“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
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
and the consistent air quality of
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
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.
November 13, 2006, Oakville residents chose Rob Burton as their new
mayor with a mandate to make the Town the most livable community in
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
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
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?
and New York City are two different cities.
is much much smaller.
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
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
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
be affected if there is a recession?
If there is a recession and I am not persuaded that there will be one,
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?
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
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
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
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
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
Well we did not have any terrorist attacks here.
GN: There were
It is discouraging that there are any people in
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
GN: I do.
If any of your family members was killed, would you want the killer to
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.