Municipal government is big business and requires people with the capacity to oversee budgets that run in the hundreds of millions. Liking people also helps.

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

March 4th, 2018



I frequently correspond with Gazette readers, some of whom are very critical, blunt and direct. They ask that they not be identified publicly. It’s all part of the job. There are others who are less biting and put forward ideas that they think should be in the public realm.

One reader recently said: “ I think part of the issue is that in smaller communities it is not uncommon to find people gravitating to municipal politics who come from small business backgrounds. That is natural and understandable, and the complexities in managing a smaller community are significantly less than in a larger municipal government. At some point the issues become profoundly more complex, and therefore, you need a great skill level and understanding.

council with term dates

The issues are profoundly more complex, and therefore need a great skill level and understanding.

“The other dynamic is that in a smaller community you have people in municipal government for whom the work is a part-time avocation. When you deal with cities the size of Burlington, Mississauga, Brampton, etc., you have a larger constituency, and that demands full-time attention. You can’t serve your constituents well if you are, simultaneously, running your health club, or doing financial planning work on the side.

“Part of the challenge is that municipal government has typically been the poor cousin in Confederation. Whatever status it has flows from the provincial government. However, you have several municipal governments in this country that are as complex or even mores than some provinces; for example PEI’s population is smaller than Toronto, or Mississauga, or Brampton.

rory closeup

Expected to run in ward 3 – Rory Nisan

Gareth Williams

Expected to run in ward 3 – Gareth Williams


Expected ti run in ward 6 – Ken White

“I think in Burlington part of the answer should focus on enticing retirees to run for public office. Many have the business experience, and now the time, to devote to municipal government issues. Another target audience might be persons who have sold their business, have moved here from larger municipalities, are only semi-retired, but have the acumen that would be invaluable in local administration. A third market might actually be provincial public servants who have both the education and the technical experience, and would be a useful check on municipal public servants.

“Whatever the case, we need to get better qualified people into public service at all levels.”

We are suggesting to the writer that he might well be the kind of person that should be at city hall.

Councillor Craven has, on several occasions, made the point that Burlington’s seven member city council is too small – that the job is much bigger than it was a decade ago and that it might be time to look at a larger council and think in terms of junior and senior council members, a situation where every ward would have two council members with one serving at the Regional and city level and the second serving at just the city level.

Circle all spendingFor new members of council learning how to be a city Councillor takes time – to expect these men or women to grasp the Regional workings at the same time is a bit much.

And – Councillors need to be better paid. The approximately $110,000 they are paid annually does not attract the kind of talent needed. What it does do is attract people who are never going to earn $100,00 a year in their lifetimes but think if they can capture the public imagination and win the seat – and once there, hold the seat for a couple of decades.

These people are managing an operational budget of $160 million and a capital budget of $68.6 million, that includes a 10-year program of $688 million.

Burlington is seeing much more interest in who serves on city council. Will there be any acclamations for a city council seat in October?  All seven of the current members of council were re-elected in 2014

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6 comments to Municipal government is big business and requires people with the capacity to oversee budgets that run in the hundreds of millions. Liking people also helps.

  • Blair Smith


    I think that you have the wrong part of the dog doing the “wagging” – but the tail is indeed attached to it. Agree with Lynn, excellent post D. Duck!

  • Penny

    Lynn, I think the saying is “The tail wagging the dog”

  • Lynn Crosby

    D. Duck – that is an excellent post!

    Hearing council members say they can’t possibly read the whole document package, or watching them continually defer to the Planning Staff as it if is they who are the elected officials and making all decisions, is highly frustrating.

  • D.Duck

    “Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” –Mark Twain

    Politics at all levels are attracting individuals who seek ‘power’ instead of those individuals who seek to help their constituents by learning, listening, questioning, re-questioning and asking for clarification instead of the innate belief that they have all the answers. Standing up for what is correct and principled, being truthful and transparent. Understanding that we all make mistakes and it takes strength of character to admit them and accept the consequences. Taking the time to be accessible and to possess the patients to hear what is being said and by whom.

    Too many new politicians have never truly worked for a living and hence the foundation of their life experiences is the factitious and insulated bureaucratic walls of the entitled.

    Age often times gives wisdom to some and disdain to other. To have foresight and be youthfully optimistic, yet guided by wisdom is a rare individual.

    Do you need a background in business or have to be a lawyer or an accountant, a doctor, a teacher………No you do not. It may help, but any person with little bit of brains and motivation can be taught almost anything. It is all the other character qualities that make up a great individual; the type that you will find in all walks of life, including that of being a politician.

    • Perry Bowker

      People who have been successful in a senior management position in a large organization have the skill to let their staff do the work and receive their advice. However, they must also have the skill to detect when they are being snowed, fed carelessly thought out recommendations, lazy or incomplete staff work, etc. Then, they push back and demand better. This latter skill is found in all walks of life but is not easily learned. But it does not require that the manager know as much detail about the subject as the staff (although it helps). People from all walks of life may have these skills, since they are independent of the specific nature of the organization/business.
      Applying this idea to Council, and the Official Plan Amendment exercise, it looks like only a couple of them (one in particular) has had a functioning BS detector. The majority have been easily intimidated.