Monday, October 30, 2006

Jackson - "MacIsaac Just Up and Quit on Us"

Mayoral candidate Cam Jackson, who quit Queen's Park to run for Mayor of Burlington, had this to say in today's Toronto Star (Wide Open Race in Burlington):

"MacIsaac just up and quit on us... "

Jackson's quote, if accurate, raises a question.

Who is the "us" that Mayor Rob MacIsaac quit on?

He didn't quit on me. Fifteen years on Council (nine as Mayor), late meetings, countless hours away from a young family, loss of privacy and on and on.

That's no 'quit.' It sounds more like a commitment to the people of Burlington.

Jackson goes on to say that after the 'quit' "a lot of people in the community approached me..." to run for mayor.

Perhaps. It is certain that many other community people had different ideas and wondered whether Jackson, described in today's article as a "polarizing figure," was the right fit for a job that is a lot about consensus building.

This quote may leave them wondering still.

But slow down - don't believe everything you read. Writer Richard Brennan notes that former mayor "Robert" Mulkewich supports candidate Richard Burgess. If you can get popular Walter "Mayor of all the People" Mulkewich's name wrong you could misquote Cam Jackson.

Couldn't you?

E -Day Minus 14

"Ever get the feeling you've been cheated."

I can't say that I know much about Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols. I lifted the line above from one of their songs. It seems to sum up the public attitude toward politicians these days.

As I look at the numerous candidates busting themselves to achieve electoral success in next month's municipal elections I recall former Mulroney Conservative Cabinet Minister John Crosbie. The colourful Newfoundlander is reported to have said:

"If I win, I win. And if I lose, I spare myself untold agony."

Or as Mayor MacIsaac said to me when I was appointed as Ward 5 Councillor for an eight month period.

"Congratulations and condolences."

Yes. It is often thankless work.

In many cases today the public's expectations of politicians has more to do with what you (the elected official) can do for them (the constituent.) Forget the broader public good.

'Get that bus off my street.'

'I'll stop paying my taxes if you don't....'

'Not in my backyard.'

And all politicians, or so the public believes, have become captive to special interest groups. But even this has changed.

Shortly before he died John Munro, veteran Liberal politician, reflected on how the times had changed. Munro noted ruefully:

"Back in the (the seventies) when you talked of special interest groups everyone knew, all parties knew, that you meant the banks and insurance companies. Today special interest means people who are poor."

Broken Promises

Yes, they all break promises. Writer, broadcaster Steve Paiken in his book The Life - The Seductive Call of Politics tells a story of a promise not broken.

Nova Scotia Premier John Savage had apparently committed to end the practice of turfing out all civil servants after a change in government. This tradition meant that staff who supported the new government were put in place in virtually all public service positions. Even road crews changed.

Challenged over this new policy at a meeting Savage said:

"I told you I was going to do this."

Then a voice at the back of the room replies:

"You know something, you did. But we didn't fuckin' well believe you."

Paiken again quotes a family member of one much maligned hard working politician:

"Why would you want anyone you love to do this?"

Am I too cynical?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Royson James Got Me Thinking

Star columnist Royson James took a break from bashing Toronto Mayor David Miller today.

In a thoughtful piece he suggests ways to create more excitement in municipal election races. (James' column can be found at

He's got some good ideas like expanding who can vote, promoting diversity etc. Other notions such as term limits and the creation of an independent election office are well intended but not practical.

Giving non-incumbents a chance is James' most significant point. Heh, I should know I'm an incumbent - sort of.

Here is my contribution. Why don't we send Toronto politicians and staff on fact finding trips to small municipalities to see how those guys manage elections. OK, they've got incumbents out in the 905 who have been around far too long but some, like mine, have already initiated reforms to "level the playing field."

Burlington, for example, eliminated Councillor references in Ward newsletters after March 31st. Politician's websites are cleaned up of that self promoting bombast early in election year as well.

Do municipalities do enough to promote the importance of voting?
James argues that Toronto doesn't.

However, a quick check of some small town and city websites shows me that info is easy to find. Newmarket, for one, encourages you to vote and tells you why it is important. (See

On second thought maybe that fact finding trip can be simplified. Do it on the web. Toronto could learn a thing or two.

Imagine that.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Nomination - Local Politician of the Year #3

This time - a group nomination. It goes to the Council of the City of Charlottetown P.E.I.

In a 9 - 1 decision last week that Council changed the name of a street that honoured the Island's only Olympic gold medalist.

Dave 'Eli' MacEachern Court named after the 1998 Olympic gold medal brakeman will now be called Eli Court.

Council was pressured last March to make a change but hung tough.

However, it appears that a petition signed by every resident on the street won the day. Council caved. Apparently the half dozen families who live on the street were concerned that the name was too long for children to remember.

CBC reports quote MacEachern as "not upset." However, the Sun Media claim that the bobsledder finds it "a bit of an insult."

Is there a lesson here? City of Burlington Ontario Councillors used to make decisions on what to call streets too. One night, running out of ideas, they decided to name a street after an apparently (and appropriately) bored reporter who was covering the proceedings.

Burlington Council now leaves street naming to staff.

Maybe Charlottetown should too.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

E Day - 34

Burlington Council report CL –13-06 recommended a change in the compensation of councillors, a small increase in expenses, and reconfirms the existing formula used to make annual adjustments to salaries should be based on the Consumer Price Index.

Council approved this report on October 10th. Beginning December 1 the Mayor will make $149,168 up from $142,704. Councillors go to $87,168 from $84,311.

The Citizens Committee on Council Responsibilities and Compensation did the research and came back with a recommendation that was in line with what other municipalities – particularly two tiered municipalities - paid.

No problem with the Citizen’s Committee work here. Such committees are invaluable in objectively looking at council compensation matters and avoiding those messy debates where politicians argue over what they are worth. (It must be noted that the pols self assessments are often at odds with public perceptions.)

The section of the report entitled “Administrative Resources” is another matter.

Overall Council expenses continue to grow.

Burlington Council is drifting towards a situation where each Councillor will have his/her own assistant. Right now two Councillors share an assistant. There are two additional reception staff. That’s five staff in total. The public spends $911,843 or $6.20 per constituent on Council.

In 1996 the then seventeen member Burlington council voted (nine in favour eight against) to shrink the council to seven. In those days 16 Councillors shared one staff person. Some argued at the time that this change would lead to spiralling costs and big city type full time politicians.

In ten years much has changed. The City is evolving from suburban to urban. Citizens expect a big commitment from their small now full time council. Those councillors work hard.

But still is this the direction we wanted to go in 1996? More Councillors with smaller wards is preferred to continued growth of staff in Council offices. Adding politicians who are, theoretically at least, responsible to the public should be a consideration for the new Council.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Left it Cleaner than he found it.

In his final State of the City address Burlington Mayor Rob MacIsaac concluded his remarks with the camper’s credo. He hoped that he had left his campsite a little cleaner than he had found it.

I served six years with Councillor MacIsaac and it his been my privilege to be working with him again over his final eight months.

And , yes, he left it cleaner.

Not enough time today to itemize a long list of accomplishments but Rob’s summary includes:

Ÿ Smart Growth Summits
Ÿ The creation of Carpenter Hospice
Ÿ The growth of the Burlington Community Foundation
Ÿ City building from infrastructure to waterfront development.

And the “renaissance” in the downtown is cresting with this week’s signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with McMaster University that will bring that respected institution to town.

“The last key link to Burlington’s march to legitimacy as a great city,” noted the Mayor.

What will face the New Council

Rob notes the challenges ahead such as:

1. Developing and sticking with the Strategic Plan which will be developed in the first months of the New Year.

2. Continuing the positive working atmosphere at City Hall where staff and Council work together in what MacIsaac described as a model relationship.

3. Recognizing the “more for less mantra as a cop out” in building a great community.

4 Implementing new planning polices that will take courage as attention must be put towards strengthening public transit and creating public spaces.

5. Preparing for the Impact of Climate Change

The New Council

Rob hopes we’ll think hard about our choices in November’s elections. He’d like to see us choose a Mayor who will be a consensus builder and a team player. An individual who is not partisan, has integrity and will be a statesman is what we need.

Sounds like Rob.

Good luck Mayor MacIsaac. And thanks.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

E Day - 41

The nominations are closed. The battle is joined. Less than six weeks to go.

Dropped in on the first election debate for mayoral candidates.

Tuesday morning's event at Robert Bateman High School featured four of the five candidates.

There were some ideas.

Richard Burgess wants to develop a symposium for north Burlington residents to better understand their issues. He also proposes a "Team Burlington type approach" to working with social/cultural agencies.

Former Burlington MPP, Cam Jackson, had few concrete ideas in his opening remarks. Jackson sees a "need for a greater dialogue" and noted that "many city projects are not paid for yet."

Councillor Joan Lougheed spoke to the largely student audience about making Burlington a "youth friendly" community through, among other things, developing a Community Youth Partnership Council.

Businessman Philip Papadopoulos emphasized his knowledge of the community. Over 240,000 people have come through his doors in his nearly thirty years working in the town.

Some Thoughts

Papadopoulos seems like a nice man who has gotten involved through his concerns regarding the development of the downtown. There are many more issues.

Lougheed was clearly best prepared, speaking confidently to the audience.

One wonders if Jackson thinks this is a coronation rather than a campaign. Fortunately, his recollection of organizing a protest against a reduction in PD days while a student at Nelson High School didn't encourage Bateman students to bring out the placards and take the day off.

Burgess appears well organized but his answer to a question on cosmetic pesticide use was a big disappointment.

Mr Burgess, it is a health issue first and foremost.

For her part Lougheed demonstrated an understanding of the battles ahead on private property vs public health issues. Burgess' idea of "giving business a chance to survive" sounds like Chamber sloganeering rather than a thoughtful response on an important and controversial matter.

Couldn't stay for the whole event. Hopefully, there will be good media coverage of these events. There won't be many of them.