Feud simmers as Burlington councillors push to remove mayor’s special powers


Published March 26, 2024 at 9:22 pm

Burlington city hall power mayor politics

A group of Burlington City councillors will have to wait until next month to learn if the mayor will bend to their demands and give up some of her power.

The councillors were hoping to get an answer from the mayor today (March 26), instead, the decision has been put off until their next meeting on April 16.

At the heart of the matter is the “strong mayor” powers granted by Premier Doug Ford last year to mayors across Ontario to ostensibly push forward a development agenda.

However, it’s the other powers that were granted to the mayors that have been causing the problems in Burlington.

Some of the powers include singularly presenting the City’s budget, having the ability to hire and fire senior civil servants, the power to create and dissolve committees, managing organizational structure, and being able to veto certain decisions made by the rest of the council if they don’t fit Provincial government priorities. The councillors want the mayor to delegate some of these duties to the City Manager who is the unelected chief of staff for the City of Burlington.

For her part, Mayor Marianne Meed Ward says she has not stepped beyond the authority of her traditional role as mayor adding that many of the new powers she received are not optional but rather mandated by Queen’s Park.

“They are not something I have asked for,” she has said.

Still, something is amiss at City Hall as the usually staid council meetings have turned into a tug-of-war between Meed Ward and the four councillors who are demanding the concessions.

In a statement released by the mayor after the meeting, she said the issue had created rumours and implications, but some observers say the lack of transparency on all sides as to what prompted the dissension has led to the speculation that is filling the information void.

Ward 3 Councillor Rory Nisan, who first raised the issue, said the mayor’s new  “strong powers” are “anti-democratic” and “a cause of dysfunction” in the City. He has been supported by Ward 1 Councillor Kelvin Galbraith, Ward 4 Councillor Shawna Stolte and Ward 2 Councillor Lisa Kearns.

“The mayor has said that she does not need these powers, so I am hopeful they will be delegated expeditiously in order to restore council to its high functioning status and provide a stable atmosphere at the City,” said Nisan in an emailed comment.

Nisan said the results of a recent community survey “showed some gaps in accountability for council” and that relying on the process of majority rule will improve credibility adding that councillors were elected to make decisions, not receive them.

At today’s meeting, council unanimously approved Nisan’s motion to ask the mayor to relinquish some of the powers but Meed Ward said she would take her time to make that decision.

“I welcome council to make any requests of me they feel are important and support council in making this request. That is why I voted in favour of the motion that was approved unanimously by council today,” said the mayor. “I will take the time to give it the thoughtful consideration it deserves. Council has requested I respond by the April 16 Council meeting, which I will do.”


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