Legitimate and serious concerns are ignored or skilfully deflected with practised “spin” by the current city council

By Blair Smith

January 7th, 2023



I freely admit that problems of transparency and meaningful engagement exist at all levels of the political spectrum and with each political party. However, I think that the case in Burlington provides a particularly disappointing example. First, at the municipal level the citizen’s voice is intended to be most clearly heard.

Marianne Meed Ward at the podium during a city council meeting on April 24th, 2013.

It is the level of government closest to the people and in which local voice is intended to be strongest. There are no political parties (at least formally) and there are no powerless ‘back benchers’, Cabinet and whipped Caucus. There is a Council, duly elected, and a Mayor, first amongst equals and the bell weather of the administration.

Secondly, our current Mayor and much of Council became such on a wave of populist dissatisfaction with a bureaucratic and deaf City Hall. She (and they) promised not only transparency in what the administration did but true empowerment of the citizen in an engaged partnership.

Gary Scobie at the podium on December 5th, 2019. Scobie took a hiatus but did delegate in the middle of September on a development in his neighbourhood.

Not only has this not occurred, but the situation has arguably worsened. Legitimate and serious concerns are ignored or skilfully deflected with practised “spin”; citizen activists, like Tom Muir, the Marsdens or Penny Hersh, are collectively targeted as nuisances and shut off, their voices silenced.

This Council has a duty to hear and represent all Burlington citizens. They have no right, ethical or otherwise, to selectively choose.

These are only my opinions of course – but they are made in a comments section where observations based on fact are posted for contrary opinions to consider and challenge.

Blair Smith and Lynne Crosby delegating before council. The facial expressions tell how well that event went.

Blair Smith a long time resident of Burlington has delegated frequently. He was involved in the 2018 campaign to elect Marianne Meed Ward as Mayor.

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9 comments to Legitimate and serious concerns are ignored or skilfully deflected with practised “spin” by the current city council

  • Penny Hersh

    Mary, my decision not to file a complaint to the Integrity Commission has nothing to do with as you say ” If you cannot be bothered to follow the required course of action to seek remedy, please stop with the complaining.”

    I have to question if you have seen the reports from the Integrity Commission that came out just recently from councillors/residents who filed a complaint. We have seen one councillor raked over the coals and one who was “forgiven”. A resident who dared to question the actions by another councillor be treated like a pariah.

    I have no confidence that a complaint to the Integrity Commission would make any difference.

    Perhaps if the issue of ignoring residents who question councillor actions were handled internally there could be change.

    • Mary Hill

      Very Trumpian of you. If you don’t like the results or the results don’t match your point if view, you’re saying there must be something wrong with the process?

      Stolte’s breach was deliberate and she was unapologetic. Kearns was accidental and she immediately admitted her guilt and apologised. Galbraith was never in a conflict position because none of the matters where he would have a conflict had yet come before council. Three completely different situations.

      None of the content of the conversations, emails, texts between Muir and Galbriath or between Hersh and Kearns have been made public. So how can anyone pass judgement one way or another.

      Ms Hersh, maybe you’d like to publish go fully public.

      If such investigation was to be handled internally and not by an impartial outside third party and you did not like the result you would likely shout out “cover up”.

  • Lynn Crosby

    Fully agree with Blair and Stephen here. The crux of the matter is: we were promised transparency, we don’t believe we have it. It isn’t acceptable for a councillor to tell a constituent that henceforth all communication from his office will stop. I too have seen what Stephen describes with the stark difference in council member reaction to delegates if they are developers vs. residents, or if the message is one to which they already agree, or not.

    I don’t know why anyone would bother delegating anymore. It isn’t just that it is a waste of our time, it’s worse than that. It is enabling the continuation of what in my opinion is a charade: that our opinions are respected and wanted, that the city wants to hear from us and have a proper, two-way dialogue, and consider the expertise and good ideas that many may bring. That is what engagement is. Mary/David, you may think they do, but many many of us have watched or felt first hand that we don’t get that. Must we spend our time praising them all over the media in order to get the feeling that they’re listening? Sorry, not playing that game.

    I suggest everyone read this recent article from the Bay Observer (see link) and think about what sort of city council you think we deserve. IMO, this isn’t transparency, this isn’t fiscal prudence, and it smells really really bad. And now it’s budget time. Watch carefully, Burlington. https://bayobserver.ca/opinion-public-kept-in-dark-about-magnitude-of-bateman-project/

  • Mary Hill

    Mr. White. Many through the Gazette have aired disappointment with each of our present and immediately former MPPs. Disappointment that they do not stand up for Burlington and against the Premier (their party boss). That is the problem with political parties. You you are a member of a political party and get elected under that banner, you are bought and sold. At least with municipal councilors they are independent, free thinking and not beholden.

    I certainly agree that councilors are there to represent each and every resident in their ward. But that does not translate into any of them being required to put up with abuse, rudeness, harrassment, or any form of anti social behaviour.

    I have witnessed such unacceptable behaviour from at least one frequent contributor to the Gazette’s comment section and can imagine the same sort of behaviour from another.

    Mrs Hersh, you will have noted the Mayor was very clear with Mr Muir in that the Mayor has no authority over other council members in how they interact with constituents. Recourse if sought is to be via the integrity Commissioner. If you cannot be bothered to follow the required course of action to seek remedy, please stop with the complaining.

    One thing we all must bear in mind is that whilst the Councilor has a duty to listen to a resident on a matter of policy or an opinion on a developer’s application it does not mean they have to take it on board and support it. Why is that? Well let’s say you and I each make a representation to our councilor on the same matter but with diametrically opposed positions. Should the Councilor support you or me. The answer is neither. The Councilor should listen to all constituents and make their own decision based upon their conscience.

    So Mr. Scobie, unless your position totally aligns with that of the City, your position is unlikely to be presented.

    • Gary Scobie

      Ms. Hill, referring to your last sentence I completely concur. If the City and Region both do not believe that the safety of the driving public is an issue that aligns with their duty of care, then I don’t expect them to present any argument. However I don’t believe that they have that option to opt out on this. That is one of the reasons why they are in office. It will be Regional Police who respond to the accidents. The same duty of care applies to the OLT, an agent of the Provincial Government. Do not put people in harms way.

      This is really a test for all of them. How they perform will be judged by citizens everywhere in Ontario and will set a precedent. We will await their judgement.

  • Gary Scobie

    I am in total agreement with the points made in this article by my friend and colleague, Blair. Having citizens targeted as nuisances to be denied a hearing by certain members of Council is certainly anti-democratic and unethical. I have not been labelled as such, but that may be because I needed a break from trying to stop the over-development through high-rise condos in the downtown and failing to make a difference at the end of 2019. Covid-19 didn’t help as well. So I took a hiatus from delegating, but I did not withdraw from delegating as the picture and caption imply (I imagine mistakenly inserted by the editor rather than Blair).

    I just want Gazette readers to know that I was back in chambers on September 13, 2022 delegating for the first time nearly three years against an application in my own Ward and neighbourhood to build an eleven storey condo on a small wedge of land at 1396 Guelph Line, very close to the signalized intersection at Palmer Drive. My focus was on the danger for collisions with the developer’s recommendation for residents to do U-turns at Palmer and Upper Middle Road in order to make use of Guelph Line. Left turns in and out of the condo driveway were rightfully deemed too dangerous by the developer for residents but the solution was to create another dangerous problem instead of backing away from a building too high, too dense and with too many residents with cars that would need safe access to/from Guelph Line.

    Guelph Line is one of Burlington’s busiest Regional roads and its intersections are already sites of accidents. Recommending that residents do U-turns to go north on Guelph Line or U-turns to get home coming north on Guelph Line to turn back south to enter the condo driveway are recommendations that will lead to more accidents. My research was presented at the September 13th Statutory Meeting at City Hall, less than four months ago. So I have not withdrawn from delegating, only taken a long break.

    By the way, the decision is with the Ontario Land Tribunal and its first meeting is a virtual one less than two weeks away at 10 a.m. on Friday January 20th. I have done my work and presented it to the City and Region. I am not attending the OLT hearing meetings, but asked both Councils and their traffic experts to protect the driving public (current Guelph Line users and possible new residents if this building is approved) to make the case against it for public safety reasons. We citizens will learn the verdict sometime in 2023 and it will demonstrate whether public safety or developer wishes take precedent in Ontario.

    Editor’s note: We erred – Scobie did delegate, quite effectively – as usual.

  • Penny Hersh

    After reading the article dealing with Tom Muir being told by Kelvin Galbraith that he would no longer communicate with him, I indicated in a comment that the same thing had happened to me with my Ward 2 Councillor.

    My councillor did not send an email indicating this, she simply did not reply to emails sent. It was only after I re-sent the email and added Tim Commisso in the chain did I get a reply. A reply, I must add that was rude and inappropriate.

    I sent an email to our Mayor indicating what was happening and received a response asking if the purpose of the email was only to inform her of the situation. She also indicated that I had the option to lodge a complaint with the Integrity Commissioner.

    I emailed back and copied Mr. Commisso to say that the purpose of my email was to inform her that it was more than 1 councillor who had decided not to communicate with a ward resident and that I had no intention of using taxpayer dollars to deal with this issue.

    I suggested perhaps a workshop or a conversation with either herself or Mr. Commisso should be considered. Councillors perhaps need to be reminded that they are elected to serve ALL residents in a respectful manner.

  • Sadly Stephen, all of the councillors and the Mayor are evidenced as taking the same road as Councillor Galbraith has. Further, most have supported absolutely nonsensical accusations against those who stand at the lectern and ask for accountability, transparency or public engagement all seven are required to ensure occurs. We well remember Councillor Bentivegna who met Anne outside City Hall asking if Anne wanted to be known as “that woman” when addressng with him safety issues in Civic Square early 2019 (that still remain) that could easily precipitate falls. We hope residents will begin to understand, as you clearly do, that all is not well at City Hall and begin to support any effort directed at change. We love this city and have always been glad to come home to it after seeing many wonders of the world. We believe most who live here feel the same way we do.

  • Stephen White

    An insightful analysis Blair, as always!

    City of Burlington officials are accustomed to dealing with two types of delegations. The first are occasional representations made by residents who appear on a single issue on which they feel passionately. City officials listen perfunctorily, express thanks, tell the delegator that they’ll take his/her comments under advisement, and that’s it. The second are delegators appearing on behalf of organizations, usually developers, backed with legions of so-called experts. City officials listen with rapt attention and hang on every word.

    What the City increasingly seems incapable of dealing with are ardent, well-informed, knowledgeable individuals like Tom Muir, Anne Marsden, Greg Woodruff, Gary Scobie, Penny Hirsch, and yourself Blair, who, in many cases are better informed on particular issues than the so-called “subject matter experts” at City Hall. The City can’t deal with residents like Tom Muir, who are both tenacious and articulate. In an age when any public display of determination or passion is dismissed or derided as a “micro-aggression” instead of an honest, difference of opinion, public and elected officials regard it as a threat. One way of dealing with a challenge is to confront it openly. Another is to distance oneself. In the case of Councillor Galbraith he appears to have taken the latter approach.

    I used to think change would come in the form of electing different people to municipal public office. Sadly, this isn’t the case. The only way things will really change is the same way that change got made in Montreal and Vancouver; namely, through municipal political parties with clearly differentiated policy platforms and candidates who subscribe to common ideals. Perhaps that is the logical evolution of groups such as Engaged Citizens of Burlington.