Gary Burroughs hopes the October municipal election will return him to his roots in municipal politics – at the Niagara-on-the-Lake council table.
He has known for some time he would be a candidate in the upcoming election, but was keeping his cards close to the chest about what role he wanted to play, with most people expecting him to either seek a third term as regional councillor for Niagara-on-the-Lake or campaign to return as lord mayor.
He first sat on town council in 1989 to 1991. After a break from politics, he ran and was elected as lord mayor in 2000, completing three terms before running for regional council in 2010. Not only did he secure a seat as NOTL's elected representative at the region, but was voted in as regional chair, a job he loved – it kept him involved in every facet of the region, he said.
Although he was re-elected to regional council in 2014, he did not get to serve a second term as chair. And since then he has become disillusioned, not because he was relegated to the role of councillor but because regional council has become about party politics, he said.
“There have been changes going on, and they're changes I don't like.
He's been especially concerned about the turnover of staff at the region, and choices that have been made about replacing people. He also sees a similar trend at the muncipal level, sometimes leading to inexperienced staff.
Rather than hiring from within, at both a municipal and regional level, Burroughs would rather see a search for the very best person for the job, even if it means looking at people from other municipalities.
Burroughs, a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, was the owner-operator of the Oban Inn for 30 years, taking over the family business from his parents. He sold it to Vintage Inns in the 1990s, and was able to return to politics full-time. Two and a half years ago, finding more time on his hands as a regional councillor after four years as chair, he took a job as treasurer at Genaire Ltd., which has been manufacturing and repairing aircraft components in NOTL since 1951.
His two main interests which have served him well during his political career at the municipal and regional level are finance and waste management, so it's no surprise that it's tax revenue and providing clarity about property assessment which concern him locally.
In addition to making it clear where the money comes from to run a municipality and what it is spent on, he said, at the municipal, regional and provincial level, he believes taxpayers could be better informed about assessment based on property values.
“Over the last four years I've heard mixed descriptions and complaints with one or the other. It's important to understand both at the local level. I think there are still a lot of people who don't understand that just because their assessment goes up 10 per cent, it doesn't mean their taxes go up 10 per cent. I don't believe that's clear to a lot of people.”
Niagara-on-the-Lake has won awards for its budget presentation, he said, and he's not criticizing current council for the misunderstanding, but he believes it can be presented more clearly to residents.
“I jwant to relate it to taxpayers so they understand what's happening.”
Burroughs said if elected, “I know I will only get one vote, but these are common sense issues and I hope to help a new council, and those who have been there before, with my experience in other fields.”
He's not concerned there will be up to four new faces at the council table, because it's good to have new ideas, but it's also a “catch-22,” he said, because it's also important to have some experience around the table.
“Experience helps politicians develop a thick skin when it comes to criticism from constituents over decisions made, and while it's important to listen to residents, it's also necessary to make a decision based on the best information you have at that time, and be able to take the criticism that might come your way, although it's not always easy. As long as you're always trying to do the right thing for the town you have to grin and bear it, and go to sleep at night knowing you've done what you think is best.”
He said “in the old days” every councillor at regional and municipal levels just wanted to do the best for their constituents, but he no longer feels that's the way decisions are made at the region.
“That's why I want to go back to municipal council.”
Burroughs said his concern is focused on Niagara-on-the-Lake, and that is the best way to serve it.
“I think I can provide a lot of experience to local staff and to council,” he said.
“It's not that I have any intention of telling others what to do, but I will voice my opinion based on my own experience. Whoever wins the mayor's job, I intend to be quite vocal about trying to get information to residents that they need to understand – including information about where revenue comes from and where their tax dollars go.”
But although he has some ideas of the issues that are important to him, he is really looking forward to going door to door and hearing from residents.
“The community is quite a bit bigger now, and I'm looking forward to meeting people.”
His decision to run for council has been based on his beliefs and what he thinks is important to the town, he said, but once he starts campaigning and talking to people, he'll be hearing about all sorts of issues. “We'll need to deal with them if we can, and if we can't, we need to let residents know we can't and why.”
Burroughs has been chair of the Niagara Parks Commission and Shaw Festival. He's lived in NOTL for about 50 years, and he and his wife Sarah have two daughters and four grandchildren.
In the last term of regional council, Burroughs has been a member of the region's corporate services committee, public works committee, audit committee, budget review committee and waste management planning steering committee.