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.