How does a municipal politician survive emotionally when she loses votes on motions she puts forward 6-1 time after time?

November 4, 2013    

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON. ON.  During the past six months, Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward has called for a recorded vote on a number of important issues and found hers to be the only vote FOR a motion while the other six council members voted against.

Twice during the past 60 days Meed Ward has been cut off by the chair of a meeting for speaking too long.  The first time the Mayor tried to cut her off, a shameful attempt; the second time Councillor Sharman tried to cut her off and on that occasion the Mayor suggested Council learn to accept the different styles members of Council bring to the table.

... which was described as brutal by Meed Ward ...City council recently held a CLOSED governance meeting attended by just the city Clerk and the Council members which was described as brutal by Meed Ward who did not disclose any of the specifics because it was a closed meeting.

This was not the first occasion this Council has reprimanded (and that is not too hard a word) Meed Ward.  When she ran for office it was clear she was going to be different.  She asks questions publicly and has no problem with being told that she isn’t as fully informed as she might be.

She listens to the delegations; she asks questions and she does her homework.  She has served as the Chair of a Standing Committee and acquitted herself well however she needs more experience as a chair.

When asked how she felt she would respond to the drubbing she got during the closed Governance meeting she said she planned to meet one on one with every council member and do her best to work out the differences.  According to Meed Ward, she has never been approached by a member of Council to talk about how she behaves.

Meed Ward with Alan Harrington, president of the Historical Society.

Her peers take exception to her practice of calling for a recorded vote, sometimes on a clause by clause basis, on a lot of the motions.  They also dislike her continued call for recorded votes on every issue so the public can see just how their council member voted.

It will be interesting to see just how much impact Meed Ward has had on the quality of public debate.  This council might find itself surprised at how many people agree with her.

During the 2010 election, then Mayor Cam Jackson was worried about the impact the pier issues were going to have on his being returned to office.  He worried as well on the impact Meed Ward was going to have.  What he didn’t realize at the time was that he, rather than the pier, was the issue and a once loyal constituency turfed him out of office. 

Meed Ward appears to be raising the bar on transparency for the citizens of Burlington.  Expect her to campaign on recorded votes for both Standing Committees and Council meetings.  She might even try to get a line item into this year’s budget to pay for the equipment that would show the vote the moment each Council members pushes a button.

Meed Ward was delegating during 2009 and 2010 – laying the groundwork for her defeat of Peter Thoem in 2010

Are we looking at a whacko politician who comes up with one zany idea after the other?   If one listens to Meed Ward you hear a politician who believes, fervently believes, the approach Burlington takes to civil matters is wrong, doesn`t work and needs a change.

What sustains her is the belief that thousands of Burlingtonians feel the way she does.  Meed Ward will tell you that people are constantly approaching her on the street and telling her they like what she is doing.  She has a ward council that is the most active in the city – so much so that at least one Council member has taken in one of her ward meetings to see how she does it.

Meed Ward admits that some of the things done by Council members “hurt”.  Being ambushed by the Mayor was cruel but Meed Ward finds solace in “knowing who you are.  I am well-grounded and the people I represent are with me.  I hear it from them every day and that sustains me.”

Meed Ward has this profound sense that things could be better and believes that the “adversarial approach pulls the least and the worst from us.” She is not a native to Burlington.  She used to live in the Tyandaga community and once ran against Councillor Craven.  Community life for Meed Ward was not that satisfying in the western part of the city and the family moved into the downtown core.

We are all impacted by our upbringing and the families within which we are raised.  A chilling experience at the age of 16 caused Meed Ward to think hard about the life she was to live and a conversation with her Mother, the strongest of her parents, helped her set a path that got her into communications.

Meed Ward with Mayor Goldring: she is more comfortable with herself as a speaker.

Meed Ward loves the camera; she has one of those moths to a flame relationships with the camera.  While she does write, she is stronger as a panelist; the camera is kind to her.  She is controversial at times and news editors will instruct their camera operators to get a clip from Meed Ward.  Councillor Craven is also visually good in front of a camera but he tends to preach.  Mayor Goldring just isn’t comfortable with media.  The camera lens loves Councillor Lancaster but she seldom has anything to say. Oddly, neither Councillors Taylor or Dennison have strong media skills;Dennison does have a capacity to make news.

Hearing a council member say that all kinds of people approach her and say she is doing a great job is a little self-serving – what else do you expect then to say?  But Meed Ward is beginning to collect hard data.  During the Water Street land debate she turned over 32 pages of email messages she received from people across the city.  Councillor Taylor reported getting 45 messages with just one of them from a person in his ward.  Meed Ward clearly has a constituency that is city-wide.

So who is this lady, why does she do what she does and where might she take the city if she were running it and what are the changes she wants to see made?

Meed Ward has always known where she wants to go and what she needs to do to get there.  It is a bumpy road but this is a well grounded politician.

Meed Ward will tell you that the governance model used by the hospital is the one that inspires her.  She has served on the hospital board since 2007 and finds that the way information gets to the Joseph Brant Hospital Board and how it is handled by the board is much more effective.

The hospital board requires its members to take part in professional development classes.  Meed Ward has worked with trainers on her own dime as well.  I suspect that cannot be said of most of our current council. Three of them have professional and or commercial interests that result in revenue for them which must take up some of their time if only to make up the bank deposit book.

Given the size of the work load – our council members serve as both Regional and municipal Councillors – these are full-time jobs.  They are decently paid.  Unfortunately Burlington does not appear prepared to pay them what they are worth and they don`t appear to be prepared to tell the public they are worth more than they are getting.

Meed Ward believes far too many minds are made up before council members take their seats and that the dialogue needed to arrive at a consensus doesn’t happen in this city.

During the last provincial election all the good Liberals in the city did their bit including Meed Ward and Rick Craven who supported Karmel Sakran who lost to Progressive Conservative Jane McKenna.

She has been the object of more than one unprofessional pointed attack from Councillor Craven who just cannot tolerate the woman and makes no attempt to bridge the differences.

Mayor Goldring will tell anyone who asks him that this council works very well – it doesn’t.  Councillor Lancaster recently laughed publicly at something Councillor Taylor saw as very serious and he lashed out at her in a way we have never seen him do before.  Taylor can get very emotional – but lashing out the way he did with Councillor Lancaster was surprising.

Meed Ward keeps her own counsel.   She doesn’t appear to have close advisors, she tends to want to work on her own and listen to everyone.  She has a more inquiring mind than any other council member.  She does speak too long but she also asks a lot of questions and she pushes staff to deliver.

Her core understanding of economics is limited; business is not something she takes to naturally and there are many who think she is the worst thing that could have happened to the developers in the city.  Meed Ward wants benefits for the advantages the city gives a developer.

While her understanding of what Section 37 of the Planning Act means and the way she interprets it drives the city planner bananas, Meed Ward wants as much as she can get for the city when a height restriction of eight floors grows to 16 floors.

Meed Ward would be well served if she had advisors she could trust.  In this city the people who understand the processes use that understanding to their personal advantage.

On those occasions when she is speaking at an event at which the Mayor is also speaking the difference between the two is marked.We have seen Meed Ward mature as a politician.  She is described, derisively for the most part, as a populist – something she is not uncomfortable with if by populist you mean someone who is prepared to represent the interests of all the people.

In the last six months we have heard a slightly different Mead Ward – she is sounding like a Mayor.  On those occasions when she is speaking at an event at which the Mayor is also speaking the difference between the two is marked.  Meed Ward is a natural communicator.  She is comfortable in front of a camera; she likes being in front of a camera.  She likes talking – that is her element.

Mayor Goldring tends to be a forced speaker – he appears to be trying too hard.  He is more of a loner than Meed Ward.  Put another way, Meed Ward is more comfortable in her skin than Rick Goldring is in his.

What would Meed Ward change if she had the opportunity?  She notes that before there can be any discussion at city Council, there has to be a motion on the floor – and that, she maintains, has members of Council going to their positions and arguing that point of view.  She doesn’t believe that new ideas can come forward when a position is on the table and everyone is focused on the position.

She doesn’t believe that new ideas can come forward when a position is on the table and everyone is focused on the position.City Hall delegations are, for many people, tortuous.  People who are not used to speaking publicly stand before Council for their five or ten minutes and, all too frequently, there is no feedback from council members.  Delegations are not allowed to debate or argue.  Stand, speak your mind and return to your seat if there are no questions.  Far, far too frequently there are no questions. It is diminishing for the delegations.

The delegation has prepared their comments; some are well delivered others could have used more time and there is frequently a lot of nervous energy.  But these are citizens speaking to their leaders and they deserve more in the way of respect.

Meed Ward’s thinking on how this approach might change has not been fully thought out – she does feel that there should be, could be, dialogue and conversation about the problem, opportunity – call it whatever you want – before there is a motion on the floor.  Her view is that a motion gets people into fixed positions when she believes that is the last thing needed.

Some of the more rigid thinkers on Council, and on Staff will explain that the Procedural Bylaw calls for a motion to be on the floor before there can be any debate.  They are correct.  Meed Ward`s response to that type of response is likely to be,  then change the procedural bylaw, which may be too much of a leap for most of this Council.

Meed Ward believes in dialogue, the exchange of views, along with new and credible information from the public are what’s needed at the early stages of a conversation.

Meed Ward appears to be suggesting that there be public dialogue before a detailed Staff Report or a motion is put forward so that people can make their views known, and then a Staff report could be prepared and out of that a motion fashioned.  She seems to be looking for a situation akin to developments where a planner floats an idea to get initial public reaction and then uses that reaction to fine tune the project.

Right now there is a motion that someone has to put forward.  That motion can get amended and an amendment can be made to the amendment, which makes for confusion and at times is rather amusing to watch as Council members get lost in the words they created.

Meed Ward looks for situations where there is a common vision or at least as close to a common vision as a group can get. 

To be watched for from Meed Ward is her thinking on economic development and what the city administration is going to suggest the city is going to get out of in terms of the services they currently deliver.

Progress on the IKEA plans to move their operations from Aldershot to the North Service Road are vital to the city’s tax revenue; this project has seen delay after delay – it might yet put some significant strain on the tax rate going into an election year.

There are some hard truths to be faced by city council on the tax front – we are not pulling what we need from the industrial, commercial sector and if the IKEA deal does not close the way we need it to close – we do have a problem.  Taxes will get risen at some level.

The public goes to the polls next October.  In January current members of Council will begin to announce their intentions; Councillor Taylor has already done so publicly, Meed Ward and the Mayor have made it known they intend to run again. Councillor Craven has muttered that he “might” give running for the office of Mayor a shot. By the end of January they will all, except for Councillor Dennison, be in election mode.  Dennison traditionally announces in June and should not be expected to announce until his OMB appeal scheduled for May, has been heard.

Then look for some imaginative photo ops.  Around March some new names might begin to appear and we will see some new regulars attending council meetings with their loose leaf binders in their laps.

Wards 4, 5 and 6 will be hotly contested and there will be a number of acclamations.

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17 comments to How does a municipal politician survive emotionally when she loses votes on motions she puts forward 6-1 time after time?

  • Gary Scobie, I believe your experience is shared by most citizens (even the outdated and unfamiliar name, “delegation”, seems unfortunate).

    As a veteran of the process, how would you suggested fixing it? I ask that genuinely, not sarcastically!!

    Identifying the problem is one thing, but finding a workable solution to improve the situation can be pretty tough.

    Perhaps, it needs to start with that process (e.g. why even speak at Council, if more time and the real dialogue is at the Committee level?), and looking at technology (e.g. so being there in person at any level is not the only requirement).

    Would like to see your thoughts and ideas – as well as Pepper Parr considering this engagement issue for a future article.

    • parrking

      At the risk of sounding like a “tout” for Meed Ward I would ask people to re-read her comments. She appears to want more discussion between the public, city hall staff, the agencies and council members about issues before anyone puts a motion on the table. A motion is basically a decision which gets discussed before there has been real input from the people who are going t be impacted by the decision.

      Were I Meed Ward I would campaign on the need for change in the process and once re-elected begin the process of holding public meetings in each ward to hear what the public has to say.

    • Gary Scobie

      Brian Heagle, I would refer you to Parrking’s very good comments and Councillor Meed Ward’s points. If something contentious and of city-wide interest is to be decided (like the beach residential community/parkland or selling off public lakefront property to private interests), then before any discussion and motion whatsoever arises from staff, committee or council, city-wide meetings should be held where anyone can speak in front of their peers and debate among themselves the merits/problems of the issue in open forums. On-line opinions should also be shared with everyone. On-line surveys could also be used. Then the staff and the politicians would have a good sense of public feeling before they even begin their discussions.

      Referendums are also useful once the formal recommendations have been made. Advanced countries like Switzerland use them often for truly democratic decision-making. I don’t know exactly how all of this would be set up, but I’m just an amateur. I’ll leave it to the professionals to figure that out. But then again, that may be like asking the Senate to reform itself – an oxy-moron if there ever was one. We had a public engagement committee – did anything they recommended ever come to pass? Might be better to give the politicians no more power on deciding the “how” than ordinary citizens would have. Many politicians have a vested interest in keeping things as they are and avoiding public discussion so they can make decisions for us without ever having to actually ask us how we feel (other that our 5 minutes of course).

      • Gary, many thanks for the thoughtful and comprehensive response.

        I also wonder why Council or standing committees (which comprise Council anyway), in whole and not in part, don’t get up and go to our neighbourhoods to dialogue early about bigger/broader issues (beyond just the ‘budget tour’, which seems to work pretty well) – especially in the most affected areas. The cost would likely be worth the effort for better decision-making.

        It’s helpful but not enough that each Councillor has separate drop-in sessions (e.g. my Ward 4 Councillor Jack Dennison requires people to travel to attend his personal business, which is central in the Ward, but not near residences or within walking distances).

        On occasion, it’s important to put the ‘show on the road’, and get in front of your audience.

        Not everyone can make it downtown to City Hall, especially when key meetings are held during business hours for uncertain time frames.

        I doubt there’s a perfect solution – but, as you intimated, there are better ways out there to consider, and at least try.

  • Gary Scobie

    I have delegated numerous times since spring for the Burlington Waterfront Committee at Council, Council Committees, Conservation Halton, the Region and Regional Committees. I can tell you that it often seems a pointless experience. You feel you are speaking to the already-convinced and to the un-convincible. No matter what facts you bring or new information, the council or board are not allowed to discuss or debate your info, just to get clarification. You as a delegate are not allowed to discuss or debate either. You are given your 5 or 10 minutes to present, then if there are no questions (the usual case I have found), you are thanked and dismissed, to go and join the audience and watch the debate between your betters.

    It is as if the children are allowed to watch the adults discuss and debate, but will be shushed if they dare make a sound. You spend a good amount of time and effort preparing a short address (hopefully with some valid points) and most often are politely told to sit down and shut up. It is quite demeaning to not be allowed as citizens to take part in meaningful discussion. If this is the best that representative democracy has to offer at the municipal level, then something needs to change. If Councillor Meed Ward is supporting some type of change to openness, transparency, information sharing and discussion, then I am all for it. The present system is broken and is citizen-unfriendly.

  • Ward Fiver

    I agree the councillors are worth more than they are currently paid, especially since they have to do double duty and sit on Halton council. You will only get quality candidates if you pay appropriately. That being said, I am happy not having to fork over more tax dollars.

    I have had many interactions with Marianne and can attest to her hard work and due diligence. If I send her an email I will always receive a timely response. My councillor doesn’t even bother responding, or if I do get a response it is from his assistant.

    As for ward 5, I agree with Roger and think James Smith would be an excellent choice. Lets hope he reads this and decides to run.

  • Laura durrant

    I bet if Marianne was not so beautiful, intelligent and honest … She would not be given such a hard time!

    • Concerned about Burlington

      guess that’s why they don’t give Blair Lancaster a hard time – never has anything intelligent to say.

  • Laura durrant

    Marianne is probably the only councillor that doesn’t hide behind the political BS! She is FOR the people!!! She listens, asks questions and is NOT afraid to speak up and take a risk for her ( and other) wards! She is honest and wants the right and fare thing for All the people if Burlington! I seriously question others as to WHY they became members of council!
    Burlington NEEDS A mayor that listens and takes initiative! Burlington NEEDS Marianne!
    Pepper, please write an article on what exactly Craven has or hasn’t done for us, I am curious to see just how deep his pockets are and what exactly he gets out of destroying people’s lives!!!
    If Craven becomes Mayor he will destroy Burlington!!

    • True Colours

      Yes – I agree! Please write an article on Craven! Burlingtonians are really seeing his true colours. He’s dreaming in colour if he thinks Burlington will vote him in as Mayor. We’d rather have Goldring who sits on the fence (even though that’s pathetic) than Craven who has the personality of fence boards and the (edited) XXXXXX XX X XXXXX XXX. Open the cat trap – let him out and don’t let him back in.

  • In Your Face

    How can anybody criticize Marianne Meed Ward for what appear to be continued and almost desperate attempts by her, in isolation, at simply wanting this council to be transparent?

    A closed governance meeting with only the city clerk? To be reprimanded? Why? Because she speaks openly? To conduct secret meetings, they must be scared of her, and they should be.

    Marianne Meed Ward must be allowed to continue with her role as councillor as she sees fit, and ignore the imposed feeling of having to need to meet one on one with the other council members to pretend to fall in line with their stubborn attachments to the status quo methods of doing business in this city; not in her blood.

    She brings refreshing and vibrant talent to the tight circle of stagnant management in this city.

    It is very troubling to hear that an independent council member is being constantly suppressed by the other members of council.

    However, these can also be interpreted as obvious signs that the current members are in rougher waters than usual and unable to figure out how to quietly continue with the old fashioned ways of management; time for change, and Marianne is the person to lead the renewal.

  • Mr. X

    Meed Ward has the talent to be an effective Mayor of this City. She should not worry too much about criticism and resistance from staff, at this point in time, and especially when dealing with development issues, because this city has very little experience, and virtually no experience in dealing with Section 37 of the Planning Act; Meed Ward kind of gets it, and wants to get it, but, she needs to gain a higher degree of confidence with people who know about these types of things, and then she will be fine, and the city planning staff will be motivated to pursue the benefits, or, seek work elsewhere.

    With a little bit of education from people who know how development deals can work to the benefit of the city, and how economic development can actually be implemented, this Meed Ward will be unstoppable.

    Her problem right now is she is trying to function within a dysfunctional management entity; another reason for term limits for guys like Taylor who are quickly becoming obsolete; he has no real experience to manage effectively on big issues any longer. Whereas Craven has been getting on the job training through all the developments in Aldershot; this guy together with Meed Ward would make for a potent alliance, if they could just get along.

    This city is entering a maturing phase in its history which will require more experienced representation; experience imported from other municipalities, and from people who actually have been involved in a wide array of development activity. The current city manager Fielding has some of that experience, how competent is to be seen, but, council needs to carry more sophistication to really get things done.

    Recorded votes should continue, because that can be used by voters as a good guide as to which way to vote. Recorded votes also provide a nice summary of what actually takes place in the governing circles and what issues are current. Recorded votes also keeps councillors honest.

    Transparency is key to good and trusted governance.

    Meed Ward is showing incredible endurance with her 6-1 stance; atypical of the older generation of obsolete politicians.

  • Dave Thompson

    Well she is one of the only Councillors who stand up for residents and dont just tow the corporate line or make decisions based purely to get votes (Sharman and new park space where there is an over abundance).
    My prediction:
    W1 – Craven (unfortunately no high profile opponent)
    W2 – Meed Ward
    W3 – Taylor (Dean of the College and not ready to go)
    W5 – See ya Sharman
    W6 – Bu bye Blair (performance has not been stellar and needs an ego check).
    Mayor – lets hope someone credible challenges Goldring since hes out of his depth.

    • Roger

      Blair has been a failure as a councillor – to often showing she is not either qualified or committed – a seat filler at best.

      Sharman will win in Ward 5 unless a credible opponent comes forward – I suggest James Smith

      Councillor Ward needs 1 more election then Madame Mayor

  • Joan Gallagher-bell

    Perhaps this could be “Strong Person with Honest Dedication”. Perhaps “bully councillors’ could listen more in order to learn even in their advanced years. More transparency, openness and thinking outside of the box is refreshing.
    Previously In years past Burlington had a Super Mayor……Mayor Mary Monroe…….she gave us much good.
    Now is the time for all residents to think of the direction Burlington needs to progress in the future before the election.
    My disappointment is that in 2013 there is people exhibiting bad behaviour to ‘fellow’ colleagues. Is this prekindergarten behaviour?

    • Helene Skinner

      You are refreshing and exactly what this City and it’s stale political style needs. Stay strong and like the old saying – don’t let the bastards get you down. Keep challenging them line by line! You took on this role to create change and shake things up and that’s exactly what you are achieving! You are providing transparency – and that my friend is what your colleagues don’t like.

      Rick Craven MUST NOT become our mayor – that would be a disaster for this City. In fact, he must no longer be part of council. We need a fresh approach in that seat – not a political preacher.