Stolte decides she wanted to be in politics - first she had to win an election. Part 1 of a series

By Pepper Parr

April 8th, 2022



The Gazette had an opportunity to do an extensive interview with ward 4 Council member Shawna Stolte.  The is the first of a series that cover the interview.

A section of this interview was not correct.  Changes have been made to the paragraph starting with:  “The day after we were sworn in…”


The fist step into the world of municipal politics for Shawna Stolte came about when she learned that the East Plains Road United Church was having problems and approached the city with an offer to sell them the property for $1.

In exchange for the helping to redevelop the property into a smaller sanctuary space, larger community space for brownies and guides and daycare and add some affordable housing for seniors.

The city said no, thank you. That’s not the business we are in and gave up the opportunity.

Shawna Stolte at one of her first council meetings – looking a little lost and confused. Rory Nisan, who won in ward 3 doesn’t look any more confident.

“That was the first time that I thought okay, wait a second” said Stolte.  ” We are missing huge opportunities here. And what the heck’s going on down there at the city hall? So I started to pay more attention to what was going on and started to get engaged in that conversation about there being city councillors who had been on council for a long time.

“I believe that you get in, you learn the job, you do some good work, and if you have that time clock ticking, you know that you’ve got the pressure to get stuff done.

“You don’t assume that you’ve got an extended period of time to wander along. I think if there’s no term limit, you start to think – yeah, if it takes five years for this to happen, it takes five years, whereas if you have term limits, you’re married to much more of a head space that you need to get this work done in a timely manner and move on and then let somebody else have a turn.

“Also, the opportunity for succession planning is lost if there is the assumption that this will be your final term going in.

Getting into the game:
“I had lunch with Marianne, she was the ward 2 Councillor then and told her I was thinking of running.  I said: “give me every reason why I shouldn’t do this;  try and talk me out of doing this. By the end of that dinner, I was convinced I was running

“She didn’t convince me – I just became convinced I could do a better job than the person I was planning to run against.  I began thinking about what my mandate would be and did some delegations on the private tree bylaw.

“I spent time with city councillors in other jurisdictions and asked them some really down to earth questions.  I had become part of the converted and believed that fresh voices and fresh perspectives might be really helpful for the City of Burlington.

The campaign:
“I’m not sure I actually ever felt that I was in over my head during the campaign, because I went into it knowing going up against a 24 year incumbent that I had about a 10% chance of winning and that’s actually a comfortable place to sit because I could run my campaign naturally and just go for it without worrying about whether I was going to win.

Ward 4 incumbent Jack Denison, on his way to an election defeat.

“I wasn’t at all sure I could win – but there was a day in the middle of August – I remember coming home and saying to my husband that I felt the tide turning. I had done just enough door knocking and was hearing from enough supportive constituents to realize that I actually could win.

“I don’t think Jack ever knew he was gonna lose. I know he thought that he was in trouble when I started to hear people say ‘we’re seeing Jack campaigning harder than he’s ever campaigned before’. That felt good because it made me realize that he knew there was some competition this time. But I don’t think he ever thought he could lose.

“He referred to me as the non issue

“When he refused to take part in the ECOB debate at Nelson high school but then showed up late Jack knew t he was in trouble.


Now you’re elected:
I pick my jaw up off the floor and felt a little sick with that imposter syndrome which clung to me during the first year in office.

I don’t remember a lot of the first year; the learning curve was so incredibly steep. It was probably the most intense learning I have ever done in my career.

They were a newly elected city council – five newcomers and two with eight years experience.

“You really don’t know what the hell you’re doing. You haven’t had a chance to read the procedural manual.

The day after the new council was sworn in 2018, they met in a closed session.  The Gazette was not aware that Council was meeting.

The public was aware that Marianne Meed Ward did not want James Ridge as her city manager.  Ridge knew that she didn’t want him and told the security guard that if Meed Ward won he was “toast”

Sure enough – when the new council came out of the closed session a statement was issued announcing that Ridge was history.

Stolte wasn’t prepared to talk about what was said during that  Closed session of council – she did talk about how she felt being part of such a major decision such as this one.

“None of us had any experience doing this. We had to trust the two returning council members (Meed Ward and Sharman) I think it was very helpful during the first year to have councillors who were kind of on opposite sides of the political spectrum.”

Getting settled in –
“Biggest surprise in the first six months ?

“I mistakenly thought and assumed that council would be having team meetings, sorting out some of the work we were gonna be doing. So finding out about quorum, which makes complete utter democratic sense, but the challenges of not being able to have those collaborative conversations about the issues was a challenge

A lot of listening in the first 18 months

“Understanding why and completely agreeing with why we cannot do that was probably what instructed me first and foremost. How are we supposed to get work done? Like, really? I’m trying to wrap my head around how the work of counsel gets done.

“The early move to more Workshops  helped in a big, big way. It has helped in that overcame some of the problems I was having but in a limited way, not as much as you’d like to think. Partly because the workshops are so scripted. We don’t get the opportunity to have that more organic conversation about things.

“The biggest surprise on the positive side ? I didn’t know that we were going to make any positive or negative decisions. I found myself saying: Wow. So I can do this

“The beauty and democracy of the flip side of being able to help effect change on such a big level. We were making decisions on issues that were a lot bigger than I was expecting to, you know, interim control by law; those huge issues and just knowing that I was in this position of representing residents of the city and helping to effect changes in a positive way.

“There’s a point where it just hits you – you’re like, wow, this is incredible, an incredible honour.  That’s how you feel when you’re representing people. It does feel like an honour. I think I would like to think that most elected officials with integrity would realize that and respect that it is an honour to be positioned to be making decisions on behalf of others.”

Part 2 will follow

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8 comments to Stolte decides she wanted to be in politics – first she had to win an election. Part 1 of a series

  • Joe Gaetan

    This article should be a rerninder to the citizens of Burlington as to the important role ECOB played in organizing the 2018 debates and the “Burlington Spring” movement that has now turned to summer or maybe fall but so far not the “winter of discontent”. At least not yet. Having attended all of the 2018 debates. As to the debate in quesiton, you could see and feel the writng was on the wall of change. It was that palpable. Kudos to Shawna and to others who at great risk took the chance to offer us their service.

  • Penny Hersh

    Chris It would be nice if festivals were well attended not only in the wards where these festivals were taking place.

    Burlington needs to be seen by all its residents as being one city, not merely as the wards they live in.

    • Chris Ariens

      Penny, I was responding to the question you said that Councillor Bentivegna asked about why no events were planned in Ward 6. The previous councillor was involved in the planning for the street festival in Ward 6 in poast years. So certainly the current one could also do so. As far as who attends…well of course Ward 6 residents will be more prevelant at an event held in their neighbourhood. I agree with your point that we need events happening city-wide beyond the main gathering places downtown. The city did a pretty good job of that pre-COVID with movie nights, etc. held in every ward. Of course for big-time events like SOM, Ribfest, fireworks shows, etc. these make sense to be held in the core where the logistics work.

  • Penny Hersh

    It was common knowledge in the street that James Ridge’s days were numbered at City Hall if a new Mayor was elected. It came as no surprise that his termination was one of the first things the new council did.

    I can only imagine how difficult it would have been for new councillors to have to make this decision.

    I applaud Council Stolte for having the courage to say what probably the other new councillors felt as well.

  • Mitch

    Shawna is the best and most accessible Councillor we have had in our Ward. We have lived in the Shoreacres area for 40 years.

  • Penny Hersh

    “Biggest surprise in the first six months ?

    “I mistakenly thought and assumed that counsel would be sitting having team meetings sorting out some of the work we were gonna be doing. So finding out about quorum, which makes complete utter democratic sense, but the challenges of not being able to have those collaborative conversations about the issues …

    That sums it up. In the Ward system, it seems to residents, that the councillors represent the issues in their wards and do not seem to have the ability to look at Burlington as a whole and act accordingly, as the Ward Councillors are not allowed to discuss issues among themselves.

    Surely what happens in one ward affects what happens in another. Discussion brings forward ideas, and solutions. Working in a vacuum does not.

    An example of this was brought home to me today while listening to Councillor Sharman describe the success of the Appleby Street Festival, that takes place in Ward 5. I live in Ward 2 – I had no idea this was even happening.

    Councillor Bentivegna asked why when Ward 6 has some large parks are none of the Festivals planned there?

    I agree, for years I have been saying that not all events should be happening in Ward 2.

    Burlington is not just Ward 2.

    Perhaps there needs to be a change in how this ward system works. In some Canadian Municipalities councillors are elected at large and then work together to deal with their municipality as a whole.

    • Chris Ariens

      That’s interesting, because the previous Ward 6 councillor held car-free street festivals on Palladium, similar to the Ward 4/5 festivals on Appleby Line. They were quite well attended and enjoyed by people in the Alton neighbourhood.

  • perryb

    Would have helped if someone had done an edit on this report. “Counsel” and “Affect” are fairly obvious trouble spots. Pepper?

    Editor’s note: We have lost access to our copy editor/proof reader. We are stretched,