Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Burlington MP leads the Way Reforming Parliament

“So there you go.”

(Mike Wallace at the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, December 13, 2011)

We talk primarily about municipal politics here. 

But we ought to learn from all levels of government.

So when former Burlington and Halton Councillor Mike Wallace, now the Burlington MP, brings new procedural ideas to a democratic body such as the House of Commons we pay attention.

On December 13th at the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates (OGGO) Wallace insisted that this committee go into camera to discuss future business of the committee.  Not just at this meeting but at all future meetings. 

There followed some procedural discussion. It appears that Wallace needs to put forward a notice of motion to be voted on before a final resolution of the matter.  Since Wallace’s Conservatives (aka Harper Government) have a majority the outcome of that vote is inevitable – all discussions of “future business” of this committee will take place in camera.

The Globe and Mail reported on this last week. (http://m.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/opposition-attacks-motion-to-make-commons-committee-debate-private/article2271681/?service=mobile)

Their story quoted Michael Behiels, a professor of political history at the University of Ottawa. Behiels said that in the past committees used discretion to decide when to go in camera.

 “You do your best to make sure that as much of the committee’s business as possible is open to the public for scrutiny, and so members, in a sense, can be as accountable as required under the law and under the proceedings of Parliament and under democracy.  Simply to shut all that off legally, I think, is sending a terrible signal to Canadians that much of the government’s business is in fact closed to them.”

Wallace is one of the Vice Chairs of the Committee.  I was his wardmate from 1994-97 and in those days he believed in openness of government.  Have his views changed or is Ottawa democracy just different from the local variety?

The mandate of the OGGO includes the study of the effectiveness of government operations, expenditure budgets of central departments and agencies and more.  It oversees Privy Council Office/Prime Minister’s Office, Treasury Board Secretariat, Public Works and Government Services Canada, Crown Corporations like Canada Post and human resources matters in areas like the Public Service Commission.

It looks like OGGO does important work but most of it will be behind closed doors from now on.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Stupid Questions

I spent a frustrating day this week attending a portion of the Hamilton City Council’s Emergency and Community Services Committee this week.
I lasted three hours, which was about the time it took to wrap up the couple of issues I was interested in.

Way back when in my councillor days I was told you shouldn’t ask a question unless you knew the answer to it.

I’m not sure that all Hamilton councillors got this lesson.  Although, I suppose, you can ask a stupid question and know the answer to it.  Anyway there were a lot of stupid questions asked at this meeting.
But Hamilton councillors would surely come up short if there was an award for the stupid question of the week.That award would certainly go to Toronto Councillor Doug Ford, brother of the mayor.

Bruce Cox Executive Director of Greenpeace was a deputant on Wednesday addressing Toronto Council regarding the environmental impacts of cuts to urban forests and public transit.

Robyn Doolittle, a Toronto Star reporter was live blogging at the meeting and I’ve copied her comments below:

Doug Ford does not disappoint. Asks Bruce Cox if Greenpeace staff are unionized. (Some are). Then he says he just had a great book dropped off at his office "Confessions of a Green Peace Drop out" it's a "fabulous read" he says. When Cox asks if he's read it, Doug giggles and says no, clarifying he was "told it was a fabulous read." Room bursts out laughing. There is an implied "oh snap!" tone. Sadly - Doug Ford has now handed the floor back to budget chief

For some reason the phrase “some mother’s do have them” comes to mind.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Annual Ontario Environment Report Out Today

Gord Miller, Ontario's Environmental Commissioner, came out with his annual report today.

I'll read it - haven't yet although I'm not looking forward to it as the media release that accompanies the report is disturbing.

Basically,  Miller's argument is that the province has lost momentum on addressing the pressing environmental issues.

The report, Engaging Solutions, notes there has been "no shortage of talk about the problems such as climate change, waste diversion, and the loss of biodiversity.  But when it comes to doing something there doesn’t seem to be a lot actually happening, says Miller.

For example:
  • On Waste:  The MOE  has written four different reports and discussion papers outlining options for increasing waste diversion in the province" but little action has resulted.
  • On Species at Risk:   We are "not doing enough to protect and recover species at risk."
  •  On Funding:  Good legislation has not been accompanied by the  additional resources needed  "to oversee and monitor new legislation while also covering ...core responsibilities."
  •  On the Great Lakes:  Lengthy negotiations "threaten to paralyze progress towards further" clean-up.  Meanwhile the Americans are making investments.
What most disturbs me is Miller's comment that the "lack of action is not accidental" and is rather "actually the goal of critics of environmental protection."  We can't move forward when responding to people who say there are no problems “by going back to the research findings to debate and explain it all over again." 

These delays open us up to the legitimate criticism that ours is "a culture of inaction and procrastination," the Commissioner concludes.

For the full report, visit http://www.eco.on.ca.  It won't be the most uplifting read.

I'll have more to say later in the week.

Monday, November 07, 2011


Not in my Backyard (NIMBY) is a term coined thirty or so years ago to refer (negatively) to residents’ opposition to development in their neighbourhood.

Usually it’s about housing – like stopping a group home or rallying neighbours concerned about apartment building heights.

There can be legitimate concerns about development, redevelopment or infill projects.
However, too often NIMBY comes out of narrow minded attitudes and uninformed opinions.

Over the years I’ve been developing a list of my favourite examples of NIMBYism.

Like the time when politicians in a neighbouring suburban community forced non-profit housing residents to install uniform and identical window blinds.

Or on another occasion when assertions from residents that the addition of a new city bus route would bring violent crime to the neighbourhood led to the route's cancellation.

Probably my most memorable NIMBY moment, though, occurred when a resident suggested that the addition of a painted centre line to a local street (recommended for safety reasons) would bring down property values.

It is good, then, to see that the lesser known movement YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard) is coming to the fore in Vancouver.

The driving force for YIMBY in this city is the Pivot Legal Society. Pivot uses the law to address the root causes of poverty and social exclusion. To deal with NIMBY they have put together a YIMBY toolkit.

According to a news release this kit “is intended for people who understand the value of addressing homelessness, addictions, and mental illness in a proactive and positive way...” The toolkit will help people “who want to say “Yes in my backyard!” to projects that help people get off the streets.”

The 44 page guide explains the right to housing, offers useful myth busting information and includes some exercises as well. The Cringe Test, for example, challenges you to ask some basic questions in order to tell the difference between discrimination and a legitimate objection to supportive housing.

“If it sounds wrong when you say the same thing about a racial, ethnic or religious minority, then you know you’ve heard a discriminatory statement.” And that kind of statement goes against basic human rights.

The kit also details the human rights and legal framework supporting the YIMBY position, case studies such as the UBC Hospice and success stories like the Rain City Housing and Support Society’s development in Vancouver.

This excellent community building resource can be downloaded at http://www.pivotlegal.org/

(This article was originally published in North End Breezes - (http://www.northendbreezes.com/)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reforming Social Assistance - Evidence Based Rates

In the mid-nineties Mike Harris’ government reduced social assistance rates in Ontario by 22%. 
There was no economic rationale for this move – just a stupid, mean spirited, ill informed attempt to make social assistance rates unattractive and presumably to make people find jobs that didn’t exist or that they weren’t qualified to do.
In addition, getting on to social assistance was made much more difficult as people were forced to reduce their assets before qualifying.  What kind of reductions?  Well, today a single person applying for Ontario Works is permitted to have a maximum of $592 in assets in order to qualify so that they can receive a maximum of $7,104 annually.

The issue of inadequacy of social assistance rates must be addressed.  At the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, where I work, we believe that social assistance rates need to have some relation to the actual cost of rent, food and other basic necessities in communities across Ontario.
A few years ago the Clinic, with the leadership of staff lawyer Craig Foye, drafted legislation that proposed the idea of setting up an expert panel that each year would recommend evidence-based social assistance rates to the Provincial Government. “An Act to Establish the Ontario Social Assistance Rates Board” (Bill 235) was introduced for first reading as a private member’s bill in the Ontario Legislature by MPP Ted McMeekin on June 4, 2007. Unfortunately, the Legislature was then prorogued the next day in anticipation of a fall election, meaning the Bill was effectively discontinued. The Bill has not yet been reintroduced. Since that time the Clinic and others have continued to advocate with government to implement a process for determining evidence-based social assistance rates.  You can read the proposed legislation at http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/bills/bills_detail.do?locale=en&BillID=1681&isCurrent=false&ParlSessionID=

Recently the Clinic prepared a submission to the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario submission. In that submission we made the following recommendation:
That the Government of Ontario establish an arm’s length body to recommend evidence-based social assistance rates on an annual basis. Those rates should be based on an analysis of the actual costs of rent, a healthy food basket, and other basic necessities in communities across Ontario, and should provide a level of assistance that will allow individuals and families to live with dignity. An example of such a body is the Ontario Social Assistance Rates Board as proposed in the former Bill 235 introduced on June 4, 2007.

Next month the Commissioners are coming back with a report on Options for reforming the system.  Hopefully, the rates board will be among the options on the table.

You can keep up to date on this matter by checking the clinic website at www.hamiltonjustice.ca

Monday, October 03, 2011

Mississauga Inquiry

"I really believe the citizens of Mississauga have confidence that I've always put Mississauga first in all negotiations during my time over past 33 years," McCallion said during a news conference. "If any citizen feels that I was in conflict, I think the commissioner has clearly indicated that I was not in conflict within the (act)." from CP 24

That’s Mayor McCallion’s opinion. Not all would agree.

Hopefully, though, we can steer clear of a lengthy wrangle on Mayor McCallion's shortcomings and use the report to make necessary reforms to our municipal systems.

Recommendations in Updating the Ethical Infrastructure would take conflict issues out of the realm of individual opinion and make city council’s work more transparent. That’s at the crux of the report.
In the Executive Summary of the 400 page document Justice J. Douglas Cunningham comments on a Mayor’s duties specific to the issues before him:

Re the Mayor’s Obligation to make Reasonable Inquiries
If the Mayor has reason to believe that a relative’s involvement may put her/him in a real or apparent conflict position they need to make reasonable inquiries. In this case “even if Mayor McCallion did not understand” the extent of her son’s interest “she knew her son stood to benefit financially if the World Class Development (WCD) transaction was successfully completed.”

Conclusion: “She should have made further inquiries.”

Re the Responsibility to keep Council informed.

A mayor has an obligation to keep Council up to speed on matters. In this case Council “does not appear to have been aware of the Mayor’s private interventions.”

Conclusion: “She should have identified and disclosed to council the nature and extent of her son’s involvement in WCD.

Re: Duty to Refrain from Official Action where Conflict Exists

A municipal politician should refuse involvement in a file when she/he becomes aware of a real or apparent conflict of interest. Justice Cunningham distinguishes between the Mayor’s legislative and executive roles. Mayor McCallion essentially declared a conflict of interest re her legislative role but not for her executive function.

“It is no answer ...to say that her actions were done for the benefit of the City Of Mississauga when her son stood to make millions of dollars if the deal was concluded.” She should have refrained from further involvement...and not simply withdrawn from her legislative role.”

Cunninghams’s analysis leads to sound recommendations which, if put in place, will prevent such situations from occurring in Mississauga and other jurisdictions. Specifically, the term “pecuniary interest” should be replaced with “private interest,” guidelines for lobbyists will be prescribed and a strengthened role for integrity commissioners should be put in place. These are just a few of the recommendations that jump out from a quick read of the Executive Summary.

The general thrust of the recommendations is that overall greater transparency “will serve to protect the public interest by removing possibilities for members of council to discharge their public offices in the pursuit of private interests.”

We need to move on this and not get bogged down with Hazel McCallion’s particular and unique situation.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Scamming Cities #2

You are probably wondering what is happening with the Edmonton Oilers since we last reported in August.
Will beleaguered owner Daryl Katz be able to save the franchise for the City of Champions?

Well he’s working on it but the clock is running –his clock anyway - as he has given the City until Halloween to approve his plan.
Even after two and a half years of discussion, as the Edmonton Journal reported last week, council might have to vote on the deal before all the details are worked out. Incroyable!!

The new rink will cost $450 million. The Katz Group will come up with $100 million, $125 million will come from a ticket tax, and $125 million will come from the city through a levy and “other reassigned funds.”

In addition, if the arena deal goes ahead, the city would probably also need to budget between $57 million and $72 million to buy the land and build an LRT station and a pedestrian bridge, the Journal reports.
The two details not yet worked out:

#A gap in the funding of $100 million.
#The fact that Northlands who own the rink where the Oilers now play has yet to agree to not compete with Katz’s new subsidized facility.
Today the Alberta Conservatives choose a new leader. That individual will have a lot to say on the $100 million gap although some local pols claim it is a done deal.
On the non compete aspect of the deal I can offer now advice. Unfortunately, I believe, well known non-compete experts David Radler and Conrad Black will not be available to provide their wise counsel.
Northlands runs about 2,500 events each year. Going back to 1879 it was created for the purpose of “bringing together farmers and agriculturalists.” It has, what it calls, a ‘time honoured tradition of dedication to community service.” Over time Northlands’ focus has broadened so that they now work with partners” to attract and produce world class events.” But its facility (Rexall place) needs $200 – 250 million in retrofits.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation chimed in yesterday calling the idea of the Oilers leaving “an empty threat.” A media release said:

"We know that Edmonton is one of the best markets in the whole NHL right now to have a team. Their claim of making this big investment and they're willing to stay here, is all worth nothing and is just a bunch of spin to make people scared that they might pull out and run away. That's not going to happen."

Have you seen this picture before?
I’ll take some inspiration from Oliver Hardy – just “another fine mess.”

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Giorgio Mammoliti - Municipal Politician

We are sensitive at When the Mayor Smiles.

From the grave we hear former U.S. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew calling out those “nattering nabobs of negativism” and we know of whom he speaks.

So today we’ll take the high road and recognize someone who stands out from the norm in the world of local government.

That would be Giorgio Mammoliti. Today is his 50th birthday.

For those of you from a planet other than Toronto you need to know that Councillor Mammoliti represents Ward 7 (York West) in the centre of the universe.

He’s been in politics pretty much consistently since he was 28. Following a time as a union leader Mammoliti began his political career as part of the Ontario NDP government of Bob Rae.

Mammoliti now recognizes that unsuccessful attempts were made to “try to brainwash me in my early career by communists.” He mentions no names but it is clear from recent comments that there remain, even now, many “well-bodied able to work” types who make a career of “asking for money from the taxpayers” who are still operating. He can smell them.

Back in those formative days the member for Yorkview was not intimidated into toeing the “party line” likely leading to his defeat in 1995. Some will argue, wrongly I believe, that his vocal opposition to same sex marriage was a contributing factor in his loss to Liberal Mario Sergio in the 95 provincial election.

Not one to be discouraged though Mammoliti was successful soon after in a by-election run for North York Council. There he replaced the man who knocked him off as MPP (Sergio) by beating the man (Claudio Polsinelli) he had defeated in 1990.

Immediately the rookie Councillor got to work in trying to attract an NHL franchise to North York. The ideas just keep coming; grand ideas; big picture stuff. Here are a few:

** Transforming the Gardiner Expressway into a park featuring a privately operated Light Rail Transit line     running from the CNE to the DVP.

** Building a floating casino in Ontario Place Harbour.

** Bringing in the army to crack down on drug dealers in his ward.

**Making the ward safer through the creation of special zone for legal brothels on the Toronto Islands some distance from his ward.

**Tolling the Lakeshore.

**Giving guns to by-law officers thereby making parking regulations easier to enforce and additionally making taxpayers’ days by rubbing out Toronto’s horrendous graffiti problem as well.

** Filling the lottery void we have in this country by starting a municipal one.

**Hanging a 40 metre wide vinyl Canadian flag from a 125 metre flagpole at the corner of Highway #400 and Finch Avenue West. Oh Canada!

It is comforting to know that such long term thinkers still function in the local realm that is so often dominated by short sighted, pothole obsessed ward politicians.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Scamming Cities #1

Edmonton Oiler owner Daryl Katz is working on shaking down the good residents in the City of Champions out there in Wildrose country in order to get support (i.e., dollars) for a new arena for his hockey team.
Last summer I wrote that Katz was playing footsie with City of Hamilton, dangling the possibility of moving the Oilers to the oft rejected/NHL deprived Ambitious City.

That didn’t work to extract more money out of either the City of Edmonton or the Province of Alberta.

So, still $100 million light to replace the aging (?) thirty nine year old Northlands Coliseum, Katz has a new idea.
Why not build the arena on the nearby Enoch Cree Reserve?

It is only 3 km west of Edmonton and contains a 4 ½ star 260 room Marriott hotel where Randy Travis, Joan Rivers, Conan O’Brien and Brent Butt have performed. There is also  a casino with over 1,000 slot machines, a 18 hole golf course and 2 NHL size ice surfaces,  part of a “favoured practice facility for the Oilers.”   
New Chief Ron Morin, who heads the community of 2075, is interested according to the Edmonton Sun and “prepared to look at all kinds of options.”

Meanwhile a worried Edmonton Councillor Don Iveson told the Sun that the Enoch location is a “tax haven since economic activity on the reserve “may not be subject to provincial taxation.”  
The Oilers' season doesn’t begin until October 8thso this is giving Edmonton hockey fans something to talk about in the summer doldrum period.

I’m thinking that it is a good bet that the pro-free enterprise/anti-tax Conservative government of outgoing Premier Ed Stelmach will come up with the necessary $100 million.  The Municipal Sustainability Funds seems a likely source.  The fact that the fund’s purpose - assisting municipalities in capacity building – doesn’t seem to justify support for a private special interest group like Katz’s hockey team - likely won’t be an issue at the end of the day.
Oh, did I mention that the city has already committed $225 million?

A website (http://www.fieldofschemes.com/) does a great job of documenting how North American pro sport franchises are working on similar shakedowns just about every day of the year.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Homelessness and Soccer/Football - A Book Review



by Dave Bidini

Greystone Books, 2010

174 pages

Dave Bidini, a musician (the Rheostatics) and author of a number of popular books on hockey takes on the issue of homelessness as it presents itself at the Homeless World Cup of Soccer in his latest book.

Bidini is invited to cover the 2009 event in Australia and, even though he hasn’t heard of it, accepts.

Dreamed up by Mel Young, a Scotsman, and Harald Schmied, an Austrian, while attending a conference dealing with the future of street newspapers in Austria in 2003, it is a different game than the one we know. Played four players a side on 16 metre x 22 metre court, the game lasts 14 minutes (two seven minute halves.) A three-on-two rule intended to promote scoring has evolved so that only two players are allowed in their own defensive end.

The Australian event featured about 600 players from 54 nations and would have been even larger except individuals from some countries were refused entry because of criminal records - just one barrier that organizers have to cope with in organizing the World Cup.

A Canadian team that included 18 year old “runaway” Krystal Bell and 45 year old Billy Pagonis is Bidini’s focus. Billy is a former soccer pro once played for Canada’s national team.

In addition to these two the author weaves in stories of players from around the world and their unique encounters with homelessness. In India, for example, the development of the sport, called slum soccer, is inhibited by regional divides and the caste system. While the Cambodia squad, made up of three players who were born and still lived in the dumps of Phnom Penh, had to cope with interference from government officials who wanted players selected to the team in return for favours from well-to-do citizens.

What’s great about this thoughtful book is the author’s ability to challenge our stereotypes of homelessness. Yes, there are those suffering “the ravages of addiction” and needing anger management courses.

But there are also “21st century homeless figures” like Canadian player Jerry, a seat cushion salesman “(m)entally sound, with no addiction issues, but he’d been thrown to the mat after making the wrong choices in a capitalist society that encourages risk.”

Beating homelessness through Football is the mantra of this year’s tournament which runs from August 21 - 28th in Paris. (http://www.homelessworldcup.org/paris-2011)

originally published at http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/blog/

Thursday, June 09, 2011

More on GHG Emission Reductions

There are ways to reduce GHG emissions. Most of the ideas have been around for a while. We just haven’t acted on them.

Gord Miller looks at some of these in his annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report (http://www.eco.on.ca/uploads/Reports%20-%20GHG/2011/11GHG.pdf)

High Speed Rail

High Speed Rail (HSR) is one example.

In January 2008 the Ontario and Quebec governments started a one year study on the feasibility of a HSR system linking Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. A year later the feds joined in to expand the survey to include a Windsor to Quebec city route.

In November 2010 the government said the report would be released in “a timely manner.”

We haven’t seen it yet. Does this sound familiar? You might remember a similar survey in 1995. It reported that a significant reduction (24% by 2025) in transport-related CO2 emissions could result.

I don’t want to suggest that this stuff is simple or that the projections are bang on accurate but 16 years have elapsed, can’t we get moving. The ECO “strongly encourages” the government “to expedite release of the study.”

Low-carbon Fuel Standard

From Miller’s report I understand that there are “technologically feasible low carbon fuels” which if more widely used could reduce GHG emissions.” This is, in fact, a policy tool which, if put in place, would require suppliers to reduce average fuel carbon densities to meet benchmarks. Suppliers who reduce below the standard would get credits that they could sell to other suppliers. This is like a cap- and-trade system except it is within a single sector. Independent analysis shows that such a system could result in a 6.4 Megatonne reduction by 2025. Other jurisdictions are already doing this but Ontario seems to have given up on the idea. Why?

Electrification of GO Trains

Earlier this year Metrolinx recommended electrifying portions of the GO Rail network. Significant GHG emission reductions would result from this move off diesel.

Perhaps any or all of these initiatives will be further advanced in the lead up to the provincial election. The Green Party Platform seems to hint at these kinds of strategies.

But I’m trying to remember when environmental issues were front in centre in an election campaign.

Maybe this will change this fall.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

More Greenhouse Gas

It has become a bit of a habit for me. Each year around this time I find myself drawn to the Annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report put out by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.

Why do I do this? Am I looking for encouragement or trouble?

This is Commissioner Gord Miller’s third annual report.

The context is that as Ontario is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions it is imperative that progress is measured regularly.

Specifically, emissions (calculated in megatonnes) must be reduced relative to 1990 levels by:
*6% by 2014
*15% by 2020
*80% by 2050

In 1990 the level of GHG emissions was 177 megatonnes (Mt.) per year. By 2009 it had, in fact, dropped by more than the target (i.e., 6.5% to 165 Mt.) Not bad, but because of reduced industrial activity this result is somewhat misleading.

Now with the economy growing the Commissioner worries that there is “no plan, mechanism or tolls in place that would allow the 2020 targets to be met.”

Projecting a modest amount of economic growth (adds 23 Mt.) Factoring in the impact of the coal phase out in 2014 (reduction of 10 Mt.) means there will remain 13Mt “still on the table.”

The transportation sector is responsible for 56.8 Mts. Most of these emissions are produced by personal vehicles. So, it is surprising that apparently effective programs aimed at this sector have been dropped.

For example, the Green Commercial Vehicle Program was begun in 2008. It supported the purchase of low GHG emitting commercial vehicles. Planned for four years it was suspended after two.

Another good idea, the Ontario Bus Replacement program, was established in 2002. It resulted in an estimated 1.1Mt emission reduction. It was cancelled in the 2010 provincial budget. Now, when municipalities have to replace buses they will need to use the Gas Tax Fund which has been a source for other needs for the struggling municipal sector.

The government seems to know what to do. They just aren’t doing it.

Metrolinx’s Big Move, a much needed $50 billion Regional Transit Plan, was fully funded in its first phase. The 2010 budget (again) delayed monies for the second phase.

As far as another initiative, When The Mayor Smiles had put great faith in the intensification mandated by the Places to Grow Act. Miller points out, however, that 60% of new planned growth will still go to Greenfield areas and the density targets aren’t good enough to justify provision of an effective transit system in these areas.

I’ll come back to the report tomorrowish with some suggestions.

Hint: Don’t expect me to find inspiration from Ford Nation.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bats, Wind Turbines and the Provincial Election

An article I read on wind turbines last week says a significant number of bats are falling victim to turbine blades every night.

The article can be found in the online version of the Green Bay Press Gazette. (http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/greenbaypressgazette/access/2347468001.html?FMT=ABS&date=May+15%2C+2011)

Research shows about 50 bats are killed annually by each wind turbine. (Another piece of research referenced in the article comes up with a similar number.) The bats don’t actually hit the blades but rather perish because air in low-pressure areas near the tips of the blades ruptures their lungs and causes internal hemorrhaging.

Who cares about bats one might ask?

We all should.

For one reason insect–eating bats save the agricultural industry at least $3 billion a year according to said Tom Kunz, an ecology professor at Boston University and co-author of the study.

I’m not aware of similar research here in Ontario but I can tell you that the issue of where wind turbines should be permitted will figure in the Ontario provincial election campaign later this year. Will someone be standing up for bats?

A group called Wind Concerns Ontario (WCO) is in the midst of a tour of the province. Their mission is to protect the health, safety and quality of life of the people of Ontario from industrial wind turbines. (Their website makes mention of bats too.) WCO claims to comprise 57 grassroots citizens groups across 34 counties/districts in the province.

When the McGuinty Government brought in the Green Energy and Green Economy Act it seemed like a good idea that ultimate control for approvals of wind turbines was taken away from municipalities. At the time the Premier claimed that local governments were using by-laws and regulations to delay or stop proposed renewable energy projects. The municipal level of government may be the most responsive but it is also the most susceptible to NIMBY.

To stop a wind turbine now, rather than appealing to the Ontario Municipal Board, you must go to the Environmental Review Tribunal. Serious harm to human health or serious and irreversible harm to plant, life, animal life or the natural environment are grounds for appeals.

While human health concerns have yet to be attributed to wind turbines the bat research points to the need for politicians and scientists to come together and come out with solutions.

We need windpower.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Respect for Citizens Needed at Council Meetings

Over the last ten years I’ve attended a couple of dozen meetings of Standing Committees of Hamilton City Council.

Usually I’ve been there to watch; occasionally I’ve been presenting. From time to time I‘ve gone home happy as the issue that had prompted my attendance had been resolved appropriately, from my perspective anyway.

But almost always I’ve headed out into the real world following these meetings out of sorts because of the lack of respect that Hamilton Council consistently shows for the public.

This lack of respect takes many forms.

First, meetings frequently start late, usually because of lack of quorum. Once I was there for a 9:30 meeting that was about to be postponed. Seconds short of 10:00 a Mountain Councillor raced into Chambers arriving just under the wire so the meeting could get started. (Not having a quorum within thirty minutes of the scheduled start means no meeting.) Let’s face it those who are there to present or listen have other responsibilities that need their time.

Second, Councillors, some more than others, feel the need to get up and leave the room a lot. To be fair it isn’t easy sitting for the hours that the job requires and some, OK most, of the dialogue is tedious but these pols knew what the job entailed when they put their names forward.

Third, and this is what really turns my crank, is the propensity some councillors have for talking with the media in the middle of meetings. Way back when we were toddlers we all learned that it was rude to talk when others are talking. And someone - staff, a member of the public or another Councillor - is always talking at a Committee meeting. In my experience most municipalities’ procedural by-laws cover such matters and committee chairs have the power to enforce.

In this context I found Andrew Dreschel’s column in today’s Hamilton Spectator interesting. (http://www.thespec.com/opinion/columns/article/537176--bratina-s-office-looks-at-tighter-media-rules)

Dreschel reports that Peggy Chapman from Mayor Bratina’s office wants to start “regulating interactions in the Council Chambers.”

That would include, apparently, not allowing reporters to talk with councillors during proceedings and restricting councillors from talking privately with reporters during meetings.

The columnist seems to think that the Mayor’s initiative may be more about “exercising control than good form.”

But if Dreschel and others took a look around they’d likely find that Hamilton is out of step with other cities who think that at the heart of good form is respect for citizens.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Thoughts on Delegating

Sometime when you’ve got nothing better to do head down to your local Silly Hall or Regional Government (if you are lucky enough to have two municipal governments) and delegate. It is your civic duty.

In that spirit I combed my hair, put on the closest thing that I’ve got to church clothes, and headed off to the Region of Halton Canada recently to address the budget.

Delegating is always a learning experience. Here is what I learned.

First, when you are finished speaking don’t sit down. Once you sit down Councillors will ask staff questions and you will have no ability to respond. Staff can say anything like: Bob Wood has a point but he would have more credibility on poverty issues if he hadn’t got his Grade Eight diploma out of a vending machine.

Second, Councillors will not ask questions that you are expecting. I came prepared to answer in the negative as to whether I or members of my immediate family and/or committee colleagues had ever been members of the Communist Party. You can imagine my surprise when asked whether I thought water rates are regressive.

Third, expect to engage in philosophical first year university discussions when you believe the agenda is fairly focussed or alternatively expect to focus on the agenda when you would like to engage in airy fairy dialogue.

And finally, remember when you get the urge and feel like delegating that these issues are always too complicated for the public. That is why God created politicians, I guess.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Community Gardens, Horses and Cost Overruns

Citizens at City Hall (CATCH) does a terrific job of reporting on goings on at Hamilton’s Silly Hall.

Today’s story documents concerns about the hiring of a Community Garden Co-ordinator. http://hamiltoncatch.org/view_article.php?id=885

Some Councillors are worried that this would open the door to all sorts of cost over runs. Councillor Ferguson’s insights (which follow) brought a smile to my face on this cold Saturday morning.

It is always impressive how Councillors can bring personal experience to their understanding of how to do public business.

Ferguson: "On that, you know I look at this and in theory it sounds wonderful. And just I’m a little bit with councillor Whitehead as to watch the cost. I know from personal experience. My daughter got into riding and she wanted … We had to buy her a horse, and buy her a trailer, and buy a truck to haul it, and build a barn. It was a hundred bucks every time you put her in a show and she was all excited when she won five bucks. I’m just worried this could be the same thing. I see this $65,000 for the staff person, plus the property, plus, plus, plus and to say grow $500 worth of vegetables. So I just want us to keep our eye on the ball on this thing to make sure it’s prudently spending taxpayers’ dollars, and not a whole bunch of money on a horse that doesn’t have great payback. And I understand people like to grow their own vegetables, that’s great, but when we start adding staff it starts a multiplier effect and in addition to the property, and the parks department’s got to go work it up with a rototillers and stuff. So I just want to make sure we always understand total cost, and understand the payback side as to whether or not we’re making the right investment. Then we can balance that against the whole theory of people having the opportunity to grow their own vegetables. Thank you."

And thank you Councillor Ferguson.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Poverty in Halton

Across various municipalities in the GTA there seems to be an increasing realization that poverty and the growing gap between rich and poor are hurting our citizens and threatening the vitality of our communities.

In that context I was out to speak to the Region of Halton’s Budget Committee this past Monday.

I was there on behalf of Poverty Free Halton, a citizens group that educates and advocates for measures that will eliminate poverty in our communities.

GTA Pooling dollars are not being fully reinvested into services to support Halton residents who are struggling to make ends meet.

Our request was “straightforward and in-line with what we believe is a matter of fundamental fairness – money that has been diverted from supporting human services in Toronto should be dedicated to investments in human services for residents of Halton.”

Council wants to use these savings to reduce the 2011 Social Services budget and bring forward a modest tax decrease (0.1%) for Regional services.


*more than 37,000 Halton residents are living in poverty below the Statistics Canada Low Income Cut-Off.

*social assistance caseloads remain high and have grown 43% since 2007.

*there are nearly 2,000 applications on the Halton social housing wait list.

*non-profit agencies across the Region face increasing demands for service but are hampered by flatlined revenues.

We wanted Council to consider putting resources back into food supplements for Halton residents who are in receipt of Ontario Works or at least to think of ways they might be able to do achieve something similar.

Nothing happened.

My sense was that Council was sympathetic to our point of view but don’t believe they have the flexibility and/or power to do anything.

A similar appeal to Hamilton Council last week got a more positive reception.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Winter Nightmare

Based on a Real Nightmare

It is deadline day for the Hamilton Tiger Cat/Ivor Wynne/Pan Am stadium decision.

The Cats are fed up with an inflexible City of Hamilton Council. A pro franchise can live with no highway visibility but how can a business be viable without 25,000 parking spots for the new refurbished stadium.

They’re pulling up stakes; leaving town. No more roar on Balsam Avenue they’re headed to Burlington.

But the deal must be done by the February 22nd deadline. It has been extended 9 times but this time it is final.

Burlington Council has scheduled an emergency meeting for 9 :15 a.m. Tuesday Feb. 22nd to consider a new proposal.

This is early for the hard working seven person team that worked late the previous night, Family Day, developing a traffic calming plan for the Mainway Arena parking lot.

But something is amiss in Burlington this morning. Mayor Goldring’s car is not in his driveway. Stolen? With a call to the Deputy Mayor he is shocked to hear that the cars of many prominent Burlington citizens have disappeared or been disabled.

Shockingly the city’s beloved Bur Bear has been taken hostage.

But there is no time to dwell on these bizarre events.

The Nearly-Unimaginable-Never-Before-Used-Take-The-Bus-To-Work-Back-up-Plan must be put into action.

Mayor Goldring unlocks the safe and takes out the protocols.

Walk 300 metres to New Street take the #10 bus westbound.

He's off and smiles as he boards the #10 fifteen minutes short of nine that morning and sees Councillor Paul Sharman in conversation with a clearly distracted driver.

Goldring disembarks at the downtown terminal just metres from City Hall. It is 8:59.

Sharman is still into it with the driver who has benefitted from input for the duration of the Councillor’s 26 minutes trip.

“C’mon Paul. Let’s go. We need to get quorum.”

The twosome sprint through the John Street Parking Lot spotting Councillor Taylor climbing off the #3 South clearly frazzled but glad to have survived his 26 minutes trip which had followed a wild 170 metre dash up Cavendish Drive.

That’s three.

Ward 2 rep Marianne Meed-Ward will make it on foot.

Two Councillors, Lancaster and Craven, will be forced to execute tricky transfers - Craven from Route #1 to #10 East and rookie Councillor Lancaster will actually have to hustle under the Fairview Go Station after her trip on the #12 South to make her connection.

Craven can be counted on but the on-line bus schedule he consults is not reliable today posting only westbound #1 route times. The Aldershotman must go east, though.
Craven calls in. Not to worry he got the east bound #1; has arrived at Mapleview Mall and pulled off the transfer and is making his way along the narrowed Lakeshore highway which, as always, is delayed.

But the Ward 4 guy, Councillor Jack, where is he?

The mayor needs everyone there – a unanimous vote is imperative.

There’s a problem. On receiving the call Dennison has raced from his Lakeshore digs but retraces his steps on realizing he needed cash fare. But how much? He knows it is expensive; that’s what advocates have said. He grabs a two dollar bill from the cookie jar.

Back to the Lakeshore. Jack waits near Holy Cross Lutheran Church. Where is the bus? Then it hits him.

There will be no bus that day or any day. He and most of his colleagues had voted to get rid of that route more than 15 years ago. He’d have to cycle.

Although the senior member of council, Jack is arguably the fittest and even without the aid of subsidized public transit he makes it to City hall ahead of the deadline and in time to hear Councillor Taylor presenting a long list of amendments designed to enhance the environmental features of the new Paletta Tiger Cat Park and Nature Reserve (including a water feature.)

The amended motion passes.

Only Mr. Paletta’s signature is needed before the deadline.

“He’s not here! Burlington Transit doesn’t run north of #5,” a panicked staffer yells.

Someone shouts out Oskee-Wee-Wee.

“Restrain Mayor Bratina,” Goldring shrieks.

My alarm clock rescues me.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reporting on Traffic Safety

Did you hear the one about the annual convention of transportation engineers?

I stole this one from Michael Ronkin, a Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager. Mr. Ronkin’s story:

"The Institute of Transportation Engineers is holding its annual convention in Cheyenne. The hotel is across the street from the convention center, so every morning they cross Main Street to get to their meeting.

On the first day, an extraordinary event occurs, one that hadn't been seen in over a hundred years: a herd of bison - 500 in all - stampede through town and a transportation engineer is killed. His peers lament his loss, and one of them proposes they put their collective minds together to come up with a solution. So the next day is spent in work sessions, and they devise a bison-proof pedestrian crossing.

They build it overnight and it's ready for use the next morning. Well, you guessed, against all statistical odds, another herd of bison comes stampeding through town, this time 1000 in all, and another engineer is killed crossing the street.

Lamentation, wailing, grief, sorrow and guilt are expressed, till one optimist gets the crowd to quiet down and declares cheerfully: "Hey, we succeeded; we cut the rate of transportation engineers killed by bison in half!"

Meanwhile in Our Town

This joke came to mind today when reading Burlington Council report TS-01-01 an annual report that purports to analyze traffic safety.

City staff, authors of the report, are pleased that collisions are down - 10% lower than in 2005, in fact. Using other indicators, like collisions per capita, things are good too, we’re told.

But dig around in Appendix A and you’ll find that pedestrians collided with cars far more in 2009 - up by more than 35 % since 2005 - but also significantly up over every year since 2005.

As far as cyclists, 2005 was a particularly bad year as these people contacted cars 44 times. It had started to go down (31 in 2007) but it is on the rise again.

What would it take to get transportation staff to treat the safety concerns of those not driving cars seriously?

In addition to burying the pedestrian info in an appendix, the report does not include roads under the Region of Halton's jurisdiction.

Roads that were transferred to the Region (intersections on Brant, Guelph, Appleby, Upper Middle, and Dundas) account for a large part of collisions, notes Doug Brown from the City’s Road Safety Committee. This transfer of arterial roads has created the illusion that Burlington collisions are on the decline.

It makes one wonder whether this particular annual report has outlived its usefulness.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Council Work

If you read the local mainstream media you’ll understand that most of us in Burlington have moved past the great Junior Hockey calamity and are fixated now on how a professional football franchise might move to our town to keep us entertained nine and sometimes even ten times per year.

As for me I’ve got bigger worries.

A story on the CBC about Toronto Council got my attention.

No it is not Rob Ford; not this time.

Rather it is some new Councillors who clearly didn’t research the job before applying and are now exercised that certain departing Councillors didn’t leave any files for them.

New Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam was surprised after winning Kyle Rae’s old council seat “that there was nothing in the files.” According to the CBC “(s)he had no idea everything would be gone.”

To me this demonstrates a lack of understanding of the job although, truth to tell, I was similarly surprised when first elected to municipal office way back in the early nineties. The person I had defeated left only one small file made up of copies of thank you letters.

Nevertheless, it didn’t take me long to figure out that my job was about policy. Most of what I needed to know could be found in public documents. A large group of staff were eager, willing and obligated to provide elected officials with background on anything from the Official Plan to cat licensing. There was a lot of confidential information, too, as I remember it but that was stuff that couldn’t and shouldn’t be passed on in a filing cabinet.

It seems that Ms. Wong-Tam did get some help from departing Councillor Kyle Rae. He left of his own free will and was available to Wong-Tam to provide some orientation.

For new Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon it would be more difficult to envision cooperation. McMahon defeated incumbent Sandra Bussin in an acrimonious campaign.
McMahon’s concern seems to be more about having to start anew to build a constituency database. This is a legitimate concern but tricky as I found when "caretaker councilling" in 2006. Politicians being politicians sometimes mix constituency info with supporter info. Protocols would need to be put in place but maintaining a database is doable and necessary.

Councillor Wong-Tam will apparently put forward a motion to require Councillors to pass on files when they leave.

A better idea would be for this Councillor to develop her own files based on the platform she put forward in the election that was endorsed by voters.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Where's the Bakery?

Local politics is mostly about land use planning. Height, density, setbacks, residents agitated about the potential of “low-rental” housing intruding on their lifestyles and impacting their property values and so on….

But I’ve mentioned this before, haven’t I?

When I was a Councillor I found this land use planning stuff kind of complicated though. The reports were rather like those instructions for putting together the kid’s Christmas presents in that, while the salient points were repeated so as even the thickest reader could understand them, they always seemed sort of back to front to this dim-witted decision maker.

I was at the Royal Bank at New Street and Walkers Line (Burlington Ontario) recently and I had a planning flashback. It went like this:

On a Tuesday night some time in the mid-nineties the Planning and Development Committee was looking at a rezoning for the north west corner of this intersection. I recall that a Sunoco station had occupied the site for many years prior. It was a long meeting and following in the time honoured tradition of municipal politicians I was asking dumb questions – really dumb questions.

What exactly is Neighbourhood Commercial, I wanted to know?

The Planner’s answer had to do with building something small scale that would be used by those living on the nearby streets. A small bakery was mentioned, with reference to the sweet smell of baking bread being carried on the breeze over Rothsay Place and other adjoining streets. And while the ward councillor had concerns about odours I had visions of Old Mr. Jones strolling down to the bakery to get a Danish to go with his morning coffee or perhaps some trifle for an after dinner treat. It seemed…well, quite neighbourly.

The approved uses also included drive throughs which seemed to run counter to the idyllic friendly neighbourhood use notion put forward by the planner.

My recollection is that I persuaded my colleagues to support a recommendation that staff develop some sort of policy for drive through approvals. I don’t remember what, if anything, came of that staff direction.

Here is a picture of what became of that site. One large bank office, with a drive though in the middle of an over sized parking lot.

No bakery, but RBC puts out cookies with coffee sometimes.