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….

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.

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 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)….

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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?

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

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”.

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.

Promises, Promises

rick goldring for mayor 2010

During the 2010 municipal election, a lot of big promises were made. That’s not a shocker.

But what about fulfilling those promises?

As for Burlington – former Ward 5 Councillor and current Mayor Rick Goldring told the Toronto Star: “I’m running to bring respect and trust back to council and to re-establish a community vision”. Has that happened?

Our Mayor chose hard-to-measure outcomes. Nevertheless, I believe his collaborative style and straightforward manner have been ideal. His leadership has created a much higher degree of respect and trust. However, the vision part remains murky.

As for Ward 4 – our Councillor Jack Dennison advised the Burlington Post that one of his priorities would be the reconstruction of Lakeshore Road, calling it “an accident waiting to happen”. He pledged to find a long-term plan.

Widening for on-road bike lanes was part of his initial solution. That later became more about re-marking than re-constructing. As well, the main emphasis seemed to shift away from greater safety to healthier living. See “Lakeshore Road” in both of these links:

Residents expressed strong opposition. Their voices and efforts eventually changed the Mayor’s mind and vote – but not their Councillor’s. His initiative was voted down by Council in 2013 as a pilot project.

Our Mayor is on the right track.

Our Councillor needs to get back on track with Ward 4 residents, before championing another plan to fulfill a key 2010 commitment to voters. Time is running out with the 2014 election fast approaching, and the promise of more big promises.

Are you ready for 2014?

Burlington is changing.

With change, we must be mindful about our quality of life – and which direction it’s headed. That means paying more attention to who’s holding the compass.

Did you know that City Council is 7 individuals representing over 175,000 people?

Compassionate, diverse and dynamic leadership is vital for such a small group to govern Burlington today. It’s even more critical to shaping where we’re going tomorrow.

Wider experience and fresh energy are needed around Council’s table.

Now, more than ever, it’s imperative to carefully assess and choose the decision-makers.

The next municipal election is OCTOBER 27, 2014.

Let’s get informed about the candidates, their visions, the issues – then get out and vote!