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A Reflection of Regional Government in Burlington

As a someone passionate about history, I always feel we should reflect on the past to help plan for the future. The famous quote from George Santayana channels this mindset best, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Now, I’m not saying we will be doomed to do something different in the 21st century, but it’s important to understand where we have been before at a place in time.

The following is an extract of: “From Pathway to Skyway Revisited: The story of Burlington” by Claire Emery Machan. Pages 59-60. Published in 1997 by the Burlington Historical Society.

The Plunkett Report on regional government recommended a county stretching from Burlington to Toronto Township. In 1967 Burlington town council opted out! Next came the Steeles Commission Hamilton Wentworth Local Government Review, proposing uniting Burlington with Hamilton. The Citizens Committee for an Independent Burlington was formed and presented a brief to the commission stating that the majority of the town’s residents preferred independence or a union with communities to the East.

In January 1969, the Burlington Gazette printed a regional government petition opposing inclusion of Burlington with Hamilton in any form of regional government. Members of political parties, Jaycees, the Chamber of Commerce, Upper Burlington Citizens Forum and the Committee for Independent Burlington circulated the petition. When it was presented to Municipal Affairs Minister D’Arcy McKeough in November there were 15,489 signatures. At the December 1969 municipal elections, voters were 8-1 in favour of a Burlington / Halton / Peel region.

Burlington was to send the Mayor and eight Alderman to Regional Council. Responsibilities were to be shared by the municipalities of Milton, Oakville, Burlington and Halton Hills and the Region. The Region was to be responsible for police, welfare, administration, roads, Halton Home for the Aged (later named Allendale), conservation authorities, planning and business development, Children’s Aid Society, public health and child care assistance. Burlington’s responsibilities included fire protection, waste management, parks and recreation, transit and traffic, planning and engineering, infrastructure maintenance, debt charges and capital, Library, Museum Board, and the Arts Centre. 

The inaugural meeting of Regional Council was held at Central High School in mid-October 1973, attended by Lieutenant Governor Ross MacDonald, and cabinet ministers George Kerr, James Snow and John White. MPP Arthur Meen was official spokesperson for the province. The regular working sessions of regional government began in 1974.

By 1996 some services were shared responsibilities: business development and tourism; parks and recreation; planning, growth and related services (both the Region and the City of Burlington have official plans); roads; fire protection and museums (the Region operates its own museum). Water supply, sewage and garbage disposal were taken over by the Region which was also responsible for non-profit housing. The city collected taxes for the Region and the school boards. In 1996, some restructuring of regional council was under way.

In January 1996, “Greater Toronto: Report to the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) Task Force” was published. Commission chair was Dr. Anne Golden. This Golden Report, as it was known, suggested Halton become part of a giant Greater Toronto Area. The proposition was unanimously turned down by Burlington Council.