Apathy towards municipal politics in Burlington reached a peak in 1985 when no fewer than nine candidates for the 16 seats on city council and Mayor Roly Bird were acclaimed to office.
Denis Lee, a candidate in Ward 5 with no experience, must have been surprised enough to take his seat at the table that easily in his first political foray. Imagine how he was smiling when nobody ran against him again in 1988!
But things have changed over the last quarter-century. Anger over traffic congestion, lack of affordable housing the overspending on the waterfront pier have helped bring out a record number 32 of hopefuls for council for the Oct. 27 election. There are 10 candidates alone in Ward 6 and nobody is getting a free pass.
Currently, taxpayers are on the hook for a total of close to three-quarters of a million dollars to pay six councillors and the mayor. That’s seven representatives for a population of 175,000.
Mayor Rick Goldring pulls in close to $200,000 a year and each of the councillors more than $90,000, which includes compensation from the Region of Halton
Seventeen years ago, there were 17 representatives – a mayor and 16 councillors. Even the also-rans in this election could wind up on city council if the new group ever votes to return to the old system of two councillors per ward, plus the mayor.
That format was used up until about 1995 when the then-council, headed by Mayor Walter Mulkewich, voted to reduce the number of wards in the city from eight to six and go to a single tier group with only one councillor per ward. That council acted on the recommendation of a citizens committee
Prior to that there were eight wards with each ward having a regional and local councillor for a total of 16 councillors plus the mayor.
City clerk Angela Morgan told The Bay Observer the Region of Halton will do a new boundary and representational review following this election and she will participate in it, at the same time looking at the Burlington situation.
There was speculation that Ward 3 Councillor John Taylor, who has served on council for 26 years and Ward 4 Councillor Jack Dennison, who is in his 20th year, would retire but both are on the ballot again.
Mary-Margaret McMahon, a councillor for Ward 32 which includes the Beaches and East York in Toronto, has proposed that the City of Toronto pass legislation limiting councillors to two terms. It has been suggested by some that a referendum be held on the question.
A Ward 6 debate, organized in September by Pepper Parr, a journalist who publishes the online Burlington Gazette, produced some new ideas, including a call from former Halton District Board of Education Chair Jennifer Hlusko for a pedestrian bridge over Hwy. 5 to connect the Alton community with the rest of Burlington.
Incumbent Blair Lancaster said council has taken major steps to alleviate traffic congestion and improve public transit.
The Ward 2 debate featured a hot exchange between Burlington mayoralty candidate Anne Marsden and Regional Chair Gary Carr when Marsden accused the Region of not having a proper Emergency Preparedness Plan. Carr claims it has the best in Canada and it showed during last winter’s ice storm and the severe flooding in Burlington in August.
Mayoralty candidate Peter Rusin said he could save the City a millon of two million dollars by trimming staff at City Hall. A recent study showed that more than 100 City staffers earn over $100,000 a year.
If he is elected mayor Rusin, a longtime real estate agent, also volunteered to educate Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed-Ward on how to deal with developers since, according to him, she has no experience in that.
Aldershot high school students have organized an all-candidates meeting for Ward 1 candidates on the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 22. Council candidate Jason Boelhouwer was trying to drum up interest in an evening session the same day at Bay Observer press time. Rick Craven is the incumbent.
Paul Sharman is seeking re-election in Ward 5, an area that was hit very hard by flooding in August.
Controversy arose in Ward 1 when retiring Halton District School Board trustee Dianna Bower claimed candidate Mary Dilly was tarring the old board with the same brush as Toronto, where trustees wasted money, by signing a pledge to act with the highest level of integrity. Bower also claims Dilly incorrectly used the word ‘re-elect’ on campaign materials, giving the impression she is the current trustee
Halton board trustees recently voted the next board a 20 per cent raise in salary to about $16,000 a year, but earlier this month Premier Wynne said she would oppose the raises.
There are no more ‘plum jobs’ for Hydro commissioners ever since it was restructured. Decisions now are made by an appointed board.
Still one wonders with today’s rising electricity rates, if we weren’t better off before.