Friday, December 28, 2007

Mellowing on Mulroney

The festive season has mellowed me. It is time to cut Brian Mulroney some slack.

Consider this: He has accepted responsibility for his dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber.

"I realize I made a serious error in judgment...” "That mistake in judgment was mine alone,” he told the Commons Ethics Committee.

Like Frank Sinatra he has some regrets. He regrets taking cash payments in brown envelopes, regrets stashing them in safety deposit boxes and mostly he regrets knowing Schreiber.

We all make mistakes. And as my MP, Mike Wallace (Burlington) said of Martin Brian Mulroney, 18th Prime Minister of Canada:

“(H)e wasn’t really thinking that well at that particular moment.”

Like Wallace I want to focus on the good this man has done.

The Legacy

There is the Free Trade Agreement, of course, and the Acid Rain Treaty, the Goods and Services Tax, Ben Mulroney, and more.

Significant accomplishments all but it says here there are even positives in his dealings with Schreiber. In time these will be better understood and become part of his splendid legacy.

Take those light armoured peacekeeping vehicles. I’m for peace and so is Brian Mulroney. Along with the two hundred and twenty five thousand dollar bills (or was it three hundred bills?) came a “mandate” to move these vehicles. Not surprisingly Mr. Mulroney took his responsibilities seriously. If Yeltsin and the Russians hadn’t been a little short of cash, is there any doubt that the peacekeeping vehicles would have helped with the “problems” in Chechyna?

We eagerly await more details on that other project the former Prime Minister was assigned by Schreiber so as to further “the international dimension of the mandate.” That would be the anti-obesity pasta project where Mulroney was to seek help from his amigo Bill Gates. Schreiber speculated it could lead to Nobel Peace Prize. Pasta for peace - once again Mulroney on the international stage.

The Point

So what does all this have to do with municipal politics?

American politician Tip O’Neil once said: “All politics is (sic) local politics.”

Mulroney, a most successful practitioner of the second oldest profession knows that. I too, as a recovering local politician should know that.

And yet many years ago at a committee dealing with the Official Plan how could I not have understood? The lobbyist who repeatedly fibbed in response to my questions was kind enough to contact me the next day to say that “I can’t tell the truth in that sort of public forum.” If we could just get together for a beer, he suggested, he could explain.

Silly me. I should have taken the beer. It might have contributed to world peace.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Pinball May Not be Next Mayor of Toronto

For some time the media – the jock media at least – has suggested that Michael “Pinball” Clemons is destined to be the next Mayor of Toronto.

It “ain’t” going to happen.

Pinball, Toronto Argo Coach until yesterday, is the new CEO of the Boatmen. So he is too busy to be mayor, right?

Well that’s part of it. Yesterday on the Fan 590 Prime Time Sports Clemons spoke passionately and sincerely, I believe, about his commitment to the Argo anti-violence campaign. That will be a big part of his new job.

Will he coach again? He wouldn’t rule it out nor would he rule out municipal politics.

In the interview “Pinner” recounted an apparently serious approach to him to run for the top job in last year’s Toronto elections. An influential person was going to help him with his citizenship.


Pinball, Florida native, long-time Argo, is not a Canadian.

Not a problem noted know-it-all talk show host Bob McCown. You don’t need to be a citizen to run for mayor. Pinball now has one less worry.

But hold on McGown is wrong, of course. Section 17 of the Municipal Elections Act (1996) is quite clear. You’ve got to be a Canadian citizen. You must live in the town where you wish to be a candidate as well - another qualification that the gridiron great may lack. (And at the risk of be labelled a wet blanket I'll bet I can find a few people out there who may think that experience in municipal politics is another necessary qualification.)

Here’s hoping Pinball sticks to fighting violence and steering the Argo ship.

And let’s hope McCown sticks to what he does best.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Last week’s brouhaha over the province’s mis-management of its program for approving vanity license plates points out that such a job would be best be handled by someone other than government.

If you missed it a retired United Church Minister wanted to replace her nineteen-year-old plates with the exact same plate. “REV JO” was deemed inappropriate by the powers that be as it could incite road rage. Get it. I think I do. Read that plate and you’re sure to put the pedal to the metal i.e., rev(ing) it.

Proposed variations which apparently promoted Christianity were also no-no's.

Incidentally, these plates were given to Rev Jo by a friend as a gift to commemorate her call to the Ministry.

We think it is time to privatize this particular government service. Whenthemayorsmiles is prepared to help out, saving the oppressed taxpayer hard -earned dollars and eliminating this particular costly and clearly ineffective bureaucratic body. Our area of so-called expertise is local politics. We’ll assign the plates from now on. Here goes.

Hazel McCallion, Mississauga Mayor PAVEDIT

Gary Carr, Halton Regional Chair CHAIRSCAR

Rob MacIsaac, Chair, GTTA IM4TOLLS

Jack Dennison, Burlington Councillor TAXMAN

Cameron Jackson, Burlington Mayor TEAMLDR

Sam Merulla, Hamilton Councillor IM4ME

Brian Mulroney, former Prime Minister LIONBRYN
(recently seen in these parts flogging his book)

Rob MacIsaac, former Mayor of Burlington SLOMUNDY*

David Miller, Mayor of Toronto NOMUNDYS

*Given the uprising he faced over the imposition of downtown parking rates on the citizens of Burlington when MacIsaac was that city's mayor your Blogger is certain that his former worship would be more comfortable cruising his hometown with the name of his well known (locally, at least) band than promoting something as heinous as road tolls. After all it could cause road rage.

Never mind. We’ll get back to work now.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Toronto’s Integrity Commissioner has ruled that Councillor Rob Ford is violating City policy by not revealing his expenses.

Official records indicate he spent none ($0.00) of his permitted $53,100 in annual office expenses. Ford, “a principal of a successful Etobicoke business" who claims to bring “a bottom line and customer focus” to city hall, is well off and covers expenses out of his own pocket. A December 12th meeting will look at what can be done to Councillors like Ford who ignore policy. Sanctions, including loss of salary, are permitted under the new City of Toronto Act.

I suspect this will get sorted out. Meanwhile Ford has posted each Councillor’s expenses on his website

My Favourites

I’ll allow that context is important but…here are some of my favourite Toronto Councillor expenses:

$$$ 1 meal, 2 coffees, 2 glasses of wine and two martinis at the Crush Wine Bar. The bill came to $112.12.

$$$ 10,000 magnets for only $2,904.27.

$$$ $34.19 for a blue case for a Blackberry.

$$$ Twenty dollars and one cent ($20.01) of gas from a Shell station.

$$$ More than thirteen hundred dollars in annual kilometrage for one Councillor who bills from his own doorstep. Didn’t you always pay your own way to get to the office?

$$$ Consumption of one chicken quesdellia, two lbs. of wings and 1 - 20 ounce beer (Keith’s), 1 - 13.5 ounce beer (Keith’s), 3- 20 ounce beer (Stellas) and one small Stella at a meeting with constituents. (Call me cheap but I never treated my constituents so well. Not with public dollars. )

$$$ Purchase of books – like the Undercover Economist whose first chapter is titled (ironically?) “Who pays for your Coffee?”

$$$ Subscriptions to the Star, Globe and Mail, Sun, National Post and MacLeans and a $35.00 for a subscription to Toronto Life magazine.

$$$ French language training at a cost of $1,576.80. Incroyable.

Look it up for yourself. You're guaranteed to find some expenses that will amaze.

OK, Some Context

Above the office expenses Toronto Councillors earn $95,000 annually, get three office staff with nearly $200,000 in salaries, receive a month severance for each year they serve when they leave and an additional $3,500 in adjustment expenses.

A case can be made for transparency and the need to report all expenses but surely an equally strong case can be made for tightening up on what a legitimate expense is.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Poet at City Hall

Did you catch Jim Flaherty’s cheap shots at municipal politicians? The Federal Finance Minister called them “whiners.” And as far as his surplus helping out the locals the Honourable Minister notes that he is not in the “pothole business.” We’ll assume that this statement reflects Flaherty’s interest in bigger issues such as denying global warming and ignoring the alarming levels of child poverty in Canada.

Perhaps the former Harrisite should read URBAN MELTDOWN - Cities, Climate Change and Politics as Usual by City of Ottawa politician and poet Clive Doucet.


Doucet talks a lot about “disconnections” in the book. Flaherty, I suppose, could be the poster boy to illustrate the disconnect between city governments and national politics and the gap between government and the people. We can’t continue sailing when there is a fundamental disconnection between “those on the bridge and those in the engine room.”

The Problem

That disconnection has a lot to do with what Doucet perceives the public wants - which isn’t what they are getting from governments. Governments have created global warming by “treating the planet’s biosphere like a vast sewer.”

Doucet argues that we have the knowledge to address the issues. The problem is our politics.

For example, the trend to “just in time delivery” has lead us to building warehouse districts rather than cities. Road construction and maintenance needed to accommodate cars and the kind of new development that gets approved now takes up one quarter to one half of municipal budgets. Municipal candidates get financial support from the development community. See the connections?

We are in big trouble.

“The Rise of Cities and Decline of the Planet”

Eighty percent (80%) of greenhouse gases that are “cooking the planet” are created by cities.

Doucet goes back to ancient Rome to draw a parallel of the collapse of that advanced civilization to what could face us today. Rome came down not by military defeat or economic problems but political problems “like rotten stitching coming out of an old baseball.”

We’ll suffer the same fate unless we develop the political capacity to respond to our environmental and social challenges.


In a general way Doucet sees the reclamation of our citizenship as a key. We have to begin to see ourselves as a “sharer” of our planet rather than an occupier.

He advances some fairly specific ideas that assume political reform is a priority. Local government “by default” will be “the key to braking global warming.

We need more Clive Doucets on municipal councils before that happens. And we’ll need to reform campaign funding to keep development money out of city halls.

Go to for more on Doucet's ideas.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Mac Announcement Catches City by Surprise

Only a year ago McMaster University and the City of Burlington signed a Memorandum of Understanding to build a new campus on a site in downtown Burlington.

Today, in a letter to the City, the Hamilton school says it has changed its mind. While it is making “progress” it will be pursuing new sites within the City i.e., not downtown.

Only last year (October 6, 2006) McMaster President Peter George said:

"Burlington's downtown will be an exciting place for our students, faculty and staff to be. "This location in particular allows our students and faculty close connections with the business community, while enjoying close proximity to the many support services they require."

“Any More Surprises”

At Community and Corporate Services Committee of Burlington council on Tuesday(October 30) one Councillor said the City has been “spurned.” Another Councillor interpreted it differently - McMaster is merely going back a “half step” to their previous position of wanting a campus in Burlington not just a 120,000 square foot downtown site.

No matter what your interpretation “hundreds and hundreds of hours of work” by city staff appear to have been wasted.

A motion to ask senior McMaster staff to come to the table with Burlington politicians ASAP was passed. In spite of two teams working on the project (joint negotiating and joint project teams) we still got surprised noted Councillor Rick Craven. “Will there be more surprises?”

A Short Leash

Councillor John Taylor noted that “everything was wonderful” from the University’s perspective when they met with Council last February. Then there were no plans for a campus. Now it appears Mac is trying to put the City on a “short leash for a December decision” that will apparently be made by the University’s Board of Governors.

"McMaster is anxious to finalize its plans in Burlington. This project has been evolving since its inception and we continue to look forward to working in partnership with the Mayor, council and city staff," says University Vice President IleneVP Busch-Vishniac in their letter.

Back To School

Working in partnership, eh? I’m going to have to go back to school to get a better understanding of what partnerships are about. This one seems rather one-sided.

At the end of the day though I don’t think the City will be pushed around.

Orwell Would Worry

Through his writings George Orwell raised many serious concerns regarding how we use or misuse language. In 1984, he introduced readers to “doublethink” and “newspeak.” The concept of doublespeak came after his death.

I’m not sure what concept the following story illustrates but I imagine Mr. Orwell would have a word or two on how we manipulate language should he come across recent Burlington reports.

A Committee is Born

In the year 1984 the City of Burlington (Ontario) formed a citizen committee called the Mundialization Committee. Its stated mandate was/is to promote the city as “a World Community” dedicated to the UN philosophy of peaceful co-operation among the peoples of the world.

Responsibilities and Objectives of the Local Committee

According to a recent report (October 4/07) the committee is involved with numerous programs that promote Burlington as a global community. Programs include celebrating United Nations Day, maintaining Twin-City relationships with Itabashi (Japan) and Apeldoorn (The Netherlands) and acting as a catalyst between the twinned cities and within Burlington so as to involve citizens in activities that “share our differences.”

Many hard working and dedicated volunteers have toiled on this committee but is what they are doing mundialization?

Mundialization is …

The concept of mundialization stresses awareness of global problems, a sense of shared responsibility and a commitment to solving problems through a just democratic world law rather than force. Cahoors France was the first mundialized city in 1949. Many other communities particularly in France and Japan have followed suit. Dundas (1969) was the first Canadian municipality to go this route. (see Wikipedia for more.)

A Proposal

Burlington resident Peter Hubner’s recent suggestion that our community develop a partnership with a “third world” country failed to find favour at the Mundialization Committee or with city staff. A committee report (CC 187 – 1) dismisses the idea as it doesn’t “match the current assessment criteria used for evaluating inter-municipal relationships.”

"Criteria." Are you ready for this? Those criteria include:

# Adding value to the city’s strategic plan.

# Consideration of lifestyles.

# Level of interest in the business community.

Is this doublethink, double speak or something else? Let’s call it Burlspeak and acknowledge that we really can’t allow ourselves to call this work mundialization anymore.

In the meantime, I hope Council will take another look at Mr. Hubner’s idea – one that is more in harmony with the original intent of mundialization .

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


(from the 70’s hit song All Right Now by A. Fraser / P. Rodgers)

Today’s question:

Can Municipal Councillors find more important things to work on then parking rates?


Probably not, judging by the recent kafuffle at Burlington City Council ably reported on by Spectator columnist Joan Little.

I confess to flashing back a year when as a caretaker Councillor I had to deal with the same issue.

Calls and e-mails poured in like seawater through a New Orleans levee after staff recommended implementing a fifty cent per hour (I think) parking rate on downtown meters. The recommendation followed a year of dialogue with downtown businesses, focus groups and work of a paid consultant.

After all of that well … let’s just say in the annals of taxing injustices this one ranked right up there with that tea party in Boston when Sam Adams and wealthy American smugglers rallied against British imperialism.

Your humble blogger/former caretaker Councillor got caught up in this and (worse perhaps) another later debate over the necessity to purchase “historic looking” parking meters that could better fit into a heritage neighbourhood.

Let’s face it, it is hard for any Councillor who claims to be responsive to public input to ignore constituent concerns.

But there are more important issues.

How about the fact that all Ontario Great Lakes municipalities including ours aren’t meeting legislated reporting requirements on the health of public beaches? (see for more)

That might be worth some consideration and debate.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


Since 2002 a Halton Region advisory committee has been quietly working on the nuisance algae problem.

I’m a member that committee - the Lake Ontario Shoreline Algae Action Advisory Committee (LOSAAC. The group is putting the finishing touches to a report going to Council.

This “nuisance” problem is primarily an odour. A stink this summer lasted 8 or 9 weeks - longer than in recent memory. Caused by an aquatic plant called Cladaphora the smell won’t kill us – but we should be concerned.

I am not a Scientist but.....

The science to the smell is this:

· Wastewater treatment and other human activities put phosphorous into the lake.

· An invasive species, zebra mussels, clean the water, ingest large quantities of phosphorous, and then poop it out on the lake bottom where it sits ready to help the algae grow.

· Population growth means we are putting more phosphorus into the lake. Conservation Halton, using actual flow measurements and water sampling, has calculated that we dump 13,611 kilograms of phosphorus into the lake each year. A scientific team working with LOSAAC says when we are built out we’ll be loading 23,192 more kilograms into the lake each year making it a more attractive place for cladaphora growth and smellier too.

Invasive species, phosphorous, hardening of the shoreline and population growth all contribute to the algae problem but there is a bigger picture.

Beware of Invasive Species

In 2005 several scientists put out a paper called Prescription for Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection and Restoration. They claim that we are at a ”tipping point of irreversible changes.” Areas of the lakes are experiencing ecosystem breakdown. Stresses have overwhelmed natural processes “that normally stabilize and buffer the system from permanent change.”

There is some improvement (e.g. contaminant trends going down, the return of bald eagles and cormorants) but the overall trend is disturbing.

“The near-shore aquatic system has lost its ability to adapt to changes, loss of shoreline, the destruction of wetlands, and urban and agricultural run off. These trends are accelerating.”

In one of several workshops organized by the province’s Environmental Commissioner and Pollution Probe held about a year ago one participant noted:

“The problem isn’t invasive aquatic species, toxics, climate change, or any
other of the many issues we face. The Problem is us. Our lifestyle has to adapt to the environment. Until we humble ourselves, and understand that we are the invasive species, we won’t get it.”
(A Public Dialogue on the Future of the Great Lakes.)

I’ll return to algae and the Great Lakes in future postings.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Cosmetic Pesticide Use

A special meeting of the Community Development Committee (CDC) of Burlington Council will be held this Tuesday.

The lone agenda item will be a look at restricting the cosmetic use of pesticides.

Procedural tomfoolery at last week’s CDC saw staff sent away to check on whether Council has already dealt with the matter this year (they hadn’t) and to revise their report.

The new report takes out the recommendation that actually authorizes staff to proceed with developing a by-law. (Certainly wouldn’t want staff dashing off headlong and doing something that two-dozen municipalities in Ontario have already done.) A final Council approved recommendation could change this.

An Old Issue But Some New Views

Burlington Council has dealt with this one before. In fact, four of the current group of seven approved some outreach and an awareness campaign in 2002. Pressure from the professional lawn spraying lobby and lack of support from the head Halton health honcho, Dr. Bob Nosal, has meant nothing has happened since then.

However, the good doctor has changed his mind. He writes:

“…Given the limitations of current provincial and federal regulations, the Medical Officer of Health supports initiatives and measures taken by municipalities to reduce the use of pesticides for lawn care including by-laws that restrict pesticide use on private property.”

Watch what you drink

Nineteen year Council veteran, John Taylor, believes “there is no proven causal relationship between pesticides and disease when pesticides are properly used.”

According to Taylor, council’s only known chemist, it is “just a case of dosage and exposure.” Taylor notes that there are even two documented cases of drinking excessive amounts of pure water leading to death. I doubt that Taylor will be swayed by arguments from the delegations this week.

Councillor Rick Craven might though. His vote to support moving to a by-law will leave Cam Jackson to break a three-three deadlock.

Here’s hoping that the Mayor sees his way to supporting a by-law without the need for excessive and costly consultation.

With our increased awareness of the damage we are doing to our environment this really shouldn’t be this difficult.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Perhaps your blogger was too harsh in criticizing the staff report on carbon dioxide reductions in a previous posting. And after all Burlington Council, not staff, call the shots.

So off to the Council debate at March 27th's committee to be enlightened on the corporation's action plan to conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

First, the Sustainable Development Committee delivers a passionate, well researched presentation pleading for a 25% reduction in carbon emissions over 1994 levels by 2012. After all more than 400 other North American communities are already doing this.

Councillor Rick Goldring (Ward 5) won't go quite that far but argues strongly for a 20% reduction by 2010. Polls show climate change is the public's top concern ahead of health care and education, Goldring notes.

"We can analyze to death but we must take action," says Goldring.

Similarly Councillor Rick Craven (Ward 1) calls for "real action" and the need to "translate our intentions" if we expect citizens and the broader community to act on climate change as well.

Veteran Councillor John Taylor (Ward 3) believes support for Goldring's views would be the equivalent of signing a blank cheque - something he has never done in eighteen years on Council. Taylor wants the issue to go to Strategic Planning but tips his hand on his position in a rant about empty buses and how we have been "throwing money" at public transit for years. News of such spending will surprise riders of squeaky braked 24 year old buses.

Councillor Jack Dennsion (Ward 4) agrees with Taylor. It is a strategic planning issue.

Mayor Cam Jackson acts "mayoral" and says both Goldring and Taylor are right. Your blogger double checks his notes. How can this be?

Jackson thinks there is a bigger picture and wants to get all council onside through the Strategic Planning process. Good luck to you, Mayor Jackson. Achieiving a Buzz Hargrove/Jack Layton reconciliation would be an easier task.

Councillor Peter Thoem (Ward 2) is glad that we are finally talking about this critical issue which he is happy to deal with at strategic planning.

Committee Chair Carol D'Amelio, in earlier questions, seems to indicate that our expectations shouldn't be too high. We are a growing community and so emissions can be expected to go up.

Here's hoping that Council will get its act together on to this critical issue.

Strategic Planning (Future Focus) starts April 2nd. The process could use some input. Give your Councillor a call. Ask them to live up to the previous 2002 committment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Tell them this matters.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


The City of Burlington is committed to being “a leader in making a high level of environmental performance a primary goal of its policies.....”

So how is this leader in high level environmental performance doing? Let’s look at greenhouse gas reduction and a report coming to committee of council this week.

In 1994 the City of Burlington pledged to reduce its corporate greenhouse gas emissions by 20%.

These emissions are actually up by 21% according to a staff report being discussed at Tuesday March 27th meeting of Community and Corporate Services Committee. But that isn’t too bad because our population is up 16%, say the report’s authors.

And rather than address how to get to the goal the report suggests the goal be changed.

It references the 20% target.

It looks at the Kyoto target of a 6% reduction.

It contemplates getting back to the 1994 levels.

And finally opts for a new per capita target 40% poorer than the one envisioned in 1994 . (The new target is recommended to be. .07 tonnes per capita emissions versus the .05 tonne goal when the city set the target.)

Other cities are reducing their corporate emissions. Toronto has cut back 36% from 1990 levels. And if a growing city like Calgary can maintain a 6% reduction target surely Burlington can do better.

It is hoped that environmentally aware councillors like Rick Goldring will send this report back for more work or reconfirm the old targets and find ways to achieve them.

Otherwise the city’s self proclaimed role as an environmental leader will be exposed as the fish story it has become.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Disingenuous and Duplicitous - Indeed!

When former colleagues of yours are called names you take notice.

Burlington Councillors and Mayor Cam Jackson were recently called "disingenuous" and "duplicitous" by Hamilton Councillor Margaret McCarthy according to the today's Hamilton Spectator.

Let's see "duplicitous": Comes from the word "duplicity". It means tricky, suggests you're deceitful. It implies double dealing.

And "disingenuous" - lacking simplicity, frankness or sincerity; not straightforward; crafty.

Flamborough representative McCarthy uttered these harsh words after Burlington Council came up with what was described as a "compromise" position on the possible expansion of Waterdown Road.

When the name calling comes from a Hamilton politician, in a city where a major achievement is to get a quorum for a council meeting and civility and respect for the public are not often present - well, as my father use to say "consider the source."

The only thing achieved by such mud flinging is to raise the name calling politician's profile in the local press. Mission accomplished.

McCarthy is also quoted as saying the city's new position is "not defensible." This "d" word comment merits consideration.

One can argue that there is no Burlington position now. Not yet. Staff have been asked to take another look at the file.

One suspects, however, that when they come back with the same professional opinion that they put forward a year ago and when the various other experts (Conservation Authority, Escarpment Commission and Regional Planners) hold firm we'll find that Burlington may be on the hook for most of the costs of the inevitable road widening.

That will be disappointing. And taxpayers will be disgruntled.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Drive Throughs Need Restrictions

Orillia Saturday March 10 3:00 p.m. -

It is busy inside Tim Horton’s on Orillia’s Colborne Street.

Busier, though, at the drive through. The cars (many SUVs and 4x4’s), most guided by a single occupant encircle the store like ants around a picnic basket.

Can’t the municipality do something about this? Wouldn’t happen in my town. We care about the environment and we’ve got an anti-idling by-law. Right?

Burlington Sunday March 11 - noon -

On Assignment

whenthemayorsmiles dispatches Hunter R. Wilson, crack gonzo journalist, to a typical Tim Horton’s in order to perform the requisite 15 minutes research that befits the high standards set by this blog.

Hunter R. is in his element, undercover in a New Street phone booth. Don’t want these "drive throughers," if there are any in beautiful Burlington, to get wise to this research.

Hunter’s fifteen minute stake out yields the following:

-A continuous line - always at least five cars idling - nine in line on Hunter’s arrival and seven when he leaves.

-One car waits, engine running, for five minutes and five seconds.

-The average wait is four minutes and five seconds.


*Natural Resources Canada argues that stopping unnecessary vehicle idling is an important way of improving air quality and thus the health of communities (1998).

*Five minutes idling produces 271 grams (more than half a pound) of greenhouse gases.

*If every driver in Canada avoided idling for five minutes per day we would prevent the creation of 1.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

It is against the law to idle in Burlington for more than three minutes. The by-law also includes a commitment to public education so we can all learn about the negative impacts of idling.

This by-law does nothing to discourage the kind of idling that drive throughs produce. Good planning can.

Hamilton, hardly an environmental leader, is looking at this. Shouldn’t we?
The upcoming Future Focus strategic planning discussions offer an opportunity.

Our city can do something.

It must.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Joan Little does an excellent job covering municipal politics in the Hamilton Spectator.

Joan is thorough in her analysis, thoughtful and fair - traits that were put to good use when she served as a Burlington alderman and Halton Councillor.

Unfortunately the Spectator limits her to only a couple of columns per month.

Columnists are supposed to put forward a point of view. Joan has waded in with her assessment of Burlington’s new mayor opining in a previous piece that his “Camship” was not a team player.

A recent column called him a one man-band; accused him of mismanagement on the McMaster file; noted that he craves adulation; claimed he is creating morale problems amongst staff; and more.

Far be it from me to stand up for Cam Jackson, a man I ran against once. On most days his views are 180 degrees from mine. And his personal style rubs me like fingernails on a blackboard but....

Cam is the Mayor

He ran city wide capturing 14,941 votes. By comparison the next biggest vote getter on Council, Ward One’s Rick Craven, received 4,826 votes in a two-candidate race. Clearly, Jackson has the mandate to speak for all of Burlington. Yet those pusillanimous practitioners of parochial ward politics - two of them anyway - have the nerve to criticize the mayor while hiding behind the anonymity offered through speaking without attribution.

The Great Burlington Tradition

Ms. Little paints a rosy picture of a local government of “seamless team transitions,” “mutual respect” for staff, stability and “solid decision making.” But other mayors have shown a lack of respect for staff and, while this behaviour should not be condoned, it must be said Jackson is not unique.

What is needed in Burlington is a well-articulated code of conduct for politicians like the one that exists for staff. Such a code would go some way to ensuring staff are treated fairly.

A Honeymoon Period

Typically, newly elected mayors are given some time to get use to office. After all it is a tough job. In fact, it may be the toughest one Cam has had. Let’s give him some time. Perhaps he’ll learn from these early missteps.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Budget Consultation

Blown into budget consultation by last Thursday night's brutal winds your curious correspondent is somewhat surprised at the reasonably good turnout braving the cold February night.

About thirty citizens hear and watch the usual staff suspects, Mayor Jackson and Councillor Goldring dish out power point presentations, handouts, lots of insights and refreshments in a two-hour plus meeting at the Appleby Ice Centre.

This City presentation was one of four scheduled over a two week period.


Your correspondent wonders who is here and why.

Gracie Noll is present - worrying that budgets are just part of some large conspiracy to hide information from the public. Your correspondent marvels over the absurd, but common, public perception that if you can't read about it in the Burlington Post then City Hall is involved in some sort of cover up. The proposed development of a McMaster campus in downtown parking lot #4 is a case in point.

Tex Burden is in attendance as well. Tex reminds us that all levels of government have been piling on him for years. Tex waxes nostalgic about the good old days. Armed with half-baked Fraser Institute analysis, Tex apparently uses no public services. He wants to be left alone.

Juan Issue speaks as well. Nothing wrong with expressing an interest in one particular program or service or pointing out an oversight or lack of consistency in policy or program implementation. Tonight, it is soccer that is the focus of Juan's concern.

Yes, says the Mayor, we need equity in programs. Soccer has been badly treated in relation to sports like hockey and football. Some audience members are surprised by the mayor's disclosure.

Many in attendance, perhaps the majority, are here purely out of interest. They like living in Burlington and want to contribute as citizens by better understanding their hometown. They appreciate that public processes like budget consultations exist and that staff and politicians make themselves available to answer questions/provide information.

The City's website, for example allows you to question staff/politicians and even get answers.

A Budget Question

Let's see how this works. Your quizzical correspondent's question is:

At last week's budget consultations in Ward Five the mayor indicated that the City has not supported soccer to the same extent that it has other sports such as hockey and football. Why has this happened? Are there plans to address this inequity?

I'll get back with the answer next week.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

City Budget Off and Running

The Group of Seven smile at me from page eleven of Friday's Burlington Post. Cam and the Happy Gang announce the beginning of "Budget 07 - Have your Say."

The show hits the road this week with stops at the Burlington Art Centre (Feb 19), Appleby Ice Centre (Feb 22), Notre Dame High School (Feb 28) and Paletta Mansion (March 1).

OK, so its not a Beatles reunion tour - but it matters. According to the City's website:

"Public participation in the process is deemed essential because a municipal budget is more than numbers or setting tax rates. It is a policy and planning document that outlines the city’s priorities and where we are heading. It’s a tool to make Burlington a better place to live."

You can send the City your three budget priorities. You can also request a response from the mayor, a city councillor or various staff.

While public input is valued; it is not easy to achieve. Understanding a municipal budget is about as complex a task as putting together a Rubik's cube while blindfolded. Those who desire to seriously involve themselves in this process have both my thanks and my sympathies.

I'll try to keep on top of it.


Speaking of priorities. Here are mine:

First, lets maintain the level of services we have now. Start the discussion there. Keeping taxes down is important too but the debate has to be around the services we pay for.

Second, let's see what our city can do to improve our environment. There has been a big move in public attitudes on this in the last year. We have to communicate this to the decision makers.

And third - a pet peeve of mine - staff remuneration. After eight and a half years away from the municipal scene I returned to find many staff making significantly more than they earned in 1997. We need decent salaries to maintain and attract good staff. But the city must also reflect what goes on in the real world.

Two Consultations?

An interesting sub-plot to the budget consultation is an apparent attempt by the mayor to run his own separate consultation. A motion put forward by his worship sought permission for a kind of pre-consultation by Mayor Cam with selected groups. The motion lost.It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Transit Committee

In the same week that the Town of Oakville took care of unfinished business the City of Burlington did too - although in a slightly less dramatic way.

Oakville put in place a by-law to regulate cosmetic pesticide use after hearing more than thirty delegations in two nights of committee work last week.

The Community and Corporate Services Committee (C & CS) of Burlington Council heard only one delegation and then went ahead and strengthened a staff recommendation to create a Burlington Transit Advisory Committee. Staff had been asked to look at this matter by the previous Council. (See CC 39 -07 on the City's website for more details.)

The Committee will provide input to Council and staff on initiatives and strategies affecting public transportation services. They'll also deal with Burlington's Accessibility Plan and will likely incorporate as a sub committee an Accessible Transit Sub Committee to deal with these matters.

The proposed terms of reference were strengthened after a motion by Councillor John Taylor to have this committee look at the allocation of gas tax revenues and also to have transit operators sit on the committee as resources. These were suggested by the delegation - your blogger.

The C & CS Committee struggled some with the committee composition concerned that the "disabled" be well represented on this new body. Staff were left to come up with appropriate wording to define "accessible transit users."

There was some debate around what a mobility device is. It says here that such devices include the newer motorized scooters and the traditional mobility device - the white cane.

The creation of this committee is one indication that municipal public transit and the environment is being taken more seriously these days. Heh, maybe we'll have a pesticide by-law in place in Burlington soon.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Ornamental Pesticide Use

Oakville’s recent revisiting of the cosmetic pesticide issue got me thinking way back to last summer when I made a fairly futile attempt to resurrect this issue at the Region of Halton.

After all spraying your lawn for no good purpose other than so you can say yours is prettier than your neighbour's is hardly a community priority.

And hazardous to our health, right? Look it up.

The Canadian Cancer Society, for example, has called for a ban on the use of pesticides on lawns and gardens as "ornamental use of pesticides has no countervailing health benefit and has the potential to cause harm."

Their position is based on science. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a World Health Organization research body, found that "some substances used in pesticides are classified as known, probable or possible carcinogens."

Another group, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, wants to move towards a legislated end to cosmetic pesticide use within two years. This was recommended by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.

That Committee says we ought to "give absolute priority to the protection of human health and the environment within any decision making process regarding the regulation of pesticide use."

I can cite other sources.

Halton’ s Answer - Prudent Avoidance

According to the Region of Halton Medical Officer of Health spraying might not be good. But, instead of banning it, he has recommended (and Council has continued to support) a policy of "prudent avoidance." Many Councillors like this strategy because it sounds erudite or scientific, I guess.

A typical "made in Halton solution," or so I thought.

In fact, "prudent avoidance" is an American concept developed in 1989 relating to exposure to Electro Magnetic Fields. Now adapted to pesticide use it is the cornerstone of Health Department policy - that, and the contention that it is really up to local municipalities to enact by-laws that ban or restrict use. That contention was found to be incorrect in a report from Halton’s Legal Department last summer.

The House of Commons Committee again:

"The most effective way to protect human health and the environment is undeniably to prevent the generation of polluting substances in the first place, rather than minimizing or mitigating the risks associated with their use."

Am I wrong or isn’t protecting human health what Public Health is supposed to be about?

The Precautionary Principle

This widely accepted principle argues that "where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation."

This Principle is supported in Canadian law.

A Region wide enforceable by-law would cost a half dollar or so per person per year.

Let’s do it.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

John Sewell and William Lyon Mackenzie

John Sewell has cast a large shadow over Ontario municipal politics for nearly forty years.

The first election campaign I worked intensively on was his failed re-election bid for mayor of Toronto in 1980. Since 1999 Sewell has published a Local Government Bulletin .

In his final bulletin Sewell notes it has become "harder to maintain interest as the opportunities for local government empowerment appear to have diminished." He is moving on as "the moment for change is in the air, and at this point there is little I can add to the debate. "


The bulletin always offered something current from the world of municipal politics. Back issues are still available.

Sewell's books are of interest as well. An earlier posting referenced A New City Agenda which was published a couple of years ago.

Another book - Mackenzie - A Political Biography of William Lyon Mackenzie - came out in 2002. Sewell's considerable research on this one took him to Scotland to track down Mackenzie's links to the Dundee Rational Instititution ( a club that championed intellectual discussion and debate of scientific matters) and Scottish reform politics of the day (1810 -1832).

Many forget that Mackenzie was Toronto's first mayor. His ideas on government and its relations with the public, documented and analysed by the author, remain relevant today.

For example, it was Mackenzie's strong belief that information should be available to the people and he put much effort into this by providing information through written documents and at public gatherings so that people could discuss and form their own opinions on issues. He convened ward meetings and valued the public's right to be heard by legislators.

One wonders what he would have thought of the Internet?

The man who was expelled from the legislature five times - not just for the day but for good - until the voters sent him back could have given some lessons on negative campaigning to today's pols.

Descriptions of political opponents were pointed ("a boot polisher"), personal ("a pitiful mean looking parasite") and nasty (the Lieutenant Governor was described as a "low born fortune hunter" and his wife as a "base born descendant.")

Politics, fun in the 19 century and still fun today.

Sewell's insights will be missed.