Joan and the Mayor: Columnist taken to task

background graphic redBy Pepper Parr

July 15th, 2021



It is difficult at times to follow an argument when both sides are not in front of you.

This morning the Hamilton Spectator published a piece written by Mayor Mead Ward who takes Joan Little, a Spectator columnist, to task.

We have published both the Little column and the response from Meed Ward.

Joan Little column of July 7th in the Hamilton Spectator:

Tough council decisions exposing rifts in unity

When writing my last column, I got a rude awakening about how some things are done today in Burlington. I had questions about a city report on the Regional Official plan, so e-mailed a senior planning person to check that my understanding was accurate. The reply came from a name I didn’t recognize. Too late I realized it had been filtered through the communications dept – read PR people!

Because I watch committee and council meetings, I seldom request additional help about issues. This reply was filtered through PR people, an insult to highly capable specialists in their field. Citizens would thank communications staff if they improved the city’s dreadful web site, which offers several hundred (mostly irrelevant) results for any search.

The Adi development on Lakeshore is underway, a constant intrusion on neighbours’ lives.

Disclosure – I live nearby. The worst problem is that the Ford Government has overridden reasonable hours of work bylaws. Burlington’s, like many, is 7:00 am to 7:00 pm. Ford’s is 6:00 am to 10:00 pm, seven days a week. Ironically many other businesses faced restrictions.

Adi simply wants too much development on a tiny lot. City staff refused it, as did council, but OMB chair Susan Schiller (now a full-time vice-chair of the new Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) approved it. Note – New legislation rolled five tribunals into one super-tribunal – the OLT. It handles land use, environment, conservation review (heritage), expropriation, mining, etc.

Because Adi wants 26 storeys on such a small lot, they’ve had to excavate seven floors to meet minimum parking standards – probably deeper for elevator shafts. This, within a couple of hundred meters of the lake. The site ponded regularly. They hit bedrock early, so have jack-hammered for months, from 6:00 am. And this small deep hole magnifies sound, like an echo chamber.

It there any chance that months of daily jack-hammering could weaken foundations of nearby buildings? Do cities ever do stress tests to ensure neighbouring buildings aren’t compromised by development activities?

Recently Coun. Lisa Kearns had hosted a virtual meeting with Adi to answer questions. There were few answers. A subsequent Adi communique made excuses about a “complex” project.

Surely they knew the deep parking garage (deepest in the city) required a larger excavator? That simultaneous activities could create problems? They did however provide a number to call when problems arose (905) 335-2929. With affected neighbours on all sides, calls could be numerous.

Council faces a tough 2022 budget that projects the city portion of total taxes (city, region and education) could rise 5.57 per cent, with an overall increase of 3.33 per cent.

The last council meeting exposed chinks in Mayor Marianne Meed Ward’s grip on council.

When this council was sworn in almost three years ago, only the mayor and Paul Sharman had experience. Five were new, and tended to “follow the leader”. Now they think for themselves.

The issue was Rainbow crosswalks. Burlington installed its first one last year for about $10,000, with consensus that the program would continue. Recently the mayor presented a motion to install six (three this year) and directed staff to address options on rainbow benches and banners.

Councillors Kearns, Sharman and Shawna Stolte supported one a year, because the mayor’s motion meant using unbudgeted dollars from reserve funds this year, and future capital budgets.

Meed Ward’s motion carried four to three. Then she issued a statement thanking the three who supported her, perhaps leaving the impression the other three did not support Pride.

In response the three dissenters took the unusual step of issuing their own statement, outlining costs associated with the mayor’s position. They claimed it would cost taxpayers up to $50,000 this year, and upwards of $100,000 plus, in unplanned future funding. Our mayor is capable, but my observation is that when she wants something, budgetary caution suffers.

It will be interesting to watch council as we approach 2022’s municipal election. Will the chinks become large chasms?

Freelance columnist Joan Little is a former Burlington alderperson and Halton councillor. Reach
her at


Meed Ward opinion piece in the July 15th, Hamilton Spectator:


Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward

Thank you to columnist Joan Little for her recent roundup of Burlington issues, particularly the recent 4-3 vote on funding additional rainbow crosswalks to show our city’s support for our 2SLGBTQIA-plus community.

There are several factual errors in the column that must be corrected, especially on such an important topic. I recognize these errors come from a statement on social media by several council members, which also contained inaccuracies. Accurate information can be found in the minutes or recording of meetings, all available online. (See June 8 minutes, item 5.5)

I brought a motion at committee to add three additional rainbow crosswalks in 2021, using the appropriate reserve fund, with consideration for three additional crosswalks to be discussed and funded during the 2022 budget discussions. Those discussions are still to come, and council will determine the source of funding at that time. The cost to date is an upset limit of $50,000 (not $100,000, as noted in the column).

Six crosswalks would provide one per ward throughout the city, something we heard was important from several councillors and the community. Doing multiple crosswalks now provides the potential for bulk savings on paint and contracted services.

It’s been said a council’s priorities are found not so much in the words of their strategic plan, but in the actions of their budget. We fund what we value.

The motion also provided consideration for rainbow benches and banners, with a report back from staff on cost and feasibility. That motion carried 5-2 at committee and 4-3 at council.

Only one alternative motion was presented at committee and supported by three council members.

The column stated councillors supported one rainbow crosswalk “per year” — that is incorrect. Per the minutes of the meeting, the actual motion tabled was for one additional crosswalk in 2021, and removing consideration for three additional crosswalks during upcoming budget discussions. If approved, that would have limited additional crosswalks to one and done. That motion failed 4-3.

I thanked those who supported the original motion. The three councillors who voted against it issued a statement explaining their vote, which is welcome. In the interest of transparency and accountability councillors are encouraged to explain to residents how they voted and why, whether in the majority or minority. I have regularly done so myself in my monthly newsletter, as both a councillor and now as mayor, including the vote count.

The characterization (and headline) that the 4-3 vote on this matter “exposed chinks” in the mayor’s “grip” on council, does a disservice to every member of Burlington council.

All members of council are fully capable, independent thinkers who have made decisions from the start of their terms based on the evidence presented, the merits of discussions and what they believe is best for their constituents. These decisions are done regardless of who puts the motion on the floor. Please respect that — and them.

I’m immensely proud of the careful thought and compassion they bring to each discussion. During this term, we have had 7-0, 6-1, 5-2 and 4-3 votes. That’s as it should be. I can’t imagine any council anywhere in the world that has unanimously passed every motion brought forward to them, nor is a 4-3 vote to be avoided. We welcome different viewpoints. When we disagree, we aim to do so respectfully.

On July 8, at committee, councillors unanimously supported a motion I brought forward to embark on renaming Ryerson Park, out of respect for Indigenous residents and as part of our path to reconciliation.

If reported on (and I hope it is), I hope this unanimous vote won’t be characterized as the mayor now regaining a “grip” on council.

Rather I hope coverage would focus on the importance of renaming the park as part of our commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, and the unanimous vote as reflective of the deep commitment of every member of council to reconciliation and action.

I hope these clarifications are helpful to your readers’ understanding of what took place.

Marianne Meed Ward is mayor of Burlington.

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11 comments to Joan and the Mayor: Columnist taken to task

  • James

    Damage control. Acknowledgement of guilt often presents itself in the form of lengthy yet unconvincing explanations.

  • Blair Smith

    With all due respect, I think that the Mayor has missed the point. The issue is not the numbers nor even the motion itself. The issue is that the Mayor sent out a tweet that was, in context, rather churlish and that carried an inaccurate and inappropriate insinuation against the three Councillors who voted against. Does the Mayor tweet out thanks every time there is a successful motion. Hardly. In my opinion, she should have simply apologized for her awkward communication and let the matter rest. It is telling that she seems unable to do so.

    • David Barker

      There was no written insinuation in her tweet. You have read in an insinuation because it suits your view of the Mayor. I challenge you to point out any words that insinuate anything about any of the councilors who voted against her motion.

      The Mayor simply thanked those that supported her. No mention was made of those that did not.

      • Blair Smith

        When you explicitly thank, by name, a particular section of a larger cadre for supporting you in making the City more inclusive, it infers that those that did not support you also do not support such inclusion. The omission of their names was as blatant as the fact that such a highly atypical tweet of gratitude was considered to be necessary in the first place. Hence the need for those three Councillors to issue their own statement of clarification. You sir, can not see the inference because that suits your particular view of the Mayor. Let’s leave it at that. People can make up their own minds and either agree with you or with me. I consider your challenge met.

      • Lynn Crosby

        “No mention was made of those that did not.” That, in a nutshell, is the problem. When the initial tweet was posted, it was quickly responded to with comments such as “how could this not be a 7-0 vote? I’m extremely disappointed we have councillors against this.” “I am going to be calling all three councillors who voted against rainbow crosswalks and inclusivity and give them a piece of my mind.” “I can’t imagine Lisa Kearns would be against this, she’s in favour of inclusivity usually.” Etc.

        At that point, one would have hoped to see either the original tweet deleted, revised, or replies to those comments made which would explain, in short-twitter-speak, the whole story. None of that happened. By the end of the day, hours later, after the three councillors (who were not against rainbow crossings or inclusivity) also received their share of comments/calls directed to them, they took the unprecedented step of issuing a statement of their own.

        It also would have been preferable if this final statement in the Spectator would at least include an acknowledgement of what ensued for the three councillors from the initial tweet, which was misinterpreted by many, and perhaps take some ownership of at the very least “awkward wording.” You support, I believe, Councillor Kearns, Stolte and Sharman as well as the Mayor. You don’t have to “be on the side” of one or the other to have opinions on any of their actions as they occur, sometimes in support, and sometimes not.

    • Howard

      Well said Blair !

  • Penny Hersh

    Seems that this article touched a nerve for our Mayor.

    Why did the mayor feel that she had to take Joan Little to task?

    There are often challenges to motions presented at council – why the need to explain this?

    This would not have been necessary if these councillors did not feel there could be “a chink”in the Council, or perhaps there has been negative feedback from residents on how the mayor handled the issue?

    • david barker

      The councilors did not feel there could be a chink. The Mayor expressed her position clearly. Joan Little expressed that view as did the Gazette in its “Council members all a twitter over the tweets – the Red Queen is under fire” article.

      The Mayor is simply correcting misinformation put out there.

  • Jim Barnett

    A kind of silly back and forth. More important is the thought of using reserve funds for the crosswalks. I suspect that few of the citizens of Burlington would support using reserves for this purpose and it was the mayor who introduced this in her motion.

  • Hans Jacobs

    What MMW wrote works fine for me. I have great respect for Joan Little as well.