So, why not a “Shadow Council”?

By Joe Gaetan

August 28th, 2023



Much lamenting has taken place over the fact Burlington no longer has ECOB. ECOB had its time and place and was effective at the time. However different times require different methods.

A “Shadow Cabinet” is a feature of our Westminster system of government composed of opposition spokespeople who form an alternative cabinet to that of the sitting government.

The members shadow or mirror each position of the Cabinet. Members of a shadow cabinet have no executive power but can serve to hold a government to account. More importantly they demonstrate to the current government that someone is watching.

So, why not a “Shadow Council”?

Shadow Cabinets are a common feature at the federal level. Why not at the municipal level.

The benefit to the electorate of a shadow council is, the public would then have someone other than elected officials looking out for their best interest. The concept would require interested parties to come together under a formal arrangement whereby one or two people would shadow each member of council.

This would entail shadowing council meetings, ward communication sessions and other events that incumbents frequent. A shadow council would need to come together under a prescribed format that includes reporting back to the electorate. This of course would have to be done using the same communication methodologies and tools that our current council use to get their message out.

The Shadow Council approach has two benefits.

One being voters would get an “opposing” view of what is going on in our City.

Two, our system of democracy would be enhanced as those involved would benefit from the needed exposure. As it stands the “incumbent effect,” makes it almost impossible to unseat an incumbent. The time and effort required to do this would be something to consider.

Joe Gaetan

On the other hand, if you are not satisfied with the status quo or aspire to unseat the Mayor or Councillor, what are the alternatives?

None that I can see that are viable.

Joe Gaetan is a frequent commenter on civic issues.

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5 comments to So, why not a “Shadow Council”?

  • We purposely changed Engaged to Enraged in ECOB as we know these are different times. We want those who are clued in as to what is happening at city hall and yes the Region too and are Enraged enough to want to change things but are not necessarily interested for various reasons to run for office. Not everyone can drop out of their current career plan and give up knowing where they will be financially in four years.

    The ECOB model can work again with a mandate to fix the dissatisfaction that many have and many more would have if they really understood what is going on. We wish to instill hope in citizens of Burlington that organizing against Governance that thumbs its nose at the democratic victories won at a hard price can see good change and not a worsening of the situation as occurred with the 2018 election and the 2022 status quo. Due mainly to the self interest goals of those elected.MMW made no secret of the fact that leader of a successful provincial Liberal party was her goal. She has no interest in leading an unsuccessful party as there is in place at this time.

    • Joe Gaetan

      My take is, MMW would be more Kathleen Wynne. Crombie has commented she wants to bring the Liberal Party back towards the middle. Andrea Horwath gave that a wee shot and is now Mayor of Hamilton.

  • Blair Smith

    A most intriguing idea Joe and well worth further consideration. Several names of potential members come to mind, although their current activities and involvements may prove to be a limiting factor.

    I would be very interested in your thoughts about how the “Shadow Cabinet” could be selected, vetted and structured. I assume that the process must be democratic – at least eventually.

    • Blair Smith

      Sorry, an addendum that I should have included earlier. How does the “Shadow Council” differ materially from the opposition portfolio “critics” that we have at both provincial and federal levels?

    • Joe Gaetan

      Blair: The purpose of my putting this concept out there was to get the collective creative juices flowing in a certain direction. I do have some ideas on how to put some meat on the bones of this concept, and it would certainly require considerable effort by willing people to iron out the details that are missing in what is really at this point a brainstorm.