Gary Burroughs is hoping for a return to the Niagara-on-the-Lake council table.
In choosing to seek re-election Oct. 24, Burroughs is hoping to continue his long service to the town — he was first elected and served one term as what was then called an alderman from 1989 to 1991.
He took a break from politics after that term, he explains, because he was still a business owner and running the Oban Inn. He had realized during his term on council how different the needs of residents and businesses were even then, and the difficulty balancing those needs as a politician.
His next foray into local politics was after he had sold the Oban. He completed three terms as lord mayor from 2000 to 2010, when he then ran to represent Niagara-on-the-Lake at the region, where he was voted regional chair. He served a second term as regional councillor from 2014 to 2018, when he decided he could do the most good in town at the NOTL council table.
And he’s not finished.
There are some important issues that still need to be addressed, and he’d like to be at the table for those discussions.
He will not only be the longest-serving local politician, but one who knows the history of the town, its issues, politics and people. He says it’s good to have a mix on council, to have new ideas, but also experience.
As a chartered accountant, he’s always had an interest in town budgets, and as an owner-operator of the Oban Inn for three decades, which he took over from his parents, he has an understanding of what Old Town businesses face, and the importance of maintaining that balance between tourism and residents.
One reason for choosing to run again, he says, is his optimism for the next four years of council.
His confidence comes from the appointment of CAO Marnie Cluckie. Council has already seen her strength at helping to steer them in the right direction through the changes she has implemented, and will continue to, he says. He also trusts she will ensure the town has the right staff on board.
“I just feel we’re going to have a great four years as a council.”
He’s disappointed that some members of the current council are not returning — Clare Cameron, Norm Arsenault and John Wiens have all said publicly they won’t seek another term, and they will be missed, says Burroughs.
Erwin Wiens has also said he won’t run again, but Burroughs is hoping he’ll change his mind, because of his knowledge of the agricultural community.
“It’s tough for a new councillor — they have a lot to deal with. Those of the remaining bunch who are running again have done a great job and come a long way, but it’s always a bit of a learning experience,” says Burroughs. “For me coming back to council was a learning experience.”
Burroughs says he is still unclear how the municipal accommodation tax, just recently
approved by council, will help the town. It will pay for marketing through the Chamber of Commerce, bringing more people to town, as well as fund tourism projects, “but we don’t need to bring more people to town. My vision of Queen Street is to keep it the same, do more with what we have, but not to expand it like other commercial tourism towns in the province. We don’t need more people, we need people who will spend more money.”
He’s also concerned about traffic and parking.
“We have one commercial street in the Old Town and other streets, residential streets like Johnson and Prideaux, where visitors already park. If we change the flow of traffic the way the transportation master plan recommends, we’ll make it worse for residents. I’ve been against that plan from day one, because of what it would do to the dock area, and I still am, but now I see what they want to do with Charlotte Street, which is residential, not a main thoroughfare — that’s even worse.”
The transportation master plan sounds like it wants a four-way highway, he adds, “but it’s just a wish list from people who aren’t transportation people. We’ve spent $160,000 on it, with good intentions, but I’m not sure we understood what we were looking for.”
Burroughs says he is also concerned about growth, and where it occurs. The region has set growth at 15 per cent, but also advised the town it can limit growth in certain areas, such as the Old Town and Queenston, and say yes to it in areas such as Glendale, where it’s more appropriate.
“Every time a developer builds another 500 houses, that increases our traffic. Increased development will be a challenge. But it’s never acceptable to just say shut the door and don’t let anyone else in, we have to figure out how to deal with them. We have to manage change.”
The lack of conceptual zoning to preserve streetscapes, he says, is also an issue, with house after house being approved with minor zoning variances. “Why are we allowing that?”
Burroughs believes staff should be able to deal with those issues, “if we don’t wear them out first,” under the guidance of a good CAO.
Despite the challenges, and the number of times Burroughs has entered an election race, he is still excited about the stretch leading up to the voting.
His daughter Alex, a journalist from Calgary, will be in town for the month of August to help out, along with his grandchildren, and between her and his wife Sarah, there will always be a crowd of people around, which will be fun, he says.
He admits to feeling a little anxiety — that never changes — but he is looking forward to hitting the streets, talking to friends and meeting new people, and listening to their questions and concerns.
“I like to meet newcomers to town — I’ve met a lot of them in the last year. I like to show them how proud I am of our town, that I love our town.”
He especially enjoys talking to people “who may be retired, but their brains aren’t retired. They have great ideas.”
They may not be interested in sitting on committees, he says, but he’d love to harness their experience and knowledge and use it for the benefit of the community. “There are a lot of fabulous people in this town.”