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 .