Thursday, December 16, 2010

Big Night at City Hall? Bigger Idea for the Region

Here at When the Mayor Smiles we are giving consideration to going on-location with a live twitter feed for this Monday’s (December 20th) Burlington City Council meeting.

This must be a big event because the Burlington Post is all over it. You better check them out for all the details.

Put simply, committee of Council by a vote of 4 - 3 has recommended a .8% increase (Read that as point eight percent increase) to the salaries of the Mayor and Councillors. Using our abacus we get this as a $3,365 annual impact to the city budget. We are incapable of reflecting this as a percentage of the annual budget.

In that Groundhog Day style unique to Burlington Council the same seven decision makers get to repeat their arguments and recast their votes at ``full`` council on Monday.

On second thought we’ll leave the on-location reporting to the Post. However, inspired by such hard hitting journalism we’ll take a look at another remuneration issue – this time over at the Region of Halton.

Here we have 20 Regional Councillors, including the seven aforementioned Burlington debaters, pulling down $43,000 a piece to make the big political decisions that affect us all across our world class municipality - Halton Canada.

Is it just me but we are hard pressed to recall any significant controversial political decision made over, say, the last five years by this body? (The best I can come up with is spending $300,000 to save the white oak tree that blocked the way when Council decided to pave over most of the adjacent property on Highway #25).

This is not to say that good work doesn’t happen at Halton Region. Planners plan planning projects, public health nurses hang out in local watering holes and hand out condoms and the Chair’s golf tournament always does a great job of raising dollars for good causes. But politics isn’t happening here at any higher level than in the two person unit I work in on my day job.

So my idea:

Get rid of those 20 Councillors. I know they are trying but there is nothing for them to do. We'll save close to a million dollars.

As for the Chair, Gary Carr, the former Commonsense Revolutionary has become a popular figure in recent years. I think he should stay. I imagine a role somewhat like Prince Philip`s where Carr could preside over various events like commemorations of grade separations, awards for developer of the year and that golf tournament.

That`s it - just a little December daydreaming.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Thoughts of a Departing Councillor

As the terms of the first four-year Councillors in Ontario history wind down there is a changing of the guard in towns small and cities large across the province.

While eager newcomers join long time-experienced veterans many dedicated Councillors chose to pursue other interests or have had that choice made for them by voters.

I heard one of those who was volunteering to pursue new interests speak earlier this year and thought she had some interesting things to say.

Susan Eagle, was first elected to London (ON) Council in 1997. Ms. Eagle, who grew up in Toronto the daughter of a minister, didn’t have a clear career path to municipal politics. She started as a minister.

According to a story by Kenzie Love in the Internet paper The Reporter, Eagle wasn’t terribly interested in traditional ministry but did have a passion for feminist and liberation theology. Ordained in 1977 by 1984 she was quite involved in tenant issues through the outreach work she was engaged in with her London church. She saw a way that she could pursue this outreach work in municipal politics and was elected in 1997 as a Councillor on London’s southwest side.

When I heard Eagle earlier this year she was reflecting on 13 years at City Hall.

While municipalities don’t have the powers that she believed they had when she arrived at City Hall Eagle has determined that “you make change by being on the inside not outside.” So, it was worth the effort.

Achieving change though can be “frustrating, time consuming and glacial” but by building partnerships and “broadening the base of an issue” you can get results.

Ms. Eagle noted that general media indifference to a social justice agenda exists even as demand for services outstrips the capacities of cities.

The City has become a “safety net” for some citizens so municipalities (like hers) have moved into what she calls “soft services” such as transit subsidies and landlord licensing.

Ms. Eagle offered encouragement for social justice activists and other progressive types.

Don’t give up. Turn up at public meetings.

“A full public gallery changes entrenched votes,” she asserted.

Susan Eagle is now moving to full time work as a Minister at Grace United Church in Barrie.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Today, as promised, I’m back to public transit as it ought to be at the top of our minds as we make our decisions on October 25th.

I was optimistic in the early months of the current 4-year term Burlington Council.
Back then Burlington Council had just created a Transit Advisory Committee that was going to provide input to Council and staff on initiatives and strategies affecting public transportation services.

At the time I noted that the “creation of this committee is one indication that municipal public transit and the environment is being taken more seriously these days.”

I was wrong.

Just a little over a year later along with fellow transit advocate Doug Brown I was back at City Hall. Ridership on Burlington Transit was up according to a staff report.

But this wasn’t stopping some members of Council from taking a knife to it.

“I won’t be swayed by a couple of good months,” noted one veteran Councillor who thought the City had to “look at a simplified system.”

Simplified? One can only imagine.

Empty Buses?

This idealized simplified system comes out of a simplified thinking that typically comes from people who have little direct exposure to transit and little appreciation of how important it is. Unfortunately, some of these simplified thinkers get elected.

It isn’t just here. If you follow local news in other communities you’ll see similar simplified thinking. Local politics is often captive of what I’ve labelled as RATS. 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?

Toronto Star’s Urban Affairs Reporter Carole Vyhnak reported a couple of years ago on Sandra Cassidy, an Ajax Ontario resident, who was railing against Durham Transit Route 222.

Like RATS everywhere Cassidy 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.

Ms. Cassidy was not successful in getting Route 222 pulled and I’m happy to report that the route has recently expanded.

More recently Mark Towhey, a policy advisor for Toronto mayoral Candidate Rob Ford, called for a stop to funding the TTC. He’d sell off its assets.

On his blog Towhey demonstrated a keen understanding of the issue:

“Well, life’s tough. Instead of being the only three people on a 60-passenger bus, perhaps these people will have to introduce themselves, get to know their neighbours and share a taxi.”

That same kind of thinking exists in Burlington where a Ward 5 Candidate did some fancy arithmetic and came up with the “fact” that the buses are empty 98.5% of the time. An incumbent used a similar figure earlier this year. They are just wrong, but like the little boy who yelled ‘fire’ in the theatre they get lots of attention.

I’ll be back with some more before Monday’s election.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

How I'm going to Vote Part 2

Many of you will be on the edge of your ergonomically perfect computer chairs wondering how my Internet voting project went.

It didn't. I got no response on the registration (see my previous post) and Internet voting is now closed. To be fair I may have pushed a wrong button or perhaps I was approved and inadvertently deleted the approval e-mail. Or maybe my PIN number was sent off to some poor disenfranchised Floridian Gore supporter still trying to make the 2000 Presidential election right.

Before I get back to transit I wanted to talk about something that isn't being talked about by candidates in the municipal election. That's poverty.

Twenty eight thousand (28,000) people in Halton live below the Low Income Cut Off (LICO). The LICO is one way, probably the best way, to measure poverty.

Community Development Halton and Poverty Free Halton just put together a video about what it is like to live in poverty in Halton. You can see Being Poor in Halton by going to the CD Halton website.

A questionnaire was sent out to candidates and you can see their
answers too at

One more thing in the interest of full disclosure a young Burlington filmmaker named Graham Wood made the video. I've known Graham 25 years.

Sunday, October 03, 2010


I’ve decided to try Internet Voting just to see how it works.

To do this I needed to register (to internet vote) and it needs to be done from September 27th – October 11th

It took me about three minutes to get registered. The key thing I needed was my Voter Information Notice that includes a 13-digit EID number that I had to enter along with a number of simple questions.

I now have to wait until the Clerk approves me. And I’m a little worried. Perhaps the Clerk is screening this blog before giving approval. We were told at an information session that it would take 24 hours or more for the approval and I’ve been waiting for 3 ½ days. And while I’m eager to vote I can’t actually do it until October 5th. The voting period then lasts until October 13th. I didn’t understand this at first (Shouldn’t it go right up to election day? ) but the idea is that if someone tried to vote by Internet and for some reason was not able to make it work they would still have a chance on election day (October 25th).

So while I wait for the opening of the internet voting I’ve got some time to contemplate who I’ll vote for.

A lot of what is going into my decision has to do with this City’s traditionally poor support for public transit.

Good transit is a must for a good city. There are the environmental reasons for using transit as an option to gas spewing single occupant vehicles, of course. Then there is the equity issue. It just seems to me a given that all citizens should be able to get around the town where they live and use its services and amenities. For those who choose not to have a car, can’t afford one, or maybe have health issues meaning they can’t drive good public transit is a must.

In Burlington support for public transit has been crummy relative to other similar communities.

A survey of eight peer transit properties done in 2008 showed Burlington
way behind. We were last in number of revenue passengers; last in passengers per capita; and at the bottom in the revenue per cost ratio.

But our fares were the highest. The number of revenue hours of service per capita was 8th of 9 and the amount the local taxpayer was spending on a per capita basis was the second lowest of the nine cities studies.

My point: Council is not giving the support to the service they should.

I’ve attended numerous meetings on public transit matters over the years and can tell you that Burlington council just doesn’t get it.

My next posts will elaborate.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


In local politics issues can be grouped in three categories.


First you’ve got “potholes.” Used euphemistically I’m talking about any kind of issue constituents may perceive when roused from the backyard pool/barbecue and forced to venture round front to see how their hard earned tax dollars are being spent. The extent to which havoc has been wrought in these mean suburban streets by various miscreants, reprobates and the slapdash work of public servants is a significant aspect of any pothole issue.

Experience has shown that the most prevalent pothole peeves include:

• Garbage - not well collected/not collected on time

• Traffic - too much/too fast

• Cars parked in violation of the three hour parking by-law

• Various concerns related to neighbours’ inadequate property and yard maintenance and deportment.

• Improper or tardy removal of snow in winter and leaves in fall.

Cities have engaged qualified staff (mostly well paid) to deal with these matters but, you should know, these issues are best handled by the ward politician. He/she is only too glad to be of service and will usually resolve these matters and in return you will remember him at election time. (Please note the municipal election is two weeks earlier this year.)


A second category, call them neighbourhood issues, are planning matters that deal with minor modifications or significant changes to land uses. This is tricky stuff complicated by the neighbourhood’s perception of whether it is, in fact, a minor or significant change (it is almost always significant) and a lack of understanding of the fact that property owners have legitimate expectations of their rights under planning regulations.

The way neighbourhood matters get resolved has an important long term impact on the kind of community we live in.

Neigbourhood issues are the purview of the ward councillor (although sometimes the mayor “helps out”) who works with appropriate city staff and with a proponent who wants to make change which is at odds with the neighbours who are typically happy with the status quo. An outbreak of NIMBY inevitably will ensue.

Community Priorities

A third category is issues of broad community interest. Or, at least, issues that ought to be of broad interest as their impacts will be long term to all residents both from a cost and benefit perspective.

In my town (Burlington) I can think of at least 4 such issues. I’ll come back to them later this week.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


While Edmonton may be called the City of Champions local politicians are treated as much like chumps here as anywhere else.

We are talking about the surprising developments over the last ten days when Edmonton Oiler Owner Daryl Katz played “the good old Hamilton card.”

That is what Edmonton Sun reporter Terry Jones called it anyway. Those
NHL-Hockey-deprived Hamiltonians may not get it but your blogger understands this to refer to a tactic once used by former Oiler owner, Gretkzy trader and convicted fibber Peter Pocklington.

The story in the local media is that Edmonton Mayor Fred Mandel didn’t get a hint of Katz’s dalliance with the Ambitious City’s Mayor Fred until June 28th - just before it broke online.

As far as the rest of Council they are described by the Sun’s Clara Ho as “perplexed” – which your blogger would assert is the normal state of Councillors when such high level wheeling and dealing is in the works.

There is such consternation out here that a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new locker room to be enjoyed by the football playing Eskimos suddenly seemed of no consequence.

Oilers President Patrick Laforge – says the Hamilton developments have nothing to do with the Oilers. “It is purely a business strategy,” he told all who would listen.

But Journal Columnist Paula Simons thinks the Oilers are guilty of bad manners. “Blindsiding, perplexing, and alienating Edmonton’s mayor and city councillors isn’t merely rude. It’s weirdly self defeating.”

Apparently this is another in a series of recent blunders by Katz. Earlier Council misunderstood his $100 million pledge towards a new arena. It turned out to be a commitment to invest in the area around the arena. A recent application that would blanket zone 16 acres of that area came forward without plans or design.


“(T)here were all kinds of people who were fully own board with the arena two or three months ago, who are now asking all kinds of questions,” notes Councillor Ben Henderson.

The Sun’s Jones thinks Katz, like Pocklington before him, should be required to sign a location agreement.

That might help and it is an idea that might have legs.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

We Need the OMB

Getting back to my earlier blog on the Kitchener/Cedar Hill Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) decision (June 23rd) you’ll recall that I had more to say.

Here it is - for what it’s worth.

Remember I am not planner but… This case should give pause to those who question the value of the OMB.

What looked like good planning by the City Of Kitchener back in 2003 unravelled when the Interim Control By-Law was put in place without the additional study that was supposed to go along with it.

From where I blog it is hard to really get what happened. Reading the OMB Interim Decision, though, suggests that between the Council Committee meeting and the full Council meeting politicians changed their minds; or had their minds changed.

The “high priority” additional study was rejected at Council when elected officials voted to remove the clause that directed staff to do that work.

At the Regional level planning staff kept on expressing concern that the phase two analysis wasn’t happening. What happened?

City Planner Jeffrey Willmer gave this explanation as cited in the OMB documents:

{There was a} "shortage of leadership resources… Those efforts were not successful in having a new leader step up, and there were competing calls for resources.”

Got that?

No one appealed the laughably named Interim Control By-law. It continues in effect more than seven years after being put in place.

Human Rights Concerns

There’s a significant human rights issue here too.

Ontario Human Rights Commission Chief Barbara Hall notes:

“People with disabilities or on social assistance were the targets; they were told in effect ‘we don’t want more people like you in this neigbournood.’ The Human Rights Code says you can’t discriminate like that.”

Housing expert, Michael Shapcott, notes:

“Housing advocates have long argued that municipal restrictions that limit, or ban entirely, certain types of housing and services from certain neighbourhoods can amount to unfair discrimination and a violation of human rights laws."

The OMB has given the municipality 15 months to get it right. Let’s see what happens.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Unprecedented Case

When I was a municipal politician I found that, as far as challenges went, understanding planning documents was right up there with my aspiration of swimming Lake Ontario while doing the butterfly stroke.

So earlier this year when Ontario Municipal Board ruling PL050611 came out I went looking for help to understand it.

Rani Khan, a lawyer and colleague at the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, read the 49 page ruling and provided comments that were helpful to me.

But this is my blog and what follows are my opinions.

The ruling involved a Kitchener Official Plan and Zoning by-law amendment that attempted to “clean up” a 10 block area in that city known as Cedar Hill. Cedar Hill apparently needs cleaning up as twenty percent of this area’s residents are persons with disabilities and/or persons in receipt of social assistance. Many live in shelters, group homes or rent-geared-to-income housing.

The City had decided that this situation represented an “over- concentration” resulting in “an unhealthy social environment.” The neighbourhood was on “a downward trajectory.” Scary stuff, indeed.

Some of the parties represented at the OMB hearing suggested that Kitchener was doing a little bit of “people zoning.” The important planning principle to keep in mind being that you zone for uses not for people.

This is an important and probably precedent setting case. Way back in 2003 the City had put an Interim Control By-law in place that banned any new “downward trajectory” promoting facilities. But, significantly, a commitment to do more study to promote the development of new....lodging houses and residential care facilities in all other appropriate areas of the city was made.

After four weeks of hearings last year the Board accepted the municipalities’ (Kitchener and Waterloo Region) arguments that there was, in fact, a concentration and that the City is entitled to develop initiatives to distribute facilities throughout the city. The Board, though, had a problem with the fact that the promised additional study never happened. As a result the Board ruled that the restrictive measures put in place were premature and gave the municipality 15 months to do the study it should have done five years ago.

In other words if a city is going to restrict opportunities for housing people with disabilities and/or those on assistance they’ll have to do appropriate preparation required by the Planning Act.

There is, of course, a lot more to this. I’ll have more to say later this week.

In the meantime you can view this interim decision on the OMB website ( by typing in PL050611.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Election Year

(A version of this story originally appeared on the Hamilton Spectator poverty Blog.)

Here is a story about how municipal politicians can lose their way in an election year.

The Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) assists municipalities with their social program costs.

Recently OMPF reconciled the 2008 allocations against real expenditures and costs and as a result many municipalities received more money. Hamilton got about $3.1 million dollars; the Region of Niagara got $2.1 million.

I became aware of this late last month when reading a bulletin from CATCH (Citizens at City Hall). CATCH is a volunteer community group that encourages civic participation in Hamilton. The CATCH story focussed on the fact that Hamilton Councillors were all going to be getting about $250,000 each to spend in their wards on sidewalk repairs. "In a shift from normal practice" they apparently decided not to follow the usual priority setting process for allocating funds. This is indeed a shift but it is an election year and you'll see more shifts and other silliness before October 25th.

The CATCH story went on to note that $3.1 million of the $3.6 million fund being divvied up by the Councillors came from the OMPF reconciliation dollars. But shouldn't that money be going back into social services? That suggestion was rejected by Council.

I mentioned Niagara. They took their monies and put $600,000 into Emergency Medical Services and the remaining 1.5 million into an account to offset the Community Services net deficit. That makes sense; seems logical.

Up in Thunder Bay the city got $1.3 million back. Government member Michael Gravelle, the MPP for Thunder Bay-Superior North, was "absolutely delighted about this additional funding for social programs and other services."

Hamilton politicians seem to be marching to a different drummer here or am I missing something?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cities Need New Revenue Sources

Caught my eye recently:

Montreal has ideas to find more revenue.

Their Finance Committee spent 67 hours meeting with various city agencies working to cut their $400 million budget shortfall, reported the Toronto Star’s Andrew Chung.

Serendipitously, perhaps, while these meetings were going on, $300,000 in extra policing costs ensued when Montreal Canadien fans rioted in the streets. Then, in a moment of enlightenment some bright spark had an idea - make the hockey club play. Ah, pure genius.

Expect feeble excuses from the Hab’s front office like:

The individuals who broke store windows, looted stores and set police cars on fire were hooligans, not Canadien fans.

These hoolifans weren’t even at the game.

Les Canadiens pay more than $8 million in property taxes each year and bring many other economic benefits to the city.

Give me a break please.

Understand this: Municipalities are behind the eight ball. They need new revenue sources. My town, Burlington, got it right earlier this year when they decided to charge residents if firefighters had to attend their car accident. Unfortunately, council backed down.

But I’ve got a few other ideas.

Park Bench Fees

An elderly couple camps out for hours on the bench at my local park. Cute, you say? But this as an opportunity. After all it’s the city’s bench. Slap a fee on these folks. Use that bench in excess of 15 minutes you should pay appropriate user fees.

Street Hockey Permits

I like street hockey; hate it when residents want ball-hockey-playing kids off the road. But, if these kid’s parents had to pay for a street hockey permit the neighbours wouldn’t have grounds to complain and the fees would enrich city coffers. Call this a win win!

Excessive Constituent Calls

Some of you will know I was a councillor once. And, yes, I loved my constituents - all of them; well nearly all of them. But there were a few, a very few, who demanded a lot of my time. Of course, many other constituents never bothered me. Wouldn’t it be fair put in place a charge against constituents who call or e-mail you more than say once a week? All these contacts could be calculated and put on the bothersome constituent’s tax bill as a user fee.

These are but a few ideas. You’ll have some too. Like garage sales. There were 46 advertised in the Burlington Post last Friday. Can you imagine how many “underground” ones were going on? What an opportunity if the city could just get back some revenue….The possibilities are endless.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


With my family I recently spent some time in the Galapagos - an amazing place.

I've been gathering my thoughts notes and photos as I think there are some lessons to be learned from "the enchanted islands" when this past week a ship sunk there with 16 Canadians on board. Everyone is OK. News reports indicate the passengers, who lost their passports in the mishap, will be returning to Toronto from Quito (tomorrow) Sunday.

The ship, the Alta, is a modern luxury motor sailor about 150 feet long. Hard to believe it could sink. A lighthouse malfunction may be to blame.

Here is a picture of the Alta that I took from my cabin. We were about to head by panga (Zodiac) to North Seymour, the island in the background, on this warm Wednesday February 24th.

Shipwrecks wouldn't normally enter into a blog on municipal politics but I thought this was interesting.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Last Call

A group I'm involved with is showing a movie this Thursday that looks at
urban renewal and its impact on the poor.

The evening is entitled "Hamilton’s Last Call" and includes a panel discussion.

The movie tells what happened when aggressive developers buy a century-old, flophouse - Toronto's Gladstone Hotel. When the hotel is tarted up to become a hot spot for the arts long-time staff and residents begin a five-year struggle to survive.

“Last Call at the Gladstone Hotel” is an award winning film directed by Neil Graham, & Derreck Roemer.

We are showing it in Hamilton because the same thing is happening here with little public concern for the fact that the people who live in places like the Gladstone often end up on the street when "renewal" takes place.

Please consider attending this free event:

Thursday March 4th
7 pm - 9 pm
27 King William Street

If you can't make it but want to see the movie let me know and I'll make it available to you.

Sunday, January 31, 2010


Case Ootes who has served the residents of East York for 21 years recently announced that he will not seek re-election. Somewhat surprisingly after all this time Ootes has decided that term limits are the way to go. That's one of the beauties of municipal politics. You just keep learning.

Locally three members of Burlington (Ontario) Council complete their first four year term this year. Of the veterans Councillor Rick Craven will have served ten years come the October election. Jack Dennison and Carol D'Amelio are coming up on 16 years. Councillor John Taylor arrived in November 1988 - the same municipal election year that voters sent Mr. Ootes to East York Council. One could argue that this Burlington Council has a good balance - experienced members and some rookies bringing new ideas.

Like other flavours of the month term limits was a hot topic in these parts 15 years ago. That’s when a movement to have smaller councils was in vogue. Burlington was the most successful shrinker in those “less government is better government days.” The head local shrinker, now proroguing MP, Mike Wallace led the charge to take council size from 17 to 7. My recollection is that Wallace also championed term limits (6 - 9 years) in those days. I'm not sure what his position was when he left for Ottawa after 12 years of local council duty. (Others remember that then rookie Dennison favoured two terms and out but I'm not sure. I wasn’t taking notes.)

I'd always thought that limiting Councillors to two or three terms was a bad idea ‘cause the electorate ought to decide when it is time for someone to go. If voters think a councillor has over stayed his welcome, is coasting or perhaps has become palsy walsy with the development community there’s a simple solution - vote for someone else.

I think I'm changing my mind, though. Perhaps I’m just following the crowd because I believe most voters, if asked, would say eight years (two terms) of municipal service is enough.

Long serving members can find something else to do. If they want to return they can try again next time.

What do you think?

P.S. I’m pleased that Walter Mulkewich has his blog up and running again (see frame the issues) I’m not sure where the 21 year Council veteran and former mayor stands on term limits.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Here We Go Again

A couple of weeks ago the Environment Commissioner came out with his annual report on the province’s Action Plan to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions( It is clear from the analysis that the emission reduction targets that were set for 2014 and 2020 will not be met. Urban sprawl and private autos are the big culprits.

Thirty-one percent of all emissions are attributable to the transportation sector. Not only is that sector the biggest emitter but it is increasing the most relative to the other sectors identified (e.g. electricity/ heat generation and industry etc..)

The transportation sector has seen a huge increase in vehicle emissions from "light duty gasoline trucks" like SUV’s, vans and pickups – 123% since 1990.

The Commissioner thinks we have to seriously consider road pricing to address our frightful greenhouse gas problems. Road pricing would take into account the true cost of our transportation infrastructure and could reduce congestion and improve our environmental conditions. Properly implemented it would be an important reform towards a fairer tax system. But is road pricing on the political agenda today?

Take my town Burlington (Ontario). Their idea of pricing strategies runs about as deep as Sarah Palin’s grasp of foreign policy matters. It goes like this: If you don’t run buses then you save money. Using that logic today (Jan 1) Burlington is the only Lakeshore GTA community not running buses.

We are repeating ourselves in lamenting this lack of recognition of the damage that personal automobile use is doing to our environment. We won’t get into the equity issue as we’ve done that before (see archives 2/16/08.)

Any ideas?