Mayor Meed Ward on why she wanted all six members of Council to be Deputy Mayors

By Pepper Parr

March 13th, 2023


This is a multi-part series on what members of Council thought about becoming Deputy Mayors with a Portfolio.

In most Canadian municipalities the Mayor appoints a Deputy to fill in for them when they are not available.  It is usually for a flag raising or a ribbon cutting.

When Mayor Marianne Meed Ward put forward an idea that appears to be unique to the world of municipalities – she made every member of Council a Deputy and then assigned them a portfolio.

The discussion as to just how this would work and how the members of Council felt about the addition to their workload took place at a Workshop late in February.

Workshop facilitator Stephanie Gibbons,

Stephanie Gibbons, the Workshop facilitator who for reasons that are hard to determine, frequently referred to Meed Ward as “.Our illustrious mayor”,  started out by explaining the structure she would use – which consisted of five questions each member of Council would be asked.


The Workshop started off with Mayor Meed Ward explaining how and why she did what she did.

Mayor Marianne Meed Ward talking about why she proposed making every member of Councillor a Deputy Mayor.

“It really started with my own journey as mayor – when I  started I thought it would be essentially a counselor for six wards instead of one and a lot of ceremonial duties – the role is nothing like that.  Plus the municipal act bestows upon you some fairly significant titles that come with responsibility and there’s zero definition. One is the head of Council, the other is the CEO of the Corporation. A Mayor doesn’t get to choose who you work with. The public chooses who you work with.

“Then we had a pandemic in the middle of the last term of council – and I had to figure out how to deal with that.

“I found myself thinking what if I got sick What if I couldn’t do the job anymore? Who could step ?

“I didn’t want anyone to feel the way I did – having to figure it out as you go along.

“That was part of the thinking. The other part was that there’s such unique skills and talents around the table and every single person on this council wants to contribute.

“As I looked at the skills that each council member brought, I realized that the universe knew what it was doing when it delivered us all to the council.

“This council is aligned with the things that we are trying to achieve for our community. We have a recreation and culture review to plan for the future. We are trying to tackle red tape red carpet, we always need to focus on budgets and Strategic Planning and Performance metrics.

“Housing has emerged as a huge huge issue. Our state of the emergency around the environment. And then of course our desire that we all share to ensure that we’re properly representing and communicating and involving our community.

“Instead of sort of hand picking in a way that was not transparent or clear, who would work with me on those things, it just became really clear that the best way to do that was to ask council members if they would like to assume some additional roles and responsibilities around the areas that I had seen council members investing time and attention in.

“This also goes to the heart of what I think we all really care about  fostering collaboration. You could even say it forces collaboration. In the past when I was working on something in my role as the mayor with the city wide perspective, if I knew there was a council member interested in something I might tap them on the on the shoulder, but I didn’t always think of it. It wasn’t always top of mind. It was very ad hoc, very random.

“Now I don’t move without thinking –  is there a deputy mayor that could help me with this or who might want to take a lead on this?

“It shares the responsibility but it also brings council along to get that city wide perspective.

“I won’t be around forever; I think a lot about succession planning.

“I’ve been absolutely thrilled over how well received this this has been not only among the seven of us, but the way the community has really embraced it. I’ve started to see constituents with a concern start to loop in the deputy mayors.

“The collaboration is really coming to the fore so I’ve been so proud of this council how you’ve all embraced this role that you are and you will make it your own. And you know, I think it’s a great governance model, and we’ll figure out the parts that we haven’t figured out yet. And that is an exciting conversation to have.

So to sum up it’s really it’s about collaboration. It’s about a city wide focus. It’s about succession planning, and it’s about leveraging the skills in a in an open, transparent and very intentional way that each council member brings to the table.”

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8 comments to Mayor Meed Ward on why she wanted all six members of Council to be Deputy Mayors

  • Jim Thomson

    The Marvelous Deputy Mayor
    (apologies to Tom Paxton but I’m sure he’ll understand after all
    he did write We All Sound The Same)

    He first rules right and then rules left
    and then rules under the chair
    and when we look where he has gone
    he isn’t even there

    He goes ZIP when he moves
    BOP when he stops
    And WHIR when he sits still
    We don’t know what he really is
    And I hope we never will

  • Dave Turner

    With apologies to Richard D. Trentlage

    I am truly a CPC Serial Whiner
    That is what I truly love to be
    Cause as a CPC Serial Whiner
    Everyone might be in love
    Oh everyone might be in love
    Everyone might be in love with PP and not JT

  • Bobby Zimmerman

    With apologies to Pete Seeger
    (Sung to the tune of “Where Have All The Flowers Gone”)

    Where have all the Councillors gone, long time passing?
    Where have all the Councillors gone, not so long ago?
    Where have all the Councillors gone?
    Meed Ward plucked them every one
    When will we ever learn”
    When will we ever learn?

    Where has Meed Ward put them now, long time passing
    Where has she put them now, not so long ago?
    Where has Meed Ward put them now?
    Made them Deputies, every one
    When will we ever learn?
    When will we ever learn?

    Where will all the Deputies go, some time passing?
    Where will all the Deputies go, not so long to go?
    Where will all the Deputies go?
    Gone to the ‘blame game’ every one
    Why couldn’t they ever learn?
    Why couldn’t they ever learn?

  • Lynn Crosby

    Hilariously, this is all so predictable that many of us had several of these explanations almost word for word on our bingo cards, as they say. Doesn’t mean we believe them of course, but it makes a fun game.

    As Blair says at the end of his very bang-on comment, time to start asking why we have only 7 council members, not nearly enough for the workload and population now, let alone the apparently gazillions more coming to live in the all the towers they didn’t prevent.

  • Blair Smith

    Well, being the cynic that I quite naturally am concerning “all things Meed Ward”, I have a somewhat different view of her motivations here. All portfolios, with the exceptions of climate change (largely token unfortunately) and red tape red carpet (always enough bureaucratic idiocies to simplify and eliminate) each portfolio represents a difficult group of issues and ones in which this administration is falling demonstrably short of the mark.

    So, what better survival tactic than to divert attention and accountability from the top of the house to those below.
    In the case of the Public Engagement and Housing portfolios, I would argue that these were designed to fail and their Deputy heads with them. What better way to quiet and discredit two women who have frequently been on Meed Ward’s ‘persona non grata’ list. Here you go ladies – drink deep of the poisoned cup. The Mayor’s fingers will be pointing at you soon enough.

    As far as succession planning is concerned, I am laughing at the remarkable arrogance that I believe is the hallmark of this administration and of Meed Ward herself. “I won’t be around forever; I think a lot about succession planning.” Well, as far as the first remark is concerned I personally feel the sooner gone, the better. As far as the second, I think that “succession planning” is a cute synonym for positioning your backroom boys as you prepare for your next move. All the talk about collaboration and councillor skills is window dressing for quite transparent political manoeuvring.

    One final note – how can a Council that has the highest per capita representation of any tier two or independent municipality in the province accommodate even more workload? If this group of seven was truly exceptional it would still have significant difficulty – and need I complete the thought. Anyone trained in the various dimensions of governance, and within the specific context of the City of Burlington, looks at the Meed Ward model as a fallible and embarrassingly naive effort. But the goal, in my opinion, was never co-ordination, operational and policy improvements. If Meed Ward is correct about “… how well received this this has been not only among the seven of us, but the way the community has really embraced it”, then mission accomplished.

    • Jim Thomson

      Apres moi, le deluge. Louis the XV

      When Kevin and Marianne are talking about 7 generations are they referring to the amount of time it will take the city to pay off the debt they are incurring?

      Have there been any delegations in support of the Illustrious Marianne and the 6 Deputy Mayors?
      The workshop format expressly prevented delegations.

    • Keith Demoe

      Blair your comment is accurate and consistent with Meed Ward’s actions to date. For anyone that pays attention, Meed Ward will always want to blame others for things that she promised and was not being realistic on…example would be the high rises so many thought she would keep from going up…but the OLT has pretty much approved all builds to date and Meed Ward got on TV and said ‘it’s the OLT fault…there shouldn’t be an OLT.’ However, we have an OLT for good reason…if we didn’t, our housing crisis would be that much worse. Another example, development in protected lands she promised wouldn’t happen…back on TV saying it’s Ford’s fault. also making it sound like this is where all our grocery store produce was coming from. The next 4 years will be different and the housing will likely change significantly…Meed Ward knows this and also knows this is probably the main reason council did so well last election…many voters wanting to protect equity. However, if the economy is very different, she will want to point those fingers at others like Blair suggested. To add, this succession planning comment…it’s pretty nervy…she is making it sound like this is her own private business. Don’t worry Marrianne, we don’t have someone replace a mayor through succession…we just have another election.