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.