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A Tale of Two Cities Fireside Chat Event Recap

From left, Roland Tanner of Engaged Citizens of Burlington and moderator, Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward and Oakville Mayor Rob Burton at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre.
From left, Roland Tanner of Engaged Citizens of Burlington and moderator, Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward and Oakville Mayor Rob Burton at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre.

On Thursday, June 13, Engaged Citizens of Burlington (ECOB) invited myself and Oakville Mayor Rob Burton to launch their speaker series with A Tale of 2 Cities “fireside chat” at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre.

The event was very well attended with about 250 people and I was very grateful for the chance to answer questions compiled by ECOB and taken directly from the audience there that night. It was a great opportunity to not only share my thoughts and what your Council and city staff are doing in relation to issues affecting our community, but it was also fantastic to have Mayor Burton there to give Oakville’s side to those same issues and discover some similarities and differences between our two municipalities.

We had a chance to discuss differences in the growth patterns between Burlington and Oakville, our downtowns, Bill 108, the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), potential amalgamation, what were the main challenges over the next few years we each saw for our own municipalities as mayors, housing affordability, how to attract new businesses and climate emergency declarations.

Patterns of growth

When I first moved to Burlington from Toronto with my family, we did so to move away from congestion because we wanted a slower pace, reasonable and scaled development and we found that. But after that, we noticed that Burlington started to develop by negotiation with the developer community. On the one hand that’s good, as it appears at face value to be reasonable, but experience has proven the opposite.

Mayor Burton mentioned that Oakville was not all that different from Burlington in its relationship with developer-led growth, until he decided to do away with their old Official Plan (OP) and build a new one from the ground up – a process that took two years because of extensive public consultation, but resulted in a unanimously approved new OP.

Since the October election in Burlington, you have a Mayor and Council that will fight for you — that’s why we are reviewing our OP (adopted by the previous council) and our downtown is under an Interim Control Bylaw (ICBL) to make sure that we get our OP right and have something that is absolutely defensible at the LPAT, should any future development applications be appealed.

Bill 108/LPAT

Mayor Burton described the passing of Bill 108 as an attack on local democratic will as it will make taxpayers pay more for growth and take away their say in it.

I believe Bill 108 will have a devastating impact on municipal finances and local land use planning control. As I have stated before, changes to development charges will mean growth will pay even less of the cost of growth, leaving taxpayers to make up the difference. And this will unnecessarily add costs at a time when local governments are being asked to find savings. Reinstating the old Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) rules under the LPAT means even less local control over planning our communities.

Mayor Burton also told the Burlingtonians in the audience that the best opportunity to maintain control and say over growth in our city was given to you by City Council, through the ICBL freeze and said we should move quickly to get our ideal OP approved to give the City a stronger defense position — and that’s what we’re working to do right now. He congratulated our residents for, he said, it took Oakville seven years and three elections to make things more green-driven than developer-driven and Burlington achieved that in months and one election.

And I echoed that change of government policies happens from you, the residents, taxpayers and voters — you speak up and we amplify your voice.

Possible Amalgamation

In a question related to a possible amalgamation to a City of Halton after the Provincial Review of Regional Government, Mayor responded that: could they do it? Yes. Did they hire two advisers who are advocates for it? Yes. Do they believe it would save money for taxpayers? Yes. But is there a way to stop them? Yes, he said, and that’s through “prairie grass fire opposition from the public.”

He noted he believed the best democracy is at the local, very human scale where residents feel they can have an impact and access to their elected officials, and I wholeheartedly agree.

We both referenced the creation of the We Love Oakville and We Love Burlington groups that are tirelessly working with us to educate the public about the Province’s Regional Government Review and joining us in encouraging the public to send letters to the MPPs. There were some members from We Love Burlington in the audience that I gave a shout out too and asked to stand, so that others could meet with them after the event and learn more.

Both groups have their own Facebook pages, and I encourage you to visit them by clicking the links above or here: or

Comments that I and Mayor Burton made on the LPAT, Bill 108 and maintaining local control over development were met with heads nods and applause from the audience — we could feel support from the crowd from what we were saying and what we are fighting for, for our residents.

I wanted to thank once again ECOB for organizing this event and inviting me to be a part of it.

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3 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Cities Fireside Chat Event Recap”

  1. I applaud this initiative! I am delighted that Roland Tanner of ECOB initiated this discussion (and hopefully many more).

    I think that comparing the experience of Oakville and Burlington is valuable however, I would encourage everyone involved to look broader – to other communities in Canada and the excellent examples of equity and social justice being provided by some of the Scandinavian countries.

    I think that we are still very focused on the “North-American” context characterized as limited resources that must be doled out only to certain groups. We are indoctrinated into the idea that we are living in an age of scarcity and that community services of all kinds must be rationed.

    Our current provincial government seems to have adopted this mantra as “reality.” And yet, Sweden is able to provide excellent supports for a vibrant and inclusive community without unduly stretching its economy.

    looking at healthcare costs, for example – in 2017, health care costs in Sweden were 10.9% of GDP and 84% of Swedish residents used the government-funded system exclusively. By comparison, in the same year Canada spent 10.4% of GDP to provide government-funded support to only 70% of the population (30% either purchased private insurance or paid health costs out of pocket). And the Swedes appear to get unlimited support for those who require it.

    Can the discussion be expanded to look for current Perceived “truths” that are really policy statements with poor supporting evidence, and to examine best practices that appear to be working so well in other jurisdictions?

    I feel that we have a well-informed and intelligent group of engaging citizens that would love to be involved in such a discussion!

    Best regards to all, Paul Benson

  2. Thank you for the update. Wish I could have been there. Bill 108 and talks of amalgamation is very upsetting. Burlington has been a beautiful place to live and a real community. Would be a great loss to see such drastic and unnecessary changes. I am glad to hear that groups are working at trying to maintain local control over development. Hopefully everyone in Burlington and Oakville will take measures to put pressure on our MPP’S

  3. Norman Johnston

    Disappointed that the mayors did not discuss possible joint initiatives which might reduce respective civic costs as was recommended by Queen’s Park. Perhaps need to take the offensive rather than being totally defensive.

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