Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Letter Home

Hi All,

Here is a story I wrote four years ago just after the 2010 municipal election. It was titled: "Will Burlington's New Council be Transit Friendly?" At the time I was pessimistic about how the 2010-14 Council would do on the Public Transit file.

Midway through this Council term, when I moved away from Burlington, they were cutting routes, moving money out of the capital budget that would pay for new buses, ignoring consultants reports, canning a Steering Committee etc. etc.... Did things get better?

You can read some of my "rantanalysis" from On the Bus ( ,
 a blog I wrote from 2010-12 that focussed on suburban transit - particularly Burlington. Now would seem an appropriate time to ask how the outgoing council did. What do you think? And how will the new council do? There is still a chance to influence that.


                                  Will Burlington's New Council be Transit Friendly?

                                                              (October 29, 2010)

The last one wasn't.

As the election results rolled in on Monday there was speculation at a local watering hole as to whether the new "team" will be better.

One could check out the survey on Community Development Halton's website (

Put together by Poverty Free Halton candidates were asked about their support for transit and canvassed on other issues.

Unfortunately only two of seven victorious Councillors answered.

Rick Craven, who is generally supportive of public transit, responded positively.

Veteran Coucillor John Taylor, who isn't a supporter, continues to demonstrate his lack of understanding of how transit works.

Taylor is disappointed with what he says are poor results " despite millions of dollars invested."

Taylor's analysis runs counter to that of the IBI Group who studied Burlington Transit two years ago.

These transit experts said that:

*Burlington provides a low service level and as a result has low ridership.
*Taxpayers pay less for transit in Burlington than most other cities.
*Burlington Transit needs to significantly increase it service levels.

I'm hoping new Councillors will look at this report (TT 47-08 - Transit Operational Efficiency Review).

Some returning Councillors might benefit from a re-read.

What do you think?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Barriers to Finding Housing - One Senior's Story

(Here is a story I've adapted from one I wrote that originally appeared at
Today we are talking about the barriers faced by one Hamilton senior.  Mary Sinclair spent 18 months trying to find housing that was appropriate for her.

We know Mary.  Over the years, Hamilton Community Legal Clinic staff have worked with her on various advocacy groups and committees.   Last year we were pleased to write about Mary’s much deserved recognition when she received the Diamond Jubilee medal.

Mary’s story of that 18 month housing search made necessary by health challenges  has been documented in a video put together by Anju Joshi and John Kumpunen with help from Denise O’Connor.  It is Mary’s unique story.  However, it is an important one since, as Mary says in the video, “I’m not the only senior in the City.” 

Countless others have faced and are facing the same “brickwall.”

What did Mary find most frustrating during her housing search?..."to be told that such and such is in place but when you try to take advantage of it, it is not there.  It is only ‘on paper' or it is part of ‘future plans." 

We hope you’ll watch the video.  Here is a bit of a spoiler alert. There is a happy ending to this video.

You can find it at

Friday, September 12, 2014

Crazy Town

Robyn Doolittle’s excellent and entertaining book Crazy Town (Penguin Canada) came out earlier this year.

I read it in the spring and wondered at the time about the author’s prediction that her subject, Rob Ford, could win the October election.

In her closing chapter, she suggested it was possible.
As I write today, Ford is in a hospital bed hospitalized.  Not a good spot to run a campaign from, or so it would seem.

However, as the former Star reporter now with the Globe and Mail wrote:
 “…if it were possible to run from prison, I think he would.” 

So, using Doolittle’s logic, the hospital shouldn’t be a problem.

In fact, since Doolittle’s book was released, Ford has had troubles that might have landed other mere mortals in prison.  But, as Doolittle noted his approval ratings are always up after bad publicity.  And, with the help of his goofy Campaign Manager Brother Doug and other members of Ford Nation, it is pretty certain we can expect more bad publicity.

Doolittle’s supports her argument by citing -Bricker and Ibbitson’s book the Big Shift. (The Big Shift: The Seismic Change In Canadian Politics , Business, And Culture And What It Means For Our Future by Darrell I Bricker, John Ibbitson Harper Collins Publishers, 2013)
Here they argue that a lengthy period of conservative rule is coming because of New Canadians moving into metro areas.  These people are more religious and socially conservative and averse to debt. The authors call them “strivers.” 

They want to own a home in a safe neighbourhood as opposed to “creatives." Creatives (who the privileged Fords would likely call "elites") are more concerned with “community supports, the environment and international engagement.”

That’s why Ford and politicians of his ilk will be more and more successful according to the Big Shift.

I took a look at the Big Shift and don’t agree with the authors.  Time will tell, I suppose.

Back to Crazy Town though.
Having followed the sordid Ford saga over the last few years I wondered what I’d find that was new in the book.

Quite a few things actually.  For example:

On telling the truth

Clearly, Rob Ford is challenged in this area.  He comes by it naturally, however, as his father Doug basically airbrushed” his partner out of history as it relates to developing the Deco label business

On ambition

Ford lost in his first attempt at electoral politics.  Was he discouraged?  Was he finished?

After this 1997 loss, a caller to Ford’s mother Diane to offer condolences received this response.

“Oh, no, no, Robbie’s a career politician.’”

On chutzpah

In the 2000 municipal election, the Fords approached 15-year incumbent Gloria Lindsay Luby suggesting that she run in another ward.  They’d even help her.  Lindsay Luby declined.

On my own reading off the public

Doolittle argues that Ford has a “natural gift for reading the public mood.”  Up until now, I haven’t bought this argument.  But at a George Smitherman focus group midway through the 2010 campaign, mayoral candidate Smitherman’s handlers knew their man was done when they got this comment from an attendee:
“If I have to choose between someone who wastes our money and someone who beats their wife, I’ll choose the person who beats their wife.”

On how the media is better able to track down these stories.

The author talks about a 2009 Supreme Court of Canada decision which created “a new defence for libel” that helped and guided the Star in their investigative reporting.

The decision meant that Journalists were permitted to tackle contentious issues where hard evidence was not available if reporters could prove that they:
  • ·         acted professionally
  • ·         did their best to verify info
  • ·         attempted to get both sides of the story.

For Doolittle this all lead to the night of  May 16th 2013 “the day before my life changed forever…..”  Pictures from the famous crack video went public that day.

Toronto politics hasn’t been the same since.  Many hope that after October 27th it will return to pre-Crazy Town days.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fighting McDonald's in Burlington - A Look Back

Almost 40 years ago there was an attempt by McDonald’s, the fast food giant, to put one of their stores in a small plaza in south east Burlington.

It is hard to believe but in 1975 there was only one McDonald’s in Burlington.
McDonald’s preferred location was at Kenwood and Lakeshore near what is now called Lakeside Shopping Village (it was then the Skyway Plaza) was clearly not appropriate.

Residents objected. A five year battle followed.

To the best of my knowledge there has been no comprehensive documentation of this struggle.

Jim and Judy Ryan, who were front and centre in the fight, kept a scrapbook and a few years ago I copied a 150 or so clippings from that scrapbook.

I had hoped/still hope to do something substantial on this story. I’ve made little progress.

Recently, however, I organized my notes a bit and put a very small story together. You can find it at

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Canada Day and the Bus

For some Canada Day evokes memories of loons at the lake or fireworks in the park or perhaps an outing with the family. 

My Canada Day memories primarily involve a bus.

I’m going back to July 1, 1993.  That was the first Canada Day that my wife and I rented a City of Burlington bus.  We did it to provide a service and we did it to make a point.

Then, we lived in a town where decision makers did not think public transit was important.  “Get a car or get out of town” was the mantra.  In fact, a survey of Sunday transit users had been done a few years previous. The survey determined that many riders were using the service for some purpose other than going to church or work.  Imagine!  The survey provided justification to cut Sunday service.

It seemed then, and for many years later, that there was really no reason to provide what, some would argue, is a necessary service on Sundays and holidays.  (See my 2008 blog piece at
It was in that context that I could be found dawdling in Sheldon Park that July 1st.  I’d been unsuccessful at persuading my Council colleagues of the need for holiday service so I decided to do it myself.  A route was designed that would run hourly covering the southeast portion of the City.  The route would run past seniors’ residences, go to some regular stops, past Sheldon Park and loop over to Spencer Smith Park.  Annual Canada Day celebrations were taking place there.  The bus was free.

I was in that east end park as I was somewhat apprehensive about actually being on the first run of the bus.   There had been a fair bit of media attention and I’d placed an ad in the local paper.  If I were to be its only passenger, well, it would probably be better for me if the bus were empty.   

From a distance I recall see it chugging down Pinedale and as it passed me I was relieved to see it carried many passengers. I believe I allowed myself a small fist pump not having the flexibility even then for a self-congratulatory pat on the back.  
Over the course of the day, it was a busy route. 

We learned that there were many different reasons for people to take that bus.

Some visited family at Joseph Brant Hospital.  There was no other way for them to get there on that day.  One woman I spoke with was headed over to the park to see a band she used to dance to at the Brant Inn.  She had no other way to get there.   Some people were riding the bus to get to Oakville although Oakville, at the time, had no transit service on holidays so there were left high and dry at the Pig and Whistle.

Another positive of the day was that people who never rode public transit tried it out and found it a positive experience.

We ran that bus for the next four years and as I recall it was busier each year.  One thing about renting a bus is when you’re paying you plan the route.  Call me childish, but road construction one year provided an “excuse” to take the bus right past the house of a Council colleague who was a strong opponent of public transit.  (Yes, some Councillors didn’t like buses running on their street in those days.  It is still the case, I’m told.) 

After I left Council in 1997, several Councillors asked staff to make arrangements so that they too could have their own free bus service on Canada Day.  Instead, a city-wide service was provided at city expense.  Now Burlington has service on most statutory holidays.

It still isn’t the level of service we ought to have though.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Giorgio Mammolitti

With the outrageous comments made by Toronto Ward 7 Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti this week I thought it might be worth recirculating a birthday "tribute" I paid to him nearly three years ago.  I'm not going to dignify his current remarks with comment.  However, Joe Fiorito has a nice piece in today's Toronto Star that is worth the read.

Here is my story from September 2011.

We are sensitive at When the Mayor Smiles

From the grave we hear former U.S. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew calling out those “nattering nabobs of negativism” and we know of whom he speaks.

So today we’ll take the high road and recognize someone who stands out from the norm in the world of local government.

That would be Giorgio Mammoliti. Today is his 50th birthday.

For those of you from a planet other than Toronto you need to know that Councillor Mammoliti represents Ward 7 (York West) in the centre of the universe.

He’s been in politics pretty much consistently since he was 28. Following a time as a union leader Mammoliti began his political career as part of the Ontario NDP government of Bob Rae.

Mammoliti now recognizes that unsuccessful attempts were made to “try to brainwash me in my early career by communists.” He mentions no names but it is clear from recent comments that there remain, even now, many “well-bodied able to work” types who make a career of “asking for money from the taxpayers” who are still operating. He can smell them.

Back in those formative days the member for Yorkview was not intimidated into toeing the “party line” likely leading to his defeat in 1995. Some will argue, wrongly I believe, that his vocal opposition to same sex marriage was a contributing factor in his loss to Liberal Mario Sergio in the 95 provincial election.

Not one to be discouraged though Mammoliti was successful soon after in a by-election run for North York Council. There he replaced the man who knocked him off as MPP (Sergio) by beating the man (Claudio Polsinelli) he had defeated in 1990.

Immediately the rookie Councillor got to work in trying to attract an NHL franchise to North York. The ideas just keep coming; grand ideas; big picture stuff. Here are a few:

  • Transforming the Gardiner Expressway into a park featuring a privately operated Light Rail Transit line  running from the CNE to the DVP.

  • Building a floating casino in Ontario Place Harbour.

  • Bringing in the army to crack down on drug dealers in his ward.

  • Making the ward safer through the creation of special zone for legal brothels on the Toronto Islands some distance from his ward.

  • Tolling the Lakeshore.

  • Giving guns to by-law officers thereby making parking regulations easier to enforce and additionally making taxpayers’ days by rubbing out Toronto’s horrendous graffiti problem as well.

  • Filling the lottery void we have in this country by starting a municipal one.

  • Hanging a 40 metre wide vinyl Canadian flag from a 125 metre flagpole at the corner of Highway #400 and Finch Avenue West. Oh Canada!
It is comforting to know that such long term thinkers still function in the local realm that is so often dominated by short sighted, pothole obsessed ward politicians.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Shift Happens and Four Other Good Ideas to Tackle Inequality

(Here is a story I wrote that originally appeared at

From time to time, we do book reviews.

Well, on reflection, we’ve only done one that we can remember (

Today we thought we’d do something similar.  Recently, we attended a Maytree Foundation Lunch and Learn Workshop.  We participated in the live stream.  Therefore, this will be a Lunch and Learn Workshop Live Stream Review. We have no illusions that we are the first to attempt this.

Armine Yalnizyan was the speaker at this workshop.

Armine is a senior Economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
You’ve probably seen her on TV or heard her on Tuesdays and Thursdays on CBC Radio One’s Metro Morning.

Her presentation dealt with Income Inequality. We won’t get into the details.
You’ll know that inequality in incomes and wealth is increasing in this country. It is often referred to as the Growing Gap.

There has been a real change in recent years.  It used to be that inequality came from recessions and the bottom falling out of the economy.  Now, according to Ms. Yalnizyan, “in good times and bad times the rich get richer.”

So what to do?  Here are some snippets from her five good ideas.

Don’t Make Things Worse

Axe some of those bad ideas.  The Temporary Foreign Workers Program is one that needs to return to its original purpose.Income splitting - “inequality by policy design” is another.  Similarly, those Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) don’t benefit those they were designed to help. We need to stop allowing the demonization of unionized workers and halt the weakening of employment laws as well.

Boost Economy from the Bottom Up

Why not boost the economy from the bottom up?  Raising the minimum wage isn’t just a poverty reduction strategy.  It is good for the bottom line of business.  Better wages raise productivity, increase investment and employee retention.   There are other methods such as increasing the GST credit that can also be implemented which will help those with the lowest incomes.

Tax is not a four Letter Word

Armine Yalnizyan takes this notion from the book by Alex Himelfarb (   There is lot that can be done with taxes that would help.   For example, raising the rate on incomes over $250,000 to 35% (from 29%) generates 2.5 billion dollars.  A financial transaction tax, call it an ATM fee for corporations, could net $4 billion. What could $4 billion get you?  A national pharmacare program or a $10 a day childcare program or a 50% reduction of the number of poor seniors in the country.  Take your pick.

Support the Sagging Middle Class

Many things can be done to help the middle class that will help those at the bottom as well.Ms. Yalnizyan talked about how Canada continues to bring more people into a country that is without a housing plan.  We have a housing crisis in regards to affordability but also in the amount of housing. Expanded rental stock and better development codes are imperative.

Shift Happens

Ms.  Yalnizyan emphasized the power of journalism; how writers can “shed a little light on (inequalities) and get a bit of shirking away from bad behaviours.”One example of this kind of writing is Hugh Mackenzie’s annual review of CEO’s salaries. (

Citing the activism of fast food workers in the U.S.A. that is resulting in higher minimum wages, Ms. Yalnizyan challenges us to get involved and make shift happen.You can listen to the presentation at