Spectator columnist suggests its time to enlarge city council - she is not wrong.

opinionandcommentBy Joan Little, Hamilton Spectator columnist

November 17th, 2016


The Spectator is not read by enough people in Burlington. Their columnist, Joan Little, wrote some particularly cogent comments about the size of Burlington’s city council that deserve repeating.

Every few years council sizes and ward boundaries change, usually because of population shifts. Councillors invariably are lukewarm, keen to retain areas of strength in past elections. “No one’s asking for change,” they say, but it’s not about them — it’s about service for residents. Toronto is adding three wards. Hamilton, too, is considering change.

Burlington City Council Group

First elected in 2010 this significant seven don’t appear to be the least bit interested in letting any new members into the club that gives them $100,000 + each year.

Halton Region’s population has shifted greatly. When created in 1973, its council had 24 members — nine from Burlington, seven from Oakville, four from Halton Hills, three from Milton, and a chair. In 1997 it was re balanced to 21 — seven each from Burlington and Oakville, and three each from Milton and Halton Hills, plus a chair.

With populations again skewed, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs has decided that Halton council will revert to 24 for the 2018 election. Milton gains two and Oakville one. The 1997 shift necessitated local council changes. Burlington went from eight wards, two per ward, to six wards, one per ward. Mike Wallace was the architect of that move from 17 to seven members. Some, like former Mayor Walter Mulkewich, favoured 13, like Oakville’s.

Burlington has the smallest council in Halton — seven — who sit on the two councils and several boards. Oakville also has six wards, but 13 members — one local and one local/regional councillor, plus the mayor. It is adding a ward, and will go to 15 locally. Milton and Halton Hills have 11 each. Milton will shift from eight wards to four — one local and one local/regional per ward plus a mayor — nine total.

Burlington councillors love their small club, but does it serve the public well? It’s a very small group for developers and special interests to lobby. There have been several 4-3 votes on controversial items. It’s troubling that the fate of such a large city can be decided by only four people — and that’s if all are present.

At one committee session last week, Mayor Rick Goldring and Blair Lancaster were absent — not a criticism, because scheduling conflicts do arise. BUT! Both Marianne Meed Ward and Jack Dennison have heritage homes, so each had to declare a conflict of interest on two different heritage items. That left four to vote on these two reports. Fortunately, they weren’t divisive items.

Goldring and others have spoken of having a larger council. In my opinion, 13 is ideal — not too large, not too small. (The council table will seat 17). More would likely mean broader debate. Additional councillors would be local only, like Oakville’s and Milton’s.

Council has said for a decade that there was no sense reviewing its size, because Burlington could gain or lose regional seats. Well, Halton’s council size is decided, and unlikely to change for another two decades, so what’s today’s holdup?

Cost? Democracy isn’t free, but let’s examine that. Burlington’s 2016 budget is $146 million. The city pays councillors $54,312, the Region an additional $48,060 — total $103,372. Let’s use $60,000 for six more local members — $360,000 — less if fewer were added. Minimal in a $146 million budget (.0025 per cent).

Dennison announcing

Ward 4 city Councillor Jack Dennison is reported to be opposed to a larger council.

This council is unlikely to add six. Dennison, for one, is stridently opposed to adding any, and for city staff, the small number is convenient. Further, a council that can’t even agree on a Councillors’ Code of Conduct, promised six years ago, is unlikely to make such a major change. But if they do, kudos!

Two weeks ago there was a council workshop about a governance charter, but the underlying issue for many members was that outstanding Code of Conduct. They agreed that both items would be considered in parallel later.

I was astonished that council size wasn’t even discussed, because that underlies governance. In response to my question, Goldring said it isn’t an issue — no one’s asking for change but me. Maybe, but four people (if all attend) deciding my city’s future is worrisome.

Adding councillors to a too-small council for 2018’s election would be a step for democracy. Seven is way too small for a city Burlington’s size, considering the ongoing citizen angst about overintensification.

little-joanFreelance columnist Joan Little is a former Burlington alderperson and Halton councillor. Reach her at specjoan@cogeco.ca


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7 comments to Spectator columnist suggests its time to enlarge city council – she is not wrong.

  • John

    Add six more councilors but, lets not add to the cost.

    Adding one more councilor per ward would reduce the work load so it would seem reasonable the pay would be adjusted accordingly.
    Using Joan’s number of $60,000, that can be split between two councillors. The councilor’s assistant could be shared by both ward councilors and even the expense allowance could be split.
    One elected councilor would continue to be paid by the region to represent us at their.

    That would get us 12 councilors and the mayor with no cost increase to the tax payers.

    A larger council has merit, adding dollars for the same work is questionable.

    • JQ Public

      $30K per year is barely above minimum wage for a 40 hour week. Not sure this would attract qualified people. The idea of 12 councillors is a good one. But you’d have to pay them at least $50K to attract the talent. It’s not an easy job if done well.

      • John

        JQ Public – I agree $30K isn’t much, likely less than a councilors assistant however half the work for half the pay seems fair.
        I have read many comments suggesting we replace all the councilors in 2018, apparently the current wage isn’t getting the job done either, at least according to some.

        • JQ Public

          I don’t think doubling the number on council necessarily means half the work for each. It may reduce somewhat, but they’ll still have to face all of the same myriad issues of today. If they’re conscientious, they’ll each want a say on each issue. And their constituents will be expecting nothing less. So half pay for half work? I just don’t see it happening.

          • John

            I don’t see the half pay happening either, is there another way to add councilors without adding cost to the tax payer?

            I am not willing to have an additional $360,000 K plus expense budgets, councilor assistant’s and benefits added to taxes. That would get us to something closer to $750,000 K with no evidence additional councilors add anything to democracy or better decisions for the city.

            Other city’s have larger councils, are they better governed, or does it just cost the tax payer more?

  • Penny

    A change like this will only come about if the residents take up the cause. We should not be blaming Council members for this not happening when residents don’t demand it.

  • Hans

    Re: “Goldring said it isn’t an issue” – it most certainly is an issue. If he can’t understand that he should not be mayor.