By Darren Lum
Since 1894 the Ontario Good Roads Association has been working with municipalities to improve transportation throughout the province. Although the oldest municipal association in Ontario, executive director Scott Butler said OGRA’s mandate has not changed. Under this mandate, every year the board elects a new president.
Recently, the association announced that Highlands East Mayor Dave Burton would be the next president of the executive board of directors.
“We are pretty enthused to be able to tap into some of the experience and expertise he has to help us along this year,” said Butler. “It’s part of our mandate to have zones, and the directors on our board come from those zones.”
By having members from all parts of Ontario, Butler said they are better able to address issues with roads and transportation arising in municipalities of different size and type. For the second time in the past three years, he said OGRA’s president will be from eastern Ontario.
With the association’s headquarters located in Oakville, Butler said it would be easy for them to fall into what he calls “the vortex of Toronto, or the GTA.” Explaining what Burton offers the association and the province as OGRA’s next president, he said “The considerations in Toronto or Ottawa take up a lot of space, but we know that for most people in Ontario that there are much different considerations. So, we look at what Dave brings to the table: he’s been somebody who has been important within Haliburton County; and, he is someone who is the mayor of a small municipality that is largely rural, but has small centres, small villages as a part of that. It’s really beneficial for us to be able to have somebody who reminds us of what those realities are like, so that we don’t get caught in the trap of worrying just about what the biggest parts of the association are concerned about.”
With all the laws pertaining to how Ontario’s roads get used stemming from the provincial government, Butler explained that the Highway Traffic Act is applied the same whether in Haliburton or Windsor. He said Burton will be able to help the association overcome this challenge with the legislation by finding solutions for local governments through his new role.
“We have to make sure that when we are looking at a piece of legislation that might be coming from Queen’s Park, or we are looking at a product that will help municipalities improve winter maintenance, or fill potholes better; we want to make sure that it is working for all communities, not just a select few. That’s the benefit we are able to provide every municipality.”
Acknowledging that the roads in North Hastings effectively have the same value to residents as the subway does in Toronto, Butler added “It’s how people are able to get around. We need to think about ways that we can recognize that importance, but also make sure that those assets are performing to expectations; they are providing a benefit back to the community, they’re making sure that people are connected, they’re not wearing out as quickly, they’re being built in ways that are environmentally sound. All that is really our consideration, that’s really where our focus lies.”
Burton recently spoke to OGRA members at their annual conference. Expressing how grateful he is to have been chosen as the association’s new president, he said he is looking forward at 2021, hoping that it will bring a return to “normal.” Further defining his expectations for the year ahead, he said he is also hopeful that 2021 will be the year that OGRA puts its members front and centre in everything they do.
“I know that our members need us because OGRA is the connective tissue,” declared Burton.
“We connect our members to each other, to other levels of government, and to the private sector. Our members also know that they can look to us for training, knowledge, answers to their most pressing problems, and political advocacy.”
According to Burton, during the conference OGRA focused on important issues, such as “Vision Zero, asset management and environmental stewardship.” He said these issues will continue to be a focus for the association in 2021 because “after 127 years OGRA knows that when infrastructure works, communities are strong.”
Burton continued “Quality infrastructure contributes to economic prosperity and better- functioning communities. We also know that our sector is changing like never before. OGRA is here to help you navigate this change. You can expect to see increased engagement from us in the coming year. This means new forms of communication and new ways of communicating. You can also expect to see new and timely training opportunities that address your most difficult challenges.”