Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Cup of Coffee and a Few Ideas

We lose touch sometimes.

With friends. With ideas. And with certain realities that are just too easy to ignore.

Had coffee last week with a guy who I hadn’t seen in a over a year. He is a poverty advocate. He knows of what he speaks because he actually lives in poverty and has since suffering an injury on a job site many years ago.

He updated me on stuff I’d missed and suggested I read some reports as a lot of new ones had come out recently. I promised I would.

First up is Income Security for Working -Age Adults in Canada: Let’s consider the model under our nose.

Published last month, its author John Stapleton worked in government in the areas of social assistance policy and operations for 28 years. Now a Fellow at St. Christopher House Stapleton is connected with Massey College – U of T and was supported by the Metcalf Foundation.

In a few (164) words this is what Stapleton says:

*Beginning in 1929 an income security program for Canadian seniors evolved that has been pretty successful in alleviating poverty for this demographic group over the last forty years.

*A “program” for children (RESPs, Child Tax Benefits and now the Canada Learning Bond and Canada Education Savings Grant) is likewise evolving so that kids will be taken off welfare and we’ll be “on a hopeful course to ending child poverty”.

*By doing something like what has been done for seniors and kids a program for working age adults could be assembled that would have similar features – i.e., widely available federal benefits, extra help for people with low incomes, registered tax saving aspects and matching or separate contributions to reward individual savings.

*We ought to do it this way since restoring benefits to earlier levels is “politically unpopular” and a Guaranteed Annual Income - of which we hear more and more these days - is not “politically realistic” because of constitutional matters.

I'm getting caught up.

You can/should read this concise 19-page report at

Thursday, December 11, 2008

To Ottawa I Must Go

Thank you for supporting my blog. I’m gratified that you can find the time to look at it.

Sometimes I go off on rants. I apologize for those occasions.

Today’s posting is particularly important because I need your help.

I have decided that I must go to Ottawa.

It is said that Steve Harper is about to appoint 18 new Senators. I think I should be one of these appointees and I’m sure you’ll agree.

Five Reasons to Send Your Blogger to Ottawa

I think like the Prime Minister. Like Mr. Harper I also once favoured abolition of the Senate. In fact I wrote, if I might say, an excellent paper in an undergrad political science class in 1969 arguing for abolition. This was long before young Stevie’s parents had taught him about our parliamentary system of government and the meaning of the word conciliatory.

2. I could use the money. Let’s face it I’m going nowhere with this blog. I have two still-at-home adult children victims of the policies of this terrible left wing government we have in have-not Ontario. My boys, Brian Martin and John George, would just be so happy if I could relocate to Ottawa so that they could have the house.

3. There needs to be significant opposition to this stupid coalition idea in that chamber of sober second thought. I’ll admit I was seduced - but only for a short time – by the idea of fighting the recession by stimulating the economy. But to be honest - and you know you can trust me - I only thought like that because the mainstream socialist inclined media (controlled, I suspect, by separatists like Jacques Parizeau and influenced by far out economic ideas like those put forth by disciples of ex-pat John Kenneth Galbraith) told us that Mr. Harper said such things when he was in Peru with those other world leaders. Such mendacity.

4. I will actually do something in the Senate. And that is this: I will spend every waking moment until April 2, 2025 fighting to abolish it. The Senate will be history on April 3rd, 2025. That will be my 75th birthday present to the nation.

5.. And finally it is an outrage that Burlington – a customer focused city recognized for excellence in government - has had no representation in the Senate since Liberal Isobel Finnerty retired in July of 2005.

I’m the guy.

Thanks again for your support.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Poverty Reduction Strategy

Back in the early nineties – the Rae days – I sat in on some interviews social assistance caseworkers had with their clients.

It was an eye opener.

Demeaning is the way I’d characterize it. I’m not blaming the worker. The system was the problem.

Then along came Mike Harris and things got a lot worse.

Which brings me to the present and the much-awaited Poverty Reduction Strategy unveiled yesterday by the Provincial Government.

At this point there seems to be much satisfaction with this report.
For example, the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction (a multi-sectoral coalition of more than 350 provincial and Toronto-based organizations and individuals working to eliminate poverty) has a good and fairly positive analysis of it at

Poverty is finally on the agenda and will remain there for several years.

I've Seen this Picture

However, the commitment to undertake a review of social assistance with the goal of reducing barriers and increasing opportunity seems like one of those proroguing dodges we've been reading about lately.

This same minister completed a similar review in December 2004. At that time she got it right. The Mathews’ Report, as it was known, documented an OW (welfare) system that was a mess.

For example:

Clients afraid of caseworkers. (p. 29)

Time and money wasted on job placements and training that didn’t assist in the move towards job readiness. (p. 21)

The requirement of applying 800 rules and regulations before eligibility could be determined and a cheque could be issued. (p. 25)

And this outrageous story:

The value of leftovers from a Sunday dinner at a parent’s house being deducted from the social assistance cheque. (p. 28)

Now four years later a commitment to a review.

What am I missing here?

I wonder how those with a first hand knowledge of social assistance feel about this.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nimby In November

Controversy continues to rage over a proposal to site wind turbines in Lake Ontario off the Scarborough Bluffs.

According to November 25th Toronto Star more than 1,000 people turned out for an ”information” meeting at Wilfrid Laurier School on the Guildwood Parkway last night. It is not clear whether much information was conveyed but it appears there was no shortage of opinions.

At this stage, as I understand it, Toronto Hydro Energy Services is merely asking to place a small weather station on a platform in the lake to see if wind turbines in this location would be feasible.

Meanwhile, according to the St. Thomas Times Journal, residents are unhappy about a proposed solar farm that OptiSolar Farms Canada wants to build just west of Belmont near London. When complete the project would provide 20 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply 3,000 homes.

“Already, some neighbours are grumbling about it, ” reports the paper.

OptiSolar vice-president Peter Carrie concedes is the project presents "a great challenge." No kidding!

A little closer to us in Nanticoke radiation specialist Doug Boreham has been hired by Bruce Power as “a key player” at open houses related to the proposed construction of two nuclear reactors. Open houses will be held in Simcoe, Jarvis, Port Dover and Cayuga.

The Simcoe Reformer quotes Power: "One of the biggest obstacles we have to overcome on these projects are people's fears of radiation." Indeed.

I could go on. The news is full of this stuff but, hey, I’m too busy getting my objections ready to a site plan application for the redevelopment of the Appleby Mall – a property in my back yard. There is a meeting tonight.

I’m not sure what this is all about, but it can’t be good.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Public Transit in America

Jeff Gray writes a column in the Globe and Mail called Dr. Gridlock. Yesterday(November 17th) he talked about how in several state and local referendums on November 4th Americans actually voted to increase their taxes and put money into public transit.

The data was put together by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (go to and click on Economics and Research).

Thirty-two (32) ballot measures in seventeen (17) states asked for new or increased taxes. Twenty five (25) of these passed. That’s a 78% success rate. Interesting, isn’t it?

I was curious so I thought I’d look at this analysis to see what was going on south of the border.

A Look at the Data

By my count there were eight local initiatives to enhance public transit at taxpayer’s expense. (Many of the others were classified as “transportation” but I just looked at those that were clearly transit related.) Five of these passed. An example: Voters in the Puget Sound Washington area gave the thumbs up to a $17.9 billion to extend regional bus and light rail service in the communities of Lakewood, Tacoma and Seattle. The vote was 59% in favour.

There were also three statewide initiatives approved. Voters in California, Hawaii and Rhode Island supported projects that will cost taxpayers billions.

Jeff Gray quotes a former Toronto head planner who thinks we need to start playing catch up in Toronto and, I think, it is fair to say right across the GTA and Hamilton.

Paul Bedford says:

“I understand the politicians don’t want to touch any of those ideas in the current economic environment. All I’ve been saying is, let’s not wait five years to start talking about it.”

It looks like average Americans are beginning to appreciate the environmental and economic imperatives that compels us to invest in public transit. I’m thinking average Canadians probably feel the same way.


Friday, November 07, 2008

Other Places

Someone once, I’ve forgotten whom, taught me about that there are really four “R’s” in the waste management hierarchy. Refuse actually trumps the better-known actions Reduce Reuse, and Recycle.

This seems to me now as one of those things we learned in life that is actually so basic that it is hard to believe that we really need to learn it in the first place. I could be wrong.

Take civic leaders in St. John’s Newfoundland who have decided, according to Canadian Press, that there’s not enough money in the coffers to start a curbside recycling program this year.

Yes, I said start.

The capital of Canada’s most easterly province (and a “have” province to boot) does not yet have a curbside recycling program. They are hoping to get started in 2010. For his part Danny Williams’ government is aspiring to have a curbside recycling in place across Newfoundland and Labrador by 2020, the year Sarah Palin completes her second term as President of the U.S.A. After 2020 when Newfoundlanders have mastered the least desirable “R” in the hierarchy perhaps they will move on to bigger things.

Maybe we’re not doing so badly here after all.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Making Our Community a Better Place to Live

In Toronto they are addressing a serious problem through a partnership of the Toronto Police Service and Henry’s Cameras.

To help make neighbourhoods safe you can trade in your pistol, assault rifle, operational rifle or shotgun and get cameras and imaging cards valued from $250 to $360 in exchange. The program runs from October 22 – November 23rd.

I don’t suppose there are many guns to be exchanged out here in beautiful by-the-lake and the escarpment too Burlington, but we, too, have problems that need solving.

Could such a program would work here?

Maybe if:

Anyone willing to sign a pledge that they will try to think of the wider world (or even the wider town) beyond their own street will receive something appropriate.

For example, promise to stop complaining about so-called empty buses (and take a look at your own single occupant driving habits) and you’ll get a Burlington Transit bus pass good for a year.

Put an end to your constant caterwauling that traffic isn’t moving fast enough because of various city-initiated traffic calming measures and you’ll get to stop and smell the flowers with a coupon redeemable at Burlington’s popular tourist attraction, the Royal Botanical Gardens.

And a free snow shovel will be available to those who stop phoning City Hall to bellyache that the other guy’s street is always getting plowed first.

What do you think? A good concept, right? The specifics might need some work.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Blogger Returns from Leave of Absence

Whither the blogger you may have wondered?

On a self-imposed leave of absence from When The Mayor Smiles engaged in partisan political activities your blogger is now recovering from a painful excursion into big league(?) politics characterized by potty mouths, pooping puffins and seemingly non-stop polling and analysis. Happily, we return today with the objective balanced blogging for which we are known. No partisanship here.

Today we are thinking about “sustainability” - a word the late Kent Gerecke, a professor of urban planning and editor of City Magazine, once said was used so much it had ceased to have any real meaning. He wrote this nearly 20 years ago but his insight is re-confirmed most every day.

Let’s take Sustainable Halton as an example. The Province’s Places to Grow Act forces Halton’s population to nearly double in the thirty years ending in 2031.

A plan is needed and Halton bureaucrats love to plan.

Staff and consultants are now engaged in what they call community consultation. But are they really consulting?

My friend Doug Brown, an informed and indefatigable community activist attended one of these consultations – a Public Information Centre - and described the session as “a disappointment.” Staff presented six scenarios that, according to Doug, are remarkably similar. Attendees then got to pick their favourite scenario. (There is probably a reality show that uses a similar format.)

The trouble that Doug and others like BurlingtonGreen Chair Kurt Koster see
is that there is no consideration of carrying capacity in this process. What amount of growth can the lands accommodate without being irreparably harmed?

To this blogger this planned greenfield sprawl doesn’t look any different than they way we’ve always done things.

Kent Gerecke edited a book called The Canadian City (Black Rose Books). It came out in 1991. I have a well-marked copy of it. In the book different authors talk about “green” cities, sustainable development and the trend in the eighties of dropping real community participation and substituting what Gerecke called “a charade of participation.”

We haven’t learned much, have we?

Go to for lots of colourful charts and graphics and to further enhance your appreciation of what is evolving into a preferred growth option for 2009.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Trust The People

Today is the anniversary of the death of the first mayor of Toronto.
William Lyon Mackenzie died August 28, 1861. He was 66.

Remembered as an insurgent and a bit of a nutbar he was captured in Dennis Lee’s poem 1838:

“Mackenzie was a crazy man.
He wore his wig askew.
He donned three bulky overcoats
in case the bullets flew.”

But Mackenzie fought against the Family Compact and for people’s rights to have a say in government. I’ve written before about the way Mackenzie, a journalist, worked to put information into the hands of the people. (See my blog posting on Tuesday January 2/07 or better John Sewell has written Mackenzie, A Political Biography of William Lyon Mackenzie (James Lorimer and Company, 2002)

Mackenzie believed in trusting people to make the right decisions if they were given adequate information.

Ultimately Mackenzie felt the need to take up arms – not very effectively – as we know. Lee again:

"Mackenzie talked of fighting
While the fight went down the drain.
But who will speak for Canada?
Mackenzie, come again!”

An interesting thought. If Mackenzie were to come again what would you think of the state of local democracy in Toronto?

I imagine he’d be reconvening the boys at Montgomery’s Tavern over Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone comments recorded earlier this year in the Toronto Star.

On the issue of solid waste Pantalone said:

“You need to understand issues like that. They’re very complex. It would be better that we discuss these issues in private.”

Please Mackenzie, come again.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


There are RATS in Burlington. I know that for a fact.

And they have them in Ajax too. Ajax, located east of Toronto, is a town of about 90,000 and bills itself as a vibrant and caring community.

These Ajax and Burlington RATS differ from the despised rodent (rattus norvegicus.) Have you noticed those people who get hot and bothered about public transit vehicles; those who Rail Against Public Transit? They’re RATS. Get it?

RATS in Ajax are pained over Durham Transit Route 222 according to the Toronto Star’s Urban Affairs Reporter Carola Vyhnak.

Without boring you with all the details I am struck by the similarity to RATS in our community who rail against transit services in their neighbourhoods and most particularly on their streets.

Sandra Cassidy is quoted extensively in Vyhnak’s piece and I’ll share Ms Cassidy’s insights with you. Like all RATS she knows that:

*Buses are “mostly empty.”

*Buses roaring down her street are a “safety hazard.”

*Since “everyone in the area has at least two cars” we don’t really need public buses, do we?

If you have the misfortune of living on a bus route and even in you live in “the only custom built home in a very special subdivision” you’ll need to close your windows “because of the smell and the noise.” And don’t plan on picking up home improvement ideas from the Home and Garden Network. You “can ‘t even hear the TV” on these means streets. Oh, the horror.

RATS don’t like to sound like they’re bragging but typically “have more influence than the average person.” So let’s not fret but rather rest assured that the necessary reforms will be enacted and the bus pulled off the Ms. Cassidy’s street before inflicting further pain and suffering.


In the unlikely event that Route 222 isn’t cancelled I’m thinking we ought to create gated communities for these RATS. These gated communities could lock from the outside and the RATS could live happily ever after without having to see a smelly old bus. And I’m sure they’ll be happy to live their lives free of other government services too.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Fantino #2

More than one loyal reader - yes there is more than one - took issue with my last posting (Let’s Give Fantino the Break He Deserves)

What can I say? Don’t expect Jonathan Swiftian level of satire.
at When The Mayor Smiles.

As penance for the aforementioned perplexing prattle, I’ve compelled myself to read the entire 103 pages of Julian Fantino’s testimony from Shawn Brant’s preliminary hearing. That testimony (August 29, 2007) has just been made public.

The preliminary hearing looked at nine possible charges against Brant related to protests/blockades that took place in the Deseronto area in April and June of 2007.

Brant’s actions relate to the Culbertson Tract – land that the federal government acknowledges is Mohawk land; stolen from them in 1837. To address this injustice the feds have moved to provide redress with a sense of urgency that makes their response to the injustice of the Chinese Head Tax seem swift by comparison. Brant and others are, not surprisingly, becoming impatient. In the meantime developers and entrepreneurs do what developers do - scheme and dream. (1)

Did I mention that the Crown wants to put Brant away for twelve years?


Here are some highlights from Fantino’s testimony. I’ll let his words stand on their own and avoid editorializing. I’ll try anyway.

Fantino’s characterization of his first phone conversation with Shawn Brant on June 29/07

Fantino: “Well in essence there was a cordial conversation it was not a confrontational tone to it.”

On being told that senior OPP Officers who had dealt with Shawn Brant were on record as saying that Brant keeps his word.

Fantino: That’s not my impression although obviously other people have it.”

When asked if he understood that the Mohawk tradition of the need to achieve consensus meant that Brant could not offer commitments to Fantino until he spoke with others.

Fantino: “No, not at all…Mr. Brant was in charge … His rhetoric was merely a stalling tactic.

When asked if it was true that Mr. Brant was very respectful of Fantino in his dealings with him.

Fantino: “Yes he was and I of him.”

Demonstrating his notion of respect Fantino admits to this comment he directed to Shawn Brant.

Fantino: “You’re going to force me do everything I can within your community and everywhere else to destroy your reputation.”

An important issue in the Ipperwash Inquiry was how the Tactical Response Unit (TRU) was deployed. A member of the Tactical Response Unit team was convicted of killing Dudley George.

Fantino: “So the circumstances indicate, yes.”

And regarding the authorization of shady and possibly illegal wiretaps what can Commissioner Fantino add to address any concerns us bleeding heart, pinkos might have?

Fantino: “I believe that everything we did was in the greater good.”

What, me worry? See you later.

(1) The Ministry of Natural Resources continues to license a quarry on Tyendinaga land that removes 150,000 tons of gravel each year.

One more note: The Tyendinaga Mohawk Police Service has demonstrated excellent peacekeeping and negotiating skills at the quarry occupation site and at the railway blockade. Their Police Chief, Larry Hay, was fired earlier this year by Julian Fantino. Hay had spoken out about racism in the OPP. Imagine.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Let's Give Fantino The Break He Deserves

The constant attacks on that loyal public servant Julian Fantino, OPP Commisioner, are starting to wear your blogger down.

Lately it is his handling of a highway blockade last summer that is in question.

As best as we can determine Fantino had taken time out of his day from personally arresting speeders on the 400 series of highways so as to deal with a voilitle situation in the Kingston area. Thank you Commissioner.

He took charge - personally relieving specially trained negotiaters from the Tyendinga Mohawk Police so that he could deal with Mohawk activist Shawn Brant mano a mano, as they say.

According to the OPP’s website Fantino was functioning “consistent with the recommendations from the Ipperwash Inquiry.”

Few of us will remember the details of Chief Justice Linden's thorough inquiry set up in response to the shooting death of Dudley George. But Fantino does.

One of the things Linden said about the police was this:

“The objective of the police during Aboriginal protests and occupations should be to minimize the potential for vilence and to facilitate constitutionally protected rights including treaty and aboriginal rights and the rights to peaceful assembly."

Fantino is “disappointed (and no wonder) with some in the media and the political arena” for his questioning his handling of events which are clearly so consistent with Linden's recommendations.

It is speculated here that the illegal wiretap info to which Fantino had access gave him cause to to threaten the Mohawk leader with "destroy(ing) his reputation and guaranteeing "your whole world is going to come crashing down."

The NDP's weak kneed, past his prime Sunshine boy Peter Kormos called this language "intemperate" and "bellicose." Say what?

And when did you Mr. Kormos negotiate anything more important than an extended summer recess for provincial polticians?

While some have called for Fantino's resignation, here at whenthemayorsmiles we say let's give the chief the break he deserves.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Bad Words

Recently a news item out of the U.K. cited a report recommending 100 specific words that should be banned from government documents.

According to the Local Government Association local democracy “will be threatened with extinction” if words like “coterminosity” and phrases like “can- do-culture continue to muddle up reports.

This argument interested me. The point, which seemed to have been missed by many who proffered an analysis, is that government reports need to be written in a way that can be understood by all. We shouldn’t hide behind jargon and bafflegab.

We are “partnershipped” to death these days with “value added” and “proactive” service “facilitated” for us with a “single point of contact.”

Has the word “sustainable” overstayed its welcome? What is really meant by “best practice” and who is a “stakeholder” anyway?

The report inspired your blogger to “fast track” and use his “capacity” to find a “bottom up” but “holistic” way to put forward “value added” analysis and thereby find an “early win” through “evidence based” solutions and “process driven” output for you, my “customers.”

I’m Not Making this One Up

While inspired, alas, I can offer no new insights on how to better use language but, thankfully, can.

The website provides “news from a Christian perspective” and has a policy to replace offensive words with, well, less offensive words.

Earlier this week when American sprinter Tyson Gay won the U.S. Olympic Trials the website dutifully altered the Associated Press recap of the event. Gay became Mr. Homosexual as in “Tyson Homosexual was a blur in blue, sprinting 100 meters faster than anyone ever has.”

Homosexual will be “someone to watch in Beijing next month.”

And how does the new champion feel. The website offered this: “It means a lot to me, the 25 year old Homosexual said.”

This Part I’m Making Up

We think that is on to something.

Let’s get rid of those offensive names in politics.

Bad language is out. Burlington M.P. Mike Wallace becomes Mike Walldonkey.

Sexist terms are forbidden too. Mayor Cam Jackson will from now on be known as Cam Jacperchildren.

And let’s work on political images while we are at it. There is no room for cowards in politics. Ward One Councillor Rick Craven is now Richard Braveheart.

There you go. And you’re welcome.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bus Bites #2

A recent Wednesday morning found me on the #4 Pinedale West heading to a part time job at Wild Birds Unlimited on Fairview Street. As this route runs close to the homes of the Mayor and the Ward 5 Councillor, I wondered if the opportunity for an “on bus chinwag” on local affairs might present, but figured I probably be keeping my opinions to myself on this day.

This short trip had begun at Sheldon Park where a creek of the same name had once flowed before being relocated to accommodate development and create “ravine” lots.

The bus moves me down Deerhurst past Mathewman Crescent. Named for Benjamin Matthewman, who had settled in the Burloak Upper Middle area around 1835, the street name was registered with one “t”.

Matthewman was active in the Appleby community that had taken its name from a small northwestern English town located in the historic county of Westmoreland. Just to the east, but off this route, Fothergill Boulevard was, in fact, named for an Appleby England family who farmed at Freeman.

Several other streets in this subdivision honour Burlington and Nelson township pioneer women:

#Amelia after Amelia (Cole) Fothergill who farmed on Appleby Line.
#Phoebe for Phoebe (Land) Lucas
#Hannah after Hannah Davidson who farmed on Walker’s Line.
#Amanda for Amanda (Kaitting) Baxter who lived at the historic Balsam Lodge at 2290 Queensway.*

Our bus goes west on New Street, up Wedgewood and turns toward Appleby Mall near Mullin Way. (Owen Mullin was Burlington’s youngest ever mayor, 32 years when elected in 1962.)

John Henry Walker Jr. House

After a quick stop at the Mall we meander along Longmoor eventually making it back to New Street at Eastway Plaza; then, west to Walkers Line and north past the John Henry Walker House Jr. (496 Walker’s Line. Heritage Burlington notes that this Edwardian vernacular Queen Anne Style house with adjoining barn are the sole surviving structures from the original Walker farm.

Built in either 1908 or 1913 John Henry Junior inherited 20 acres of farmland south of the existing Centennial Bike Path. (See for more on this property.)

Our bus turns left and I try to imagine the Hamilton Radial Electric line that ran through here from 1906 to 1925.

I get off at Woodview and walk up to work.

*Peggy and Les Armstrong’s 2001 book Burlington’s Streets – What’s Behind the Name? - is an interest resource on Burlington history

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tabuns in Burlington

Peter Tabuns’ was once a municipal politician. From 1991 – 97 he represented an east Toronto ward.

He was defeated in 1997 when a candidate with a similar name – Larry Tabin - siphoned off Peter Tabuns votes.

According to Wikipedia, Tabin, who ran no real campaign, was put up to running by some of Tabuns’ constituents who were unhappy with his leadership in stopping smoking in restaurants and bars. These constituents, it is alleged, owned eateries and watering holes on the Danforth.

Today, Tabuns is the Member of Provincial Parliament for Toronto Danforth and Energy and Environment Critic for the Ontario NDP.

Burlington Presentation

This week he escaped from a Queen’s Park debate venturing out to suburbia to speak to a largely partisan group in Burlington. Interestingly, he drew on his experience as a local politician.

“Politicians are simple people. They respond to rewards. They respond to punishment.”

This was in answer to a question about engaging people in order to address our environmental problems.

As a Councillor Tabuns observed colleagues moving off positions when there was significant public pressure. Some would call this gutless, unprincipled even. Others, your blogger included, would call it representing the people.

Tabuns Argues for a Move Towards a New Energy Economy

In a nutshell Tabuns’ analysis is this:

*Our environmental problems are not new.

*People are tired of government inaction on the environment.

*The “do-nothing” duo of McGuinty and Harper aren’t making the necessary investments to move us to a new economy and new jobs.

*This new economy should emphasize renewable energy and replace excessive hydroelectric power with conservation measures, move to co-generation and eliminate waste of energy.

*Various estimates demonstrate that ‘renewable is doable.’

*We can solve the problems but we need to put pressure on governments who “don’t take these issues seriously.”

Tabuns cited examples from other jurisdictions (Pennsylvania, California, Denmark and others) that are taking these matters seriously and acting.

Iowa farmers, once skeptical of wind power, now see it as a “second harvest.” Portugal has no oil of its own so has made the installation of solar panels part of its building code. In California energy savings are increasing disposable income.

Back to the idea of taking action. Tabuns quoted American Steelworkers who believe that “ if you are not at the table then you’ll be on the menu.”

Peter Tabuns is challenging us to get to the table.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Kitchen Report #2

In his report Kitchen explores seven different ways to help fund the restructured GTAH transit and transportation system.

1. Dedicated Municipal Fuel Tax

This would involve an additional tax at the pumps piggybacked onto the existing price of gas. Those who use the roads would pay. A rate of, for example, 6 cents a litre would be the equivalent of a 4.7% to 6.6% increase in property taxes. This year’s rising gas prices have left many commuters hot and bothered. Could such a tax be sold with a commitment to lower property taxes?

2. Tolls and Congestion Charges

Tolls and Congestion Charges “can be effective in controlling people’s behaviour” and are in place in many jurisdictions around the world. Kitchen recommends them for major highways but notes that some decisions are needed prior to putting these charges in place as to whether the existing public transit system offers an effective alternative. Perhaps Metrolinx provides a forum for this.

3. Tax on Non residential Parking Spaces

The City of Toronto already has the right to tax parking spaces and such a tax would likely have some impact on deterring auto use and increased transits.

4. Vehicle Registration Charges

Again Toronto is the only city that currently can levy such a tax. Taxes could be higher for higher emitting cars, heavier vehicles (as they do more damage to roads) or older cars.

5. Drivers License Charges

Municipalities could also take a chunk of an enhanced charge on licenses but Kitchen does not recommend this.

6. High Occupancy Toll Lanes

Apparently HOV lanes in the U.S. are not meeting their objectives. So in some cases these lanes are being turned into High Occupancy Toll Lanes where you can pay for the pleasure of getting a faster ride. Kitchen wants us to try this one out.

7. Value Capture Levies

If a property’s value is enhanced through spending on public infrastructure and zoning decisions it could be appropriate to capture some of the gains that the private sector has realized.

Kitchen feels this could apply in mega projects such as subway or rapid transit expansion.

Time for Action

Lots to think about in Financing Public Transit and Transportation in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton. Kitchen's final recommendation for a GTAH wide special purpose body made up of directly elected Councillors recalls similar governance discussions in the '90's. Nothing happened then. But something must be done on this file and soon.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Kitchen Report #1

Earlier this year a report by Trent University Professor Harry Kitchen got some coverage in the mainstream media.

This report, Financing Public Transit and Transportation in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton: Future Initiatives*, includes among its recommendations a call for tolling roads.

This caused quite a stir as apparently our right to drive at no cost is enshrined in the Constitution somewhat like Americans right to bear arms. Here is my new slogan for Ontario license plates: “Drive Free or Die.”

In all seriousness though this is a good report that should promote serious discussion.

Let’s Get The Price Right

It is really a no-brainer to say it but we need an effective and efficient public transit and transportation system for economic and environmental reasons. Things are getting worse not better.

As Kitchen says “something must be done.”

An important aspect of what must be done is setting correct prices.

Kitchen notes:

“A more efficient and effective transportation system can only be achieved if users (businesses, individuals and governments) pay for the infrastructure and operational cost of services it provides – building, maintenance and repairs plus environmental damages."

He sets out some principles.

For example, those who benefit from local infrastructure and the services it provides should pay for it. (This is called the benefits based model.)

According to Kitchen, services such as public transit and highways “have a mix of private and public good characteristics” and, therefore, financing should be based on the theory of “second best.”

Principles of efficiency and fairness would suggest that car and truck drivers pay a charge that reflects the full cost (capital, operating plus congestion and environmental costs).

But car and truck drivers pay nothing to local governments for each trip taken while transit users are charged when they travel.

This logic justifies some subsidization of public transit but also provides rationale for the implementation of road charges that are designed to control road use.

So while subsidizing public transit makes sense Kitchen says that determining the exact subsidy (and what you’ll pay at the farebox) is a “tricky business” that really has more to do with politics than actual costs. And that is probably the way it should be until the competitive form of transportation i.e., roads is costed properly.

If there was a level playing field “public transit might not require a subsidy to be competitive: certainly it is unlikely that it would require the size of subsidy it often gets.”

Back to you Tomorrow

If you’re still with this argument I know you will be keen to find ways to put proper prices in place. But you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

Here is a bit of a tease. It is complicated because while the problems that need solving are GTHA wide ones the responsibility for our transit and much of our roads is generally in local hands.

*You can find this report on the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario’s (RCCAO) website.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Bus Bites #1

(First in a series of occasional short pieces on how our public transit system can reveal our local history.)

Regular readers will notice that we tend to go on about public transit at when the mayor smiles. Today we’ll take a break and get on the bus – Burlington’s route #5 to be specific.

You can see a lot from a bus but imagination helps.

The #5 BT leaves the John Street bus terminal and runs west on Ontario Street. Much history is evident.

At the corner of Locust and Ontario Street, for example, sits L’Eglise St. Philippe built in 1875. The Gothic Revival style building served as Calvary Baptist Church for many years. St. Luke’s Anglican Church (the Brant family’s Church) built in 1834 stands out further to the west.

Perhaps the historical highlight of #5 is "The Gingerbread House." Located at 1375 Ontario Street is often described as Burlington's best-known heritage landmark.

Heritage Burlington’s website ( calls it “(a) grand two-and-a-half-storey frame structure in Queen Anne Revival Style.” Originally part of Joseph Brant's Crown Grant, it was purchased for $450 by A. B. Coleman in 1893.

Some Imagination Required

Leaving Ontario Street the #5 turns south on Maple Avenue. You’ll need to close your eyes and open up your imagination to conjure up what the community has lost here on Maple Avenue. (But that is a story for another day.)

The Hotel Brant - built by the same A.B. Coleman in 1902, once dominated the southwest corner of Lakeshore/Northshore and Maple, where the museum and hospital now stand.

At a cost of $100,000 it was “ a capacious building with accommodation for over 250 guests. According to Burlington – An Illustrated History (Loverseed 1988):

“The hotel was equipped with all the modern conveniences, ample private and public baths on every floor, and lighted throughout with electricity. The dining room covered over 8,000 square feet. “

The Hotel Brant did not/could not serve liquor so Mr. Coleman opened an exclusive gentleman’s club across the street on the site that eventually became the Brant Inn.

Our bus continues on Northshore, Francis Road etc. winding its way back to the Terminal. Ten boardings (20 per hour) are counted on this May 14th mid-day route.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Buses on Dundas Street

Tore myself from the computer last week to rush to Burlington's Silly Hall to add my two cents worth to “Metrolinx Update” a report under review at Committee.

Metrolinx, formerly the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority, is charged with developing and implementing “an integrated multi-modal transportation plan” for the GTA and Hamilton.

Former Burlington mayor Rob MacIsaac is the chief multi-modal integrator.

We’re a Winner!!!

Metrolinx has taken immediate steps to address our congestion and environmental problems. Called “Quick Wins” an early win was the approval of $57.6 million to cover the capital costs of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service along the Dundas Corridor (Highway #5) from Hamilton to Mississauga.

Good Idea but Cool Reception

This is an important initiative.

It is an intra-regional project that fits within the Metrolinx mission of implementing “an integrated transportation system for our region” (i.e., GTHA).

It offers the potential to enhance our existing Burlington Transit system.

The implementation of the BRT might delay planned widenings on Waterdown and King Road and take pressure off other north-south routes as well as freeing up resources for other priorities, I thought, although Councilors didn’t agree.

Typically, Council is lukewarm, at best, towards this project. Questions from the Mayor suggest that he sees the Dundas Corridor BRT benefiting Oakville much more than Burlington.

It is becoming apparent – to this blogger anyway – that Mayor Jackson would prefer that Burlington Transit be uploaded to the Region. Will this be good for Burlington riders and our air quality? Can we count on senior levels of government to address our congestion concerns? Stay tuned.

My Two Cents Worth

My simple request to involve Metrolinx and the City of Hamilton early in the design and implementation plan didn’t interest Councillors at the Community and Corporate Services Committee.

So, I’m back at the computer.

(Metrolinx consultation documents are available at Report TT 16-08 which is heading to the June 9th meeting can be read at Contact me at for a copy of my presentation.)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

This Town Needs Some Decent Newspaper Coverage

The Burlington Post* wants to know what their readers have to say regarding a story that they pretty much lifted from the Hamilton Spectator. *

On Monday of this week Spectator columnist Andrew Dreschel wrote a piece suggesting that Burlington’s Mayor Cam Jackson had improperly used his MPP’s office expenses in his bid to become mayor in 2006.

Dreschel’s source for this is a lawyer representing “a group of business people with substantial profile in Burlington.” While these individuals may posses substantial profile, they don’t want their names used.

The Post pretty much repeats the Spectator story in their Wednesday edition and then feigns outrage in a Friday editorial where they lash out at those “who would seem hell bent on soiling” Jackson’s reputation.

Our question: "Who is actually doing the “reputation soiling here?”

If there is evidence of Jackson misusing dollars it should be produced. The fact that both newspapers and our substantially profiled anonymous citizens can’t produce any facts would lead one to believe that there is no such evidence. After all this is an old story going back nearly two years.

Policy Issues not Innuendo Please

I’d rather see both papers concern themselves with policy matters. The Harris government, of which Mayor Jackson was a cabinet minister, caused a lot of grief for those running local governments. How are Jackson and his Council colleagues doing on cleaning up that mess?

Or what about the fact that one in eleven Burlington children live in a home affected by poverty? What are they doing to address the absurdity that in one of the most affluent communities in Canada 11,500 Burlington residents are living in poverty?

*The Burlington Post and the Hamilton Spectator are two papers that provide limited coverage of local government in Burlington. To its credit the Spectator has, over the last couple of years, put much energy into covering the impact of poverty on the lives of Hamilton citizens and the community in general. Also, columnist Joan Little provides insightful and thoughtful analysis on Burlington/Halton poltics but only on alternate weeks.

The Burlington Post publishes three times per week. The Friday May 16 edition referred to here had 36 flyers stuffed inside the otherwise thin edition.

The Metroland Media Group manages both papers.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Social Assistance Rates Must Reflect Real Cost of Living

An advocate for the creation of a Social Assistance Rates Board caught up with me following my last post.

Hamilton poverty lawyer Craig Foye of McQuesten Legal notes that the new strategy is “is to try to convince the Government to introduce the proposed legislation as a government bill.”

A Private Member’s Bill that Foye and others had worked on had received first reading in June 2007 but died on the order paper when the government adjourned.

What is a Social Assistance Review Board?

This Board would produce an annual report that would propose social assistance rates that take into account the real cost of living in Ontario.

A recommended monthly basic needs rate would enable recipients to obtain nutritious food baskets, cover basic telephone and transportation costs, purchase personal need items and carry out modifications to rental units to accommodate disabilities and more.

The committee would be made up of six to nine members who’d have “expertise in poverty research.” At least two members would have experience with receiving social assistance and two members would possess expertise regarding the cost of living for persons with disabilities.

Next Steps

Foye hopes that groups and individuals will support the legislation by contacting their MPP and participating in the provincial poverty reduction consultations.

“It is important to tell the government that evidence-based social assistance rates must be part of any poverty reduction strategy,” Foye asserts.

Craig is working with researchers to project the economic/financial impacts on the Hamilton economy that would result from an increase in social assistance rates to subsistence levels.

This will be a useful number. In 1995 Halton Region staff estimated that social assistance costs took $12 – 14 million dollars out of the Burlington economy.

I’m not aware of any accounting done by government on the impact these cuts had on real people.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Consultation - McGuinty Syle

The provincial government created Metrolinx to come up with a plan to address the transportation crisis across the GTAH.

Some think it is moving too slowly. However, they have put out five green and two white papers and encouraged public comment. Opportunities for consultation with regular folks are ongoing. I participated in one of these last weekend. And that is a story for another day.

Today’s story though is about non-consultation. OK, the limited consultation process that is being orchestrated by that same Liberal government as they ”tackle the issue of poverty.”

The lead tackler Minister Deb Matthews is doing a series of invitation only events across the province. The first one was in Peterborough. The road show hits Hamilton on May 12th.

Community Concerns

In Peterborough local politicians expressed concern over the lack of openness. They offered Matthews the opportunity to attend an open public meeting. She declined.

The invitation only event was staked out by protestors. According to the Peterborough Examiner there was some scuffling with police.

While there was unhappiness outside it seems that there were good vibes in this closed-door meeting. The Minister appears to be genuinely interested in issues facing people living in poverty.

Government Seeks to Avoid Embarrassment

But it is quite clear, from the government’s perspective, why the consultation must be so heavily orchestrated.

We could mention the fact that the Liberals promised a different kind of government from the Harris/Eves Conservatives they replaced. That would involve open consultation. We could also mention the 2003 promises to build 20,000 new affordable housing units or to give low-income tenants real protection by creating rent controls. Didn’t happen.

You could be sure that open consultation would be embarrassing to a government that hasn’t lived up to its promises. We’d hear about these unfilled promises. We’d hear more too, like how the government cut many of Ontario’s poorest people off the special needs diet allowance.

How about Something Concrete Now

I must admit that, although I can be critical of the lack of open consultation, another part of me just wants the government to get on and do something about poverty.

It is not that hard. You see people live in poverty cause they don’t have enough money.

Up until 1995 we had a social assistance system that was close to providing basic necessities to people who had fallen on hard times. Harris and his cronies changed all when they slashed assistance rates by nearly 22%. Since then there have been only two small increases to these rates - both from the McGuinty government.

A private members bill that would create a Social Assistance Rates Board died when the government adjourned prior to last year’s election. This Board would ensure an appropriate adjustment to these rates would occur each year.

This would seem only fair. It should be easy to put in place and it would make a difference.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

“Rent Bank Runs out of Money”

What’s this have to do with city politics, you ask?

A lot, I say. But it shouldn’t.

In the 2003 provincial election campaign Dalton "The Promiser" McGuinty’s said that he wouldn’t raise taxes. He was going to roll back highway 407 tolls and cancel P-3 hospitals. He wasn’t going to allow building on the Oak Ridges Moraine.

All these promises were broken … and more.

He actually did keep some - well, one that I can think of - and that was to create a provincial rent bank program. Good for him.

Ontario Rent Bank Program

The program, which rolled out within months of the election, provides money so that low-income tenants may apply to receive financial assistance to address short-term rent arrears. This small program was passed over to 42 service managers (municipalities ) to run which kept the provincial government somewhat immune to any criticism. (In some cases the municipalities contracted with agencies to actually operate the program.) Most of these local programs provide grants, but some operate by providing interest free loans.

According to today's Toronto Star the future of this program is in doubt.

The Future of Rent Banks

Up until last year I had many years direct involvement with housing emergency loan programs and with this particular program as well.

The province created an administrative nightmare for those operating rent banks. Fortunately, however, rent banks do help those they are intended to help - people with serious housing emergencies.

The whole concept is rather a stopgap approach to the serious issue of poverty. A parallel could be drawn with food banks. In 1983 the first was created in Edmonton as a temporary measure. Food banks are still with us. Here is hoping they will go away. Rent banks too.

In the meantime, while I hope that monies are made available to assist those with housing emergencies; the fact is the government can’t be let off the hook in addressing the big picture issue here:

Many of our fellow citizens do not have enough income to find and maintain adequate housing.

And that is something the province must take responsibility for and leadership on. Local government can be involved but the province must lead.

Rent banks do help but they are a very small part of the solution.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


There was an error in my last posting.

I said that a Burlington Transit bus - Route #2 Brant North - had an average weekday boarding rate of 11 riders per hour. That number was wrong. In fact, 21.5 people board the #2 buses every hour on a weekday.

While your blogger was never much good at math, the ability to offer sincere apologies is considered to be a strength.

So, I am truly sorry.

I imagine that many of you loyal readers use insights gained from this blog at various cocktail parties around town. We can only imagine because we don’t go to these cocktail parties. In fact, we don’t get invited to these parties.

However, as compensation for any embarrassment that you may have suffered here are nine more or lessinteresting facts that you can insert into any conversation about Burlington Transit at a cocktail party, in a bar, when talking to a loved one or over the backyard fence.

Burlington Transit (BT) by the Numbers

480 Number of hours BT runs each day
8639 Average daily boardings
17.9 Average boardings per hour
1/3 According to Ward 3 Councillor John Taylor the average # of riders per hour on BT buses.
12 Number of main BT routes
8 Number of routes carrying more than 10 people per/hr
70 grams of carbon dioxide emitted per kilometer by a bus carrying 18 passengers
220 grams of carbon dioxide emitted per km. by an automobile carrying one person (sourceSIKA, Swedish Institute for Transport and Communications Analysis, 2006)
25.5, 21.9 21.5 Weekday boardings per hour for #1 Fairview Plains, #10 New Maple, #2 Brant routes

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I spoke at Burlington Council on April 7th. After hearing again - from one councillor anyway - that our buses are riding around empty - I thought I should really get my facts straight.

I’ve tried. I wrote to all members of Council on March 27th seeking clarification on “data” given by that same member of Council at a March 26th public meeting.

After the Council meeting I again sought clarification in writing from staff. No response yet, so nothing else to do, I guess, but get on the buses. Since they are apparently as empty as a city hall office between Christmas and New Years, I’m sure I’ll have no problem finding a seat.

Friday April 11

Hopping on yet another 23 year-old bus, #7005-85, (see previous posts) #2 Brant North bus departs the downtown terminal at 7:15 a.m.

The bus heads up Brant, meanders through north urban Burlington, over to Guelph Line, and then back on Cavendish to Upper Middle Road where it heads east. At MM Robinson the bus (which has now become the #3 Guelph Line South) turns right heading back down to the Lakeshore eventually to the Terminal.

In its one-hour circuit I’m joined by thirty-six (36) other riders. The nine passengers on the early part of the route are making connections to trains or other buses at the Fairview GO station. (Wonder when that new parking garage will be ready? Can’t ever really have enough parking spots?)

The bulk of the other passengers appear to be students heading to MMR, Rolling Meadows PS, or connections downtown.

After a full circuit I disembark, but the bus keeps running. In fact, the #2 Brant North leaves the terminal 48 times on any given weekday. The Brant South route does the same. The most recent statistics show 1,055 riders board over the course of the day - an average of 11 riders on each of the 96 runs – making the Councillor’s “one-third a rider per hour” projection about as accurate as George W. Bush’s pre-invasion assessment of Iraqi nuclear capabilities.

Other routes are similar and will be documented in an upcoming posting.

A Suburban Myth

It is a myth that empty buses ramble around our suburban streets.

In fact, a lot of people currently ride these buses. Many of these riders have no other choice in getting on with day to day living than to take the bus. Besides our environmental imperatives dictate that we must find ways to get drivers out of their cars and onto public transit.

The cost containment exercise the city has embarked on needs to keep this in mind.

(My presentation to Council is available by e-mailing me at

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Waiting for a Pardigm Shift?

Last December Gord Miller, Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner, released his annual report. Entitled Reconciling our Priorities, it called for a “paradigm shift” in how we do planning in Ontario.

For those of you not inclined to do much shifting or have simply forgotten what a paradigm shift is, well it is a pretty big deal - a change from one way of thinking to another, a revolution, a transformation. Ptolemy’s view that everything orbited around the earth changing to Copernicus revelation that we orbited the sun is a good example.

When the report came out I was going to comment on it. With nothing encouraging to say, I thought I give it a few months and wait for the “paradigm shifters” to wade in.

Today I did an internet search (reconciling our priorities and gord miller) and, to my surprise, found my Feb 16th posting (observing that the report was too depressing, so I wasn’t commenting) near the top of the hit list.

Miller has been travelling the province but I wonder if any real dialogue is occurring.

Some Excerpts from the Report

*The Provincial strategy to manage growth (the GGH) actually “reverses the sustainable development process.” (p 26)

*“The lack of progress to date in shifting away from a car culture calls into question the efficacy of GGH Plan ‘s density targets in promoting the hoped for mobility changes in the future.” (p 32)

*There is no effective regulatory protection for wetlands and the province has actually “retreated” from earlier prohibitions on development by “changing the definition of ‘“development.’” (p 39)

*Significant changes have occurred in land use policies which mean that aggregate extraction is considered an interim land use. (p 45)

(See the full report at

Conflicts Everywhere

We have significant conflicts all over the place.

Provincial policy as reflected in the 2005 Provincial Policy statements (PPS) says “preserving wetlands, woodlands and agricultural lands are priorities but it also asserts that the construction of highways, the removal of aggregates, and the building of pipelines for water supply are priorities.”

There is nothing in place to “reconcile these conflicting land uses.”

Miller goes on to say that municipalities are required to dedicate increasing resources to resolve these irreconcilable priorities. His analysis notes that planning processes are now “weighted in favour of extractive and destructive uses of the land over those that conserve natural or agricultural use.”

These processes have become “intellectually dishonest” because no upfront “a priori” discussion of the real need for any project can happen.


I am waiting for that paradigm shift. Some think such shifts in thinking are advanced by agents of change. We wonder if any such agents are out there?

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Ridership on Burlington Transit is up, particularly recently.

This won’t stop some members of Council from taking a knife to it.

“I won’t be swayed by a couple of good months,” Councillor John Taylor made clear at Community and Corporate Service Committee this past Wednesday.

Taylor thinks we may have to “look at a simplified system.”

Simplified? One can only imagine.

My mind flashed back some 15 years to an idea put forward by another councillor. That brainwave – and I’m not making this one up - was to take the buses back to the garage when they were empty. It would save money.
Presumably, potential riders waiting along abandoned routes could hail taxis or maybe just take the day off work.

I’m confident that the current cost containment exercise will come up with better ideas. But I worry.

Empty Buses?

Councillors and senior staff agonize over empty buses.

It is a fact that hard worker taxpayers, mostly men as I recall,
find time to phone city hall and complain about those empty buses observed, I am sure, while cruising around town as the sole occupant in their carbon spewing SUVs. No irony there, eh?

But the buses aren’t empty. Performance statistics show nearly 9,000 boardings every weekday.

Councillor Rick Goldring noted the number of people riding the buses is about the same as the number who frequent our libraries. No one is questioning the need for libraries. Transit ought to be the same.

Stay Tuned

The data we put forward at committee suggested Burlington is not putting the emphasis on transit that other communities have.

Councillors, not unreasonably, questioned this data and asked staff to look at the numbers.

Much of the discussion focused on the fact that our neighbouring town, Oakville, seemed to spend more dollars on transit and had better performance too.

There are challenges as Councillor Craven acknowledged but the future will see us “more dependent on transit.”

“We have to invest in our infrastructure.”

Friday, March 28, 2008

Old Blogger, Old Bus and the Same Old Story - Part One

Off to City Hall this week to speak to the issue of public transit.

The City of Burlington has initiated a cost containment exercise. And while, like motherhood and apple pie, we all want costs contained, we also want to maintain a decent transit system.

Some would argue we don’t have a decent system in this community now. Some transit users get frustrated, give up on the buses and buy cars. I heard of four who had just this week.

Sadly, many in the community don’t support public transit. Sometimes these people get elected. But I digress.

The presentation Doug Brown and I prepared is available should you be interested. (e-mail me at

The essence of the presentation was that it is important for our environment and important to the quality of life in our town that we have good transit.

We’d like the cost containment exercise to keep that in mind.

New Street # 10 Bus

A surprising amount of the discussion at Committee focused on the 23 year old bus I rode to City Hall.

Does this seem old to you? Twenty years ago all municipal buses were pulled from service after 18 years. That has changed ("financial constraints") - and Burlington has been buying and repairing old buses.

Of the City’s 52 buses twenty (38%) are between 22 – 25 years old. Some Councillors seemed surprised at this revelation - surprising in itself as they approve the purchases and there are always lengthy discussions around the council table before purchases are made.

Be Ye Thankful

One Councillor noted that I should be "thankful” to be riding the 23 year old bus. He thought, I guess, that buses were better made then.

Yes, I am thankful because my health allows me to ride these old non-accessible buses. Many in our community can’t.

So here is the issue.

More people will use the system if it is accessible and provides quality service.

Does Council mow the parks with lawnmowers that are twenty three years old? Can you imagine how exercised our hockey players would get if 23 year old zambonis broke down and the ice couldn’t be cleared?.

We’ll have more on this meeting tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Trust the Process

“Trust the process.” Former Burlington mayor Walter Mulkewich brought this bit of advice to city Council last night.

This was in the context of trying to decide on a design option for the proposed Burlington Performing Arts Centre.

Good advice. But when is process finished, or started for that matter?

That was at the crux of the debate and, in fact, is at the centre of many city hall debates.

It is clear that there has been lots of process on this file. Meetings, reports, polling and public consultation go back at least six – some might even say nine - years.

Today’s politicians largely support “process.” But they are elected to make decisions. At the end of the day they have to raise their hands and vote yes or no. Opportunities can be missed and costs will escalate if decisions continually get put back.

A big part of yesterday’s debate was whether the proposed location of a studio theatre (front or back) best met the needs of potential user groups and the community.

It seemed early in the evening that most of those who supported and will use the Centre were satisfied with the “front” location.

Mayor Jackson didn’t see it that way. His reasonable view was that more process was needed, specifically around the studio theatre location. Toward the end of a sometimes acrimonious debate he moved an amendment:

“That the Project Management Team and the Performing Arts Advisory Committee must agree on the location of the studio theatre location before the design phase can commence.”

The motion was defeated four votes to three.

So, Councillors did indeed get to raise their hands and made a decision (on a 5 – 2 vote) to move a preferred option to the design development phase.

More To Come

There will still be lots of process. Concerns about escalating costs were mitigated only slightly by MP Mike Wallace’s commitment of $1.5 million additional federal support.

Those who see no value in such an important community project will be back. Neigbours will eventually have lots to say.

Parking as always is an issue on municipal projects – cost, accessibility and impacts on community.

Typically, those councillors who spoke about access to the facility talked of convenient car drop opportunities. Nary a thought that many users of the Centre would/could use public transit.

Monday, March 17, 2008


To paraphrase Art Linkletter; politicians say the darndest things. Case in point the pearl above from former Toronto Mayor Alan Lamport.

Although Lamport was good, or is it bad, Mel Lastman,Mayor of Toronto, (1997 – 2003) and North York (1972 -1997) would run a close second. Looking back at some of his best known lines oddly provides a bit of commentary on some of the municipal issues we have faced over the last twenty five years.

Mel was way ahead of his time.

“It would save energy. There are more car accidents at night. Everybody else is out of their heads if they don’t go along with this.”

Explaining why North York would introduce Daylight Saving time in March 1984, instead of in April. - 1984

Now that you he has some time on his hands Mel might be interested in season’s tickets for the new Burlington Performing Arts Centre?

“I can’t sit and listen to music. Opera would drive me out of my mind. Musicals I don’t enjoy. Or ballet. I’d go crazy. My nerves wouldn’t permit it.” - February 1986

Remember when the stores were closed on Sunday?

“It doesn’t make any sense that a consumer can drink or go the racetrack on Sunday but cannot buy a Bible or clothes. The law is discriminatory. There’s no two ways about it.”

In support of Sunday shopping - May 1995

Does the Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty understand this tugboat thing?

“Local governments are like tugboats – they’re manoeuvrable and get things done.”- August 1997

How does garbage pick up every two weeks grab you, Mel?

“I know if I walked out at night and saw a raccoon with those big eyes staring at me, I’d run… people are petrified to put the garbage out now.”

On his belief that raccoons, skunks and rats are drawn by garbage in once-a-week-pickup in Toronto. November 97

A lot of people are just figuring out what Mel knew all along.

“Everything (premier) Mike Harris touches turns to crap.”

During an attack on the premier over downloading costs dumped on the city - June 8, 2001

And speaking of crap

“Sometimes too much knowledge is a dangerous thing, almost, in some areas, in my view.

Words of wisdom from Mel’s friend Mike Harris.

As Alan Lamport once said: All this progress is marvelous… now if only it would stop.”

“I have decided that this will be may last year in office because, ladies and gentlemen, Toronto’s future is secure.” - April 2003

Friday, February 29, 2008

Sudbury Sunday Night

The Mayor is missing Bingo to hear Sir Elton singo
Don’t let the sun go down on Sudbury Sunday night?
Councillors paid their due, so what’s the hullabaloo.
But will they feel the love next Sudbury election night?

(With apologies to Stompin Tom)

Today’s question:

If Elton John came to Burlington would it create a political controversy?

In Sudbury – yes, Sudbury - it’s the new Watergate.

Just last month Sir Elton’s upcoming appearance at the Sudbury Arena was trumpeted as “the biggest concert in the city’s history." No arguments here.

“(M)onumental and will generate tremendous excitement for everyone in our city," noted the Sudbury Arena manager, who next week returns to more mundane matters such as keeping the Zamboni running.

Not the kind of Excitement that was Expected

The "excitement" has to do with the fact that city councillors got first dibs on tickets for the March 2nd concert. Local leaders snared 120 ducats ($87.50 to $129.50) before the box office opened. When the tickets went on sale to the masses, they were gone in minutes. No surprise.

According to the CBC, “outrage among fans who saw no reason why (the Councillors) should be able to jump the line” ensued.

At first Councillors dug in. After all they had paid for the tickets.

Rumours followed - the man who gave us Don’t Shoot Me - I’m Only the Piano Player - would skip the Big Nickel due to the bad vibes.

Municipal officials pressured the Sudbury Star: (C)ontinue “to report on the ticket controversy, the Elton John concert conceivably could be cancelled.”

Now, at Mayor John Rodriguez’s request, seventy-one tickets have been returned to the promoter. Forty-nine tickets are still out there - sold to family or friends or given to charity.

Today, the local paper reported the City has spent $12,000 during the last few days to hire a private law firm, as well as a public relations company to help it “deal with the ticket fiasco.”

Live/Learn and Rest

Sudbury has come clean (more or less) and grudgingly provided information to the public on the ticket buying.

"While this matter has been a significant learning process for the city, we sincerely hope that the disclosure of this information will put this matter to rest," Mark Mieto, the city's chief administrative officer, told the Sudbury Star.

Could this happen in the City of Burlington?

Not likely.

First - ask yourself why would Elton John come here? Sure, we’d like him to sing Candle in the Wind at the grand opening of the new pier. But it ain’t going to happen.

Old timers will remember Guy Lombardo, Jayne Mansfield and other greats at the old Brant Inn. I myself heard Lawrence Gowan at Sound of Music a few years ago and saw - have I mentioned this before - PET in Central Park during the Trudeaumania days of 1968.

But Elton John is big. He is, to these aforementioned entertainers, as George Orwell is to this blogger.

Besides, I’m sure we have policies in our town guarding against the kind of abuse of power we’ve seen this month at Sudbury’s Silly Hall.

Actually, I should know this having been there. But, of such policies, I have no recollection, as they say.

I remain confident, nevertheless, that, if policies are needed Mayor Cam and the Gang of Six will, in their wisdom, attend to it.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Greetings on Family Day

For a time I was a municipal councillor.

One of the really difficult things - and I took this seriously – was bringing greetings from the City. This was a frequent assignment for a Councillor acting as deputy when the mayor wasn’t available.

The required off the cuff comments were tough for me.

As today is Family Day I worry what I would have said if I were assigned “greetings” on this date.

So here it is.

On behalf of the City of Burlington I’d like to welcome you here on the first Family Day and tell you to “Take a Hike.”

I say “Take a Hike” not just because the exercise will do you good but also because if you don’t have a car (and many of you don’t) or you choose not to drive for environmental reasons you’ll have no choice as there is no Public Transit in Burlington today.

Take a Hike to our eastern and western borders and ride Oakville Transit or Hamilton Street Railway as they are running today.

Or take a longer hike to just about any other municipality in the area (e.g. Brampton, St. Catharines, Guelph, Mississauga, Niagara Falls, Oshawa etc.) and you can ride a bus today.

But Seriously

Perhaps I’m missing something but isn’t something terribly wrong here? Shouldn’t Burlington residents have the opportunity to visit family members at Joseph Brant or get to work (40% of us are working today) or recreational opportunities by public transit?

A 2006 consultant’s report, accepted by Council, recommended provision of holiday service. Why are we so different than other communities? (I’ve found two where transit isn't running today – Milton and Port Perry.)

Any ideas what can be done?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Something Positive for a Winter Day

I was going to write something on Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller’s annual environmental report - Reconciling Our Priorities – but it is so depressing.

Basically, he says that our planning processes and mechanisms are outdated and loaded with conflicting priorities. We have no effective mechanisms in place to reconcile conflicting priorities.

Who needs such excessive negativity in the middle of February? We’ll come back to Gord’s report at a later day.

Happy Days

How about some good news?

I just read that RWDI Consultants in Guelph have proven that restaurants with a drive-through window are more environmentally friendly than those without.

This is indeed good news particularly as there seems to be one of these things at every corner.

Apparently RWDI found that a drive-through serving 150 vehicles in an hour is roughly equivalent to the emissions from one motorcycle operating at 50 km/h for an hour, or two home woodstoves operating for an hour, or about three six-horsepower lawnmowers operating for an hour.

Last March your blogger sent crack gonzo journalist Hunter R. Wilson to a New Street phone booth to research drive through activity (see Drive Throughs Need Restrictions(03/12/07). How could we have been so wrong as to not take into account all the pollution being caused by non drive through patrons driving their cars around parking lots looking for empty spaces like RWDI did?

Well, I wasn’t very good in science and these consultants are. Four hundred employees with doctorates and engineering and science degrees can't be wrong.

And they get paid for this stuff. Whereas, I with my an undergraduate arts degree, am just blowing smoke.

Proposed Change

So based on this research here is an idea.

Let’s close down these places that sell food but have been unable to adapt to our car culture. Every restaurant without a drive through should be illegal. That will just be a start.

Next step will be a requirement that all retail operations will be required to have a drive through.

It will be good for the environment. And it cheers me up just thinking about it. How about you?

Friday, February 08, 2008

Misleading Data?

GTA residents pay an average of only 5% of their property taxes to run local transit systems, the Sustainable Urban Development Association (SUDA) has found.

Halton is the worst of the Regions at 2.1% and Burlington is worse than that at 2.06. Oakville taxpayers pay 38% more of their property tax dollars to transit.

But you can do anything with statistics. Everyone knows that.

This is a classic example. I'm pretty certain.

How come, you say?

Well because Burlington is committed to transit. It says so right there in their Strategic Plan.

One of the leading causes of smog and pollution is vehicle exhaust with single occupant vehicles being a major contributor. Burlington will provide transit services that offer a transportation alternative to single occupancy vehicles and that integrate with other transit services throughout the region.

And there is more:

Burlington will be a clean, green and environmentally healthy city where the city actively participates and encourages environmentally responsible programs, policies and actions that work to improve and restore our natural environment

So these statistics are misleading although I worry (it is my nature) because Burlington’s air quality is pretty bad. Recently I read we had the worst day in the province in 2006. But this is proably just another case of manipulating data.

Our Medical Officer of Health, Bob Nosal, reports that we have approximately 190 premature deaths in Halton each year because of poor air quality.

He also says that an important strategy in dealing with air pollution includes smarter planning of communities and a greater dependency on transit. We all know that, right?

In the meantime I’m sure someone can explain the fact that Ajax spends 3.4% of their property tax dollars on transit. They are probably neglecting their downtown.

And Markham at 5.38%. Well, that only makes sense because they have some many more transit riders than we do.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics. Disraeli knew what he was talking about.

Friday, January 25, 2008


On Monday night Burlington City Council will consider spending up to $40,000 to get public input regarding the proposed Performing Arts Centre. You can find that report CC-241-07 on the City’s website.

Your blogger believes in public input. You can never have too much of it.

In this particular instance there hasn’t been an actual poll done on a Performing Arts Centre (PAC) in quite some time. Not since November 2004 actually.

Previous Poll

In that poll only 78% of Burlington respondents thought building a PAC was a "good" or "excellent" idea. When given detailed financial implications the support increased, but only slightly, to 83%. One of eleven respondents was strongly opposed to this idea and, it must be noted, with a margin of error in the survey of 4.9% this opposing figure could be as high as one in seven against. Artsy types will try to convince you that the margin of error could also indicate that only one in twenty is opposed. Well, that can certainly be clarified with another poll. Let’s get on with it, I say.

Next Steps

Doing a survey will add an additional cost of $400,000 in construction related cost escalation to the project (about $120,000 per month); but, as I said, you can never have too much public input.

It wouldn’t hurt to test public opinion on a few more important public issues at the same time. That would be a good use of taxpayers’ hard earned dollars.

Here are a few questions that could be asked.

Should Saskatchewan be required to have daylight-saving time like the rest of Canada?

Did the Leafs do the right thing in replacing General Manager John Ferguson Jr. earlier this week?

Would you be in favour of renting out the Council Chambers on Monday nights so that comedians could perform and raise money to pay for the additional costs to the Performing Arts Centre that will result from this survey?

I admit that I’m not a pollster. These questions could undoubtedly be better worded -but you can never have too much public input.

Wouldn’t you agree?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Sprawl - Cause and Impacts

A different take on what ails local government today can be found in Lawrence Solomon ‘s book Toronto Sprawls - A History (U of T Press, 2007).

His theme is this:

Government did not take a supporting role in creating the mess of urban sprawl we have today but rather took “the lead role” and “also directed the show.”

The book, a lean 120 pages, puts forward a well-documented case that citizens wanted to live in more compact cities. Governments “acted not to satisfy the public’s desires but to frustrate them.”

For example, early 20th century local government was antagonistic to the idea of low rise apartment buildings as a dangerous social intervention that ”compromised child rearing, promoted sexual promiscuity and otherwise threatened family life.” Ever wondered how the term “Toronto the Good” originated?

Suburban growth was actively promoted by government throughout the century. First (around 1902) there was the garden suburb movement which addressed the “overcrowding” issue; then an unsuccessful attempt to enhance town life with indoor rural industries following WWI; then the Veterans Land Act that tried to entice veterans into becoming part time farmers.

All these policies were failures as they were not congruent with people’s desires.

The Fifties and On

With the establishment of Metro Toronto (1953) government moved to “partial amalgamation, full sprawl” the very purpose, Solomon argues, being to take taxes from the city (Toronto) “in order to fund services needed in the suburbs” (North York, Scarborough etc..).

This trend continued through the Robarts/Davis years with more partial amalgamations(Halton, Peel Durham and York.)

It has played out with the City of Toronto initially subsidizing the Metro suburbs through various levies and now Metro residents subsidizing the costs of the GTA suburbs through provincial taxes.

The author depends on research from the sixties (Clark - Suburban Society) to make the case that most people who left for the burbs moved there “half heartedly.” Apparently they would have preferred the superior lifestyle of the urban centre. Your blogger has some doubts on this point.

It is clear though that prior to “subsidized sprawl” the burbs were developing compactly along transportation corridors.

What Might Have Been?

The author believes that had governments the will sprawl could have been stopped years ago. The City of Toronto could have achieved densities similar to the desirable areas of the world’s great cities and accommodated the population of Metro and most of the GTA.

What Can be Done?

Solomon says sprawl can still be stopped. Congestion pricing, replacing market value assessment with user fees or other forms of taxation and by allowing widespread deregulation are some options.

Food for thought.


**In spite of legislative restrictions 20,000 new apartment units were created from 1921 to 1931 typically in three and four storey walk ups.

**The four lane Toronto Bypass (the 401) was described as a “motorists dream” providing some of the most soothing scenery in Metro - “a long way from the big city” when completed in 1956.

**Latest density figures (people per acre)

Old City of Toronto 28.0
North York, Etobicoke, Scarborough 10.13
GTA Regions 6.8

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Burlington Council Makeup

Years ago I learned that one could be considered informed on local matters if one read the Burlington Post.

I strive to follow this sage advice but admit to slipping from time to time as I lose sight of the news under the cover of all those ads.

Anyway lately I noticed a front page story capturing the concerns of many of my neighbours. It seems that the leaf collection program has been vanquished by the earlier than usual arrival of winter. Indeed, emerging from my self-imposed winter hibernation I observed piles of last fall’s raked leaves appearing from under the melting snow. Global warming, I guess, but what can I do about it? Leave it to the Prime Minister.

This story though caught my eye as a matter I could sink my teeth into.

“Is city council too small?

Jason Misner, Burlington Post reporter says it is (too small) and we do need more politicians in a “My View” opinion piece (December 28th).

Misner an earnest, hard-working reporter who has covered Burlington Council for nearly two years makes a good case for this much needed reform. I’ll get back to Jason’s argument but first some historical perspective.


Burlington functioned pretty well with a 17-member Council - two per ward (one who covered Regional and city duties, one who was strictly a city representative) until 1997. Our current MP Mike Wallace caught up in the Mike Harris Commonsense thinking in vogue in 1996 saw it differently. Less government was the order of the day and fewer politicians were part and parcel of that now largely discredited and simplistic attack on local democracy.

Wallace took the lead and with the support of then Mayor Mulkewich convinced a majority of Council in a 9 -8 vote to downsize to its current six ward reps and a Mayor. Did any other Council in Ontario downsized itself to this extent?

Back to the Post Story

Misner argues that Council has a heavy workload and handles millions of dollars. He is worried that overworked Councillors may make hasty decisions because they could be tired at the end of a long day. He thinks “that issues that shouldn’t have been pursued” such as fighting Wal Mart would have had a different outcome with more than seven councillors.

More importantly in this blogger’s view is the fact that with the potential of Councillor member absences or conflicts of interest important decisions can be made for a community of 155,000 by as few as three people. (Joan Little has spoken strongly to this point in her Spectator column on more than one occasion.)


Raising the number of Councillors to nine or eleven has merit. However, such a change would impact Halton Region Council where Burlington with about a third of the Regional population has one third of the representatives (7 of 21). Increasing the size of Halton Council isn’t on. Some sort of division of duties so that some Burlington Councillors serve at the Region and others just serve at the City might work.

Or we could just get rid of the Region as a political body. While the services it provides are important and typically well run the Halton politicians spend most of their time debating what to put in letters to senior levels of government all saying variations of the same theme - we need more money.

I’m not holding my breath waiting for the Region to go. Hopefully though, Jason Misner’s column will inspire some dialogue on reforming Burlington Council.