    Municipal planners need to have the independence and put forward recommendations they support, otherwise the city surely loses at the OLT. Time was needed to get them thinking differently about alternative options for the downtown.

    Changing the UGC is a big deal and I don’t believe it’s been done before in Ontario. The height limits for the downtown are much higher through the UGC than the MTSA (mobility hub), so this the real prize.

    Getting Minister Clark to confirm his support for the UGC change is quite an accomplishment and he wouldn’t have done it without the planning homework needed to accept this change. I’m sure the developers were lobbying him quite aggressively behind the scenes.

    The betrayal language is silly.

  • Blair Smith

    Since Mr. Barker’s query was to me, I have provided my response here. I will not include it on the original article, since that has moved to page 2 and will not be seen by anyone.

    My Reply to Mr. Barker:

    Thank you Gary for your excellent response and for explaining to David much of what I should have covered in a much earlier reply. Again, apologies for my tardiness. I truly did not see David’s request and thought that I had scanned the comments to this piece several times. No excuse – I should have anticipated his almost inevitable defense of the sitting Council.

    David, for many of us who have been involved in the issue of downtown development and over-intensification for quite some time, there is a sense of incredible fatigue, disbelief and yes, “betrayal”, in what has occurred since the election of 2018. Again, many of us participated extensively in that election in order to prevent exactly what is happening today. I note that you are somewhat late to the game so your perceptions differ and have not been coloured by years of work and thankless, useless advocacy. In the end the developers have won, the people have lost and the landscape of Burlington will be forever changed. What an ugly City it will become.

    The first order of business for the new Council as it assumed office in early 2019 was to address the errors that had been made by several previous Councils and honour the campaign pledges that at least four of them had made. As Gary has completely detailed, they needed to quickly and decisively address the mis-designation of the downtown bus terminal as a MTSA and the existing location of the Urban Growth Centre (UGC). They did neither. Instead, they endorsed the staff recommendation to do yet another lengthy engagement exercise and develop a new precinct plan for the downtown. Indeed, the terms of reference for the study specifically excluded the issues of the MTSA and UGC as well as critical follow-on studies such as the transportation plan. The terms of reference also excluded the Old Lakeshore Precinct in the examination. These were critical flaws. The resulting consultant exercise, enacted through a ‘directed tender’, was costly, time consuming and cynical. By cynical, I refer to the fact that the precinct options presented in the workshops did not materially change during the exercise of the engagement nor was any ‘no tall buildings’ scenario allowed. The latter had the support of many of the participants and “voting”/discussion was restricted to the pre-conceived options presented in the workbooks. Those same options were the foundation of the new Official Plan.

    I won’t belabour the extremely frustrating process of delegating during the winter of 2019/2020 to recommend to Council that both the MTSA and the UGC needed to be resolved prior to a new OP being submitted for Regional approval. We were told that neither was possible under the current circumstances, then that neither had been successfully done before (as it turns out because it had never been attempted) and then that it would be addressed in the fullness of time, consistent with good planning principles. A new, approved OP with the MTSA mis-designation in effect and the UGC location unchanged would lock Burlington into a tall building scenario for the foreseeable future. But, it all fell on deaf ears. It became obvious that Council and staff were floundering. At one meeting, the staff recommendation was to let the Interim Control By-law (ICBL) lapse without notice or consultation. The rationale was that developers would submit a flood of challenges to the then LPAT if this was not done. Within two weeks, the staff recommendation changed to extending the ICBL for another year because there was a flood of challenges being registered at LPAT because of the proposed new OP and several of the late, precinct-specific inclusions made. Regardless, it became obvious to many of us who had advocated and campaigned for several years that the die was cast and, for us, the battle of the downtown had been lost.

    In addition, there were (and are) many promises that formed both campaign platforms and rhetoric that have been largely or completely ignored. I refer to necessary and relatively simple changes to the interfaces between Council and the citizens that would “open” up process and protocols; that would provide the people of Burlington with a stronger voice. There were commitments to financial stewardship and sustainable development – all of which have not been met. There were inexplicable flip flops of previous positions – such as funding of the LaSalle Marina wave break. These are separate from your downtown focus but they contribute to the feelings of betrayal and false promise.

    I doubt that I have satisfied you and I know that I have neither changed your position nor your need to diligently defend the current Council. You have every right to your opinion. But I am going to honour a failed commitment to myself and withdraw from the “thrash” of the commenting exercise. As Hemingway said “don’t confuse motion with action” – commenting seems to be largely the former and has its own strange, unsettling momentum. I’m getting off the wheel.

    • David Barker

      Mr. Smith

      Thank you for your further commentary. You are right you have not changed my view or my position. In the same way I have little chance of changing yours. I appreciate you wish to get off this merry-go-round of comments. That is your decision to make. But silence never won anything..

      As to broken promises like the wave break at LaSalle, my guess is with the huge increase in expenditure due to the pandemic, projects like the wave break have understandably been pushed back. The alternative would have been substantially increased taxes. OMG how loud would the howling have been from those taxpayers who want Rolls Royce services but are only willing to pay Civic (get the pun?) type costs.

      Just because one delegates to Council, or puts forward a plan (either as an individual or a group) does not mean your approach is the right one (or wrong one). It seems many believe because the have offered their plan by delegation, it is beholden on council to take it up. As I voiced in an as yet unpublished reply to Mr. Scobie’s comment (my reply is referred to by the editor at the beginning of this article), I believe yours and Mr. Scobie’s approach if implemented would have been the city going off half-cocked and would have met with zero success in stopping the applications for ultra high towers.

      But my real issue with Mr. Scobie is his use of the words “betrayal” and “pretend” in his comment; both directed towards the entire council. His suggestion that he, you, me, all residents have been betrayed by the Mayor and her council colleagues because they (in his words) only pretended to work against the developers is profoundly ridiculous and absurd statement. It is so ludicrous that it has the affect of him losing all credibility as respects anything else he might say.

      Best wishes. Please keep having your voice heard.

      • Mike Ettlewood


        Council approved funding for the Marina wave break to the tune of $4 million from the hydro reserve funds. Time to start howling – and come up to speed.