Wednesday, December 16, 2009


They were spending like the proverbial drunken sailor on the good ship Burlington Monday past.

Sixty million loonies for the hospital.

More money – perhaps $9 million – for the former General Brock school property.

Pan Am commitments toward City Park near Waterdown which will, history tells us, be way over cost estimates as is the norm with multi-event games.

But like that sailor our self-professed parsimonious pols were in seventh heaven over their spending spree or so it appeared to this channel surfing blogger who had earlier succumbed to too many Christmas specials and Tiger updates.

Councillor D’Amelio patiently explained to observers and your obviously misinformed correspondent that the media has it wrong because the big projects almost always come in under budget.

That and the season undoubtedly account for all the happiness and comes as a great relief as I had worried that nobody knew where all the money to pay for these projects would be found.


Taking the Sherwood Park location off the table means the Games site is narrowed down to one option - which is really no option, isn’t it?

City Park’s development needs approval from the Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC) who have designated the land for recreation uses and facilities.

The NEC Plan assumes that any development will have “minimal adverse effect on the environment” and “not exceed the carrying capacity of the site.”

So as I mentioned everyone was so happy with the site and excited about all the money to be spent on this and other projects. You’d have to be a real pessimist to imagine that approval for a stadium, two lit artificial turf fields, one additional field, and lots of bells and whistles adjacent to a Natural Environment area, an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI) and 3,000 homes won’t be all wrapped up before the Seaway closes for the season.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Doing the Math

While the Pan Am Games numbers didn’t compute for this blogger another “math’ exercise I participated in did add up.

Well, not really.

On November 18th a mixed group of 14 Burlington residents and service providers did some math at a breakfast meeting held at Community Development Halton.
Toronto’s The Stop Community Food Centre and the Campaign to Put Food in the Budget created this web based budget tool to promote understanding of poverty issues. Do the Math poses a simple question:

Does a single person on social assistance receive enough income to live with health and dignity?

A survey allows you to determine what you would need to make ends meet and to compare your results to what a single person on social assistance receives each month.

How often does one need a haircut? Dental care might not be a priority. But can you find a job with bad teeth? Do I really need that large double, double at $1.72?

These are but a few of the questions/issues the group considered.

When they added it was determined that it would cost $1,742 a month for a single person to get by with a bachelor apartment in Burlington.

Compare that to the maximum amount of:

*$572 per month a single Ontario Works recipient gets.
*1,020 a single individual on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) would receive.

Or consider the fact that a full- time minimum wage earner would have only $1429 in before tax income.

One participant noted that the gap was “astronomical.” Another questioned the sense of social assistance policies if the rates established clearly aren’t doing any good.
Over 3,000 people around the province have signed the online petition or a postcard that calls for government to ‘do the math’ too, and overhaul the system that sets rates, as well as for an immediate increase of $100 as a first step to meet basic needs. About half of provincial Members of Parliament have been involved in this project to date.

At long last the provincial government is beginning a promised review of social assistance. Hopefully, changes are on the way.

Sunday, December 06, 2009


City staff are recommending that a site at Highway #5 and Kerns Road known as
City Park be approved as the venue for the Pan Am Games soccer matches. Seven games in the preliminary round plus some contests in the Parapan Games following later in August 2015 would be held here.

We visited the site today.

The Community and Corporate Services Committee is considering the recommendation this Wednesday. Earlier this year it seemed like a good idea to have it at Sherwood Park in southeast Burlington. Then the neighbours got wind of the 1,500 permanent seat stadium and Councillors figured another location closer to where nobody lived – well nobody from Burlington anyway - would be a better idea.

There are issues. Here’s one:

The lands are under the jurisdiction of the Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC). I’m thinking the NEC plan didn’t anticipate international games with three soccer fields, one a permanent stadium with an artificial surface with lighting would be locating here.

Not to worry says Burlington staff. Their timetable anticipates approval in principle from the NEC this month – an interesting trick as the Commission isn’t meeting in December. But approval is required before year end or we’re going to look like we didn’t think this one through real well..

I’m struggling with the budget. Does $30 million sound like a lot of taxpayer money when many in our community are struggling?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Why don't we want the poor to own anything?

Since the days of Mike Harris municipalities have been up against it having to deal with the so-called reform of the welfare system. Recently I read a report by John Stapleton, a well respected social policy expert. The report addresses one aspect of what social assistance applicants and recipients have to deal with.

The report that is called “Why don’t we want the poor to own anything? Our relentless social policy journey toward destitution for the 900,000 poorest people in Ontario.”

The title says a lot.

The report is about asset testing. I’m not sure whether many readers of this blog have direct experience with this cruel and foolish policy. Asset testing limits eligibility to welfare benefits when applicants have certain liquid assets above an established limit.

Asset testing used today is far more stringent than at any time since the post-war period.

Read Stapleton’s report at

Here is a Cole’s notes version.

*Most programs in Canada have abandoned asset testing.

* Seven per cent of Ontario’s population are subject to often stringent asset testing.

*Asset limits were dropped by a factor of five (single persons) and four (lone parent) by Mike Harris, a change which was in many ways had much more impact than the 21.6 per cent cuts to social assistance he put in place.

*The asset limit for lone parents in 1948 adjusted to inflation would be $10,900 today. In fact, the current asset limit is $1,550.

Since the McGuinty government came into power, many of the Harris implemented clampdowns have been relaxed or removed. And while the limits on assets have changed, the huge drops in asset limits “caused by linking asset accumulation to monthly rates have yet to be addressed.”

What to do

Stapleton wants to:

*Raise asset limits for social assistance and legal aid to $5,000 for singles and $10,000 for families with disabilities.

*Get in line with Alberta and Quebec by exempting portions or all of Tax Free Savings and RRSPs.

*Exempt, in the short term, all assets for the first six months of receipt of assistance.

*Eliminate the option to test subsidized housing under the Social Housing Reform Act.

Hopefully, decision makers will read this report.

What do you think?

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Back in the day when I was a Councillor I worried that if there were no seniors in town I’d become redundant.

After all the majority of concerns directed my way came from those in their sunset years.

That man who picks up the garbage is an hour late today.

Those teenagers are loitering in the mall again.

The dandelions are out of control on the north side of New Street.

I’ve got squirrels in my backyard and it is my neighbour’s fault.

Please take care of this?

Yes sir. Yes ma’am.

Local government is closest to the people and your concerns are mine, as they say. So I took care of it - mostly.

I’m older now, pushing sixty. Wiser, I’m not sure?

But now I’ve got my own problems - GARAGE SALES.

You ask what could be wrong with these down-to earth community events?
They’re neighbourly, promote recycling and help people make a few bucks.

But the guy across the street is having five or six a year. So is someone further down the block. Patrons, if that is what they are called, wake me and my true love up early on Saturday mornings; they block our driveway; and frankly just annoy me.

My neighbour, the guy who used to gripe about my son playing ball hockey in the street, is the focus of my ire. I’m sure you’ve got neighbours like this too.

After his last garage sale he took off faster than a pick pocket being chased by Donovan Bailey and came back soon – it couldn’t have been more than thirty minutes later - with stuff, garage sale stuff, that he is going to offer up to the public at his next sale and that will probably be next weekend.

There must be a by-law on this. And if there isn’t there should be.

I’m calling my Councillor. I mean he works for me, doesn’t he? And if he won’t do something about it I’ll write a by-law myself.

And if he doesn’t support it, well he better be getting some job counselling soon because he’ll be looking for work after the next election.

When is the next election anyway?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Learnings form the Other Municipalities - Edmonton #2

Editorial writers at the Edmonton Journal had their City of Champions shorts in a knot over public transit recently.

Seems that the creation of a new student transit pass has meant the system has "absorbed" five million more riders than expected.

This low blow to property taxpayers came about when college and university students took advantage of a annual pass that was offered at a bargain price.

The result was that student ridership averaged 40 trips per month instead of the anticipated 25. Clearly the pass price of $78.75 per year should be revisited.

But the Journal pontificators really jumped offside when they questioned the appropriateness of property taxes going to public transit. Then - a warning please move young children away from the screen - they used the S-Word (i.e., subsidy) while talking about public transit. No mention of the massive subsidies given to automobile users every day.

So Edmonton bureaucrats get the price right.

More people on public transit should be a good news story - especially in Alberta.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Learnings from Other Municipalities - Edmonton #1

Hamilton (the City of Waterfalls) has 77 or so of them and one high level bridge.

Edmonton (the City of Champions) has but one waterfall and it flows off their high level bridge, or did until this summer.

According to the Edmonton Journal, the Great Divide Waterfall which usually "operates" about five times a year is turned off until 2010.

While it is speculated that tourists will be disappointed, they'll have to wait until the city has figured a way to get the chlorine out of the water as it is detrimental to fish and natural habitats in the North Saskatchewan River.

Thirty million litres of water cascades off the bridge each year adding 0.4% of chlorinated discharge into the river.

A "hired" consultant is going to sort out the options and the cost of dechlorinating the water and report back later this year.

Disappointed tourists can, hopefully, check out some of the areas more natural water features until the taps start to flow again.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Regulating Rental Housing

Would it be a good idea for municipalities to establish “landlord registries.”

On June 1 Hamilton city staff are beginning consultation to assist in developing recommendations and an overview so that “City Council can make an informed decision on if or how rental housing should be regulated.”

Why this Review could make a Difference to Tenants

Since 2007 Ontario municipalities have had the ability to enhance existing licensing. Some municipalities are starting to take advantage of this new power in order to address health, safety, and property maintenance issues faced by tenants.
Typically, such a registry would require landlords to obtain a license and maintain their rental property and building in good condition.

New By-Law in London

Earlier this year London Ontario put in place an enforcement program focussing on addressing substandard housing conditions in areas of the city known for deficient housing conditions. A plan to cover the whole city is in the works.

Considerable opposition to the London initiative came from property mangers and landlords. They argued that the regulation was another tax; municipalities already have the tools to inspect buildings; and that the cost of licensing fees will be passed down to the tenant.

Other Places, Other Approaches

Other cities like Ottawa are moving ahead with the backing of tenants’ groups. Oshawa was the first out of the starting blocks, however, it designed its registry to cover a particular section of the city where students are housed. This presents human rights issues.

Toronto has gone in a different direction. Last year the Centre of the Universe launched a Multi-Residential Apartment Building Audit and enforcement program that will provide inspection and enforcement action on at least 176 of the City's rental buildings in the first year of a pilot project. Toronto is doing this audit with existing resources. A fee of $60 per hour will be charged to the building for each visit after the second inspection until an order is completed to meet bylaw or provincial requirements

There are different approaches possible. It’s important, though, that as municipalities begin to look at developing these polices tenant voices are heard.

You can be sure that landlords will represent their interests.

(This is an edited version of an article that appeared earlier on the Hamilton Spectator's Poverty blog - No Excuses)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Get out of My Ward

We didn’t have e-mail back in the nineties so when I’d see the Ward 7 Councillor on my turf in Ward 8 I simply yell at him to get out of my ward.

This seemed very funny to both of us in those days. After all we were Councillors who served the whole city and ward boundaries were arbitrary and frequently adjusted as the city’s population shifted.

However, based on a small piece in the Toronto Star this past Friday such encroachments are now pretty serious stuff.

“Stop messing in my ward or there will be problems, Ward 18 Toronto Councillor Adam Giambrone e-mailed fellow Councillor Cesar Palacio of Ward 17.

Giambrone continued: “I generally ignore your actions, but I am going to start looking for ways to cause trouble for you and when I start you’re not going to appreciate it.”

Not surprisingly Palacio has complained to the City’s integrity commissioner.

My method from the nineties - just shouting - was probably as effective and didn’t leave a paper trail.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Making Burlington Prosperous

During my lunch hour yesterday I had a terrific idea for boosting Burlington’s economic prospects.

It involves Oakville, polling and drive-thrus.

You see the Town of Oakville apparently has concerns about the negative impacts drive- thrus at banks and fast food locations might be having on their beautiful town.

So they decided to get input from the public.

I’ve made mine already – ban these environmental disasters - that’s what I say.

And if these out-of -touch Oakvillians – the fools – are taken in by a manipulated internet poll and really go ahead and regulate drive-thrus think what that could mean for our fine city.

Townies from the east will be flocking here in the thousands so they can bank on their backsides and roll up the rim without breaking a sweat.

It is called O-P-P-O-R-T-U-N-I-T-Y. And with some innovative thinking we can really take this one to the bank. Think drive-thru funeral homes, weddings. The mind boggles.

Vote on the Oakville poll at Vote early and often.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Police Budgets

There was a day when, through a procedural quirk that I, a simple Ward Councillor, was poised to freeze the police budget.

This was when I was Regional Councillor and had for a year ascended to the lofty heights of budget committee member. (There were only four on the committee and that oddity presented the procedural opportunity, as I recall.)

Long story short: I had , of course, over rated my procedural prowess and the police got their money as they always do.

I was reminded of this today upon reading a report in the Stratford Beacon-Herald that notes that the small southwestern town of St. Mary’s is considering other policing arrangements after the police budget (for the OPP in this case) is expected to escalate by 82%. Mayor Jamie Hahn calls it “outrageous and unreasonable.” Other communities - Oxford County and Sarnia have similar issues according to the story by Laura Cudworth.

But the real story here should be:


This has been the case for some time. For many reasons police budgets get measured by a different standard than other areas of the municipal budget.

Not to suggest there is a simple solution for municipal politicians. In fact, the escalating costs are probably beyond their control.

I drove like an undertaker for some time after my fifteen minutes of oppositional fame. To this day I bet there is no one who does the textbook perfect lane changes that I do.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Municipalities and Health Care

Battles to preserve health care are being fought in many small Ontario municipalities.

Residents and Councils are fighting the closing and potential closing of emergency rooms in their local hospitals.

Seaforth Community Hospital was reduced to a 12 hour operation early this year.

“Cutting ER services is a direct response to the financial pressures on the health care system,” says Michael Hurley, President of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions OCHU/CUPE.

Hurley’s union represented 40 workers who lost their jobs at the Huron County hospital.

But this is about more than jobs. It’s about keeping our communities healthy.

In Petrolia the ER was “saved” in February after a huge public outcry and a threat by six doctors to resign if it was closed.

Meanwhile, in the nearby southwestern town of Wallaceburg the sparring is just beginning to protect the Sydenham District Hospital ER. Two hundred residents attended a first meeting. A rally in a supermarket parking lot planned by Save Our Sydenham (SOS) Committee will certainly draw a bigger crowd.

Fort Erie and Port Colborne are in similar predicaments. A resolution by Fort Erie Council calls for public election of all hospital boards and
legislative protection for rural hospitals More than fifty-eight Ontario communities have supported it according to Port Colborne’s website.

Many blame Local Health Integration Networks (LINH’s) for this development.

Queen’s Park “essentially established the mandate the LHINs are now carrying out. I believe that health care in rural Ontario is being systematically withdrawn. This is not acceptable and is a direct reversal of Premier Dalton McGuinty's own promise to us to protect the small rural hospital and their ability to serve..,” charged Port Colborne Mayor Vance Badawey.

All of us should be paying attention to how this plays out.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Canada's first food bank opened in 1981.

Remember 1981? The U.S.S.R was the enemy, Exhibition Stadium the home of the Blue Jays and Eaton’s was a great place to shop.

The country, the stadium and the retailer are long gone. But the Edmonton food bank, billed at the time as a temporary solution, is still here and about 650 others have been added across our affluent land.

And it is getting worse.

A situation reported by the Belleville Intelligencer this week is illustrative.

The number of new clients at Gleaners Food bank (which serves the Quinte Region of South-Eastern Ontario) doubled this December over December 2007.

The number of food hampers issued this past January is up 43% over the previous January.

The Board is considering increasing the hours the food bank is open.

On Tuesday 240 dozen eggs came in. At closing there were only about thirty dozen left. There was fighting among clients.

On Wednesday a man and his son are alleged to have threatened staff. Police were involved.

Could this have been foreseen?

“We were afraid something was going to happen today because we had clients fighting yesterday,” Suzanne Quinlan, the Centre’s Director told the Intelligencer.

Now the Board, already struggling to meet client needs, has to consider adding security staff.

Carol Goar’s opinion piece in yesterday’s Toronto Star puts the food issue in context.

The average weekly food bill in Canada is $140 or 10.4% of income. If a mother of two on welfare:

“ spent 10.4% per cent of her income on food, as other parents do, her weekly grocery budget would be $25.14. She would have to buy a lot of bread, pasta, rice and other cheap starches and get whatever she could at the local food bank.”

Political Solution Needed

But food banks, a temporary solution, have reached their limits. I’m not stating anything new or profound when I say that people shouldn’t go hungry in this country; parents shouldn’t have to count on a food bank to feed their children.

There are political solutions to these matters. The Harperites aren’t interested. Their recent budget proved that. Let’s hope McGuinty’s government shows some leadership in their March budget.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


When you're alone and life is making you lonely
You can always go - downtown
When you've got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know - downtown
Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose?

OK, Petula Clark wasn’t singing about Ontario cities when she scored a big hit in 1974 with Downtown.

But why did that song come to my mind reading Ontario papers this week?

First, let’s look at Sault Ste. Marie, the third largest city in Northern Ontario with a population of 75,000.

Tuesday the Sault Star reported that Council had voted 9 - 3 (one member absent) to approve 42,000 square feet of office space outside of the downtown area.

Who cares, you say?

Well this approval:

1. Insulted the Official Plan.
2. Was uncalled for when about 500,000 square feet of available commercial space currently exists.
3. Was contrary to the Planning Department’s recommendation.*

Writer Elaine Della-Matta noted that those voting for the office space had their reasons.

One said “he's been shut out of (downtown) businesses because he can't get in with his wheelchair.”

Another Councillor noted it is “difficult to find large accessible spaces in the downtown area.”

And, finally, it was argued the downtown shouldn’t be sold short but the rest of the town shouldn’t be forgotten.

I’m thinking Mayor Roswell (who opposed the change) got it right:

"Council's decision tonight is going to change things. This is a major shift in where our community is going."

Meanwhile, this week the Intelligencer in Belleville (population 50,000) talked about what happened to their downtown.

Apparently when the Quinte Mall opened in the early 1970s “merchants were skeptical that it would take away customers but they soon learned the truth.”

"That knocked the hell out if us. "It was difficult. Some people thought it wouldn't hurt us," Charlie Kammer, a downtown merchant for 42 years told the paper.

Kammer remembers seven hardware stores and eight drugstores operating in the core.

Consultants have addressed the downtown problems says reporter Brice McVicar.

A revitalization program, co-ordinating the resources of various departments was suggested by du Toit Associates Ltd in 1980.

An emphasis on waterfront recreation, free public transit and a the placement of a banner near the Quinte Mall that would say something like "Experience Shopping in Downtown Belleville" was recommended by Alexander V. Crate Consultants in a 1984 report.

And in 1992 (Loughheed and Associates) wanted to close streets and develop an Apr.-Oct./ pedestrian promenade.

Apparently things are slowly improving. Mayor Neil Ellis believes “that downtown merchants are carving their own niche, rather than competing against bigger rivals.”

Belleville consultants: Check your Blackberries, the Soo’ll be calling soon.

*This raises a larger question: Why do we really need planners with their big salaries, large offices and strange vocabularies when we have politicians who can do the job. We’ll save this one for another day.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Games People Play

The Ontario Senior Games Winterfest 2009 kick off in Brockville this Wednesday. GTA types who promote the Pan Games should pay attention.

According to a story in the Brockville Recorder and Times by Michael Jiggins the local economy will be helped by the games.

Games general manager Laurence Bishop says that athletes will provide an $850,000 boost to the economy before they head home after Fridays’ closing ceremonies.

Jiggins quotes restaurant owner John Ackerman who believes the Games "are a great idea in these economic times.”

"Especially for the restaurants, January and February is your slow time of the year. ... And it will help all of the other businesses, too, people will be out shopping. I'm all for it."

Local hotels are fully booked. Occupancy rates typically run around 35 per cent in February. As well up to 70% of the 850 participants will stay an extra night after the games finish. Many participants will enjoy the town and come back.


Meanwhile in the GTA politicians and George F. Babbitt booster types like the Hamilton Spectator fantasize about the supposed benefits of the 2015 Pan Games. In fact, there is much evidence of the detrimental effects such mega events have on host cities. (see Helen Lenskyj’s “The Best Olympics Ever?)

The Pan Am games began in 1951. Popular in Central and South American. sadly, few North Americans – including many top athletes and TV networks - seem to care today..

I don’t always agree with Hamilton Councillor Sam Merulla. This time I do.
Last week Merulla argued unsuccessfully to strike the $235 million Pan Am Games bid from a list of city of Hamilton infrastructure projects. A big part of those dollars would build a new stadium as the current facility - once called Civic Stadium built for the 1930 British Empire Games track events.- can’t accommodate track and field. Is this the kind of “infrastructure” we need for our cities?

Back to Brockville

Longtime Brockville hotelier Bhagwant Parmar tells reporter Jiggins that the Games are about much more than dollars and cents. Winterfest encourages active, healthy lifestyles that improve people's quality of life.

The advantage of that type of tourism, he noted, is it doesn't require millions of dollars to build attractions (bolding mine).

As I said we could learn something from this week’s games in Brockville. These smaller community building events should be the way to go.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Cycling and Our Environment

Gord Miller is Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner (ECO). Each year he takes a look at applications made by Ontario residents for government ministries to “review an existing policy, law, regulation or instrument if they feel the environment is not being protected or to review the need for a new law, regulation or policy.”

This one caught my attention.

Applications R2007005 and R2007006 requested that two ministries (the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) review the need for new legislation or amendments to the Provincial Policy Statement, 2005 (PPS) under the Planning Act for the protection of bicycle couriers and cyclists in general.

The applicants claimed that:

*cyclists’ civil rights of mobility, safety and health have been compromised and overlooked.
*all levels of government are responsible for the due care and protection of residents’ right to security and right to life.
*not implementing cycling transportation plans has contributed to thousands of bicycle collisions in the past decade.
* the road network can be considered an unhealthy work environment for bicycle couriers.

There were other valid points but the thrust of the argument was that since municipal governments (in this case Toronto) promote cycling they ought to be responsible for providing good cycling infrastructure. Further, it was contended that a new provincial law should be enacted, under MMAH jurisdiction, to enhance safety and reform the system of tort liability, and particularly the mechanism known as “contributory negligence.”


I’m a blogger not a lawyer but this is how I understand the tort issue:

Municipalities should have liability since they are partly at fault for the damages or suffering of cyclists involved in a collision with a motor vehicle, for not providing reasonably safe cycling conditions.

Makes sense, right?

The Result

The MOE said the application was outside its mandate.

The MMAH denied the application but only looked at aspects related to the Provincial Policy Statement (i.e., not the liability issues.) The PPS was strong on cycling and had a lengthy consultation said the Ministry. Besides “creating and regulating cycling lanes” is a municipal matter. (Check out the Municipal Act, 2001 if you need clarification.)

The Commish’s Comments

The ECO agreed that MMAH had grounds for denying this application. However, he noted that 2,400 Ontario cyclists are injured and 10 to 15 killed each year on the roads. Many smaller incidents likely go unreported.

Miller questions how strong an environmental document the PPS is. A comment from his 04 - 05 annual report “that some land uses are given clear priority over others” and that the focus “of transportation planning in Ontario has traditionally been the expansion of the road network primarily for motor vehicles” captures his concerns.

As well, while the 2005 PPS says that streets “should be planned to meet the needs of cyclists (it) does not require municipalities to provide safer cycling networks.”

But if municipalities understood they could be liable for not doing enough for cyclists it would provide “sufficient incentive for municipalities to begin allocating appropriate amounts of road space to cyclists and installing protections to increase the safety of cyclists on city streets.”

This would require the action by another ministry - the Attorney General.

You’ll see the Summer Olympics in Milton before Environment, Municipal Affairs and your local government take any action on this one.