Merry Clarity!

Life can get pretty complicated and frayed, especially around this busy time of year.

The path forward isn’t always clear, but time still marches on (often much too quickly).

Nevertheless, as 2016 nears its end, local residents seem to be in step about one thing.

Life in Burlington has changed, and it continues to change at an unrelenting pace. Of course, that change can be good or bad!

Your view may be swayed by when and where you’re asked.

You could be stuck in traffic with a case of indigestion from New Street’s road diet – or enjoying a calming stroll around one of Ward 4’s serene neighbourhoods.


Locally, we have much to appreciate and anticipate; and other things to complain and worry about. Skillful observers and communicators like Terry Cooke manage to cut through all that chatter about change – often with the turn of a phrase….

“Long-term change takes time”.


That powerfully blunt insight is taken from a recent message delivered by Terry as President and CEO of the Hamilton Community Foundation (HCF).

He took the pulse of HCF’s current strategic plan. It got a thumbs-up from supporters.


I wonder how his questions to gauge HCF’s progress might apply to Burlington, and how citizens would respond.

Like HCF or any other community-based organization, City Hall is a place which should be building community with a long-term focus and discipline.


1) How is our long-term planning? How are we actually doing right now?

2) Does City Hall understand our evolving community needs and priorities?

3) Is our current “Group of Seven” Council setting the right direction, goals and flagging course corrections for over 175,000 people?

Often, though, one simple question will produce a profoundly clear answer.

And who doesn’t want clarity at times like this?


As my holiday gift, here’s your chance to experience clarity, in 3 seconds or less….


Size matters in Burlington

What happened in 1991?

Here’s a very (very) quick glimpse….

There was also a municipal election in Burlington 25 years ago – click on the photo below to see what Council looked like “back in the day”…

1988-1991 Council

Did you count the number of people around that table (yes, that number includes the same John Taylor who’s still there)?

Seventeen (17) people for a population of less than 130,000 in 1991.

It’s only seven (7) people now – for a population in excess of 175,000 in 2016!!

How does that measure up today with our neighbours in Halton?

Oakville? 13 for more than 180,000.
Milton? 9 for more than 100,000 (and rising).
Halton Hills? 11 for more than 60,000.


How about other nearby small cities?

Guelph? 13 for more than 120,000.
Cambridge? 9 for more than 130,000.
Brantford? 11 for more than 95,000.

Looking eastward, there are places like Kingston with 13 for more than 125,000, and Cornwall with 11 for more than 45,000. Another waterfront community, Cobourg, has 7 just like Burlington – however, their population is less than 20,000.

I could go on. You get my point.

Today’s interconnected world is much faster, more complex and more demanding than in 1991.

Life has changed dramatically. Population density, traffic congestion and other troubling issues in the GTHA bubble are bursting.

While we live in a beautiful city and region, fundamental problems seeking real solutions and strong leadership can be found nearly everywhere.


The decrease in Council’s size was a well-intentioned move in the right direction. Regrettably, that pendulum swung too far.


Council fatigue has firmly settled in.

A telling example is how weary and wary our Mayor and Councillors appear at Council meetings. Who can blame them?

In fairness, who could properly get through all of the reading materials thrown at them (whether paper or electronic), investigate all of the truly important matters (after filtering through the truly less important ones), and genuinely listen to their constituents (as a reminder, improved civic engagement was the rallying cry when this Council was first elected in 2010)?

No wonder Council members often have their heads down, relying heavily on staff reports (is it an unwillingness to challenge them, or lack of preparation?) and rarely looking or standing up to offer strikingly innovative or breakthrough ideas.

Risk-takers? Not this group.

Getting into the weeds is a comfy way to hide in plain sight, pretty much as long as you want – until the next election.


I wrote last year about how this Council is seemingly “stuck in neutral”, and nothing much has changed since then (their long-overdue Strategic Plan eventually passed in April, sadly in line with Council’s previously limp and lengthy versions)….

Visionary and bold do not describe this Council. Caretaking seems more appropriate.

To be clear, Council’s work is not easy or straightforward, nor is it restricted to Council chambers.

There’s also the incredible time and energy drains of dealing with cats getting caught in trees, ribbons getting cut, photos getting taken, calls getting made, emails getting returned and getting to countless meetings and events.


Not to mention constant public pressure, as Council goes about their work.

Having said that, though, there’s really not much in the way of public scrutiny. Local media is virtually non-existent in Burlington, and it infrequently provides actual in-depth news reporting or analysis anyway.

It’s exhausting merely to try to visualize Council’s unrelenting work schedule, and the personal sacrifices involved, especially for a completely undersized team with an overwhelming to-do list.

Council lives with that reality.

Despite Council’s best efforts, have you noticed that public discontent keeps bubbling to the surface lately, replacing our usual general disengagement or disinterest with local matters? And we’re not talking about the Pier anymore.

Citizens seem increasingly frustrated with and anxious about Council – with big and small tipping points.

Unwarranted road diets, the shadow cast by the unrelenting threat and pace of new highrises by the waterfront, the City terminating the core group of seniors volunteering at the Seniors Centre, the City’s shortsighted selling of public waterfront lands to private interests, and more.

It’s no surprise that one natural conclusion and overriding factor can explain, in large part, why this Council gets such unfavourable or unenthusiastic reviews, and why it has seemingly been so unproductive and uninspiring despite 6 long years together. We’re talking about burnout.

Work overload.


It’s been 25 years in the making.

Why expect any Council to excel when they’re always faced with too little time and far too many demands?

Increasing the size of Council is inevitable, and would represent an important step and signal to reenergize Council as part of a long-overdue governance review (e.g. Council isn’t leading by example when a comprehensive Code of Conduct for City Staff doesn’t apply to them, and their own minimalist code is inadequate and outdated).

The potential and promise for better decision-making would be the most tantalizing outcome.

With a larger group, there’s real opportunity to elect a more dynamic, inclusive and representative Council for an evolving Burlington – hopefully, more diverse backgrounds and more progressive thinking will be brought to the table as a result.

It’s time to cleanse the stale air of a tired “small club” environment, and breathe new life into a modern Council to help it build an even greater community for the longer term.

That’s a compelling picture. Is it worth the risk of investing in a few more elected people to govern our city better?

Consider the alternative of maintaining the status quo and expecting a different return on that investment.

To create a healthier culture, you need to get at the root of the problem, not merely trim around the edges.

A change to the size of Council would be at the centre of structural changes that will make a difference.

Drawing new lines for Wards is a related burning issue too.


For example: Councillor Jack Dennison presides over Ward 4 – basically, it’s a small town with a population greater than places like Cobourg which throw a lot more bodies at governing (see above). It spans both sides of the highway, involving very different and divergent priorities to try to represent well.

But that’s for another day, and another post!

For the moment, let’s resist taking too deep a dive into the important details.

Such as how many Councillors should be at-large (vs. representing specific Wards), acknowledging that not everyone would still be on both Burlington and Halton Councils.

Or, and these are very substantive considerations, if all or some of the elected positions should be considered full-time or part-time, and how much each Council member should be paid under the new regime.

Where there’s a will, there will be a way.

The new Strategic Plan trumpets “GROW BOLD”, as Council seeks to lead Burlington into the future. Will this Council itself “GROW BOLD”, and be wise enough, to pursue increasing its size before the 2018 election?


To be clear, there’s no magical or optimal number.

Is it 9 or 10? Maybe something closer to 13 like in Oakville?

7 is definitely not the right number. Not anymore. It doesn’t work well in 2016 – and won’t for the next 25 years.

What do you think?

Here’s a 3-SECOND POLL to spark conversations, and help size up how Burlington feels about Council’s size….

Burlington newspaper folds – again

Where do you go for local news, opinion and gossip?

Pepper Parr’s online “Burlington Gazette” was often the go-to place.

burlington gazette

I say “was” because the Gazette “is” no more – according to its latest headline….

This version of the Burlington Gazette is dead. Someone else will have to fight the good fight.

Regrettably, there’s no story beyond the terse message that “the Burlington Gazette is dead” – just readers speculating and commenting about its demise.

Those moderated comments need to be approved for posting. Presumably, Pepper is lurking in the background with his hands on the editorial controls.

pepper parr and gazette gear

Why the silence? That would be very uncharacteristic of Pepper.

When the Gazette disappeared for the first time in 2014 (for less than a month), I offered sincere words of praise.

Pepper succeeded at achieving his main objective of narrowing the information gap between City Hall and citizens. For that, Burlington owes him much. Thank you, Pepper, and congratulations for a truly remarkable achievement.”

Two years later, that tribute to his valuable role as a dedicated volunteer and community observer still rings true, and louder.

This isn’t another CHCH TV closing up shop, then re-opening with reduced staff and a new focus. Pepper is the Gazette.

Perhaps, the Gazette will rise yet again.

But is this another hiatus? Or, is it a much-deserved retirement?

Will someone else pick up the Gazette’s torch?

Time will tell. And I’m confident Pepper will too.

*** UPDATE *** After posting the above, and as expected, Pepper revealed what was behind his decision to shut down the Gazette….

Readers ask – … is there not some way to continue the endeavour?

*** ANOTHER UPDATE *** Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Pepper now claims the Gazette is not dead – despite what he told everyone in a headline. It’s just resting.

Click on the following link for more….

Spectator columnist makes us look better than we are – but thanks – there is more to come on this story.

10 seconds for our next Mayor

The next municipal election isn’t until 2018 – however, now is the time when potential candidates may start to emerge, and make some noises.

And with Burlington’s current Council well into its 2nd year of a second 4-year term together, citizens should be watching and evaluating them closely.

How are they performing? Happy with the current line-up?

If not, are there other leadership hopefuls?

Of course, most eyes will be on the Mayor’s job. Definitely not an easy role to play as our community continues to evolve in so many unprecedented ways.

hot seat

With that in mind, it’s time for a quick and entirely unscientific poll to kickstart the conversation.

If the municipal election is held right now, who gets your vote of confidence to lead Burlington into the future?

I promised this would be quick. You have 10 seconds. On your mark, get ready.

Go vote….

Boldly going where Burlington hasn’t gone before

Welcome to 2016!

The most important 12 months in Burlington’s 142 years of existence.

Who’s led us down that path? The Mayor? Council? Good guesses, but you’re wrong.

It’s this person.

james ridge on the street

While he may look like another mild-mannered citizen out for a walk, his influence on our city could be invaluable, and lasting.

One more hint. In this photo, it’s no coincidence he’s cooking something with our Mayor, and at his right hand.

james ridge at chamber event

Say hello to James Ridge.

james ridge formal

On the job as Burlington’s City Manager, and working below the public radar, since March 2015.

That low profile shouldn’t continue, as Council shifts into high gear now to finalize and approve a new (and overdue) 25-year Strategic Plan .

I offered the following background and prediction in this blog for last year….

“….since 2010, there’s been 3 City Managers (as shown below – can you identify more than one?) plus 1 to follow!

Of all the people in Burlington to watch in 2015, my pick is the next City Manager. That person will play a pivotal role in what happens, and how things move forward at City Hall during this critical time in our city’s history.

In addition to other qualities he/she brings to the corridors of power there, let’s hope he/she works productively with Council – and stays for at least one or two terms of Council, especially with a new Strategic Plan coming soon.”

Were you watching? Maybe you read about him.

When interviewed by the Burlington Chamber of Commerce, James Ridge made a revealing confession.

He’s “a bit obsessed with doing better than a slogan-on-a-wall strategic plan” and wants a “compelling and achievable plan to guide the city for the next 25 years“.

Uh, James, don’t you know Burlington only puts out Strategic Plans covering a Council’s current term of office, filled with sweet-sounding generalities?

So what happened? His influence and obsession helped change this cover page….

burlington strat plan 2015-18

to this one (note the years)….

stategic plan 2015-2040

No easy accomplishment – considering this is the same Council which, like its predecessors, drove forward by flipping on cruise control and belching out another cloudy short-term Strategic Plan in 2011.

Personally, I happily applaud this unexpected decision and new focus, which I most recently called/hoped for in this post….

What’s the path forward?

A draft plan has been floated to the community, with a few weeks of public consultation. Click here for the plan and details:

If you skipped over the above and didn’t click, please do it now. It’s worth the time to read. I’ll still be here when you return.

Okay, what do you think of the draft? The process? What’s missing? Is it clear enough?

What about this Council’s ability to listen and lead when approving the final version?

Put another way: do you trust these 7 people to represent your views and our collective vision for the next 25 years?

Happy smiling faces of council

The City Manager has impressively pushed this initiative forward – but it’s up to Council to steer Burlington in the right direction.

This is our last chance as citizens to step up, and be heard by City Hall before the new Strategic Plan is launched.

Please, clearly and loudly voice your ideas and concerns.

There are a lot of questions to be addressed. Generations of Burlingtonians will depend on the answers.

Welcome to 2016 – the year of living with unprecedented responsibility, and the transformative opportunity to truly shape our future.

Leadership stuck in neutral?

Burlington is not changing. It has already changed.

One indication is the shift in our local political landscape resulting from the 2015 federal and 2014 provincial elections.

You can also look to the increasing impact of intensification, traffic congestion, a rapidly aging population, affordability and much more.

Simply put, this isn’t your grandparents’, or even your parents’ Burlington anymore!

If you haven’t noticed or been introduced yet: Welcome to the new Burlington.

changes sign

What may have been true in the past, and perhaps may still be today, it’s likely not going to hold in the future.

Why does it seem this message of change is not getting through to City Council?

They’ve begun the 2nd year of a second 4-year term together (i.e. same Mayor and Councillors), and they still haven’t completed this term’s Strategic Plan – which is only intended to guide City Hall until the next municipal election in 2018.

Heck, the Town of Oakville passed its 2015-2018 Strategic Plan in May. Kind of gives you a case of municipal peer envy (that’s peer, not pier).

Council members continue to scratch their heads and debate about our strategic direction – trying hard to follow the lead of yet another consultant hired to provide yet another round of “stakeholders” surveys, colourful diagrams and high-sounding concepts (KPMG in this case).

And they’re still working on the first draft for the public to review.

strategic plan meeting with kpmg (courtesy of burlington gazette)

Would you get into your car and drive without knowing where you’re headed?

Would you do it for over a year?

Delay is not the real timing problem. It’s the 2018 part of the Strategic Plan.

Buried deep in a previous consultant’s report to the City is this gem ….“Burlington needs a strong, long term vision”.

Stop there. Now, please, strap yourself in. Get ready for a jarring moment of clarity.

stop sign for clarity

2018 is NOT long term.

Imagine us 20 years or more from now. 2035 and beyond. THAT’S long term.

So, how do we get there from here?

As mentioned, the same-old approach and same-old expectations won’t cut it anymore in this City. Times have changed.

More to the point, can the same-old Council map the route? More on that later.

To start, and as a happy coincidence, this Council is also dealing with the long-overdue process of an Official Plan Review.

City Hall posted a slick video in 2012 to help explain what that’s all about (with barely over 2,000 views in 3 years, this video may sadly reflect that few citizens are paying attention)….

Did you hear the time frame? A land-use strategy for the next 20 years.

Another coincidental and well-timed situation involves the revamped Burlington Economic Development Corporation (BEDC). It’s working on a 10-year vision for Burlington’s economy.

Not 20 years, but not bad either.

BEDC’s interim report is regrettably filled with “pillars”, “enablers”, “strategy houses”, “unique and inspirational branding” and other consultant-rich stuff.

Nevertheless, Council will hopefully fold much of the BEDC’s basic ideas into the City’s new Strategic Plan and next Official Plan.

Why? Growing our local economy (a.k.a. creating jobs) by expanding the commercial tax base is the greatest challenge and top priority for Burlington – and if successful, that factor alone can help fuel and propel any of the City’s plans long into the future.

job creation

Faced with a required 20-year commitment for the next Official Plan, and armed with a critical 10-year plan from the BEDC, Council should be setting out a crystal-clear picture of 20 years from now as the most integral part of the new Strategic Plan.

Looking only to 2018 is short-sighted.

Design the next Strategic Plan around specific long term outcomes (and count them using as few fingers as possible) – and then Burlington will have real direction, with unity through purpose.

Such outcomes should be difficult for future Councils to change (e.g. only by unanimous vote). Every Council must also be held accountable to implement and commit to the plan, by regular monitoring and plain language reporting to the community.

But do we have the real leadership today to shift gears and drive forward with this change, at such an important and timely juncture?

city council 2015

Let’s hope they don’t roll out a reheated version of past Strategic Plans – filled with lovely platitudes and tough-to-measure short term outcomes.

Will this Council take the time, energy and risk to show us a Strategic Plan starting 20 years from now (keeping it simple, please) and break it down for the balance of their term (the detailed part)?

In effect, start farther out and work backward to move forward.

This departure from established protocol would mean, of course, going outside this Council’s comfort zone.

comfort zone caution

Despite their long tenure together, this group of seven hasn’t left a signature mark yet on Burlington’s canvas.

They tend to tread quietly and safely with governing the City’s business, delaying or avoiding the ‘big’ decisions (even when it’s easy, such as establishing a Code of Conduct for Council).

Government rarely leads. Government tends to react, not initiate or innovate.

Time to change in this case, consistent with other substantive changes that have happened and are transforming our great community in healthy ways.

It might mean relying less on external consultants, and not getting bogged down by internal staff reports. This would be Council making truly bold and ‘big’ decisions after listening directly to constituents – and, hopefully, articulating a clear and collective vision of future Burlington.

Or, will this Council pass the opportunity by?

Ranting and raving for results

As summer cools down, and Burlington gets back to business as usual, it feels like the right time to warm things up with a rant.

Many of us are focussed on the economic turmoil in Greece, China and elsewhere. The federal election is making us stare into the abyss of a prolonged Canadian recession.

So let’s pause to look within. Let’s talk about our local economy.

How’s it look to you?

To assist, click on the following map – and envision the current stores, offices and industrial-commercial-institutional buildings…..

land use in burlington

On a positive note, there seems to be roughly the same number of businesses here now, as existed a few years ago. Maybe even two decades ago.

On a negative note, repeat the last sentence.

Where’s the growth?

Why is there so much un(der)developed non-residential land, including along what City Hall likes to call the “Prosperity Corridor” (click on the photo below)?

prosperity corridor

And what about the re-invented and re-energized Burlington Economic Development Corporation leading the charge for change?

Before I try to respond to those questions, we should start with BEDC’s business partner and primary funding source, the City of Burlington.

City Hall has a lot on its plate.

a lot on plate

Having said that (and sorry for making you groan about the photo), a menu of long-term priorities is relatively short.

It basically includes two I‘s – Intensification and Infrastructure.

Add one AHAffordable Housing.

However, I believe the top priority and weakness to address for our future is, as you’ve probably guessed, ED (not the medical condition) – Economic Development.

That term is really code for job creation.

We need to intentionally target and bring in BIG business, those with 50 or more employees.

A big-business-centred approach broadens the entire tax base in significant ways. It will help pay for and support so many other short and long-term needs locally. It will also attract smaller businesses, and benefit those with roots already here to grow.

At present, a meagre 6% of employers in Burlington have 50 or more employees, while a whopping 65% of business establishments are self-employed.

Keep in mind too, non-residential properties cost much less than residential for a municipality to service. Healthy margin, healthier bottom line.

Dive into a lot of data, bring out lovely charts and brochures. No matter how you slice and dice it, BIG business will be the BIG difference-maker for Burlington.

job creation

As a longtime business leader asked me this week, “When was the last time a really big business came to Burlington?

Well, it was a long time ago (hint: the name begins with “G”, and you can email your answer to this quiz to

None of this big-game hunting will be easy or quick!

No doubt, though, time is of the essence. We’re arriving late to the modern ED game.

After enduring a long no-growth drought, and falling behind our GTHA neighbours, the pump needs to get primed immediately.

Success will depend largely on the leadership, effectiveness and relationship of BEDC and City Hall – including how they collaborate with the Burlington Chamber of Commerce to advocate for our community as a premium destination for businesses.

A few details about how that synergy might work in the long run, despite some initial hurdles to get over…..

*** BEDC ***

bedc logo

As mentioned earlier, this is an organization with a renewed sense of purpose.

Regrettably, BEDC is off to a slow start after an extensive study of its past problems, followed by a 2014 relaunch (the vision statement claims BEDC will “operate at the speed of business“, which is great if you get paid by the hour!).

It’s been weak at communicating (when was the last time you heard or saw anything from BEDC?). And its optics are not helpful either.

That is, while preaching change, inclusivity and transparency at the “new” BEDC, some initial decisions suggested otherwise.

An 11-person Board was selected with only 2 female directors (apparently BEDC is going with a new “old boys club” model) – not to mention that several directors, including the Chair, don’t work in this city; the website provides scant to no information about the corporation (no particulars about its corporate relationship to the City, no listing of all of the executive officers, no profiles about directors other than job titles, no indication if directors are volunteering or paid (as originally proposed), etc.); and 4 out of the 11 directors are employed by the City.

That last observation means City Hall has a strong voice at BEDC’s table, wielding a weighty 36% of the vote. Political and business types usually have very different natures and agendas, which can be counterproductive in a boardroom setting.

city council at table

Perhaps, the Board’s composition will lighten up on the number of City folk, as it evolves over time.

In terms of looking forward, BEDC is compiling “Burlington Vision 2025”. Here’s the latest on that front….

bedc business vision 2015

While visioning is an important exercise and guide, this due diligence process could lead to paralysis-by-analysis (the consultant’s dense “economic baseline” report alone would be enough), and blurry goals.

But it’s still early days.

With his entrepreneurial drive and impressive skills, new Executive Director, Frank McKeown, seems the right kind of take-charge leader to grab hold of BEDC’s steering wheel, once the accelerator is pressed down. A shift in gears can’t come too soon.

Frank McKeown of BEDC

*** CITY HALL ***

Can the current administration foster an improved local environment for business?

To start, City Hall will need to better co-ordinate its efforts with both BEDC and the Burlington Chamber of Commerce to help cleanse and truly refresh our stagnant economic development pool.

Those groups must clearly define their roles to avoid duplication or conflict, and work closely together.

To that end, Council’s new “Strategic Plan 2015-2018” will need to embrace and fold in BEDC’s “Burlington Vision 2025“. Will the new City Manager, James Ridge, ensure that happens and position himself as a pro-business champion?

It will be interesting to find out what transpires later this year, when both documents are finalized and rolled out….

Hopefully, unlike in the past, there will be no soft and mushy words with wobbly measures to track progress.

Let’s see a solid straightforward plan, followed by real results. The future of Burlington’s local economy will depend on both.

Here endeth my long rant.

Actually, rather than a rant, a few prayers may be more appropriate at this point.

Is Dennison out of bounds?

Ward 4 Councillor Jack Dennison is trying to swing another real estate deal.

This time, it’s with his fellow Council members, and it’s all about YOUR property.

While he’s hit and missed with them in the past, that may change soon.

burlington council 2014-2018

To be clear, this is not about Councillor Dennison battling neighbours to capitalize on his own Lakeshore Road property in Ward 4 (as you may recall, the Committee of Adjustments denied him a severance, and he appealed that decision to the OMB).

His focus is now on lands owned by the City in Ward 1. Tyandaga Golf Course.


Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven’s email newsletter today included this commentary….

“Councillor Jack Dennison is continuing his effort to sell land from the golf course to developers.

During recent budget discussions he put forward a motion that Council “review our Tyandaga asset as part of our strategic plan”. I objected to the motion as being “out of order” and the Chair ruled in favour of the Point of order.

Undoubtedly Councillor Dennison will now pursue this subject during the upcoming “Strategic Plan” discussions. I will keep you advised.”

Craven didn’t connect the dots for readers – but his email included another topical item, with potentially huge implications for the golf course and Burlington….

“My office has received a lot of calls about the large open space, recently put up for sale, west of Brant Street and south of Havendale. This land is currently owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese. Developers are also making inquiries.

So far, there is nothing official, no applications and no news, but I will certainly keep you advised if anything changes.”

How do these pieces connect?

Well, a picture tells that story best. Click on this photo to see where the golf course and Brant Street property are located….

golf course and brant street property

Seems a long time ago that Councillor Dennison championed the preservation of local green space, by helping save the General Brock parkland . That cause was certainly worth fighting for in Ward 4 (although the war isn’t over yet, but that’s for another post).

Of course, a sale of golf course lands will generate a lot of green for the City’s coffers, in the short and long term (municipal golf has been a money-draining “asset” for the City over the course – that’s the last pun – of its 50+ years).

Beyond the sale price, add an enormous windfall of development charges, plus an expanded residential tax base (e.g. perhaps 150+ homes depending on the property sold and related conditions). And the area would still be covered mostly by gorgeous parkland.

Hopefully, citizens appreciate the need to speak up now about this kind of contentious issue, whether you’re fore (couldn’t resist) or against it.

In this case, the fate of Tyandaga Golf Course may significantly inform and influence the direction of our new Strategic Plan – if Craven’s emailed expectations about Dennison come true. Council’s final approval is set for July 2015….

burlington strat plan 2015-18

So, if a possible sale of golf course lands is considered as part of a larger context for Burlington’s future, here’s my question to YOU….

Looking Ahead

2015 crystal ball

Time to make some bold (well, boldish) predictions for Burlington.

Here’s my TOP-4 list of WHO and WHAT to watch locally in 2015….


big question mark

Council remains constant, but other leadership positions remain in constant flux.

You’ve needed a program to keep track of many top jobs at City Hall.

For example: since 2010, there’s been 3 City Managers (as shown below – can you identify more than one?) plus 1 to follow, and 2 Chiefs of Staff plus 1 to follow! Ouch.

Of all the people in Burlington to watch in 2015, my pick is the next City Manager. That person will play a pivotal role in what happens, and how things move forward at City Hall during this critical time in our city’s history.

In addition to other qualities he/she brings to the corridors of power there, let’s hope he/she works productively with Council – and stays for at least one or two terms of Council, especially with a new Strategic Plan coming soon.

Watch for other new staff appointments, terminations/retirements and resignations.


marianne meed ward

While Mayor Rick Goldring should be the centre of attention on Council, Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward will increasingly steal that spotlight.

Meed Ward has always been an excellent communicator, and she’s also a seasoned politician now. She’ll keep stirring Council’s pot vigorously and regularly, especially when her Ward constituents want something (and perhaps to attract more voters for an already much-anticipated mayoral bid in 2018).

However, the main event causing sparks at City Hall will probably continue to be friction between her and Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven (and others tag-teaming with him).

Catch all the action in person, tune in TVCogeco or check out the City’s webcasts. Body language says so much.

Unlike the relative calm of previous Goldring years, and unless Meed Ward can become less adversarial and more mayoral in nature, 2015 seems likely to be filled with more divisive public posturings and positionings.

For the sake of Burlington and Council, I sure hope that prediction is proven wrong.


mike wallace endorsement of next pc leader

After 70+ consecutive years as a Tory stronghold, we elected a Liberal MPP in 2014!

Who could have predicted that for Burlington?

In truth, a lot of people – particularly those who noticed local Liberal candidates nudging closer and closer to victory in recent elections.

Having said that, will voters elect a Liberal MP in 2015? Will our city catch the wave of a new kind of Trudeaumania with a young local candidate, Karina Gould, full of new energy and big ambition (with meetings in local pubs and other community hubs)?

Nope. Not this time anyway.

MP Mike Wallace is savvy, organized and determined.

Burlington is changing, as reflected by the 2014 provincial election. However, that sudden and surprising change seems to have helped the entire Council get re-elected in the ensuing 2014 municipal election. Voters chose stability and experience.

And that will also be a factor for likeable Mike in the 2015 federal election.


pier in action

For my final choice, I could have predicted Burlington surging with unprecedented pride and support for the new Joseph Brant Hospital – or even said the Burlington Gazette will continue to be exposed as Pepper Parr’s pulpit for his personal political preferences (I might have said it, just not easily or without spitting!).

Either would have been an easy choice. Too easy.

Instead, I’ve gone with the ill-fated and much-lambasted Pier.

Yes, it went millions and millions of dollars over budget as a legacy/vanity piece (with little function or purpose, beyond being a tourist attraction and pleasant walk), and turned up the volume on public engagement (a positive outcome). Those days are over.

Here’s my boldest prediction: no one will say a disparaging word in public about the Pier in 2015.

Of course, there may be some revelation about the final legal costs. People might still refer to it as a tragic historical footnote of incredible political hubris and, just maybe, someone will mention the high maintainance costs going forward. But that’s it.

Silence will signal Burlington has learned some lessons, and turned the page.

This should help all of us start to write new chapters for our community, by focussing better on what really matters now:

*** aging infrastructure (which involves many inter-connected concerns)
*** aging population (with the related issues of health care, poverty and affordability)
*** worrisome intensification trends (primarily by the waterfront, and the impact on the character of older neighbourhoods)
*** lacklustre economic development (a now-revamped BEDC should make rumblings in 2015, and get tangible returns on that investment in 2016)

Okay, there you have it for 2015.

New City Manager. Councillor Meed Ward. MP Mike Wallace. The Pier.

Who or what is on your TOP-4 list?

p.s. Since I’ve raised a few opinions here related to political parties, and in order to offer full disclosure, please see the second half of the following post about my own partisan leanings….

All in the details

Why is this man smiling?

jack d oct 2014

That’s the look of a decisive victory for Jack Dennison!

The Ward 4 race in this municipal election, like everywhere else in Burlington, was won by the incumbent – and by a significant margin.

Click on the following link for a PRECISE BREAKDOWN OF VOTING in Ward 4….

The numbers reveal that our current/future Councillor won handily at every poll.

What was the most curious result, and perhaps the most telling?

He had a solid 52% of the votes cast at the two polls with the greatest number of eligible voters – Port Nelson (Roseland) and John T. Tuck (Roseland Heights). Why is that somewhat surprising? After all, he lives in the area.

Well, you may have heard that many of his neighbours are very upset with his Ontario Municipal Board appeal to sever his own lot (as reflected by the strong opposition mounted by the Roseland Community Organization).

He pushed back hard against their wishes, and the City staff’s recommendation. Yet that factor did not fan the flame of an ‘anti-Jack’ wind during this election.

jack d property

In fact, Roseland residents didn’t get out to vote much (30% voter turnout) – compared to the entire City (34%) or even the top polls in Ward 4 (35-38%).

Was it complacency, apathy, fatigue or inevitability (a sense that Jack was assured another 4 years)? Something else?

As you look northward in Ward 4, the power of this incumbent was evident. He received well over 60% of the votes at those polls.

Simply put, after 20 years in office, the Jack Juggernaut rolls on for another term!

His experienced leadership should continue to deliver beneficial results overall for our community. True, like other politicians, our Councillor has attracted his share of public controversy and criticism.

However, he’s always responded to critics with unapologetic candour, a rare quality for politicians. And while you may not like his style, nor agree with all of his decisions, Jack Dennison has worked diligently to represent Ward 4 and Burlington well for two decades – especially in terms of trying to protect the financial bottomline for taxpayers.

We should expect more of the same, which may best explain his re-election.

Okay, now that the election smoke (and hot air) is clearing, what lies ahead?

I set out my views in a recent article in B CITY MAGAZINE (starting at page 37)….

Did you happen to catch this week’s #TheIssue show on TVCogeco (see below for our broadcast team’s “selfie” taken on election nite), which airs every Tuesday nite live at 8 PM? Yes, that was a shameless promotion.

cogeco election team oct 27 2014

I also expressed the view this Council may suffer from a serious malady – VISION DEFICIT.

If you don’t have a clear target in your sights, how can you take intentional steps towards hitting it? Vision is not about nice platitudes or blurry generalizations!

It’s all about seeing the details.

More about VISION DEFICIT, and the need for Council to focus better, in a future blog post. In the meantime, let’s wake up after a sleepy election. Let’s open our eyes wide.

Even WIDER than that, please!

eye wide open

Stay vigilant and get more engaged over the next 4 years – a critical period for bigger, longer-term decisions at City Hall. As a community, we need to keep a watchful eye on what’s going on, and speak up about where Burlington is headed.

One week left…are you ready?

We’ve all had it. That dream about sitting down for a big exam – and suddenly realizing we forgot to study!

Let’s hope it’s NOT the reality for Burlington voters on Monday, October 27th.

That’s when you and others cast the final ballots in this municipal election (unless you already voted online, or at an advance poll).

***Spoiler Alert #1: Here comes a shameless self-promotion.

If you’re tempted to doze off now, and perhaps not even bother to vote, I wrote an article which should jolt your system.

b city article

The above is the final proof for my contribution to B CITY MAGAZINE. The Fall 2014 edition comes out this week in select homes and businesses. Copies can also be picked up at Tourism Burlington at 414 Locust Street (downtown near Lakeshore Road).

***Spoiler Alert #2: Here come our community’s top priorities explained in that article.

Burlington is changing. You can question many things, but not that.

We need to decide, right now, what matters most to us. Based on that list, what does our collective vision of the future look like? 2014 is an absolutely critical election to choose the leadership team at City Hall aligned with that vision.

What lies ahead?

Most people would not consider our biggest issues to be, in a word, ‘sexy’ or ‘provocative’. We’re not talking about building more legacy pieces like a pier, hospital, performing arts centre or giant steel orchids. Nor is this is about contemplating a larger Council, new Wards or moving City Hall (not bad ideas, mind you).

giant orchids on upper middle

It’s a handful, though, in many ways. My top-5 list:

1. Economic development
2. Intensification
3. Aging population
4. Aging infrastructure
5. Affordability

What’s on your list?

My top-5 items are inter-connected and urgent, especially since they’ve received scant attention. So far. Time is running out, and the countdown is on. Let’s get Burlington’s priorities, and future, on the right track.

See my article in B CITY MAGAZINE for more!

Otherwise, if you need a last-week/minute primer, click on these helpful links….

Burlington Council =

Halton Regional Chair =

HDSB Trustees =

HCDSB Trustees =

And, finally, closer to home for your research: the campaign websites set up by our Ward 4 Councillor candidates….

Carol Gottlob

Jack Dennison

Doug Wilcox

Please, take a good look at all of the candidates, and choose wisely.

Burlington’s future depends on your vote.

Hear ye! Hear ye!

Tuesday, October 7 at 7 PM. Save the date now!

That’s when there’s a debate going on in Ward 4 – Paletta Mansion at 4250 Lakeshore Road (between Walkers and Appleby).

All of the candidates for MAYOR and WARD 4 COUNCILLOR will be there!

Will you?

debate audience

All-candidate meetings are rare opportunities to see candidates come together in one place to discuss and debate local issues before a public audience.

For them, it’s about reinforcing key messages and positions on many neighbourhood, city and regional issues.

For us, it’s about asking questions, listening to answers – and getting better informed before voting.

This special event is co-hosted by the Roseland Community Organization (RCO) and Roseland Heights Community Organization (RHCO).

And there is absolutely no cost to the public.

There will be a donation box for the ongoing and vitally important efforts of Burlington Flood Relief, if you’re able and so inclined to give.

burlington flood relief 2014

Don Baxter of the RCO, and yours truly on behalf of the RHCO, visited the venue today in preparation for next Tuesday nite.

Below is your advance look at the room, showing the moderator’s podium and the main tables set up for the panelists and candidates (that’s Don checking out a chair).

paletta preparations

Here’s the format….

– Doors Open.

– Meeting begins.

One moderator (Maureen Tilson-Dyment).
Three panelists (Tina Depko-Denver of the Burlington Post; Joan Little of the Hamilton Spectator; Pepper Parr of the Burlington Gazette).

7:00 to 7:30
– Opening statements from three Mayoral and three Ward 4 Councillor candidates (maximum 3 minutes each).

7:30 to 8:30
– Discussions and debates.

4 sessions of 15 minutes each, alternating between Mayoral and Ward 4 Councillor candidates (first 15 minutes of questions from panelists directed to candidates for Mayor; next 15 minutes for Ward 4 Councillor candidates; and so on).

– “Fishbowl” questions.

The moderator will randomly draw from a “fishbowl” of questions from the public (before the meeting, by posting a comment here or emailing; or during the meeting, by bringing a written question or submitting one at that time).

– Meeting ends.

paletta park debate location

To help you get ready, here’s some homework.

The candidates and their websites (if any)….

mayoral debate 2014

Anne Marsden (no campaign website)

Peter Rusin

Rick Goldring


Doug Wilcox

Jack Dennison

Carol Gottlob


Fast and furious at City Hall

clock at 2 o'clock

Friday, September 12, 2014 at 2 PM.

That’s the final deadline for municipal candidates to officially enter or withdraw.

And the race to the starting line is a sprint now!

Suddenly, the Burlington mayoral race has 3 registered candidates in less than 24 hours – less surprisingly, Ward 4 has yet another change for the Councillor’s job!

Here’s the (current) line-up for mayor….

Incumbent RICK GOLDRING will be challenged by newcomer PETER RUSIN and perennial candidate ANNE MARSDEN. She’s put her name in for Regional Chair, Mayor (registered then withdrew in 2010), Ward 2 Councillor, and MPP.

Only Rick Goldring has a website – which might indicate how unprepared the other two hopefuls are for a short campaign. When I briefly met with our current Mayor today, it’s clear that he’s ready to roll with his team.

As for Ward 4, there’s 1 new entry with newcomer DOUG WILCOX, and a renewed vote-splitting factor. That will favour incumbent JACK DENNISON, and should concern the other newcomer CAROL GOTTLOB.

Doug Wilcox lives outside the Ward, which is permitted, but nothing else is provided by his registration today (no website or photo), nor by a cursory Internet search.

Let’s hope Mr. Wilcox introduces himself and his ideas to Ward 4 voters soon, and isn’t just taking up space on the ballot.

Who said municipal politics is dull? Not that you’ll want to camp out at City Hall to see who else registers.

Tomorrow may bring more breaking news, as the clock ticks much closer and louder towards 2 PM….

What’s it going to be, Burlington?


That option has surged into the lead in my recent poll (53.85% at the time of this post).

Admittedly, the poll is highly unscientific and unreliable. What political poll isn’t?

But does it reflect some indication of frustration with the choices in Ward 4? Or, maybe, voter fatigue? Apathy?

This Friday is the last day to register or withdraw as a candidate. And there’s a race in every Ward for City Council.

In fact, there are 10 candidates in Ward 6!! Councillor Blair Lancaster must be wondering what all the fuss is about (as a reminder, she only won by 125 votes in 2010).

I’ll leave Ward 4 and other predictions until next month. However, I wish to officially call this election result now….


You read it here first.

goldring clan celebrates heagle prediction

Okay, subject to a last-minute shocker, there’s no race to unseat the current Mayor.

*** UPDATE: The day after posting this blog, PETER RUSIN registered to run for mayor. My prediction stands.

In the past, if a mayor has been acclaimed in Burlington, it’s meant a lot. That is, a lot less people vote.

1976 = 59.4% – Mayor’s race (Mary Munro wins)
1978 = 28.1% – Mayor’s race (Roly Bird wins)
1982 = 33.0% – Mayor (Bird wins)
1985 = 20.0% – MAYOR ACCLAIMED (Bird)
1988 = 28.1% – Mayor’s race (Bird wins for 4th straight term!)
1991 = 37.2% – Mayor’s race (Walter Mulkewich wins)
1994 = 35.3% – Mayor’s race (Mulkewich wins)
1997 = 34.9% – Mayor’s race (Rob MacIsaac wins)
2000 = 22.7% – MAYOR ACCLAIMED (MacIsaac)
2003 = 16.6% – MAYOR ACCLAIMED (MacIsaac)
2006 = 34.8% – Mayor’s race (Cam Jackson wins)
2010 = 37.6% – Mayor’s race (Rick Goldring wins)
2014 = ____% – MAYOR ACCLAIMED (Goldring)

When the Mayor is acclaimed, voter turnout is less than 20%.

Average voter turnout is underwhelming anyway – barely over 32% for all general elections in the past 40 years.

That’s an abysmal and shameful record. We can do better. We should do better.

Here’s my question to you, Burlington. What’s it going to be in 2014?

It only takes two to tangle

I have decided to withdraw my candidacy for Ward 4.” Sound familiar?

With those words, DAN DAVIDSON is the latest entry to exit the Ward 4 race.

exit sign

Since registrations began in January, six people have signed up to apply for the Councillor’s job. Two remain. CAROL GOTTLOB and JACK DENNISON.

Well, sort of.

Of the four candidates who’ve let it be known they’ll withdraw – just one has officially filed at City Hall to do that. On paper, it’s still a 5-person race!

*** UPDATE: After posting this blog, Dan Davidson filed to withdraw. It’s official.

September 12th is the deadline to withdraw or register.

So, if any registrant fails to formally withdraw by then, his or her name will be on the ballot. And vote splitting inadvertently becomes a factor for the only candidate (so far) who intends to challenge the 20-year incumbent.

carol gottlob sept 2014

Will Carol Gottlob replace current Ward 4 Councillor, Jack Dennison, on City Council?

city council 2010 to 2014

Who will get your vote? And exactly HOW will you vote?

That is, you’re reading this online – so voting online should be of interest!

That option is available from October 2nd to 19th (election day is October 27th). For more, click here…

In the meantime, let’s give you some practice.

Consider the alternative

Take a good look at them, and what they’re saying to you.

We need to have the infrastructure in place, the services, have neighbourhoods structured to be livable and people-friendly.”

As a community, we need to pursue mindful development, prioritize infrastructure projects, promote responsible growth and create job opportunities that will encourage young Burlington residents to stay.”

If we can reclaim waterfront in a fair manner, I will support that agenda.”

The above samplings are from campaign websites for Ward 4 challengers, Dan Davidson and Carol Gottlob, hoping to unseat 20-year Councillor, Jack Dennison.

It all sounds pretty good – but DETAILS?! Don’t look for them in their websites.

The other registered challenger, Steve Kempf, has no website. But that’s a moot point, since he’s withdrawing from the race. That makes 3 candidates pulling out in recent weeks. At this rate, the incumbent could be acclaimed!

What do you think of the remaining challengers?

Are you underwhelmed or disinterested? If that’s the case, it might be because you don’t know them, or their specific positions about issues.

Several factors may be involved. Lack of any substantive information in their websites is one – however, that can be remedied quickly.

If they have clear and realistic visions for a better Burlington, websites and blogs are excellent vehicles to show us how to get there.

But it’s not only how to pave the way, it’s also how to pay for it too! Revenue is not a little speed bump on that municipal road. It’s a mountain.

revenue mountain on road

Oddly, neither challenger has started to knock on doors, nor distribute pamphlets.

door knocking

What’s the incumbent doing? He’s out there doing his job as Councillor and, yes, knocking on a lot of doors.

According to his email sent yesterday to Ward 4 residents about the flood: “I have been visiting non-stop to individual homes and affected areas. I am sorry if I missed you or was not able to meet you at your home. I am continuing to visit residents….”.

jack dennison at town hall meeting

Another factor is that while both challengers are longtime Ward 4 residents, neither has been particularly active in the community before this election, nor held leadership roles.

Community experience and profile are not things you gain overnight. Those factors are enormous advantages for any municipal incumbent.

credentials before election

As politicians will tell you, if you want to win a seat on City Council, start learning and ‘campaigning’ for the job at least a few years before the next election.

Davidson and Gottlob don’t fit that profile.

So why wait to introduce themselves to (gulp) over 26,000 voters in Ward 4 (of which only 35% or less are likely to vote), and hope to get some traction with those residents for what’s now a short campaign? No idea. Seems a highly unusual strategy.

Are these challengers counting heavily on a huge anti-incumbent groundswell?

That could also be an unwise strategy. At the municipal level, I believe that people ultimately want to vote for a person, not against someone else.

Will these factors matter in a sleepy Ward 4 race – which, at present, may be turning into a walk for the savvy and confident Dennison?

An all-candidates meeting is planned. That could wake things up closer to the October 27th election.

Elections 2014 Masthead

Of course, what will happen in this election is not solely on the challengers’ shoulders. It’s also up to YOU.

Please take the time and energy to find out about them. Ask questions. Demand answers. Spectator columnist Joan Little offers some helpful insights and ideas….

As the election clock gets louder, and ticks down quickly (September 12th is the last day to register or withdraw) – so much can still happen in Ward 4. Or not.

A time for leadership

burlington flood makes headlines

Where were you during the Great Flood of 2014?

As for our Mayor, it was impressive and reassuring to see Rick Goldring take charge immediately and confidently during this local crisis. That’s what leaders do.

rick goldring press conference about 2014 flood

He was highly visible in the media, and took to the streets to speak with people.

The Mayor lives in Ward 4 – and let everyone know this emergency was also highly personal. His home was hit.

That’s his basement shown below in the first photo. The second photo is of MP MIke Wallace’s basement – which reinforces that nature certainly doesn’t play favourites, whether with politicians or anyone else. We’re all in this together.

mayor goldring's basementmp wallace's basement

It seems Ward 4 was at the centre of this storm.

I’m not aware if our Councillor Jack Dennison has been on the scene. No messages (e.g. I’m on his email list), nor Tweets or Facebook posts (e.g. if he’s away on vacation). But I’m certain he is or will be very active connecting with residents and businesses.

UPDATE: After the above comments were posted, the Councillor emailed residents late Thursday evening about Monday’s flood, with useful information and tips communicated by the Mayor:

I’ve heard about other Ward Councillors knocking on doors to get the message out about 3-1-1 (apparently thousands dialed that emergency line at the Region, no doubt overwhelming the system) – while offering a personal hand to help.

There are already many heart-warming stories of Ward 4 neighbours checking on and assisting each other, during and after the deluge.

Here’s another….While I stood next to a first responder at Tuck Creek, and it raged by us on Monday nite, he mentioned praying on his knees that no one gets hurt – especially children, seniors or anyone with a disability or who lives alone.

I’m proud to say, Burlington, compassion lives here!

It’s wonderful to see how we can reach out, and break down the walls of insular living. Too bad it often takes a community-wide ordeal.

To my knowledge, there have been no reported deaths or major injuries as a direct result of the flooding. Of course, there has been an incredible amount of property damage, financial cost and emotional anguish. That aftershock lasts long after the waters recede.

This week reminds us not only of our humanity, but also of another stark reality. One that needs to be looked at closer, funded better, and acted on much quicker.


We have an aging POPULATION, a subject which has received slightly more attention in recent years. The downpour also clearly exposed our aging INFRASTRUCTURE.

Both factors are critical to Burlington becoming a liveable and caring community on a truly sustainable basis.

We can’t control the weather. However, we can control how we react to it – and how we prepare for the next potential storm (remember last winter’s ice?) or other extreme infrastructure-rattling events.

That’s similarly true for what some observers refer to as the coming “Silver Tsunami” of our aging population.

silver tsunami stats in canada

There are no easy or simple fixes to combat an aging population or infrastructure.

For example: flood control improvements (to be fair, an affordable modern design/system would have lessened but not prevented the flooding here). That area alone involves storm water and sewage management systems, gradings around old properties, etc. But it’s only part of a more complex and bigger problem in our great city.

Roads, traffic and transit must also be thrown into the infrastructure mix, as we seek to find workable inter-connected solutions.

Most importantly, though, how will we afford what needs to be done in Burlington?

Municipalities have limited means to raise money beyond property taxes, and City Council’s borrowing power is currently self-limited to 12.5% of total revenues. Development charges? Build-out is over, build-up is here.

However, residential growth isn’t happening – Burlington will be the slowest growing municipality in the GTHA over the next 15+ years.

What about commercial growth?

Economic development must be a renewed top priority, and be successful. In particular, we need to finally get tangible returns on the City’s significant long-term investment in the Burlington Economic Development Corporation.

The BEDC is being transformed and led by the Mayor’s former Chief of Staff, and a former Ward 4 Councillor candidate, Frank McKeown. His impressive credentials and no-nonsense manner certainly indicate he’s the right kind of leader for the job.

frank mckeown bedc executive director

During this election year, let’s hope overriding and troubling issues around AGING are raised LOUD AND CLEAR by voters, incumbents and other candidates.

Time is of the essence! Let’s really start to get at viable ideas to deal with those concerns.

That’s what leaders do….and that’s also what leading communities do.

The universe seems to be sending Burlington a message. Are we listening?

Another one bites the dust

First, it was John Sweeny. Now, LEXI KUBRAK has changed her mind!

In her own words….

I wanted to run for office for all the wrong reasons. I was seeking recognition in a field that, while I have a lot of knowledge and understanding in, wasn’t a true passion. When something isn’t a true passion, you don’t commit to it one hundred percent.”

lexi kubrak

Like Mr. Sweeny, she has not officially dropped out – but the race is down to 4 candidates.

Lots of action going on in the 2014 Ward 4 campaign – at the City Clerk’s desk!

The remaining new and unknown candidates haven’t even started to knock on doors yet, and seem to be on course to split votes between them.

It’s looking like hard-running incumbent Jack Dennison can breath easy.

Or can he?

Will someone else step forward, and others drop out?

You never know in what is suddenly Burlington’s most unpredictable Ward.

And now there are 5 (again)

You don’t want to blink during this Ward 4 election campaign!

Last week, one candidate (unofficially) exited, and another (officially) entered.

Please say hello to DAN DAVIDSON.

dan davidson

Dan is a Senior Managing Consultant at IBM who’s been a Ward 4 resident since 1982.

Why run for political office now?

Burlington is a great city, but I feel it is starting to go in the wrong direction in the areas of future planning, resident engagement, and impacts on neighbourhood life style….I thought it’d be better to try to get involved and try to help, rather than complain about it.”

Stay tuned, Ward 4! There could be more people willing to step forward to end the 20-year reign of incumbent Jack Dennison.

The last day to register as a candidate at City Hall is September 12.

And then there were 4

Its time for a change for Ward 4” was his slogan (despite mixing up his itses).

However, he won’t be that change.

John Sweeny

It’s not official according to the City’s election website yet, but John Sweeny has dropped out of the Ward 4 race….

As John indicated, stepping forward for public office requires courage – and a huge commitment, if you win.

Are the remaining Ward 4 candidates up to the task of taking on the entrenched incumbent of 20 years, Jack Dennison? Or, did the strongest challenger just exit?

It’s still early, but here’s a chance to have your say (and also to sense the value of name recognition in a municipal election)….


tim hudak face

paul mccartney yesterday and today

If you listen carefully, Sir Paul McCartney’s ditty was sung today by many Progressive Conservatives in Burlington.

They’re longing for yesterday (and yesteryear) when – feel free to join in – all their troubles seemed so far away.

June 12, 2014. Definitely one for Burlington’s history books.

jane waving good-bye june 12 2014

That’s Jane McKenna not only campaigning on election day, but also waving good-bye.

To less than 3 years at Queen’s Park. And to 70+ consecutive years of an unblemished Tory-blue winning streak! Yikes.


Is this one of the ‘Signs of the Apocalypse’? Maybe it was mass delirium. Or, some kind of computer error.

Consider these slightly more reasonable possibilities…..

A much stronger local Liberal candidate.

eleanor mcmahon and local fire fighters

Burlington’s changing urban landscape and population.

changing urban landscape

Another ill-conceived campaign from the PC central office (led by Tim Hudak stubbornly and loudly pushing misguided messages and misleading facts).

downcast tim hudak after election

A shrinking local PC base of support during recent years – with little inspirational leadership and vision, nor fundraising power (a Cam Jackson strength).

bpca gathering

This lawn sign got more attention than Burlington’s NDP or Green candidate. And nearly as much support!

stupid is

Probably, it was “all of the above”.

Time for the PCs to rethink, reload and rebuild – both locally and provincially.

However, that’s also true for the Ontario Liberals and NDP in this age of hyper partisanship, and public mistrust.

Which gives me an idea.

Why can’t Burlington lead the charge/change for a different and better way of doing party politics? Starting with our next MPP, Eleanor McMahon.

eleanor mcmahon at work

Eleanor has impressive experience working in and with government and community-based organizations, plus she seems to genuinely understand and appreciate Burlington, demonstrating a warm and authentic manner with people.

Those qualities may encourage and set the pace for other local parties and political types to follow suit in how they treat each other and, maybe (just maybe), how they can work together on occasion to serve our great community.

Burlington strives to become an even more compassionate, inclusive, collaborative and progressive community in every way. Why not in party politics too?

I urge all of us to be patient and supportive of our MPP in her early days and months, and try to stay engaged as the next few years unfold.

If she has too many scripted moments with snarling partisan attacks, or refers to herself in the first person? Takes out a false front-page endorsement again in the Burlington Post? Well, those are not healthy signs for real change.

Yesterday was about many things – including a fresh start and, yes, a dose of hope.

Let the healing, and a new era in Burlington politics, begin.

new mpp hugging

Over to you now, Sir Paul….

[p.s. Full disclosure….]

The Globe and Mail newspaper reported in 2013, “Today, somewhere between 1 and 2 per cent of Canadians are members of political parties.” I’m one of the very few.

bdbh political memberships

I’ve always been a “small c” conservative or so-called “Red Tory”.

When Ontario Liberals courted me several years ago, I took a closer look. For a relatively short time, I felt they best represented my kind of moderate, progressive conservatism in Ontario politics. And they did. But not for long.

Shortly before the eHealth scandal was exposed – which began an endless parade of government overspending and undersight (my word for the opposite of oversight) – I realized a “Liberal” dose tends to be too much in the long run. Especially when good intentions lead to more government.

I exited that valuable learning experience, gladly returning to the PC/Conservative fold, even putting my toe in the candidate pool:

HEAGLE (PC Nomination Letter (June.13.2011)_Page_1

Today, Progressive Conservatives need to make our way back to the political centre.

Bill Davis and many others have understood how Ontario can survive and thrive when government works in that space (which seems to have been officially vacated now by the left-leaning Wynne agenda). Regrettably, Tim Hudak took us too far away.

Hopefully, once the election dust clears, the post-Hudak PCs will eventually return from the political wilderness by the next election – which means appealing to more people, especially in forward-looking urban areas. Like Burlington.

That’s full disclosure – if you were wondering about my political tendencies or biases when reading this blog!

He’s back!!

jack dennison between two mayors

It’s official.

Longtime Ward 4 incumbent Jack Dennison registered today as a Ward 4 candidate.

Not much of a surprise (this blogger, and other City Hall observers, predicted it)….

But will Jack be surprised by voter reaction, when he comes knocking on our doors?

answering door

Most importantly, how will YOU react?

Will you be influenced by his OMB appeal against the City and neighbours?

Do you believe in term limits (Jack apparently did, before he became a Councillor)?

Prefer any of the other Ward 4 candidates (to date): Gottlob, Kempf, Kubrak or Sweeny?

Or, do you feel he has more to contribute and get done – even after 2 decades on Council?

Lots of questions! Answers provided in October, when Ward 4 votes.

Crowd forming in Ward 4

While voters are being bombarded by news and views about the Ontario election, another Ward 4 candidate quietly registered today at City Hall.

Her name is CAROL GOTTLOB.

carol gottlob

That makes 4 in 4: Gottlob, Kempf, Kubrak, Sweeny.

So far.

Click these links to learn more from their websites (Mr. Kempf doesn’t have one yet)….

While residents wait until next month for Jack Dennison’s plans (he’s busy fighting his neighbours this week at an OMB appeal) – Ward 4 is trying to keep pace with Ward 6.

Neither incumbent has registered, and Ward 6 leads with 5 registered candidates.

So far.

Are they attracting so much competition because they’re seen as ‘vulnerable’?

Will voter fatigue follow the Ontario election, especially if there’s no battle for Mayor?

One thing is certain: the weather, and our municipal races, are slowly heating up.

Survey says…

Welcome to 2014’s first election!

Spring has sprung – and political signs are starting to bloom on Burlington lawns.

Everyone seems to be polling too.

Not to be left out, see below for 4 entirely unscientific, mostly challenging polls.

You have 15 seconds. Fingers on your buttons, get set, and GO VOTE…..

Burlington newspaper folds

burlington gazette

Pepper Parr’s online newspaper, Burlington Gazette, has ended its nearly 4-year run:

Last year, this blog conducted a highly unscientific poll, yielding these results:

Clearly, Pepper engaged many local residents with his highly informative, candid and often entertaining way.

As Councillor Marianne Meed Ward posted online after yesterday’s announcement, he performed a vital service as an “independent voice on matters of public interest“.

And Pepper provided all that time, energy and expertise – as a volunteer!

pepper parr

Pepper succeeded at achieving his main objective of narrowing the information gap between City Hall and citizens. For that, Burlington owes him much.

Thank you, Pepper, and congratulations for a truly remarkable achievement.

Now what happens? Who or what will step into the void?

That question is especially relevant as Burlington heads into election season at the municipal, provincial and federal levels (but not necessarily in that order).

Well, until someone or something else emerges, my poll results indicate part of the answer may involve spending more time in local donut shops.

*** UPDATE: After first posting this blog, Pepper advised me that while the Gazette has folded its tent, for the time being, it may not cease to exist permanently. Once his health situation is addressed, Pepper will reconsider his decision in due course.

*** ANOTHER UPDATE: Seems you can’t believe everything you read in the Gazette – even about itself! The Gazette broke the news that it would cease to publish on April 27. However, due to popular demand, it was resurrected by Pepper on May 16.

When “Best” means more

burlington's best

City Hall seems preoccupied touting Burlington as “The Best” according to one magazine’s criteria – but you and I know the primary reason why this is the best place.

Put simply, it’s all about the people.

We lead extremely busy lives. So it’s important to pause and celebrate, in particular, some of the extraordinary residents who contribute their time and energy to our caring culture.

And that happens this year on Thursday, May 15 at the Burlington Convention Centre.

“Burlington’s Best” is an annual event recognizing amazing volunteers and their stories, based on the following categories/awards:

Citizen of the Year
Junior Citizen of the Year
Senior Person of the Year
Environmental Award
Community Service Award
Arts Person of the Year
Heritage Person of the Year

Citizen of the Year has been handed out for the past 59 years. Do you know or recognize any of these past winners?….

For 2013, here’s the impressive list of nominees (and they’re all female):

Bev Jacobs
Judy Gerdes
Denise Davy
Jean Longfield (a Ward 4 resident to root for!)
Beth Hudson

Servant-leadership involves focusing on the well-being of others, while inspiring by example. The 2013 nominees certainly reflect those qualities.

We should take enormous civic pride in Burlington’s remarkable history and growing base of servant-leaders through volunteerism.

Many share that feeling, including past Citizens of the Year and friends pictured below:

Gordon Schottlander (1968 – a tremendous local treasure at 89 years of age, who embodies active living as a key to health), Kevin Brady (2007 – who was also recognized as 2010 Philanthropist of the Year) and Mina Wahidi (2008 – seeking to take her public service to City Hall, as a 2014 candidate for Ward 6 Councillor).

I’ll share a table at next month’s event with them, so please drop by to say hello and talk about building community!

Tickets are available at City Hall (426 Brant Street) or by calling (905) 335-7600, ext. 7855. Each ticket is $35.00 (or reserve a table of 10 for $280.00). Ceremony starts at 7:30 PM.

It will be worth the effort to attend, and applaud the truly best nature of our city.

Who you gonna call?

monster home example

Does the above scene look familiar? Too familiar?

How often have you seen a notice near you, like the one shown below?

notice on property

Monster homes, and even bigger concerns, are waking up quiet Burlington neighbourhoods throughout Ward 4.

Most recently, for a highly controversial development in Ward 4, City Council agreed to amend Burlington’s Official Plan. It’s an inherently flexible document which evolves with the community’s changing priorities and needs – but its rules seem to have been bent and broken so much lately, it’s becoming more like the Official Suggestion.

Click on the following link to see how the Roseland Heights Community Organization (RHCO) advocated for its members and other concerned residents:

Roseland Heights Community Organization – Delegation to City Council 3.17.2014

Regrettably, Council voted to approve a 6-storey height for the sizable apartment complex in this low-density area on New Street.

Why are local residents upset?

It’s not really about having an apartment building on those lands. It’s primarily about massing – a growing concern everywhere, as Burlington moves rapidly down the intensification path. Imagine the look-and-feel of a 6-storey structure here…..


Another reason for this upset involves Council, particularly our Ward 4 Councillor who voted to exceed the maximum allowable height of 4-storeys.

Jack Dennison’s generic email response to constituents was comprehensive, and ultimately boiled down to this….

My job as a Councillor is to represent my 40,000 constituents of Ward 4, the City of Burlington and the Region of Halton, and I feel this proposal while not ideal for the immediate neighbours to the east is absolutely the right thing to do for the community!”

That kind of ‘greater good’ justification is often used when an elected official votes squarely against what seems to be the wishes of most constituents.

In this case, the RHCO discovered incredible frustration and dismay. “Who is our Councillor listening to?” “Did he even knock on 1 door, let alone 40,000?” “Why bother to fight this, if Council won’t listen?”

In fairness, there are 40,000 people for 1 person to represent!

You can’t blame our Councillor alone for not adequately consulting or listening to residents. Concerned citizens should take more responsibility by stepping up, getting organized and making our voices heard.

The RHCO, and another well-organized group next door, the Roseland Community Organization (RCO), reflect a viable and sustainable way to accomplish that goal.

When need arises, and residents want to get truly engaged and informed, call on YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD ASSOCIATION for help! For example….

*** Ward 4 can realistically be divided into at least 5 distinct areas….

(1) Palmer-Tansley
(2) Dynes-Rexway
(3) Roseland-Tuck Creek (represented currently by the RCO and RHCO)
(4) Longmoor
(5) Shoreacres

*** Looking for advice/assistance about getting organized in Ward 4 or elsewhere? See the contact information on the websites and Facebook pages for the RCO and RHCO (or, as I refer to them, the GRA or Greater Roseland Area):!/roselandheights!/RoselandCommunityOrganization

*** You don’t even have to spend money to form a not-for-profit corporation to get your own group off the ground! Here’s an example of some basic rules, to help set up and guide an unincorporated association with your neighbours….

Neighbourhood Association – Example of Constitution

Burlington is changing. It’s time for residents to band together on an organized basis when dealing with City Hall – including to help protect and shape the landscape and character of our established neighbourhoods.

After all, that’s what being good neighbours is all about.

Ward 4 From Sky 2013

A massing mess

Is this what you want to see in Ward 4’s future? If not, is City Council listening?

seven storey buildingsix storey building

The above development is known as “Maranatha Gardens“, which proposes to replace single family detached homes along New Street. And local residents are not pleased that Council will likely vote tomorrow to overwhelmingly approve it.

A brief moment for full disclosure….

Last year, I co-founded a community association for the neighbourhood in which I live, called the “Roseland Heights Community Organization” (RHCO); and I’m part of the current leadership team which has petitioned/canvassed that area about this project.

We hit the streets hard yesterday and delivered the following information sheet to homes in and around Roseland Heights. Our primary goal was to help better inform people, and encourage more of them to get involved….

Urgent Appeal RHCO v.2

Residents’ main concerns revolve around: (1) massing (a building’s visual look and how it blends with its surroundings), and (2) scale (a building’s relationship in terms of, in particular, height and size to its surroundings).

Simply put, the proposed large 6-storey apartment building is not compatible with the character of this low-density neighborhood. Currently, a 4-storey building is permitted – however, you won’t find anything nearby along New Street above 3-storeys.

For example: “Maranatha Homes” next door is a 3-storey residence and when standing in front of it, you sense what doubling that height would really look and feel like! It’s an eye-opening exercise.

maranatha homes

The reality is that intensification forces Burlington to build up now. But exactly where, how high and in what way? There’s the rub. That friction is an escalating and daunting challenge for City staff, Council and citizens.

The pressure to increase revenue from the local tax base is enormous.

Some people feel City Hall is ‘selling-out’ Burlington at a tremendous long-term cost in chasing those dollars. On the other hand, City Hall is seeking to find an appropriate balance between the City’s financial needs and what its citizens want.

As for this development project, while most seem to accept or understand that an apartment complex will be built, the RHCO hasn’t heard from any Ward 4 residents in favour of a 6-storey building.

To be clear, the developer has initially characterized “Maranatha Gardens” as an age-friendly SENIORS apartment building (that’s 55+ years of age at the Burlington Seniors Centre). It’s NOT a retirement home, long-term care facility or assisted-living.

As well, based on targetted rents and the City’s own policy, it’s also NOT even about providing AFFORDABLE housing for our aging population in this case.

With a 6-storey apartment building, there are also foreseeable threats to the neighbourhood, including….

** How will this decision impact on the final sale and utilization of lands not owned by the City at the north-east corner of the adjacent General Brock Parklands, shown below? The hard-fought battle to save that precious greenspace isn’t over.

general brock parklands from sky

** What about increasing traffic congestion (after all, seniors still drive cars, and so will visitors to the building)?

** Will this new development open the floodgates for similarly incompatible properties along New Street, and beyond?

Having said all that, the biggest question remains. Why will our Ward 4 Councillor Jack Dennison, and nearly all of his Council colleagues, approve a 6-storey height on these lands? Sure, it can be done, but should it?

Is City Hall bending to a developer’s need for 6-storeys to support its project’s economic viability (making its problem, our problem). Or, is it that residents have not been adequately informed or engaged, and they’re not communicating their issues?

A lot of questions!

I believe the best answers rely on us, as active citizens, stepping forward with strong and clear voices – so Council will listen to and better represent their Ward residents specifically, and Burlington generally.

It’s an election year. Please make your voice heard, and your vote count.

Breaking News: 3 in 4 now!

Steve Kempf of 446 Indian Road. The latest registered candidate in Ward 4.

Mr. Kempf doesn’t live in the Ward – which is permitted – but little else can be gleaned from his registration particulars at City Hall today, nor from a cursory Internet search.

UPDATE: After first posting this blog, several people have advised me that he’s a former Roseland resident, now retired from the fire department in Mississauga.

I trust Mr. Kempf will soon reveal more about himself, together with his reasons for running and his positions about Burlington – as he joins John Sweeny and Alexandra Kubrak in the ranks of Ward 4 candidates to consider in the October municipal election.

jack dennison

That sound you’re hearing?

Could be the noise of votes splitting – and a chuckle, as Councillor Jack Dennison smiles, pondering another re-election bid.

What’s in a name

Street names often have meaning, but not always.

That issue is at the centre of a proposed name change for Southhampton Boulevard:


The Post’s article offers a brief profile of the late Bill Henshaw, and compelling reasons for renaming this street after him.

However, there isn’t much information about the street’s story.

The Burlington Historical Society published a book entitled “Burlington’s Streets – What’s Behind the Name?”. It tells us a lot about our community, including those who played key roles in its origins and our growth.

“Southhampton” was officially chosen in 1989 when the plan of subdivision was first registered. But why? Here’s the background according to the Society’s research….

A British place name was selected for this street. In England, this port city had been the main port of departure, when the White Star Line moved its base there in 1911. The Mayflower set sail from here in 1620. This street is a departure or entry “port” of Headon Forest.”

The name seems a bit disconnected to Burlington (other than it reminds us of our British roots), and merely part of a convenient theme (e.g. nearby is Northhampton, plus Aberdeen, Newport, et al.). I doubt many citizens get the intended “port” reference.

In my view, and put simply, this is a heritage moment.

I appreciate the familiarity or convenience factor raised by many neighbourhood residents, in support of not wanting the name change.

However, that’s a very narrow and tenuous argument to rely on. The street’s history only spans 25 years, so not much help there either.

A street name is a relatively small but important way for our City to do more about promoting and preserving the legacies of Burlingtonians, especially community builders from our recent past.

If “Southhampton” changes to “Henshaw” (as I believe it should), and to provide balance, perhaps the City should also consider a new name for the corresponding “Northhampton”?

While another location for this street name might be more appropriate – “Mulkewich” sounds right to me.

The clock is ticking


That’s how much you and I have spent on lawyers for our Pier – so far.

To help ease that pain, there’s mention of a relatively minor rebate coming our way ($121,912). Anyone else get that uneasy feeling of a selling feature tossed a little too hard, trying to convince us to step back and take the pitch?

$1,349,952.00. A very precise number indeed. Does that mean it’s entirely accurate?

It’s unclear if “spent” means fees “billed and paid or payable”, or just “paid”. As well, while it’s clear those fees are strictly for outside counsel – no measure was offered for costs incurred inside the City’s legal department, nor for additional related costs to taxpayers for other staff, consultants and our elected officials over the years.

And while optimistic is the word-of-the-day at City Hall, no one has advised us the end is actually near. That’s not encouraging. As the City goes deeper into mediation/litigation, that’s when legal time and work really takes off.

At the end of 2013, readers of this blog took a few swings at predictions. Here’s what you surmised at that time….

What do you think now? Take another swing…..

If each of us could make decisions with the benefit of hindsight, life would be a whole lot easier. City Hall didn’t have that luxury with the Pier project either.

For those on social media and around water coolers who would’ve had all the right answers, let’s hope you run for Council in 2014, and win!

On a realistic note, it’s hard to believe any major City project will encounter so many substantive problems and missteps again.

Here’s a snapshot of the painful history to provide context, including Council-approved costs along the 12-year journey to arrive here – excluding legal fees:

2002 = Council first announces plan to revitalize waterfront, including the Pier.
2005-2006 = 220-meter structure with original construction budget of $6.2 million.; Pier redesigned to 132 meters and Council awards $6.5 million contract; budget later increased to $8.1 million.
2007-2009 = construction begins with hoped-for finish in 2008; construction goes bad and stops; finger-pointing starts.
2010-2012 = negotiations stop and lawsuit starts; new Mayor/Council elected plus new project manager and contractor hired to finish Pier; construction re-starts.
2013 = Pier officially opens, total construction costs of $14.4 million.

And no one has talked much about costs to maintain/repair that structure over time.

Imagine what all that money and energy could have been put towards locally – instead of merely one pier which is nice to look at, walk on and take great photos from. That exercise is important. It reminds us about our community’s greatest priorities.

I believe that means taxpayer dollars for any City-led project must address a simple fundamental concern: “Does this need to be done?

The Pier itself was never a need. It’s certainly a nice-to-have public feature and attraction (leaving aside its costs). We do seem happy to show the Pier off, but is it generally considered a source of ‘civic pride’? Time heals, and will tell.

pier in action

Getting back to the lawsuit….ultimately, each party has a lot at stake. However, as with most wars about money and reputation, I expect we’ll be hardpressed to find a decisive ‘winner’ at the end.

Well, to be candid about my colleagues, the lawyers will do well for themselves.

Here’s my take about how the legal fees should have been treated by City Hall:

scales of justice

I’ve shared these comments before – and, unfortunately, my original sense remains that we’ll own a Pier which cost nearly $20 million to build (love to be wrong and, perhaps, the lawsuit’s final outcome keeps Burlington far away from that ugly number!).

*** By choosing not to disclose anything about legals much earlier and providing regular updates, City Hall only created mistrust about what’s going on with the lawsuit and overblown expectations about the actual costs. .

Only Ward 2 Councillor Meed Ward was uncompromisingly consistent about early disclosure; regrettably, only our Ward 4 Councillor Dennison still hasn’t embraced its merits (contrary to his view, based on my extremely limited information as a citizen, I don’t believe it harms the City’s strategic position to disclose at this stage).

*** With so many eyes on this matter, fuller accountability and transparency should have been paramount from the very outset (e.g. no one has, to my knowledge, advised taxpayers if the initial selection of lawyers was done by way of proposals/bids).

In fairness, the new Council in 2010 pledged to do that, and made efforts – leaving out ongoing legals costs undermined them. Until now.

Let’s hope City Hall learns from this experience for high-priority, high-profile and high-cost files going forward.

As voters, we can have short memories and be surprisingly forgiving. Will the Pier project have any significant impact on October 27th?

That ticking noise? It’s the sound of your decision getting closer every day.

Welcome to the future

inclusivity advisory committee

It was selected in 2013 as the #1 best place for new immigrants in Canada.

A snapshot of its social profile taken nearly 10 years ago, shows:

* Over 1 in 5 (22%) of its residents were born outside Canada.
* Only 1 in 10 belong to a visible minority group. That percentage has likely increased.
* 52% of residents are female.
* Average age is 40. That’s higher than the Canadian average.

Yes, I’m referring to Burlington:,_Ontario

At present, Council members do not reflect many of our key demographics, including our growing diversity.

Let’s take a look at the faces of our leadership. Here are the elected municipal officials in Burlington and Halton….

city council 2014

regional council 2014

Do you see a problem, or not? If you do, and it’s important to you, what can or should be done – if anything?

Difficult and delicate questions. However, they should be asked. Especially during an election year.

In terms of the demographic figures above, here’s how the current Council compares to them. As a reminder, we’re talking about 7 individuals representing over 175,000:

* 2 were born outside Canada (to my knowledge). That’s higher than the 2006 survey.
* None belong to a visible minority group.
* Only 2 are female (29%).
* Average age is far north of 40.
Our aging population is well-represented.

City Hall has made efforts to focus on social inclusivity in recent years, such as establishing a volunteer advisory committee in 2008.

I was part of that initial group, acting as Vice-Chair. Its well-meaning mandate continues to be profoundly underfunded and as a result, very limited in making a deep impact (although it does have a nifty logo, as shown above).

We should not rely on government alone in any event. It’s up to you and me.

The subject for this post came, in part, from a recent online comment made by a 2010 candidate (I was also one of those).

She referred to our city still having a “country club attitude” which is “very Burlington”. I took issue with that. Based on my own experience as a “newbie” and “unknown”, I also offered simple ideas for anyone to encourage/support “newbies”, “unknowns”, “youth” in the local political arena (e.g. social media to help promote them).

It’s very early, but other than a young candidate in Ward 4, registered candidates don’t seem ready to break the mold of past elections. Burlington is changing, but perhaps Burlington isn’t ready for political change. Not quite yet.

In terms of a Council representing its community, what matters most?

I believe they must genuinely know and connect to the interests of virtually all residents at the Ward and City levels; and they must have proven leadership and team-building skills to make meaningful long-term contributions (I put listening, caring, integrity at the top).

Ultimately, for me, it’s about community experience and vision.

As we move forward, does Burlington need a more diverse and inclusive Council with broader experience now? My answer is yes. Will it happen? Let’s see.

2014 is the year to make your voice heard, your support known and your vote count.

Who’s this?

Alexandra Kubrak. That’s who.

The second registered candidate in Ward 4 this week.

lexi kubrak

Unlike the first candidate, John Sweeny, she already has a campaign website (as identified in her registration papers filed today at City Hall):

In particular, her 1-page commentary speaks for itself in terms of her background, why she wants to be on Council and her next steps:

Quite frankly, “Lexi” offers a refreshing change and different choice from past candidates for Council (yes, I was one of those) – YOUTH!

It will be interesting to watch if that factor, combined with her apparent energy and flair as a “fun-loving nerdy socialite”, leads to new and creative ideas in her campaign platform.

It’s getting crowded in the Ward 4 race – which has quickly become the one to watch in Burlington.


John Sweeny. That’s who. The first registered candidate in Ward 4.

John Sweeny

While the incumbent, Jack Dennison, waits silently until June to announce if he’ll seek re-election – Mr. Sweeny is off and running as of yesterday.

Will he make any noise in the meantime? Will he be heard over the din of a likely Provincial election this spring?

Based on his own Linkedin profile, let’s take an initial look….

1) PERSONAL. Mr. Sweeny has lived in Burlington his “entire life” and also has “a passion for the City“. Hockey and sailing are enthusiasms.

2) CAREER. He’s worked for employers in different places in the “High Technology” sector, primarily as an “Alliance and Channels” expert.

However, after more than 13 years, he no longer works in downtown Toronto with Deloitte. That job ended a few months ago.

3) REASONS / PLATFORM. In effect, this candidate is applying for a new job, and a career change. Why at City Hall?

A Councillor doesn’t commute to work. Knowing Mr. Sweeny worked in downtown Toronto, it’s understandable to want a lifestyle change! But what are his most substantive reasons? Is it due to recent circumstances, or a long-term desire to run for public office?

More importantly, what applicable skills and community experience would Mr. Sweeny bring to Council? How truly connected is he to our City, and Ward 4?

There’s nothing on Linkedin about his ideas, issues, etc. – nor much about supporting or volunteering for local groups (other than coaching hockey), nor anything about past leadership roles in the community.

I’m sure those essential details will follow in due course at the door, plus in a campaign website and pamphlets.

4) PROFILE. Do you know him? Ever heard of him before reading this blog post?

I’ve already exchanged emails/calls with Ward 4 residents about Mr. Sweeny. I don’t know him. I’ve never heard of him. That’s apparently true for everyone who’s contacted me so far, including several of his neighbours in Roseland.

Such anecdotes are not encouraging for name recognition, nor for someone looking to gain trust and get votes.

Having said that, few people had heard of Councillor Paul Sharman in 2010 either (when he first registered to run for Mayor, and then for Ward 5).

Ward 5 was an open seat (Rick Goldring vacated it to run for Mayor) and with no ‘high-profile’ candidates, voters had to learn about each of them, and get to know their names.

It’s uncertain if, after 20 years, Ward 4 will finally be an open seat in 2014.

Please take the time to learn more about Mr. Sweeny in the months ahead – and any other registered candidate’s motivations, commitment, skills and vision.

Time flies, and October will be here soon enough!

Making the grade

city hall aerial view

2014 feels like 2013, only colder – but at least the municipal election is warming up!

Registration started January 2nd. Here’s the place to find the official candidates:

City Council is 7 individuals representing over 175,000 people. A huge responsibility.

We get to choose them. A bigger responsibility, and tremendously important right.

*** WILL YOU VOTE? ***

Sadly, 70% of eligible voters did NOT vote over the past 3 elections in Burlington.


Non-incumbents…. Few have registered, but it’s very early days.

Hopefully, voters will give all challengers a fair look once they activate campaign websites, knock on doors, etc. As I know from 2010, it’s not easy stepping forward to run!

Incumbents…. All plan to register, except Ward 4’s Jack Dennison (who has promised to announce his decision, as usual, in June).

In effect, Council members run on their record and not just name recognition. To help assess them, the public was asked to grade Council in 2012, the halfway point of a 4-year term:

Rick Goldring (Mayor) = B-
Rick Craven (Ward 1) = B-
Marianne Meed Ward (Ward 2) = B+
John Taylor (Ward 3) = B
Jack Dennison (Ward 4) = C+
Paul Sharman (Ward 5) = C-
Blair Lancaster (Ward 6) = C- (she felt an A was deserved)

Council gave itself a B/B+ overall. The public put a C on the interim report card.

Has the mark for your Ward Councillor, the Mayor and Council moved up or down?

Whether you vote online or in a booth on October 27th, please take the time and effort to truly know each candidate’s background, positions and vision.

Let’s get informed – and let’s try harder to get a passing grade for Burlington’s turnout this time.

Pop Quiz

burlington story and community report

How much do you really know about Burlington? Time to find out!

I doubt the above were on many reading lists over the holidays. City Hall produced these glossy and slick new reports in 2013.

Some may consider them “feel-good propaganda”. They’re more than that.

Both reports reveal much about the City, City Hall and our future.

Take a few moments to complete the following * POP QUIZ * based on the The Burlington Story and Burlington’s Community Report. It may even save you from reading them!

Answers will be provided here on New Year’s Eve.

No Googling, please. Fingers ready. Eyes on your own screen. And begin…

***** SPOILER ALERT *****
Answers are provided now immediately below each question. You may be surprised (especially #5 and the City’s limited growth potential).

Here’s to Burlington doing better in 2014 – and not just on the next Pop Quiz!

See page 3 in both The Burlington Story and Burlington’s Community Report, plus the map on page 2 and a note on page 3 of the City’s 2013 “Rural Area Background Report”:

See page 14 in Burlington’s Community Report

ANSWER= More than 40 years ago
See page 5 in The Burlington Story

ANSWER = 56%
See Figure 10 on page 19 in The Burlington Story

ANSWER = 12,000 more people
See page 7 in The Burlington Story

ANSWER = Transit
See pages 26 and 27 in Burlington’s Community Report

ANSWER = 12.5%
See page 24 in Burlington’s Community Report

ANSWER = 2 Councillors
Marianne Meed Ward and Blair Lancaster, the only female representatives on Council

The SPECIAL BONUS ANSWER will hopefully be disclosed by City Hall in 2014 (to some degree) – but it’s interesting to see what people anticipate. Will this Council’s decision to litigate actually matter to residents for the October 27 election? Time will tell.

Cheers to your health!

jo-mac halton family health centre

Yesterday was a very good day for healthier tomorrows in Burlington.

It marked an important milestone to “top off” construction at Joseph Brant Hospital for the new Halton McMaster Family Health Centre. As shown below, a special steel beam will form part of the building rising up in the background (I’m the tall guy, back row on left side).


I have the great privilege and responsibility to be on the Hospital’s Board of Governors, and was also appointed Vice-Chair on the Hospital Foundation’s Board of Directors.

Let’s be candid: Burlington was long overdue for a better hospital. Guess what? It’s happening. So much is going on and getting done behind the scenes, and in front of them now. Stay tuned and keep watching as Jo Brant is tranformed.

jo brant artist's rendering

And check out the new website:

The new era of Jo Brant even includes Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin!

As Mayor Rick Goldring said yesterday, with so many new parts to the redevelopment and expansion project, it really seems like Burlington is getting a new hospital.

Let’s talk


You can feel it. Not just winter, but the sense that a municipal election is in the air.

Election day is October 27, 2014. And there’s already a lot of positioning and predicting.

Everyone on City Council has committed to run again – except Ward 4 Councillor Jack Dennison. He’s undecided, or not saying.

So let’s talk about Ward 4. For a map, click here:

What are your top 4 priorities for the next Ward 4 Councillor?

Bigger picture

guelph line nov 18 morning after storm

At times, all of us tend to ‘get into the weeds’ of politics, business and/or life in general.

This morning after a dark and stormy night (with apologies to Snoopy), this is what I saw looking down Guelph Line towards the lake.

If you click on the photo, you’ll see rays of light breaking through the billowy dark clouds.

There’s much more to the beauty and majesty surrounding us, than our urban landscape.

Wish I had a better camera to remind me of this vivid picture in Ward 4 – although looking up on occasion, works just fine.


roseland plaza

At this time of year, we’re asked to remember.

Those who served Canada during war, conflict and peace.

To provide context, I look at old photos and films. It helps remind me of their reality.
Who they were, where they were, where they came from.

This year, I searched images of Burlington. The above Ward 4 photo from 1960 struck me.

No highrises in the background hovering over Roseland Plaza.
– It’s true, we really did have big snowfalls (prior to global warming)!
– I recall those old steet signs – and one says “Guelph Road“, not “Guelph Line”.
Not much has changed with the way Roseland Plaza looks.
– I miss the Cosy Restaurant (where Tim Hortons is located now).

cosy restaurant

What do you notice, and remember?

Here’s the Cenotaph in what is now Spencer Smith Park, before moving next to City Hall. Lest we forget.

cenotaph in spencer smith park

The Value of Vision (Part 1)

Poll results on this blog suggest our hospital and roads matter most to Burlingtonians.

But do those priorities represent or underpin our collective vision of the future?

Our Mayor is asking. Click on this video pitch for his “I Imagine Burlington” initiative.

This is my response:

Start by looking for core values. Deep-rooted, sustainable, balanced.

They should also be very specific. In other words, filter them down to the core. Put them on a bumper sticker. Express them in a 30-second sound bite.

Shared values help define a clear vision and provide a solid path to follow.

They allow Council and City Hall to be more decisive and productive today, when planning for all the tomorrows stretching out in front of us. Think in terms of generations.

Okay, that’s enough preamble.

I imagine Burlington… Ontario’s leading role model for a thriving and livable community in the 21st century, embracing HEALTH and CARING as our most cherished values.

I didn’t say Canada‘s leader. Not because it’s not achievable. Because I believe in a more realistic milestone. And those 2 key words – HEALTH and CARING – must be expanded on. Lots of different ways to look at and build on them.

When I close my eyes, here’s what I envision in vivid detail of “future Burlington”….. Hang on! Before I go further, what do YOU imagine?

Please share YOUR ideas with our Mayor, and others.

Part 2 will follow in a future blog post. In the meantime, I wish you happy dreams.

Twitter tall tale

City Talk July 2013

The current issue of Burlington’s City Talk chatters a lot about civic engagement/service – such as City Hall’s use of social media.

In his Ward 4 report, longtime Councillor Jack Dennison remarked: “Now, I most often communicate with my constituents online through email blasts, my Ward 4 webpages, Twitter and of course, City Talk”. I was struck by his Twitter comment.

I know our Councillor is on Facebook – although his last post was in 2010 (shortly before election day).

But Twitter? Let’s take a closer look.

Here’s the real history of Council tweeters, up to October 28, 2013…..

1. Mayor Rick Goldring = 4,645 tweets and 3,635 followers
2. Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward = 4,387 tweets and 3,085 followers
3. Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven = 639 tweets and 936 followers
4. Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman = 224 tweets and 311 followers

And then, well, there’s the rest…..

5. Ward 6 Councillor Blair Lancaster = 91 tweets and 86 followers
6. Ward 3 Councillor John Taylor = 33 tweets and 103 followers
7. Ward 4 Councillor Jack Dennison = 7 tweets and 40 followers

Ward 3 Councillor John Taylor recently admitted to the local media that he had finally embraced Twitter (I’m not a big fan of it either), and was exploring how to use it.

True, Councillor Dennison also has a Twitter account – now!

He’s arrived very late to the social media party, and his Twitter comment in City Talk seems misleading or disingenuous in light of the upcoming election (7 tweets since the 2010 election isn’t “often”). But let’s applaud the effort.

A small reminder why it’s important to filter what politicians tell you, and not accept things at face value (even if it’s on Facebook).

Something to tweet about anyway.

15 seconds for Burlington

council report card

3 years ago today Burlington voted in City Council. 1 more year to go.

How’s Council doing?

Here’s your chance to vote now, in preparation for the 2014 municipal election

In Ward 4, Councillor Jack Dennison (1994-2014) will let us know if he’ll run again – next June:

Here’s your chance to encourage or discourage him to run, or retire

All in the numbers

ward boundaries

The City updated its “Elections” site, which includes the 1976 to 2010 results.

Lots of data to crunch, and here are several highlights…..


Naturally, when there’s no Mayor’s race (or not a hotly-contested one), fewer residents are inclined to vote. Will our current Mayor be acclaimed in 2014? Seems likely.

Average voter turnout is underwhelming in any event. Just over 32% for general elections.

1976 = 59.4% – Mayor (Mary Munro wins)
1978 = 28.1% – Mayor (Roly Bird wins)
1982 = 33.0% – Mayor (Bird wins)
1985 = 20.0%Mayor acclaimed (Bird), plus most other seats
1988 = 28.1% – Mayor (Bird wins for 4th straight term!)
1991 = 37.2% – Mayor (Walter Mulkewich wins)
1994 = 35.3% – Mayor (Mulkewich wins)
1997 = 34.9% – Mayor (Rob MacIsaac wins), Ward 2 won by 19 votes (Jack Dennison over David Trueman)
2000 = 22.7%Mayor acclaimed (MacIsaac), plus Wards 4 (Dennison)/5 (Mike Wallace)
2003 = 16.6%Mayor acclaimed (MacIsaac), plus Wards 4 (Dennison)/1 (Rick Craven)
2006 = 34.8% – Mayor (Cam Jackson wins)
2010 = 37.6% – Mayor (Rick Goldring wins), Ward 6 won by 125 votes (Blair Lancaster over Mark Carr)


Perennial candidate Mark Carr, and brother of current Regional Chair Gary Carr, has run 5 times in 3 decades (1991, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2010). He’s won twice – nearly making a remarkable comeback in 2010 after his last victory 16 years earlier (see above).

Former Mayor Cam Jackson was not new to municipal politics, when he resigned as Burlington’s MPP and won in 2006. He was a Trustee on the Board of Education/Public School Board, starting in 1976 – until he was first elected to Queen’s Park in 1985.

Local lawyer Chris Haber was unable to win a Ward seat in 1976, but found a different way to become part of the municipal landscape in 2013 – committing in excess of $1.3 million over the next 20 years to put his name on a new recreation centre. I trust that doesn’t set a mandatory precedent for all local lawyers who’ve lost in the past!

Community activist/fundraiser Keith Strong lost a close Ward race in 1978, but must know a lot about running. He helped guide current MPP Jane McKenna to Queen’s Park less than a year after 2010 – when she finished last in the 5-person Ward 1 race.

Current Ward 3 Councillor John Taylor has a record befitting a ‘dynasty’. First elected in 1991, and acclaimed in 1997, his percentages of total votes are impressive: 83%, 58%, 88%, 78%, 62%, 51%. A 70% average. Acclaimed in 2003, only current Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven comes close to building a Taylor-like ‘dynasty’: 65%, 59%, 55%. A 60% average. However, both Councillors face declining numbers.

Spending does not assure victory, nor how you finish. Witness the 2010 mayoralty race, and a $115,100 spending limit. Winner Rick Goldring ($4.50 per vote) and 4th-place finisher Philip Papadopoloulos ($48.28 per vote) each spent nearly $100,000; while 2nd-place finisher Carol D’Amelio ($9.28 per vote) went over $100,000, and 3rd-place finisher Cam Jackson ($8.20 per vote) spent just over $80,000.

And there are many more stories to tell …..from the election loss by current Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward to current Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven in the 2006 Ward 1 race (maybe that explains, in part, tensions between them at the Council table?)… the incredibly close race that same year for the mayor’s job (the top-3 finishers split the vote percentages at 35%, 32%, 30%).

Are you going to make a positive mark in Burlington’s electoral history – whether as a candidate, or a voter, in 2014?

city logo for municipal election

Selling our soul?

Port Nelson Park

The waterfront.

That’s all you need to say in Burlington to spark a lively conversation – highrises, public access, the Pier, the Beachway, and more.

It’s a cherished community value. But how to protect and enhance it for the long term?

That issue was front-and-centre at the October 15th meeting of City Council.

The following links take you to: (1) City staff’s original report about continuing to own or selling a piece of waterfront property; and (2) the webcast of Council’s meeting.

Recommendations start at page 6 and – spoiler alert – Council chose the third option:

(1) report =

(2) webcast =

One beneficiary of this decision will be Port Nelson Park in Ward 4 (see photo above).

Some passionately feel the bad outweighs the good in this case. Put more dramatically, selling these public lands on the waterfront is like selling a piece of Burlington’s soul.

I don’t agree. At least, it’s not true in this instance.

Having said that, though, one thing is undeniable. Burlington’s soul is being tested.

I believe that without setting and committing to a simple fundamental policy about how the City deals with its own waterfront properties, the landscape for future decision-making can become a very slippery slope.

This matter seems to be the latest example of our City leaders heading into uncharted local waters without a compass.

Council and staff always need to start with a crystal-clear understanding of what actually comprises the overarching and definitive policy to be followed, and respected.

What is it here? Based on this decision, those waters seem to be quite murky now.

When dealing with absolutely critical issues like our precious waterfront, final decisions must be principled and visionary.

Here’s a view from the Burlington Gazette…

City council votes 6-1 to sell lakefront property. Public may never know what the selling price will be.

Who do you agree with? Have you recently walked the areas involved? Worth the effort.

A respectful, healthy exchange of ideas is exactly what our waterfront needs.

Please, SPEAK UP, so City Hall can hear you!

Community building

don baxter

Do you see what I see?

Ward 4 resident, Don Baxter, shares ideas about how long-term vision identifies Burlington’s real priorities – including by taking a long walk on our short pier…..

It’s not easy for Council to balance multiple priorities.

However, as Don suggests, an elected official must first have a strong crystal-clear vision of the future, with a firm grasp on our most cherished community values.

The key is commitment. Sticking to that vision and those values, especially when business interests, self-interest or other factors don’t fit with them.

How’s your Ward Councillor doing in terms of vision and values? What do you see?

Finding the right words

2010 election flyers

Okay, you’re running for City Council in 2014. What’s your slogan?

It should be brief and memorable – whether it’s on a sign, website, button or pamphlet. “Stop the Gravy Train” for Rob Ford’s Toronto mayoralty run hit those marks in 2010.

Not an easy task. What will resonate with residents in, for example, Ward 4 (click “Ward 4” at the top of this page)? Ward 2 (downtown)? Ward 1 (Aldershot-Tyandaga)?

A sampling of slogans from Burlington’s 2010 election, to help with your brainstorming:

“Experienced change we can trust.”
(Carol D’Amelio for Mayor)

“People. Passion. Perspective.”
(Rick Goldring for Mayor)

“Vision. Leadership. Experience.”
(Cam Jackson for Mayor)

“Tough Decisions – Strong Leadership”
(Rick Craven in Ward 1)

“A Decisive Leader for Ward 2”
(Dave Bedini in, sure enough, Ward 2)

“Keep Balance & Business Basics in Burlington:
Change [X] Stability [X] “

(Jack Dennison in Ward 4)

“New Decade, New Challenges, New Leadership”
(yours truly in Ward 4)

“New Face. Fresh Perspective. Straight Talk.”
(Paul Sharman in Ward 5, and also for Mayor before withdrawing)

“Caring for the Community”
(Blair Lancaster in Ward 6)

To assist you further, it seems that 3-word phrases are popular choices. Consider phrases like “A Happier Future”, “The Mindful Way”, “Fixing Our Roads”.

Or my personal favourite, “No More Slogans”.

For the record

What’s your take on electronically recorded votes at City Hall?

Here’s your chance to vote…..

And here’s my take…..

Recorded votes are permitted at Council meetings. However, there is no electronic voting. They do it the old-fashioned way: by requiring someone to first ask for a recorded vote, and then everyone stands up at their seats.

Unless you’re there in person or watching on TVCogeco at that moment, those results are buried in lengthy minutes posted online much, much later. On rare occasions, local media lets us know the voting breakdown for a few newsworthy items.

In other words, there’s no easy way to find out how the Mayor and/or your Councillor vote. How’s that for accountability?

Our Ward 4 Councillor told me when a voter won’t support him during an election, he asks: “What did I vote on, that you didn’t agree with?” A shrewd question.

For voters, it’s nearly impossible to know a Councillor’s overall voting record. For the same reason, in fairness to Councillors, voters may judge them based on only a few matters.

Electronic voting results can be posted online in a timely manner, and searched for specific matters, topics and dates. Good governance and available technology mean voting at City Hall should and can be brought into this century.

The waiting game

Every Council member wants you to know they’re committed to their job and running for re-election next October – except in Ward 4. He’ll let you know next June.

Not the first time Jack Dennison won’t tip his hand early. That’s his style, and it’s worked.

This time, what’s curious is his OMB appeal. It’s next May. He’ll battle neighbours, yet again, about severing his lot for a hoped-for real estate windfall.  He lost at the Committee of Adjustments. 

Those neighbours represented a strong base of support for his previous campaigns.  The OMB appeal is, well, an oddly counter-intuitive strategy for re-election.

If our Councillor knows he doesn’t intend to run again, should he tell us well in advance?

It would allow for proper thank-yous in his final year, recognizing decades of public service. And residents can focus in 2014 on choosing the best candidate to replace him, and represent us, for the only open seat on Council. But as he knows, an incumbent holds a huge advantage, causing many excellent candidates not to step forward.  

If he genuinely doesn’t know, why doesn’t he tell us the reasons?

In fairness to him, not if a final decision depends largely on how the political winds are blowing in June. Or, perhaps, it’s about finding out if something new and/or more lucrative comes along (such as building a new house to sell?). Otherwise, why not tell us?

A wise observer of life, and a theatre buff, once advised me: “A gracious exit off a stage enhances a legacy, but it’s diminished by trying to take the spotlight with you”.

city hall presentation

Having said all that…if history is any kind of guide, it’s likely this tactical delay and public silence signal that he’ll be running again – as usual.

It seems Ward 4 must wait another 9 months to find out how this familiar script plays out.