If we don't know our history - we are bound to repeat it. Just look at our city council

backgrounder 100By Pepper Parr

December 21st, 2016



Momentous days get remembered.

Sometimes they are great memories – VE day – we had won the war – the boys were coming home.

Sometimes they are dark and painful – December 6th, 1989 in Montreal where a lone gunman killed 14 woman at the École Polytechnique and then turned his rifle on himself.

Those are dates that do not get forgotten. One has to fish around a little to come up with memorable dates in this city.

December 18th, 2014 reverberates in the memory of this reporter. It was the night we got to see just how dysfunctional the freshly re-elected city council was going to be. Metaphorically speaking, there was blood all over the city council floor.

The evening started out well enough. Unbeknownst to him, John Taylor was to be given an award for his more than 20 years of public service.


John Taylor. He is what he is – and he has served on city council for well over twenty years.

Taylor is not known for his sartorial style. His wife was in the room with her camera to capture this significant moment. There were smiles all-round the horseshoe.

The award given, the members of council settled into their seats. One of the early items on the agenda was determining which board’s council members would sit on – the library Board, the hospital board, the Downtown Business Association and the Economic Development Corporation were some of the seats that were to be filled. Council members each had their favourites: Meed Ward just loved serving on the Hospital Board – she felt their governance model was something the city could emulate.

At the beginning of each term of a new Council the members of Council decide who will represent the city on the various local boards and committees. The established process includes the completion of a form indicating individual council members’ interests in specific boards and committees. Based on each member’s input, the Mayor presents recommendations to the Community and Corporate Services Committee appointing Council members to local boards and committees.


Mayor Goldring went int the meeting with a list of recommendations and thought he had his council members on side. Little did he know.

The Mayor talked to each of the members of Council and asked them where they wanted to serve – they each told the Mayor what they would like and that was the list the Mayor was prepared to put forward.

That’s when the really nasty tone of the city council we have had since the 2014 election appeared.

Three of his Council members did not like what they saw in the report and actually conspired to ensure that Meed Ward was removed from every possible committee.

Councillors Sharman and Lancaster: both part of the Shape Burlington committee who seem to have forgotten what the report was all about - civic engagement

Councillor Sharman tends to advise Councillor Lancaster frequently.

Councillors Craven and Sharman appeared to lead what Councillor Taylor called “the gang of four”; Councillor Lancaster went along for the ride; and Councillor Dennison got confused and cast a vote that cost his long-time colleague John Taylor a position he had wanted.

There was a hint at the Community Services Committee earlier in the week that something hard was coming when the chair for the next year was selected. This is the committee that handles the budget and the work load was seen as a little taxing for Taylor. Meed Ward was elected as vice-chair and Taylor made chair. Meed Ward had expected to serve as chair.

That Thursday in December of 2014 was not the Mayor’s best day – his council trashed some of his key recommendations and there was nothing he could do to stop them.

There were three amendments to the report that took everything away from Meed Ward. A surprise and somewhat intemperate move by Councillor Taylor had him withdrawing as the representative for city council on the Conservation Halton board which allowed Meed Ward to then take that appointment. Councillor Taylor then withdrew from the Art Gallery Board as well.

As the Councillor for Ward 2, the downtown part of the city she was the obvious choice for the Downtown Business Association. Council put Lancaster on the BDBA instead

Craven remained on the Police Services Board

Sharman was on the Seniors Advisory Board and appeared to like serving there. He wanted the hospital board which Meed Ward held. Council put Sharman on the hospital board and moved Meed Ward into the Seniors Advisory board.

Taylor served on the Conservation Halton Board and felt it was time to increase the city’s representation and wanted Meed Ward to serve there with him

Councillor Craven fought very hard against that – he argued that the city didn’t need two representatives even though all the other city’s had two council members on the Conservation Halton Board.

Usually an easy man to get along with - but grumpy, grumpy, grumpy when treports are not ready for him to read and review. John Taylor does nothing on the fly - legal department is going to have to smooth his ruffled feathers.

John Taylor, the dean of city council, got badly beaten up by two of his fellow council members in December of 2014. Council has been dysfunctional ever since.

Taylor took a very principled stand and chose to step aside and let Meed Ward take that task.

Councillor Taylor later described his fellow council member as a “gang of four” who used a rude, crude plan to strip ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward of all the committee and Board responsibilities she liked and was pretty good at.

In his report to Council Mayor Goldring said: “I am confident that the unique interests and talents of members of council are reflected in the recommended slate of council representatives to Boards and Committees. These representatives will ensure effective communication between the local boards and committees and council over the next four years.

Would that it were so. It ain’t.

What does it all boil down to?

What became clear was that the city now had a council with some significant splits. Councillors Craven and Sharman take a hard conservative approach to almost everything. Lancaster tends to go along with them.

Taylor and Meed Ward tend to be open and liberal.

The Mayor is described as a “green” but spent the night that the last federal election results came in with Conservative candidate Mike Wallace watching his losing numbers come in.

Councillor Dennison tends to be very pro-business but tries to be open and stand up for the little guy but won’t give the Brant Museum or the Performing Arts Centre a dime.

Mayor Goldring had said he was happy with the Council he had prior to the 2014 election – and they were all re-elected. His Worship is clearly not fully aware as to just how dysfunctional his Council is – there is now a very clear divide between the Mayor, Councillors Taylor and Meed Ward and what Councillor Taylor called the “gang of four”; made up of Councillors Craven, Sharman, Dennison and Lancaster. They meant to cut Meed Ward down a peg or two and on the surface at the time it sure looked like they succeeded.

The seniors were expected to just love Meed Ward; they didn’t take to Councillor Sharman all that well. It will be interesting to see how Sharman fits into the hospital board – some ego clashes were expected over there.

Meed Ward H&S profile

Councillor Marianne Meed Ward got stripped of all the board seats she had held – Councillor Taylor’s principled stand did get her on the Conservation Halton Board

Getting Meed Ward onto Conservation was a surprise move on the part of Councillor Taylor. She had her work cut out for her.

Booting Meed Ward off the Downtown BIA put a dent in her ego – but it won’t make any difference to what happens at that Board: Meed Ward can and did participate fully.

Before 2015 was out Lancaster had closed her Spa and decided to leave the Downtown Business Association board.

Taylor’s intemperate decision to withdraw from the Art Gallery is unfortunate but he got himself back in.

There weren’t any winners that Thursday evening in 2014. What there is however is a very clear divide on city council that is not in the best interests of the city.

Two years later – and how has I worked out? We hear very little from Sharman on what the hospital is doing.

Lancaster is no longer on the Downtown Business Association board.

Taylor got himself back on to the Art Gallery Board.

Meed Ward appears to have failed the senior’s with the rather pathetic support she provided when the city parks and recreation department moved in and took over almost everything. The senior’s non-profit corporation didn’t even have a room they could meet in.

Burlington City Council Group

This Council has never functioned all that well as a team. Is it a leadership problem? Have two council members been there too long? Are some council members divisive by nature?

Are the seven people elected to lead the city two years ago going to be able to use the holiday season to reflect and find a way to work as a team to grow the city in the direction the citizens want it to grow?

Will city manager James Ridge manage to create a team out of this bunch

Don’t bet everything on it.

Former city manager Jeff Fielding came to the conclusion that they were hopeless and when he got an opportunity to head west and run things as city manager in Calgary he couldn’t leave fast enough.

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8 comments to If we don’t know our history – we are bound to repeat it. Just look at our city council

  • Gordon

    As the City’s representative voice for the seniors in our community MMW really isn’t delivering anything concrete and to many is a disappointment. I think we’ll respectfully agree to disagree and vote accordingly.

  • bonnie

    Gordon, are you aware that a mediator worked with the City and BSCI and that discussions were ongoing for over a year in a effort to reach common ground on several issues?

    As an active member and volunteer at the Seniors’ Center, I can assure you everything is fine and many plans are being made for moving ahead.

    Meed Ward is currently working on transit plans for our senior community, as well as other senior issues. She continues to be a strong advocate for our older population.

  • Gordon

    Bonnie, take a look at some of the related articles published by the Gazette (and reader comments) on how the Seniors’ Centre was thrown under the bus by the City with virtually no advance discussion. Meed Ward is the City representative on the Seniors Advisory committee. “She works hard for the seniors of Burlington”…really? There is a groundswell of solidarity within the seniors community (somewhat silent at this point) that will be represented at the ballot box in 2018.

  • Roger

    To me Councillor Sharman came in with the most promise and has been the biggest disappointment – he has truly become a politician.

    He started off with much promise however lost the Shape Burlington foundation he came to council with – he has done little for Ward 5 – unfinished projects – city debt climbing – more closed door meetings – initially support minimizing public engagement – city tax rates well above inflation

  • bonnie

    Gordon…I would like to know how you feel that MW has failed the seniors. I have the pleasure of working with her and know she works hard for the seniors of Burlington.

  • Gordon

    Meed Ward “appears” to have failed the seniors… a bit of an understatement. The demographics in Burlington are heavily skewed towards the seniors. You can be sure our votes will be cast accordingly in any role MMW might be seeking. Stay tuned for an organized lobby effort coming forward in this regard.

  • John

    It’s interesting that the authors opinions on council members and the mayor highlight the exact reason they function as a group.
    Their different perspective’s and personal styles brings out their passion and results in the best decisions for the city.
    Watched carefully, there are no victims or weak personalities that need direction when voicing an opinion or making a decision.

    I remember Dec 18 2014 for the well deserved award councilor Taylor received.

  • Stephen White

    First, Councillors are supposed to be adults. It is unfortunate that some have hurt feelings, bruised egos and hold grudges over previous slights but these things happened two years ago. Time to get over it, move on and put personal feelings and animosities aside.

    Second, it is not the role of the City Manager to create a sense of teamwork, esprit de corps or cooperation among Councillors. The City Manager is effectively the Chief Administrative Officer of the City responsible for overall administration and ensuring that Council’s decisions are enacted. Frankly, leading Council and imparting a sense of purpose and vision is the role of the Mayor. Some, such as Rob Burton in Oakville, clearly know how to do this.

    Third, factions exist in any office, work setting or environment. Some people bond more closely with others with whom they share similar interests and values. That is simply human nature. The test of effective management is whether people have the ability to transcend their immediate comfort level and reach out and connect with others with differing viewpoints and perspectives in the pursuit of a common goal.

    Here is the real problem with this Council. With the exception of Paul Sharman you have no one else with any substantive corporate business experience. Most Councillors are either small business people in sole proprietorships with little or no experience working or managing in large corporate structures, or else specialists. Running a spa or a fitness club is a whole different dynamic than managing in a large corporation with 1,500 employees, a multi-million dollar budget, complex infrastructure, and matrix management. The skills needed to achieve success are a lot different than being a financial planner.

    Hopefully, come the time of the next municipal election, several business professionals in this city will step forward as candidates. It would be refreshing to have some new blood on Council who not only have the capacity to interact professionally with one another, but also, can work together to achieve real consensus and leadership on critical issues.