Where will the new city manager come from? And when will that person arrive?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

June 14th, 2019



City council should be getting very close to having made a decision on who they want as a city manager. The original intention was to have someone in place in July – that might slide a bit.

Filling that critical job is one of the more than a handful of tasks this council has to face. Hiring at the city manager level is something few if any of the current council members are qualified to do. They are going to have to use whatever wisdom they have and hopefully not base their decision on an “I like the guy”.

There are only so many qualified people in the province that can serve as city manager. The choice is of course not limited to Ontario – but with the close to chaos that is coming out of Queen’s Park having someone who has contacts and connections in the province would be useful to say the least.

There are 28 large urban municipalities in Ontario. They are:
Ajax, Barrie, Brampton, Brantford, Cambridge, Chatham-Kent, Greater Sudbury, Guelph, Hamilton, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Markham, Milton, Mississauga, Oakville, Oshawa, Ottawa, Pickering, Richmond Hill, St. Catharines, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Vaughan, Waterloo, Whitby and Windsor.

We can take Hamilton, Guelph, London, Toronto and Milton off the list; they have either just hired new city managers or we have done business with them in the past and it didn’t go all that well.

The choice could well come from what is left.

Burlington wants either an experienced, proven administrator who is ready for a change and is up to the challenge of growing a new, young city council with a feisty Mayor – and prepared to put in the eight to ten years needed to create a truly creative team.

Or, a younger deputy city manager who feels he (or she) is ready for a step up and can convince Burlington’s city council that they have the growth potential to lead them to a better place.

One of the metrics is to look at the quality of the civic administration the candidate comes from. I want to use two examples to make the point: Welland and Thunder Bay.

A full page article on Welland in a recent issue of the Globe and Mail is the kind of news a city would go to some length to get.


Vehicles go under the Welland while ships sail past. A significant engineering feat.

Part of the content reads: “A unique convergence presents itself to truckers, engineers and helmsmen approaching the Townline Tunnel from the north, south, east or west of Welland Ontario. While it’s not a regular occurrence, big rigs and Canadian Pacific Railway trains have been known to simultaneously pass under the Welland Canal in Ontario’s Niagara Region at exactly the same time as lake freighters ply the waters directly overhead.

“That intersection is priceless,” says Welland Mayor Frank Campion. “Our industrial amenities and transportation infrastructure are attracting industry and the jobs associated with it, and align perfectly with the federal government’s plans for transporting goods on an international scale.”

“Combine this with bountiful incentives and a wealth of newly zoned land, and it’s no wonder commercial and industrial real estate development is growing at an unprecedented rate in the Rose City.

Welland’s building boom, which started about two years ago, owes much to the continuing divestment of some 1,600 hectares of federally-owned land along the working canal. “There are several plots we will be interested in purchasing as soon as they come up for sale,” Mr. Campion says. “Given our current levels of residential and industrial growth, we need to have enough land inventory for the future.”


The Welland canal is a huge plus for the city – and they have made the best of it. But the ships that float through the canal don’t put all that much money into the local economy.

A recent federal transport and infrastructure committee recommendation to use canal corridor lands to boost Niagara’s economy has only strengthened the city’s bid to build a dock and loading area on the working canal with financial support from Ottawa’s $2-billion National Trade Corridors Fund, which began a call for proposals in January.

The value of the 726 construction permits issued in Welland in 2017 – $164,548,600 – was more than double that of 2016, with the 802 permits issued in 2018 setting a new record.

Welland water pond

Welland made good use of what they had.

The original route of the fourth Welland Canal, which passes through the city centre, is lined with bike paths, parks, a 750-seat amphitheatre, and the 12-year-old Welland International Flatwater Centre, which hosted canoeing and rowing events during the 2015 Pan American Games.

“The proximity to the U.S. border and major highways, combined with the ability to apply for tax, duty and tariff exemptions, gives us a real advantage,” said Mayor Frank Campion.  “The City of Welland has a very proactive team, and that’s attracting skill sets to the region and bringing the younger generation back. It’s exciting to see all the momentum.”

Dan Degazio, the City of Welland’s director of economic development said: “Companies are paying $200,000 an acre for commercial-industrial property in the GTA. In Welland it’s $125,000 an acre – serviced, configured for drainage, and ready to go. You can be in the ground in eight weeks. In the GTA, I’m hearing stories of 30 months for a permit. We work to accommodate whatever needs to be done. When GE bought here in 2016, they needed to be operational in less than two years. We had them in the ground in eight weeks.”

Can you even imagine a developer in Burlington getting much beyond the application stage in eight weeks?

Mr. Degazio also credits the area’s relatively low wages and cost of living for enticing industry. “I’ve been in touch with a decent-sized GTA employer that’s looking at putting in a 200,000-square-foot building. The owner asks me, ‘Am I going to be able to hire anyone for $18 an hour?’ And I told him: ‘All day long.’ Here, your employees get twice the house for a third the cost.”

“In the last few years, city council has done what needed be done to create an environment that encourages growth,” he says. “Instead of just policing, the Welland Development Commission assists in expediting projects. One of our clients came to Welland last June to set up a 75,000-square-foot food production facility. By the end of September he had purchased the land and in October we were building. That’s unique. In most communities, it takes much longer to complete the process.”

In Burlington Mayor Meed Ward is doing her best to improve the way business gets done with a Red Tape Red Carpet initiative that has her listening to what people from different sectors have to say; there were some positive comments – but they were outweighed by the problems that were impacting every sector.

Now take a look at Thunder Bay where the Police service has been severally criticized by more than one investigation. Growth has stagnated and there is little in the way of hope, energy or enthusiasm to be shared.

Thunder Bay’s problems with its indigenous community have scarred the city. The racism is rampant and sucks the pride, the energy – the very lifeblood out of the community.

A series of external investigations, including a 2015 Ontario coroner’s inquest into the deaths of seven young First Nations people in the city; an Ontario independent police review, released last December, which found the Thunder Bay police force to be racist at an “institutional level”; and a report, released two days after that, by Senator Murray Sinclair, in which he pilloried the city’s police board for failing Indigenous people who are the targets of hate crime.

The problems Thunder Bay faces today are the result of the bad roots that were put down decades ago and allowed to grow out of control and kill what was good in the community. Thunder Bay is a classic example of what hate can do to a city.

According to Statistics Canada’s police-reported crime statistics for 2017, the homicide rate in Thunder Bay was 5.8 per 100,000 population making the city the murder capital of Canada.

News coming out of Thunder Bay is so relevant to the problems Canada has with its indigenous community that the Globe and Mail opened a Thunder Bay bureau.

How does a city get to this point?

Thunder BAy Skyline

A bleak looking skyline of a city with a bleak looking future until it cleans up the social rot that civic leaders allowed to exist and destroy the social fibre.

There are other cities with large indigenous communities; Winnipeg and Saskatoon are examples. Historically Canada has not served its indigenous people very well. There are still hundreds of indigenous communities with Boil Water advisories. Burlington MP Karina Gould spoke with some pride that the federal government has erased 85 Boil Water advisories last year. We should be ashamed that we have even one community where the residents have to boil the water they use.

In a recent article the Gazette published on the two Special Advisers appointed by the provincial government to do a review of the governance of nine Ontario Regions; Ken Seiling, a now retired politician who served as Regional Chair for 30 years,  talked about the values that are needed to serve at the municipal and provincial levels.

“There are things that leaders do not let happen” – that leadership was missing in Thunder Bay for decades.

Burlington is now looking for the administrative leadership it needs as it stares at 30 + development proposals that need to be responded to; a change in the required level of growth in the city and a keen desire to see the right kind of growth in the right place take place.

The citizens made it plain that they wanted a different form of leadership at city hall and elected basically a brand new council and bumped one of the old Councillors up to Mayor – who believes she has a mandate to bring about change. The day after she was sworn in she ended the contract with the existing city manager.

The significant seven who sit in the new (but drab) council chamber are now going through the interviews to determine who they want to hire as the city manager who will re-shape what is currently in place.

Full council

The budget is a big deal, the revision of the Official Plan is a BIG deal – the hiring of a new city manager is the biggest deal these seven people will complete this term of office.

Hopefully they will take a hard look at where the candidate came from – hopefully a Welland type where the attitude is progressive, the people are keen and the municipality is just roaring. That is perhaps why the Burlington Herd, the amateur baseball club in the Inter County Baseball League left Burlington for Welland.

What Burlington wants to avoid is choosing someone from a Thunder Bay situation where the problems are deep and will require years to reverse.

It is all about leadership and past experience is one of the best indicators on what to expect from the person hired.

Salt with Pepper is the musings, reflections and opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette

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