Mayor faces a revolt from three City Councillors

By Pepper Parr

March 16, 2024



The Motion brought forward by Councillors Stolte,Nisan and Galbraith asks that:

Shawna Stole, left, joined Councillors Galbraith (center) and Nisan to curb the power in the Mayor’s hands. Ironic – Galbraith and Nisan joined forces in filing a compliant against Stolte with the Integrity Commissioner.

That Council request the Mayor to delegate to Council the powers and duties assigned to the head of council under Section 284.5 of the Municipal Act, with respect to the City Manager; and

That Council request the Mayor to delegate to the City Manager the powers and duties assigned to the head of council under Section 284.6 of the Municipal Act, with respect to:

  1. determining the organizational structure of the municipality; and
  2. hiring, dismissing, or exercising any other prescribed employment powers with respect to any division or the head of any other part of the organizational structure;

That Council request the Mayor to delegate to Council the powers and duties assigned to the head of council under Section 284.7 of the Municipal Act, with respect to prescribed local boards or local boards within a prescribed class of local boards; and

That Council request the Mayor to delegate to Council the powers and duties assigned to the head of council under Section 284.8 of the Municipal Act, with respect to prescribed committees or committees within a prescribed class of committees; and

That the Executive Director of Legal Services and Corporation Counsel for the City of Burlington be directed to consult with external legal counsel on the current state of any legal challenges to strong mayor power in Ontario and whether a legal challenge would have any chance of success.

The Mayor has been clear that she does not intend to use the Strong Mayor powers, stating in an interview that what municipalities actually need are “strong city powers,” adding that those can then be exercised by the majority of one’s council, building consensus. The motion solidifies this commitment, enshrining our commitment to local democracy and the principle of majority rule. The delegation of these powers is consistent with best practices for corporate boards, where majority rule exists.

The co-movers are bringing this motion now because a recent article in a local newspaper has noted that numerous municipalities have already delegated many of these powers

Marianne Meed Ward being sworn in during her first term of office.

Specifically, the delegation of the same powers that the co-movers are requesting be delegated has evidently already occurred in Aurora, Chatham-Kent, Guelph, Innisfil, Kingston, Oshawa, Richmond Hill, Sault Ste. Mari, Stouffville and Kitchener.
Strong mayor powers introduced by the Province through amendments to the Municipal Act are dysfunctional and antidemocratic for several reasons:

1. They provide powers to mayors not elected in 2022 to enact those powers.

2. They create a scenario of minority rule for budgets and certain legislation (bylaws), which is antithetical to the democratic principle of majority rule with minority rights and for which there may not be any comparable power in western democracy.

3. The veto power erodes local decision-making authority by only allowing strong mayors to utilize a non-budgetary veto on provincial priorities; as a result, the legislative veto can only be used to enhance the province’s priorities but not those of the municipality unless they are the same as those of the province.

4. The budgetary veto concentrates power of the purse to the mayor, leading to widespread control over capital projects and staffing each year at budget time. The mayor can thus defund initiatives they do not support.

5. For further clarity, the powers noted in points 2-4 can be overruled by 2/3rds +1 of council, meaning the mayor can exercise this power with a minority of council members (two plus themselves in Burlington).

Is Mayor Meed Ward still leading the parade? And is her City Manager (centre in white shirt) following her lead?

6. The power to hire and terminate the city manager, previously the jurisdiction of council, is now in the hands of only the mayor. As the chief administrative officer of the corporation, the city manager would be at risk of being influenced in their decision-making by the oversight of a single individual able to terminate them at any time without cause.

7. The rationale for point 6 above also applies to senior staff, previously the exclusive jurisdiction of the city manager. As a result, all senior staff are, generally, influenced to do what a mayor demands or fear the consequences. This significant latent power reduces democratic decision-making as decisions at the city or often binary and a majority of council may not agree with a strong mayor.

8. The ability to change the organizational structure of the municipality is another potential way to exercise power over staff.

9. The above rationale also applies to board and committee powers which are currently concentrated in the hands of the strong mayor.

The Government of Ontario has provided for some of the above powers to be delegated but not others. The present motion requests the delegation of those powers which can be delegated as per the Municipal Act. Should the motion pass and the mayor accepts the motion request and delegates the powers as requested, issues 6, 7, 8 and 9 and partially issue 1 would be addressed.


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6 comments to Mayor faces a revolt from three City Councillors

  • Sean Lonergan

    When the mayor was first elected the first time, I and several of my friends ( we are all over 70) were looking forward to her making changes from the previous group who many felt were not doing what the people elected them to carry out and rightfully turfed them from office. It seemed like we now had a new mayor who would listen to the concerns of the citizens of Burlington as well as a council that could work in tandem with her. Well fast forward and it seems this is not the case nowadays. She is but one person and she needs to listen to the other elected members. I support this action by the councilors to rescind them as the mayor seems to have put herself onto a pedestal and rides roughshod over anyone with a differing opinion than hers. Strong mayor powers were a tool to get housing built faster , not to push through your one person agenda. They need to be removed from her and restore a democratic council.
    Sean Lonergan

  • Blair (grinning like a Cheshire Cat) Smith

    With all due consideration to the dystopian melodrama occurring south of our borders, this is almost apocalyptic. The Red Queen suffers a palace revolt and is brought down by two of her most trusted knaves. Although I certainly do not have her skill at ‘spin’ (nor her inclination), it is hard to see how she will be able to put this in a positive light. Had she not wanted the Strong Mayor powers initially then she would not have accepted them and, if later, she realized her error then she would not have exercised them (remember her budget). Had she wanted her new powers returned to Council (where they belong) then she would have initiated the motion herself and then loudly announced the repatriation as a return to democracy. This is not only loss of power, it is considerable loss of face and presteige. It will be most interesting to see how she faces Council on Tuesday – and then the cabal of Large City Mayors.

    • Blair (no tears here) Smith

      Two other considerations of note – and apologies for not properly thinking through my reactions at the outset. First, when Council voted to adopt the Strong Mayor powers for Burlington, it was unanimous. Indeed, much was made by our Mayor that there would never be an issue because Council was so aligned, so completely in tune with the vision of Burlington’s future and how to get there. It was a massive koom by yah moment orchestrated (pun intended) by Her Worship. So, barely 5 months later what has changed this wondrously harmonious tune? One can only imagine the behaviours that precipitated this.

      Secondly, and of great impending embarrassment to Her Worship, is that this is, I believe, the first instance in which a Council that accepted the powers for the Mayor (and unanimously) has now decided that they should be repatriated. Oh that indeed will be a cross hard for her to bear. This may be the beginning of the end of Meed Ward’s political career – at least for the foreseeable future. Very hard for me to shed a tear. Very hard indeed.

    • Anne and Dave

      Spot on Blair.

  • Joe Gaetan

    Never was a fan of the Strong Mayor Building Homes Act and its iterations. The March 19 council meeting is a must attend event. The agenda item is 18.3 “Motion memo “Improving Local Democracy by Strengthening City Decision-Making (ADM-05-24)”

  • Gary Scobie

    Interesting triumvirate indeed. Appears they have done their homework and provided good reasoning as to their motions and why they are needed. Let’s see how this is debated and voted on. If it is not passed unanimously, the voting record will certainly tell a tale.