As we embark upon this new chapter in our community’s history ...

opinionred 100x100By Stephen White

October 24th, 2018



In the aftermath of the election a few reflections come to mind.

First, to all the candidates who were elected, sincere and heartfelt congratulations. It takes courage to run for office, as well as a huge amount of self-sacrifice, effort, determination, knocking on doors, sleepless nights, long days, and copious cups of coffee. The thoughts, prayers and good wishes of a community go with you as you embark on this difficult and challenging journey in our City’s history.

Second, to all those who ran and lost, and even those with whom many may have disagreed, please know that there is no shame or disgrace in running and losing. If it takes courage to run for office it also takes twice as much to move forward after a loss. I hope the sting of defeat minimizes with time, and I hope you find a way to remain active and engaged in the life of our City.

Third, we live in a truly wonderful City. As I campaigned during the election and went door-to-door I met an extraordinary number of unique and talented citizens. I was born and raised in Oakville, and have spent the better part of the last 43 years living in Burlington. Although I have lived in different places throughout my career I have always returned here. I believed then as I do even more so now, that we live in an amazing community that is a fascinating combination of different neighbourhoods, ethnicities and cultures. Whenever I speak to new residents and ask them how they like living in Burlington I invariably hear words like “fantastic” and “great”. It makes me proud, but it also makes me truly blessed to call Burlington “home”.

Hand on microphone

Mayor elect Marianne Meed Ward celebrating at the Polish Hall

No doubt this has been a divisive election for several reasons too numerous to mention and not worth re-hashing. Emotions are running high on all sides. There exists a lot of ill-will and bitter feelings. For those who were successful though this is not a time to gloat. Rather, it is an opportunity for everyone to pause, reflect and determine how best we move forward.

Both during my career in Human Resources, as well as through my political involvement over the course of many campaigns, I learned that every interaction in life is a unique compilation of both conflict and conciliation. Conflict in human interactions is inevitable. We don’t all agree on the same things all the time. That is what makes us distinct as individuals. If we all agreed all the time life would be boring. It would also be very unimaginative. In politics, conflict manifests itself as a healthy and respectful exchange of viewpoints and beliefs. Other times it goes much deeper. At some point though we all need to put aside our individual differences, personality conflicts, past grievances and hurts to find points of agreement that allow us to move forward.

Years ago when I was an undergraduate student at McMaster University I did a major paper for my Urban History class on the role of the business community in shaping Burlington’s development between the First and Second World Wars. As part of my research I poured over microfiche records at the Burlington Library of old newspapers. One of the names that I kept coming across through my research was that of Hugh Cleaver.

Hugh Cleaver, for those who may not know, was Burlington’s Mayor in the 1920’s and 1930’s, and Liberal MP from about 1935 – 1948. To my surprise he was alive and still practicing law. I wrote to him requesting an interview, and he very graciously granted my request.

Cleaver Hugh _House_01_GP___Gallery

The Hugh Cleaver house on Caroline – was demolished and replace by a semi-detached house.

On a freezing cold day in February 1977 I travelled to his office on Caroline Street where I met him. Mr. Cleaver was tall, erect and imposing, but in spite of this remained very approachable. Rather than sit in his office talking we climbed into his Volvo and he drove me around the city. He pointed with pride to many of the developments he had been involved in constructing that included an apartment building on Market Street and homes in the Roseland area, many of which I should add are still standing. His memory was encyclopedic, and despite being well into his eighties his passion and love for this City was nothing short of contagious.

Cleaver - Hugh H&SMr. Cleaver is gone now, but his legacy remains. I think of him today, and wonder what he would think about our City. One thing that resonates about our conversation over 40 years ago was our discussion around how to energize and sustain a community under pressure. During the 1930’s that pressure was overcoming economic challenges brought about by the Depression. Today our challenges may not be economic but they are nevertheless formidable.

One thing Hugh Cleaver reinforced was the notion of respect. Mr. Cleaver knew how to reach across and connect with voters and residents regardless of their political affiliation or approach. He lived in the community, and took enormous pride in what he built and created. For him, it wasn’t just about turning a profit or building a magnificent edifice or monument. It was about creating a community that was vital, diverse, sustaining and balanced, but also, one which was inclusive.

I hope as we embark upon this new chapter in our community’s history that our Mayor, our Council and our community pause to reflect on the legacy we’ve all inherited, and the insights offered by past leaders like Hugh Cleaver.

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

8 comments to As we embark upon this new chapter in our community’s history …

  • Elizabeth Hamidbasha

    The Cleavers were a very prominent family. They contributed a lot to the city and helped to make it the beautiful place it is today. They were members of the ‘old guard’ and provided the building blocks which make Burlington what it is today. Other veterans came to Burlington to make their home here after the wars and let’s not forget them either. They loved the simplicity and peacefulness of this lovely city. Old Burlingtonians suffered through depressions and two terrible wars. We should never forget them.
    Thanks for this look back at this fine gentleman.

  • Penny


    For ECoB the work has already begun. We are in the process of reorganizing and are working towards being as you said “A Burlington wide, non-partisan voice for the electorate”. If any residents are interested in being part of ECoB please email your name and contact information to

    Residents have to remember that the election was not the end, it is the beginning of citizen engagement. Be part of this engagement don’t wait for others to do it for you. It’s time to ask the new council to “walk the walk”, not just “talk the talk”.

  • Don Fletcher

    Very well put, Stephen.
    I attended MMW’s election night gathering and can tell you that the idea that there are two Burlingtons (one north and the other south of the QEW) is a myth. All wards made a strong & broad statement that our future needs to be citizen-driven through our representative Councillors & Mayor, not developer or City staff-driven as it had sadly become. It will still require much dedication, collaboration & hard work of all stakeholders, but I truly believe that last Monday’s vote has uniquely afforded us the potential to build a better Burlington.

  • Susan L.

    Thank you Stephen, I really enjoyed reading this article.

  • joe gaetan

    Well said Stephen, democracy was the real winner in this election, but there is still more work to be done. ECoB, did a spectacular job of hosting the debates, as did the Burlington Millennials (my favourite format wise) and Burlington Green. Many thanks as well to the moderators.
    The councilors who chose to not participate in the ECoB debates were also expressing democracy in their own way.
    I look forward to ECoB becoming “the” Burlington wide non-partisan voice of the electorate.

  • Hans

    This is a beautiful column. Thank you for writing it.

  • Mary Alice St. James

    Stephen, I became acquainted with you early in my Ward 5 Candidacy when you came to introduce yourself to me while I was advocating at Lakeside Plaza way back in July. You joined my team that day and I still feel so very honoured. You are brilliant and such an advocate for Burlington. Thank you for this letter/piece to The Burlington Gazette. I fully agree. As you know, I am shyer than people think a 25 year Principal could ever be. I am also private. I am an advocate and not a politician. My love of Burlington and my family and friends love of Burlington is quite real despite not being born here. I chose to get married here, raise my family here, work here, use all of Burlington’s services, volunteer extensively and now I have run a respectful, public but unsuccessful Campaign. I am saddened by complacency and a lack of voter turnout within Ward 5 for sure. I didn’t see it at doors where I canvassed. Citizens in Ward 5 said they would be voting. It is a bit shocking actually.
    I am proud of being respectful every step of the way. I did not speak poorly of my fellow candidates despite being attacked often on Social Media and within comments in this paper by people I do not even know. I persevered as I was threatened and my team members were threatened by investigations. I persevered as did my team of one other – Carie, my much younger than me sister by choice who was with me every single day, every step of the way! I picked up all of my yard signs yesterday. It was oddly therapeutic. I did not want my name in print. I was in it because I love Burlington. And for the record, my first renovation of my 1952 then 1,200 sq. ft. home which Ron and I bought from my Mom when my Dad died was so that we could have a sit in kitchen which any reader here is welcome to join me in any day day any time … just let me know when you are coming. Our second renovation was after my Mom died to add a bedroom and a bathroom whichhelped a lot. That was 18 years ago so our sons could have their own space.
    Stephen, my most disappointing part of my loss is and always will be disappointing those people who supported me along the way. I still love Burlington though and I aim to stay despite knowing that all those children and seniors I supported and continue to support find it really tough to live in Burlington financially. They are being priced out. Let’s change that Burlington.

  • Phillip Wooster

    Stephen, thank-you for posting this positive message. I particularly enjoyed your history lesson on Mr. Cleaver–may we all learn from it as our city now moves forward.