Getting the Motion to curb the Strong Mayor powers on the Agenda succeeded - despite the efforts of Meed Ward and Councillor Sharman

By Pepper Parr

March 20th,2024



Three members of Council put a Notice of Motion on the Council meeting agenda.  They wanted the Mayor to give up some of the Strong Mayor powers that were available to her.

Mayor Meed Ward consistently claims that she was required to accept the Strong Mayor powers; that is not true.  There are a number of municipalities that had had Mayors who took a pass; Guelph is an example.

The Motion reads:

That Council request the Mayor to delegate to Council the powers and duties assigned to the head of council under Section 284.5 of the Municipal Act, with respect to the City Manager; and

That Council request the Mayor to delegate to the City Manager the powers and duties assigned to the head of council under Section 284.6 of the Municipal Act, with respect to:

      1. determining the organizational structure of the municipality; and
      2. hiring, dismissing, or exercising any other prescribed employment powers with respect to any division or the head of any other part of the organizational structure;

That Council request the Mayor to delegate to Council the powers and duties assigned to the head of council under Section 284.7 of the Municipal Act, with respect to prescribed local boards or local boards within a prescribed class of local boards; and

That Council request the Mayor to delegate to Council the powers and duties assigned to the head of council under Section 284.8 of the Municipal Act, with respect to prescribed committees or committees within a prescribed class of committees; and

That the Executive Director of Legal Services and Corporation Counsel for the City of Burlington be directed to consult with external legal counsel on the current state of any legal challenges to strong mayor power in Ontario and whether a legal challenge would have any chance of success.

Council in session

Their first challenge was to get the Motion on the agenda. That called for a Motion to waive the procedural rules. .

Councillor Sharman came out of the gate, before there was any debate from other Council members saying – I will not be supporting this. I believe this is rushed. It is inconsistent with the purpose of Council.  It should be brought to the committee first and I won’t be supporting for that reason.

It was clear from the beginning that Sharman was going to align himself with the Mayor.  Four Councillors: Galbraith, Kearns, Nisan and Stolte wanted changes.

Councillor Bentivegna: It was a very hard meeting for him.

That left just Councillor Bentivegna as undecided and very uncomfortable.

Mayor Meed Ward:” I really look forward to this conversation.”

Mayor Meed Ward said: “I really look forward to this conversation. I will not be supporting waiving our procedure bylaw at this time. Enhanced scrutiny around following our procedure Bylaw and regardless of what we would like it to be, we are stuck now with what it actually says.

“I will also note that the motion includes a direction to staff which is well outside any advocacy. So I believe for maximum community engagement, public notice and transparency. This should be run through committee and I would greatly look forward to that conversation at committee and Council, which allows residents actually two additional opportunities to speak to this instead of one today and only if they happen to see it on Friday when this was initially posted.”

Councillor Bentivegna said: ‘I don’t know how to start;  first of all, I received this motion, on the weekend. I’m not sure when everyone else got it.

‘I’m not a big fan of what I believe is a walk on motion. Having said that, I think this is an important discussion to have. And I actually don’t want to wait till the April cycle. So I would like to bring an amendment once we have the discussion.

‘I think this is a very important topic. And I do agree we do need engagement on it. If we wait until the April, my concern is the misinformation that might go out because nothing’s been discussed on it. And perhaps any rumours that go on and for everyone’s peace of mind is I believe we need to take care of this sooner rather than later. So I’m going to bring a motion to call a special council meeting for next Tuesday.’

Counsellor Kearns: “I want to take the opportunity to underscore that there is an underlying sense of urgency related to this; I do feel that it is a discussion that needs to happen sooner rather than later. I think that our community is engaged enough with a topic like this that they will want to be engaged quickly, which would support a special council meeting.”

Councillor Nisan: The first order of business is that we have to get this to the floor where it can be debated.”

Councillor Nisan: “I think the first order of business is that we have to get this to the floor by waiving the rules of procedure because there are things that we do need to talk about, at least in part, or by way of deferring to a special council meeting.”

Councillor Kearns “I want to highlight Councillor Nissan’s point around this very prescriptive use of the procedure bylaw in order to defer this or delay this into the next cycle. Things like this don’t usually come forward with such urgency and I think that there is an opportunity here to be amenable to bringing it to the floor at least and not stopping it at this point.”

Councillor Stolte:  “I just want to take the opportunity quickly to thank Councillor Bentivegna for his comments I had not considered the potential for there to be misinformation or rumour innuendo in the community. I look forward to the discussion.”

I could live with if that’s permitted,

Councillor Galbraith “I was going to support this motion. It’s not an emergency that it’s done today. Councillor Bentivegna brings up an interesting point and if it’s next Tuesday I am not I’m not fussed about that either. But it’s already out there.

“The rumours could be spreading. So I think it’s important that we discuss it sooner than later. But if it’s not today, Tuesday I could live with if that’s permitted, but I think we need to pass this to get it to where Angelo wants to present his motion. So I’m supportive of it today.”

Councillor Sharman, speaking for the second time,  “I’m very happy to have this conversation. I just believe we need to get our research done. I want to hear from staff I haven’t had a time to get a chance to talk to them. I believe that we do want to encourage the community to come and speak to us that the first time we discussed this, not just doing this kind of run out in a kind of council that we’re not prepared for.

Councillor Sharman: “I’m not prepared for this conversation.”

I’m not prepared for this conversation. And I’m completely willing open to an opportunity to move it later. It doesn’t fit. It’s fair. To say a meeting in advance. I still believe we should have committee and then counsel separately. If it’s a special counsel, I’m okay with that. But right now, I’m not ready to have this conversation. So other than when is the appropriate time to talk about it; today is not the right time, but I’m willing to have the conversation.”

Councillor Nisan: “I’m interested in the discussion around a special counsel hadn’t been raised to me before.  I’m open minded to that. I just want to note that this motion was given the standard notice required for council motions, and met the deadline that was set by the clerk for being received at counsel.. We met the we met the deadline and like other motions, we were given the usual amount of notice if we don’t like that notice, then we should we should push it back in the procedure bylaw.”

“Secondly, I want to note that we waive procedures, practically every council meeting.”

Mayor Meed Ward calls the recorded vote to waive the procedural rule.

It passes – so the item is on the agenda.

Mayor Meed Ward and Councillor Sharman were not able to keep the item off the agenda.  They now have to debate it when Council gets to what is the very last item on the agenda.

That debate follows in a seperate article. Despite significant effort on the part of the Mayor and Councillor Sharman a vote to debate the issue at a Special meeting of Council on Tuesday March 26th.

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5 comments to Getting the Motion to curb the Strong Mayor powers on the Agenda succeeded – despite the efforts of Meed Ward and Councillor Sharman

  • Lynn Crosby

    I sent an email to the mayor and all council members after hearing the Mayor claim at the meeting that she hadn’t heard from any residents ever saying they have a problem with the strong mayor powers. What a load of BS. I specifically wrote them all and told them so and so did others, way back when the powers first were on the table. We urged her and council not to accept them. We pointed out the fallacy of wrongly claiming they were “imposed” by the province. Over and over again we did. Many of us wrote about it directly at their own social media posts and in wider media. I said in my email after this week’s meeting that if the Mayor missed all that, then she wasn’t paying attention. I suggest people send them in writing their thoughts on this. Regardless, she can’t claim she hasn’t heard from us now – she’s now heard from residents again.

    As for delegating either in writing – easily done to send a small written delegation to the clerk – or in person, I agree that would be good but once again let’s acknowledge that the meeting is at 9:30 am on a weekday, so people who are working certainly cannot attend. Others may actually have other commitments at that time. This should never be presumed to mean that the public doesn’t care or that we think the Mayor is doing what we want. She isn’t.

    It is rich beyond belief that the Mayor and Sharman say they wanted to engage with the public first – haven’t we been through, ad nauseam, the fact that they DON’T engage, they don’t listen, and the environment they created for delegating is so bad that most people no longer go? And some who do have been banned – so I guess they don’t mean those people when they claim to want to hear from us?. But oh, then us not putting ourselves through their games is used against us too?

    Bottom line here is plenty of other municipalities have done this without this ridiculous drama and claims of procedural difficulties – which only apparently matter at all when the strong mayor wants them to – irony lost on her again.

    Get this done on Tuesday and if it doesn’t unanimously pass, then we will clearly know which of our council members thumb their noses at democracy – and at all of us.

    Mayor: I’ve discussed democracy with you so many times: you know you would be against this if it wasn’t your own power that’s at risk. Anyone else’s and you’d be railing against this. Shameful.

  • Penny

    It is important for residents to let the Mayor know how they feel about the “Strong Mayor” designation and how it affects residents.

    I would also suggest that residents ask that the Mayor not be involved in the discussion and certainly not be able to vote on this motion ( something she indicated that she was able to do according to her meeting with the Integrity Commissioner prior to the March 19th meeting).

    An independent legal opinion should be sought. Residents have little confidence in the Integrity Commission. Why? The Integrity Commission is a contract between the City and their legal firm. Conflict of interest perhaps?

    The Special Council Meeting will be taking place on Tuesday, March 26th from 9:30-10:30 am. Plan on attending in person.

    The council members need to see that residents want this designation rescinded.

    • Gary Scobie

      I agree this is important enough to appear in person in Chambers at City Hall as a delegate. I just submitted my Request to Delegate. I am in support of the motion by the three Councilors. I invite others of like mind to join me. Delegations are heard first on the agenda, so you should not have to wait too long to be called to the lectern. If you can’t attend, please delegate on Zoom or send a written delegation by email to the City Clerk.

      I believe citizens support our democracy in this country, but sometimes we must demonstrate our commitment by speaking up.

  • Caren

    I watched this Council Meeting online. I found it very interesting that Sharman wanted to speak to Staff about this Motion? What does Staff have to do with this Motion? Staff are not the electorate! This Motion is all about getting Democracy back to our Councilors in order to give their constituents a voice in Burlington.

    Also, I found it interesting that Paul Sharman magically disappeared at the lunch break and did not return to Chambers for the afternoon session of Council?? Who was he confiding with? And why?