Local lawyer and former city council candidate suggests the size of city council should be changed.

News 100 yellowBy Staff

November 17th, 2016



The pressure is building.

Hamilton Spectator Joan Little did a column on the size of city council which the Gazette reproduced. We then got a note from Brian Heagle who directed us to his words of wisdom. Heagle thinks the current size of council is out of whack with what the city needs.

Let us pass along to you what Heagle, a past candidate for public office, had to say.  The content has been edited for length – a link to the full and the three second poll is at the end of this article.

Heagle starts his comments with a picture of the 1988-1991 council – pointing out that Jack Taylor was a member of council that far back, and asks: “Did you count the number of people around that table?


Not a computer screen in site – those were the days when members of council would look at you and not be reading their cell phones

At that time there were seventeen (17) people for a population of less than 130,000 in 1991.

There are only seven (7) members of council now – for a population in excess of 175,000.

Oakville has 13 members of council with a population of 180,000.

Milton has a nine member council for a population of more than 100,000

Halton Hills has 11 members of Council for a population of 60,000.

Heagle in group with Boich looking on

Brian Heagle when he was a Liberal.

The decrease in Council’s size was a well-intentioned move in the right direction but the pendulum swung too far.  A telling example is how weary and wary our Mayor and Councillors appear at Council meetings. Who can blame them?

In fairness, who could properly get through all of the reading materials thrown at them (whether paper or electronic), investigate all of the truly important matters (after filtering through the truly less important ones), and genuinely listen to their constituents (as a reminder, improved civic engagement was the rallying cry when this Council was first elected in 2010)?

No wonder Council members often have their heads down, relying heavily on staff reports (is it an unwillingness to challenge them, or lack of preparation?) and rarely looking or standing up to offer strikingly innovative or breakthrough ideas.

Risk-takers? Not this group.

I wrote last year about how this Council is seemingly “stuck in neutral”, and nothing much has changed since then – their long-overdue Strategic Plan eventually passed in April, sadly in line with Council’s previously limp and lengthy versions.

Visionary and bold do not describe this Council. Caretaking seems more appropriate.

To be clear, Council’s work is not easy or straightforward, nor is it restricted to Council chambers.

There’s also the incredible time and energy drains of dealing with cats getting caught in trees, ribbons getting cut, photos getting taken, calls getting made, emails getting returned and getting to countless meetings and events.

Not to mention constant public pressure, as Council goes about their work.

Heagle hands out speaking

Getting the word out – Brian Heagle in action.

Having said that, though, there’s really not much in the way of public scrutiny. Local media is virtually non-existent in Burlington, (We take exception to that comment Mr. Heagle) and it infrequently provides actual in-depth news reporting or analysis anyway.

It’s exhausting merely to try to visualize Council’s unrelenting work schedule, and the personal sacrifices involved, especially for a completely undersized team with an overwhelming to-do list.

Despite Council’s best efforts, have you noticed that public discontent keeps bubbling to the surface lately, replacing our usual general disengagement or disinterest with local matters? And we’re not talking about the Pier anymore.

Citizens seem increasingly frustrated with and anxious about Council – with big and small tipping points.

Unwarranted road diets, the shadow cast by the unrelenting threat and pace of new high rises by the waterfront, the City terminating the core group of seniors volunteering at the Seniors Centre, the City’s short-sighted selling of public waterfront lands to private interests, and more.

It’s no surprise that one natural conclusion and overriding factor can explain, in large part, why this Council gets such unfavorable or unenthusiastic reviews, and why it has seemingly been so unproductive and uninspiring despite 6 long years together.  It’s been 25 years in the making. Council fatigue has firmly set in.


Fuzzy picture – but there is no mistaking Brian Heagle pictured with local Conservative party activists – this was during that period of time when Heagle had his eye on a seat at Queen’s Park

Why expect any Council to excel when they’re always faced with too little time and far too many demands? We’re talking about burnout.

Increasing the size of Council is inevitable, and would represent an important step and signal to re-energize Council as part of a long-overdue governance review – Council isn’t leading by example about a Code of Conduct, which doesn’t exist for them, but does for City Staff).

With a larger group, there’s real opportunity to elect a more dynamic, inclusive and representative group for an evolving Burlington – hopefully, more diverse backgrounds and more progressive thinking will be brought to the table as a result.

It’s time to cleanse the stale air of a tired “small club” environment, and breath new life into a modern Council to help it build an even greater community for the longer term.

To create a healthier culture, you need to get at the root of the problem, not merely trim around the edges.

A change to the size of Council would be at the centre of structural changes that will make a difference.

Longer term thinking has city hall being replaced but for the immediate future improving the sound system in Council chamber - FINALLY! and improving some of the meetings rooms is where capital dollars will be spent this year.

Is it time for a change in the size of city council?

Drawing new lines for Wards is a related burning issue too.

The new Strategic Plan trumpets “GROW BOLD”, as Council seeks to lead Burlington into the future. Will this Council itself “GROW BOLD”, and be wise enough, to pursue increasing its size before the 2018 election?

Seven is definitely not the right number. Not anymore. It doesn’t work well in 2016 – and won’t for the next 25 years.

The three second poll Heagle posted is at – https://brianheagle.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/size-matters-in-burlington/


getting new - yellowJoan Little column from the Hamilton Spectator

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2 comments to Local lawyer and former city council candidate suggests the size of city council should be changed.

  • Gary Scobie

    I like this article and could support the concept. So Mr. Heagle, how do we move this forward when there is no intent on council to proceed?

  • Stephen White

    This is the best summary and analysis I have read on Burlington Council in some time. Very thoughtful and incisive. As I mentioned in a comment a few weeks ago….it is a pity Brian Heagle didn’t run for the Conservative provincial nomination. It would be refreshing to have someone to vote for who combines depth, insights and gravitas.

    As for the Council, describing them as “stuck in neutral” would be kind. Mired in indecision would be a better description. I like Oakville’s structure much better with a division between Regional and Local Councillors. I also think it is time to seriously consider term limits. Two terms and then you are out. Having politicians hanging around for 20 years isn’t a badge of honour so much as an indication that our political system is moribund.