Joan Little - The Hamilton Spectator May 26, 2003
Burlington council voted Tuesday to launch a judicial review of the
province's handling of the Mid-Peninsula highway. An incensed Councillor
John Taylor pointed to the May 7 first reading of Bill 25 in the legislature,
"An act to enhance public transit and provide for a smart transportation
system in Ontario." Like many of this government's bills, its name is
deceitful, and it confirms the mockery of the Mid-Pen public process.
the bill, Transportation Minister Frank Klees lauded the protection
of future infrastructure corridors from development, relieving congestion,
and co-ordinating multi-system transit fare cards.
to mention it would eliminate environmental assessments for new freeways.
Or that it would override local official plans and zoning without any
recourse or appeal. Or deprive landowners of the right to sue the province
for land devaluation or other impacts caused by new corridors. The minister
would gain supreme power over new freeway alignments.
the Environmental Bill of Rights, and is an affront to every Ontario
citizen. It appears the game plan is to bulldoze this bill through the
legislature before the election.
Ernie Eves, unveiling his Progressive Conservative party's election
platform, promised tax cuts, mortgage deductions, and education tax
breaks for seniors. But "TRAP" would be a fitting acronym for "The Road
Ahead Platform" because it creates problems and costs for municipalities
and lacks environmental integrity.
"Safeguarding the Natural Environment" policy lists highway needs, including
"a mid-peninsula corridor linking the GTA with Niagara's border crossings,
through Halton, Hamilton and the Niagara Peninsula." (The province's
preferred route crosses the escarpment). TRAP also promotes a simplified
environmental assessment (EA) process. Presto -- Bill 25!
promises regulations for management of nutrient waste (manure), but
Eves, in a March news release, stated small farms would be absolved
from complying until 2008 at the earliest. Walkerton's source of water
contamination was manure runoff from a small farm outside town during
"A Fair Deal for Municipalities" policy is an insult to every municipal
council. Acknowledging municipal revenues aren't flexible because most
come from property taxes, it continues, "Your municipal and provincial
taxes will only increase with your approval" (referendum).
frank! Municipalities are in dire financial straits, facing ever-rising
expenses because of forced amalgamations, downloaded provincial programs
and reduced provincial grants. (Only $65,000 is available for Burlington's
2003 operating budget). SuperBuild capital grants are project-specific,
and funded one third each by the municipality, province and federal
government. They are divvied up among competing communities, so are
allow new taxes -- gas, hotel or motel room, or parking taxes -- to
fund local projects (an arena, road repaving) if voters agree. Yeah,
right! Responsible councils attempt to keep up with competing municipal
needs. For example, if repaving is not done early enough, roads require
Burlington Mayor Rob MacIsaac condemned this new "incomprehensible"
intervention in the operation of municipalities proposed by the Eves
always looking for bad guys, scapegoats, to divert attention from their
own problems," he said. He asked, "Would a referendum also apply to
increases in user fees" (recreation program fees, dog licences, etc)?
Region began a $110 million, seven-year accelerated cast iron water
main replacement program in 1997 (before Walkerton), expected to add
about $42 per year to the average water bill. Burlington faced extra
costs too, because when roads have to be dug up anyway, it makes sense
to rebuild those in poor condition. Would a referendum have supported
these increases? Post-Walkerton, taxpayers appreciate the region's foresight.
elections are held on a fixed date every third year. This year Burlington's
will cost about $230,000. Adding a question on the ballot would cost
little. But a non-election year referendum would cost almost as much
as an election. Instead of meddling in municipal issues, the province
might consider fixing provincial election dates.
proposes an Ontario Municipal Services Quality Auditor review spending
of large municipalities every year. What would that cost? (Municipalities
already hire auditors.)
from the promised Eves' "kinder, gentler" track to Mike Harris' divisiveness
and meanness, with so-called wedge issues. Welfare recipients, the homeless,
teachers, unions -- all figure prominently in the platform.
Eves, more arrogant and confrontational today, did not apologize for
the recent outrageous middle-finger gesture of MPP John O'Toole in the
confidence is not bolstered by the March Magna budget debacle and the
May 13 revelation by an Opposition member, that a surprise order-in-council
had been signed by two cabinet ministers the day before Magna, authorizing
the government to spend $36 billion over six months.
raises more concerns, as Burlington is finding out.
Burlington alderman and Halton councillor Joan Little is a freelance
columnist. She does not identify with any political party. Her views
are her own.