Published December 24, 2008

Oakville is the place to raise families.

Environment and Economy are linked.

Oakville Mayor Rob Burton speaks to the Pakistan Post

“Oakville is the city that calls itself a town and acts like a village and I want to take it confidently to the future and protect its identity, its character, its nature and to keep it the best place in the country to raise family and to keep it safest, and if possible, to keep it one of the most successful communities. If we can do all that we can get closer to achieving our goal of making it the most livable place.”

This is how Mayor Rob Burton defines the city of Oakville and his aspirations to make better his City. He speaks fondly of Oakville’s character, the symbols that represent Oakville and the consistent air quality of Oakville

As an advocate of cleaner environment and passionate about the air we breathe in, Mayor Burton firmly believes that good practices to preserve nature and fresh air lead to better plans to improve industries that have potential to generate revenue. As an economist, he expects slowdowns and booms in economy and does not believe that there will be a recession in Canada. 

Before being a Mayor, Mr. Rob Burton was a retired businessman. He had started a TV called YTV. He became interested in environment in Columbia University in New York City. His groundbreaking graduate thesis statistically linked the effects of air pollution to health and was presented at the United Nations' international conference on the environment in Stockholm, Sweden.

In 1972, Mayor Burton immigrated to Canada and became a Canadian citizen after being recruited by the CBC to help start the world's first consumer journalism show - Marketplace. In 1974 he broadcast the first story on acid rain.

On November 13, 2006, Oakville residents chose Rob Burton as their new mayor with a mandate to make the Town the most livable community in Canada.

When Mayor speaks about Oakville, his voice tends to be filled up with silent passion and when he speaks of economy and businesses, he is nothing but a cool-headed businessman who looks at the facts and believes in giving chances to innovative ideas. The combination makes him the individual and the Mayor he is.

Following are excerpts of Generation Next’s Asma Amanat’s conversation with Mayor Rob Burton:

GN: With so much poverty out there, do you think environment should be a genuine concern?

Environment is a valid concern. How much poverty do you think is there in Oakville?

GN: Our understanding is that it is about 15 to 20%.

The reports that we get tell us that it is much lower than that. I guess it depends on how you define poverty.  The impact of air pollution was felt mostly on poor people. When I was in Columbia University, for example, the worst air was where the poor people lived. The most polluted area was Harlem, and was famous as impoverished area in 1970s. The wealthiest areas had best air quality; the poorest areas had the most air pollution related disease and death; the wealthier areas had least. This made me think that beside other burdens, the poor had to pay more for the pollution that caused other problems. So I became interested in improving air pollution.

GN: How will you compare the environment in Oakville to New York?

Oakville and New York City are two different cities. Oakville is much much smaller. Oakville is much more integrated and the air conditions is pretty consistent all across it. You’d have to compare GTA to NY cosmopolitan area to get a proper comparison and then Oakville would be a neighborhood of GTA only.  In Oakville we focus on preventing bad development that could be the burden on the poor and we have to work protect our trees. I think it is a false choice between doing something about the environment and doing something about the poverty?

GN: Are they linked?

My experience persuades me that they are inseparably linked.

GN: Does good environment help economy?

Most pollution is waste. And therefore if you reduce pollution, you reduce waste and you strengthen economics of the companies that waste. There is a multinational chemical industry in Oakville; they have a corporate goal of zero pollution, and they are very very good. On the one hand the chemicals they work with are valuable and very dangerous, there you have pollution control, economic gains and health benefits all wrapped in one. General Electric decided to ignore that fight over whether or not pollution is a problem; they decided to be ahead of the curve, the world is gonna clean itself up and someone can make money cleaning it up, so they sold only green products. They benchmarked it as 20 per cent more efficiency, they set up a target of $20 billion revenue in five years. In the third year they reported $17 billion gains and raised the target to $25 billion in the 5th year. I take encouragement from that. It makes me believe that we really are making progress.

GN: How will Oakville be affected if there is a recession?

If there is a recession and I am not persuaded that there will be one, Oakville will experience it as it has always faced it; there will be reduction of business activity. A recession is the economy’s way of looking to a new direction to grow; the resources that have been invested in this direction are pulled back, and that reduction in business activity so far in history has always been temporary. The capital and labour look for the next good thing to do.

GN: Why aren’t you persuaded that there will be a recession?

Canada’s economy is so overwhelmingly resource based. Our resource on manufacturing side is very low. You have two largest countries in the world India and China on the path of modernization and they need resources. In China alone, they are building skyscrapers, water treatment plants, vehicles, subways and all that need resources and Canada has all these resources.

GN: You mentioned India. It has resources of its own.

Yes it does and so does China. The global economy is such that every country needs some resources from other countries, so we wind up developing trade.

GN: Should North American be concerned about growth of India and China?

It should be thrilled.

GN: Some people say that with economic downturn exports to other countries will decrease, resulting in a recession.

If you assume the necessary condition, you can imply any result you want. There is no evidence that there will be slow down in China. And there are all indicators that Canada’s economy will grow although very slowly for the next year or two. I studied economics in college. I like to say that business goes up and down. I expect recession and booms. And in 62 years I have not been disappointed.

GN: Are you happy with what the federal government is giving to the cities?

When I consider that the federal government is run by people who say that we are not in the business of fixing potholes, I should be happy that it gives us any money at all. They gave us a little bit of money from the portion of the federal gas tax for transit and we get a share of provincial gas tax, and both of them expect us to spend it on transit. That’s the reason Oakville has the bigger bus transit system than it had.

GN: Some people say that Oakville transit system is expensive and provides lesser services than other neighboring towns like Toronto where bus service is available every 5 minutes.

There is no route in Toronto where buses are available every 5 minutes. We run buses hourly or every half an hour. My street is served only at rush hours. Every bus that is there costs $7.50 but we charge much less than that. The average revenue per ride is $1.97, so it costs the tax payers almost $5.00. You have to be respectful of how much tax people can pay. You won’t find many people who want to ride transit. People don’t want to pay more taxes, they do not want to pay more fares, but they want bus service every five minutes, we have to resort to magic, then.

GN: How much share do immigrants put in Oakville’s economy?

Oakville does not have a large economy. It is 85 per cent residential. In fact it has always existed to be a bedroom community. We have proportionally more families with children than any other community in GTA. It’s a very good place to raise kids. Immigrant community is less than 20 per cent. Since we do not have accurate census, we have to assume that they put 20 per cent of the share in the economy.

GN: Would you want to keep Oakville as a bedroom community?

Over the last 8 years, there was a long process of setting the plan to make most of the space residential. So Oakville will remain 85 per cent residential. We’re 151 years old from 1857 when the town was incorporated so Oakville’s character as a lakeside residential area is set. It’s a very good place to raise kids.

GN: Is there a special significance of the symbol of town of Oakville?

Well, that is about 10 years old as I recall. Many people and businesses like to have symbols. A code of arms is our symbol. About 10 years ago, people who ran decided that it was not modern enough. So O is for Oakville and the leaf is representative of the artistic representation of Oak, and then we kept the code of arms.

GN: As a Mayor do you worry about any terrorist attacks in Oakville?

Well we did not have any terrorist attacks here.

GN: There were Toronto 18.

 It is discouraging that there are any people in Canada who think and talk that way. When you consider how welcoming and open Canada is to the world, people have to be concerned about having people who continue to be danger to the world.

GN: How important is it to capture Osama bin Laden?

There are several thousand people who got killed. Do you have any family?

GN: I do.

If any of your family members was killed, would you want the killer to be caught?

GN: Obviously.

How would you feel about it?

GN: Perhaps relieved that he won’t kill any more people.

There’s your answer. The more interesting question is why hasn’t he been caught. There can be book length answers. You know George Bush was business partners with Osama bin Laden. How long has it been since 9/11? Seven years. Sometimes you have to wonder they can’t find him? Are the looking?

GN: Are you satisfied with how media plays out various stories?

I am satisfied. As a Mayor I accept that media have a job to do, they write the stories the way they see it. If I do not give the right answers or confuse people with my answers, it is my fault, not the media’s. If media writes stories that hurt somebody, in Canada, we have legal tools to use. By and large everyone in media tries the best they can. There are reporters who show bias but they are all over the map. I have never believed hat media is overwhelmingly conservative or liberal.

GN: What’s your impression of Oakville’s South Asian community?

As far as  I can tell, they are more engaged in politics than any other community so I see them more. They are like the rest of us; they want the same things. If you read the Constitution of Canada, you’d know that we all want peace and good governance.