Milton Ranks 21 on Municipal Democracy Index

By: Laura Steiner
The Ontario Municipal Democracy Index ranks Milton 21 out of 32 for democratic health.  It doesn’t surprise me at all.  Before COVID-19 I attended in-person meetings. The media sat crowded together at a single table in the corner of Council chambers at Town hall.  The table was also  squashed between the audience behind us, and town staff ahead of us.
Planning Meetings required under the province’s Planning Act are often a big part of the meeting’s agenda.  These are chances for the public to come out, and make their voices heard on development going on in Town.  Residents who choose to speak, are thoughtful, eloquent, and come well prepared with slideshows to illustrate their point.
There are 3 meetings that stand out.  One is regarding the Durante Group proposal at the northwest corner of Bronte and Main St on the lands formerly known as the TSC store.  More than 20 residents spoke at the first in-person meeting voicing concerns on traffic, parking, building’s shadow.  One person even looked at issues potentially caused by the wind up against the CN rail overpass.  A second meeting was held in the virtual council format raising the same concerns.  The development was approved as it was, and currently is in line for appeal by the residents.
Another one concerned the three tower high rise development near the Superstore.  Residents along Childs were concerned over building shadow, and potential for seeing into their backyards.  Councilors were concerned over traffic patterns along Thompson Rd.  The development was approved as it was.  The thought process being maybe people who live near transit, and shopping won’t use their car.
One last example.  The development on the southeast corner of Derry and 25 highway.  Residents, and again councilors raised traffic issues, proximity to transit, and schools.  Again it was approved. What they all have in common besides being approved, is that no resident spoke out against development, but only asked if it was right for that space.
In all three examples, it was as if council and staff listened, patted residents on the head for their feedback, and did what they wanted despite questions.  I get it, Councilors find themselves in a battle of priorities between the planning goals imposed by the province and the residents who live here.  Shouldn’t the residents be the higher priority?
There are nine committees listed on the Town website that offer volunteer opportunities for local residents. Looking for information on when they meet is in a task in itself.  The only committee listed on the Town’s meeting calendar is the Committee of Adjustment and Compliance.  The rest take a little bit of digging if they can even be found at all.  The Milton Library Board is the only one lists their meeting on their website as the third Wednesday every second month.   The heritage committee was eliminated at the start of this term, replaced with an ad hoc committee, and the heritage planner left Town Staff.  This in a community where residents value heritage, and some even cite it as a motivating factor for moving to Milton.
Before the 2018 municipal elections, council did a ward boundary review, and the consultant recommended an increase to 12 councilors plus a Mayor to account for population growth.  That particular council voted to cut wards in half from then eight to four. Fewer voices on council isn’t good for democracy.
For the second term in a row councilors were looking at a potential ban on election election signs citing the waste they cause, and the elimination “sign wars.”  Both times they were voted down, setting the stage for a campaign where it’s going to be nearly impossible for residents to run if interested.
Transparency, and the ability to listen are two big parts of democracy.  The survey recognizes that Milton is failing at both.  Now we know about it, it’s time to do something.