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Ward 3 debate: Mayoral candidates spar over vision for Oakville’s future

It was a chance to get to know the people behind the election signs, and Tuesday night's Ward 3 debate didn't disappoint.

But the highlight of the evening was undoubtedly the long-awaited showdown between Rob Burton and Julia Hanna.

The pair faced off publicly for the first time since the feisty North Oakville restauranteur came surprisingly close to unseating the town's veteran mayor in the 2018 municipal election.

The well-organized debate highlighted the difference in both style and substance between the town's leading contenders for the top job.

Burton brought an air of calm, unflappable competence, with an occasional stray into condescending lecture mode.

Mayor since 2006, he's running on his record of accomplishments, which he says includes keeping taxes low, developing other sources of town revenue and keeping Oakville liveable.

"I am a leader with a record of getting what I promised done," he told the audience.

Hanna countered with an energetic and passionate style, with an occasional wander into hyperbole. Applause from a sizeable contingent of excited supporters punctuated her enthusiasm.

She argued that the town is facing a housing crisis, struggling with traffic congestion and preparing to add highrises as tall as 59-storeys to the area around the Oakville GO station without adequately addressing infrastructure issues.

She said she offers a collaborative, inclusive leadership style and will bring people and parties to the table to negotiate and collaborate.

"You are only as good as your last meal," she argued. "It doesn't matter what you did 15 years ago or 10 years ago, or five years ago. What are you doing for me now?"

The third mayoral candidate, 19-year-old Sheridan student Jack Kukolic, said he is concerned with the 37 per cent voter turnout rate in the last municipal election. He is running to represent those not involved in the political system.

"With all due respect to my esteemed opponents, the future is here now, and young people are ready to go with it."

Manhattan density in Midtown Oakville

Development of Midtown – the area surrounding the Oakville GO station – was the hottest topic of the evening.

With the area set to house 20,000 new residents and jobs within a decade, towers between 44 and 58 storeys have been proposed.

Tall buildings in "miniature cities" around GO terminals and in other growth nodes are necessary to keep unwanted density and intensification away from existing neighbourhoods, Burton said.

"If we don't want it on our streets, and we want to save our green space, and we want to save our heritage, and we want to save Glen Abbey, we have to find a place to concentrate our growth."

He added that allowing taller towers will accommodate the required number of people while maintaining more ground-level greenspace. "And listen, whether it's 40 storeys or 60 storeys, I don't think you can tell from the ground what the height is."

The Midtown area – as well as other growth centres in Oakville and around the GTA – will have a density similar to Manhattan, as required by provincial rules. But those areas will "produce affordable housing for folks and starter opportunities for young people," Burton said.

Hanna agreed that Oakville needs to build places where people can afford to live.

But she warned that the town is in danger of replicating mistakes made in North Oakville, where promised walkable communities with transportation haven't materialized.

"How we grow matters," she said. "Infrastructure has to match development, and they have to go together. If they don't, the quality of life is compromised."

She said the town needs to negotiate with Metrolinx and the Ministry of Transportation to ensure transit and transportation infrastructure are in place to mitigate the impact of Midtown's growth.

"We could never, ever, ever consider building 60-storey towers in an area if it doesn't have the infrastructure," said Hanna. "Do you drive on Trafalgar now? I do, and it's worse than the QEW," she said.

"Why aren't we hearing from the regional chair?"

Of the three candidates running to be chair of Halton region, only Andrea Grebenc showed up to the debate.

Organizers said that Gary Carr sent his regrets while Jane McKenna didn't respond to the invitation.

Grebenc said that despite campaigning across four municipalities and an area of about 1,000 square kilometres, she's been surprised at how few opportunities she's had to address voters.

"The region's operational budget is $850 million of your taxpayer money. But you hear so little from the position," she said. "Why aren't we hearing from the regional chair right now? (Gary Carr) has been there for 16 years."

DA Photography
DA Photography

Grebenc has served as a Halton school board trustee for eight years and chaired the board – which also has an annual budget of $850 million – for four years.

She said she's ready to move from managing educational priorities to managing regional priorities.

Her key issues include creating more affordable housing, looking for ways to manage waste as the region's aging landfill nears the end of its life, and managing social housing to better help vulnerable tenants.

She recently called for a regional transit system to make moving between Halton's four municipalities quicker and easier.

Regional chair candidate calls for Halton-wide transit

About 200 people came out for the Oct. 4 debate at Oakville Trafalgar High School. It was organized by Ward 3's five residents' associations.

The audience also had a chance to hear from Janet Haslett-Theall and Dave Gittings.

Haslett-Theall has been acclaimed to the Ward 3 town and regional council seat. Gittings is running for the town council seat against a candidate who has withdrawn but whose name will still appear on the ballot due to timing.

Watch the entire debate.