Strategic Plan is to get a revision, probably not until late this year.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

January 3rd, 2019



Under the previous city manager city council got talked into making the Strategic Plan a 25 year document instead of the traditional four year time frame. KPMG had been brought in as consultants to work with city council. Somewhere along the way what started out as a four year Plan got an upgrade to 25 years.

Strategic Plan Workbook

Originally a four year plan …

There was nothing we can find on record that approved the upgrade from four years to 25 – the fee for the longer term would certainly have been steeper and KPMG would have expected to be attached to the Strategic Plan for the duration.

That’s all part of the James Ridge legacy to Burlington. Council now has to decide what they want to do with this 25 year document.

The decision has been to;

Direct the Deputy City Manager to report back to the Feb. 14, 2018 Committee of the Whole – Workshop meeting on the creation of a 4 year work plan based on this council’s priorities, with consideration of the existing 25 year Strategic Plan.

IN FAVOUR: (5) Mayor Meed Ward, Councillor Kearns, Councillor Stolte, Councillor Sharman, and Councillor Bentivegna

OPPOSED: (2) Councillor Galbraith, and Councillor Nisan.


… the Strategic Plan got upgraded to a 25 year plan.

Any revision of the Strategic Plan will not be a priority for this council but it is something that should be watched. The Strategy sets out what the city wants to do and it does look as if the Ridge contribution will be considered but not much more than that.

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15 comments to Strategic Plan is to get a revision, probably not until late this year.

  • Tom Muir

    I read a quote attributed to Winston Churchill. He said; “Plans are useless, but planning is invaluable.”

    Strikes a cord of truth in me, having gone through umpteen so-called “Strategic Plans” working in government, that were just imaginary things that eventually, and usually in short order, went nowhere.

    They were never implemented either because the politicians in charge kept changing their priorities as the world kept changing – imagine Churchill trying to get a fixed “Plan” for his war.

    Or because the voters elected a new set of politicians and kicked out the old. The old got kicked for a reason – priorities voters didn’t want.

    Is this not exactly what has happened in Burlington?

    Our new Council needs planning effort to chart milestones on the road to where they want to go over the next 4 year term, and how to get there.

    They need this in order to organize their control of the governance and decision-making process that they have to work within as a Council – the levers of power used to steer.

    If you want a new OP, you can’t just dictate one, you have to organize the governance procedures and powers to get there.

    A 25 year Plan in politics is a no-brainer right out of the box. I have no idea what they were thinking except maybe they were councilors for life, and the ego and power got them.

    This 25 year Plan may be good feed though.

    • Hans

      Churchill has a point, especially if the planning process is done well. A SWOT analysis should be essential/indispensable but I didn’t see it in Burlington’s SP….

      • Chris Ariens

        Seek and ye shall find…Burlington has a SWOT analysis which was done on behalf of BEDC, at around the same time as the Strategic Planning process was occuring.

        One of the weaknesses…”Burlington needs a strong, long term vision for the city that drives all other elements of planning and corporate activity.” Presumably the city has addressed that weakness by developing a long-term strategic plan in conjunction with residents.

        • Hans

          Thanks for the link to the draft 2015 SWOT.
          “….done on behalf of BEDC, at around the same time as the Strategic Planning process…” – yet it doesn’t seem to appear in the “Strategic Plan”?
          Maybe that’s a good thing, since the writer(s) appeared to have had a poor understanding of the concepts.
          BTW, a strategic plan with an excessively long horizon of 25 years is not the equivalent of a “..strong, long term vision..”

  • Don Fletcher

    A 25-year Strategic Plan is meaningless, except of course for the consultants who were paid to develop it and James Ridge. Mothball it. I agree with Jim that updating/ completing the new OP, particularly with a municipal planning supportive LPAT, should be the priority.

  • Chris Ariens

    Extending the strategic plan to 25 years time horizon is probably the best thing the outgoing council did and I commend them highly for it. The Strategic Plan sets the foundation and the criteria by which public servants – Staff and Council alike, make decisions that reflect the priorities of the people of Burlington. Those priorities should not change every election cycle in a well-managed city.

    The investments that council make today are investments that change the way the city will be shaped 25 years and more in the future. So will the decisions that are made in writing the Official Plan, the Transportation Plan and every other plan or strategy that Staff draft and Council approve. They need to be reflective of our City’s long-term objectives. Every decision the city makes needs to be weighed versus the perspective contained in the Strategic Plan.

    The last Strategic Plan was a very ambitious project, largely because of the amount of public consultation that was involved in its drafting – over a year in total with many rounds of public engagement in each ward, as well as online and non-traditional engagement methods including soliciting community feedback at seniors centres, malls, schools and community events. The process is all documented on the city’s website. And fittingly, it was adopted by a unanimous council vote, including the new mayor as Ward 2 councillor.

    Residents of the city certainly want to be fully involved in any revisions or re-writes of the plan because this plan effectively reflects our priorities. It is a device that enables us to hold our government accountable to us and should not be thrown out or dismissed just because new council members were elected.

    • Don Fletcher

      Chris, I understand the value of establishing a long-term vision and core values for an organization. A plan on the other hand is based upon assumptions (environmental, political & regulatory, financial, demographic, technological, etc) and I am not convinced that there are any individuals at the seniors centres, malls, schools. community events or even on Council who could credibly formulate such assumptions relevant to Burlington for the next 25 years. For this reason and with few exceptions (China comes to mind), formulating such a long-term plan would appear to be futile.

      • Chris Ariens

        Don…that’s exactly what Burlington’s “Strategic Plan” is. It provides the vision and core values that the city will operate within. (page 3). It provides key objectives, most of which were similar to objectives citizens of 25 years ago will have and most likely similar to the objectives of people 25 years from now. And it provides examples of initiatives the city can do to further those objectives, as well as benchmarks for how the city will measure itself against those objectives.

        I’m thinking few of the commenters here are actually familiar with the document. There are no forecasts in the Strategic Plan. There aren’t really any numbers in it at all. Perhaps it’s not really a “plan” per se at all. It’s merely a set of principles by which the city can conduct its business and get all of its 1500 employees with varied disciplines and experiences, on the same page working towards building the city that we citizens have told them we want through this process.

        Of key interest is page 3. This illustrates the relationship between the Strategic Plan and the other city initiatives, including the OP. It states: “The City of Burlington’s 2015 – 2040 Strategic Plan is the city’s guiding document”. The Strategic Plan is the precursor to the OP. So basically, everything in the OP is (or at least should be) reflective of the directions provided in the Strategic Plan.

        If we want to change the direction in the OP, Council need to give the staff that are drafting the OP a different direction – i.e. a new or revised Strategic Plan. Which is fine. However my point is that they shouldn’t be doing so without a similar, extensive public consultation and vote in Council.

  • Hans

    Anyone who was an adult 25 years ago and is able to reflect on what has changed during those last 25 years should understand how a plan that seeks to look that far ahead obviously must lack validity: in the short term of a year or less changes tend to be small; in the medium term the changes can involve political, legal, economic, and social issues; in the long term technology and demographic changes are a certainty; and in the very long term everything changes, even the planet’s climate. Given that the time horizon for acting to avoid catastrophic climate change has been suggested as only ~11 years, clearly 25 years is a very long term.

    The “expensive consulting firm with no first-hand knowledge or understanding of the community or local needs and interests”, as Mr. White described it so well, certainly did Burlington no favours in helping to create an invalid 25 year Strategic Plan. Maybe it would be beneficial to develop in-house Strategic Planning expertise.

    • Stephen White

      Exactly Hans!

      Survey other industries and governments and you will be hard pressed to find an organization that forecasts 25 years into the future. The rationale is fairly easy and straight-forward: the timeframe is too long, there are too many unknowns and imponderables, and the longer the timeframe the less accurate the assessment. Moreover, the reason “think tanks” like the Conference Board of Canada, the Fraser Institute, etc. exist is to fund and conduct this type of long-term research. This is also the type of broad-based research that is more appropriately conducted by industry councils or associations such as the Chamber of Commerce or the AMCTO.

      Municipal taxpayers should not be on the hook to fund this type of stuff. It is not germane to the mandate of local government, it is not essential, and it does not add substantive or qualitative value to local planning. The previous Council couldn’t accurately conduct transportation needs analyses or coordinate an an OP consultation process that wasn’t fraught with problems, yet it spent money on this stuff! Egads!! No wonder Burlington’s taxes went up at twice the inflation rate if this is the type of stuff we are on the hook to provide.

  • Pam Casey

    i like the 25 year strategic plan as it stands and with each new council during the 25 years there can be tweaks made. Please new council do not take us in a backward direction.

  • Penny

    To plan for 25 years is absolutely ridiculous. Many years ago I attended a lecture that featured Paul Martin. The one thing that still stands out in my mind is his quote ” anytime a government introduces a plan that exceeds 4-5 years you can be assured nothing will happen”

  • Stephen White

    A 25-year time horizon for a Strategic Plan is absurd….almost as absurd as engaging an expensive consulting firm with no first-hand knowledge or understanding of the community or local needs and interests to prepare it. The City could have engaged a local consultant or retired public servant to head up a task team comprising local residents and key public servants to draft this at likely a fraction of the cost that KPMG charged.

  • Jim Young

    Mixed feelings about a 25 year plan.

    Obviously planning has to have a long term view but plans for 25 years must by their nature get pretty vague and can end up as a list of pleasant platitudes that make council feel visionary while acheiving little.

    Having devoted so much energy to the 25 year Strategic Plan our last council then rushed and botched the Official Plan which is much more of a working document.

    Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater, the Strategic Plan is acceptable as is so long as we remember it is a long term wish list for our city that may and will be updated to reflect changing social and political trends.

    Let’s spend more time getting a New Official Plan which will better reflect citizen views on the books.

    That should be a much more urgent priority for planning staff who are curently hard pushed to keep up with day to day workload on OP and Zoning Bylaw Amendment Applications.

    Better to get these right. The Strategic Plan can wait.