The right to speak to your municipal government might be limited and micro-managed by senior Staff

By Pepper Parr

February 25th, 2023


This article is about the wording of documents that relate to the way the public gets to speak to the people they elected.  It doesn’t have all that much in the way of good news.  Words set out in blue should be read very carefully – these are your rights that are being debated.

We are still here – now you know why.

City Council will meet on Monday in a Workshop setting where they will go through a 108 page document that includes a robust review of the existing Procedural Bylaw and debate just what the newly created Deputy Mayor positions mean and how whatever they are supposed to be doing will be explained to the public.

It will be interesting to see how the members of Council jockey for positions that give them more influence than that have had in the past over matters that are more Staff related than Council matters.

The wording of some of the sections in the procedural Bylaw could be seen as red flags.

Documents that set out rules are always number so that they are easily found and referred.

This report includes those number along with references to various Act of the Provincial legislature – try to ignore them for the moment.

The following refer to how the Chair of a meeting manages the behaviour of Council members:

43.2       Where a member has been called to order by the Chair for disregarding the rules of procedure and the member persists in such conduct, the Chair may order the member to vacate the meeting place. If the member apologizes, the Chair may permit the member to retake their seat.

43.3       If the member called out of order does not apologize and will not leave their seat, the Chair will recess the meeting and request that the Clerk contact security.

Councillor Paul Sharman

Councillor Lisa Kearns

Councillor Kelvin Galbraith

That’s a pretty heavy hand.

The Public doesn’t get treated much better.


  1. Public Conduct at Council and Committee Meetings

44.1       Only members and authorized City staff will be allowed to proceed beyond the speaker’s podium without permission of the Chair or Clerk.

44.2       Public attendees must maintain order and will not display signs or placards, applaud, heckle, or engage in telephone or other conversation, or any behaviour that may be considered disruptive. No person will use indecent, offensive, or insulting language or speak disrespectfully to anyone in Council Chambers.

44.3       All electronic devices must be turned off or switched to silent during Council and Committee meetings. Photography and video should be kept to a minimum during a meeting and will only be permitted so long as it does not interfere with the meeting in any way. At any time during the meeting, at the discretion of the Clerk, use of electronic devices may also be prohibited if it is believed that the use is interfering with any audio or video broadcast of the meeting.

44.4       Any person who contravenes any provision of this section may be expelled from the meeting by the Chair.

  1. Presentations

45.1       Presentations addressing matters relevant to the City and seeking to provide  information, or receive input from Council, or Committee will be permitted from any  local board or similar authority including relevant agencies, boards, commissions as  well as other levels of government and City staff.

45.2       Presentations of a maximum of ten minutes will be permitted provided that the presenter, or their representative has requested and been granted status from the  Clerk before the agenda is published.

45.3       Council may limit or extend the time allowed for a presentation by a majority vote.

Vanessa Warren, one of the best delegators the city has.

Gary Scobie

Anne and Dave Marsden

  1. Delegations

46.1       Requests to delegate at a Committee meeting and Council must be submitted to the Clerks Department prior to noon the day before a meeting. If the meeting is held on a Monday, delegations must register by 12 noon the Friday before the meeting.

46.2       Any person, group of persons, or organization may request to speak to an item listed on the agenda provided that the subject matter of the delegation directly relates to the item on the agenda. All requests to delegate must be made in writing to the Clerk, outline the nature of their request, and include any additional material (i.e. PowerPoint) by the deadline stated in section 46.1.

46.3       If a delegate requests to speak regarding a matter not listed on the agenda, they must have a member of Council sponsor the item by way of a motion memorandum to the Clerk no later than Wednesday at 12:00 pm (noon) the week the agenda is prepared.

46.4       All delegations will be heard at Standing Committee. Where a delegate has spoken at Committee, a further delegation request by the delegate, or a related party, will not be permitted on the Council agenda unless the delegation is bringing forward new information. Only the new information will be heard.

46.5       The Clerk will provide the Chair with all requests to delegate submitted after the deadlines stated in section 46.1, for Council consideration. A majority vote is required to permit the delegate to speak.

46.6       Delegations will be permitted without prior registration during any public meeting as required by sections 17 (19.2), 34 (14.2) and 51(20) of the Planning Act, R.S.O. 1990,

  1. P.13. Delegations are strongly encouraged to register before the standard delegation registration deadline and will be asked to fill in an attendance form to fulfill legislative notice requirements.

46.7       Delegations will be permitted to speak for a maximum of ten minutes at Committee and five minutes at Council. The allotted time includes any audio or video presentations but does not include answering questions from members. If there are numerous delegates taking the same position on a matter, the Clerk will encourage them to select one spokesperson to present their views within the time allocation.

46.8       The speaking time for a delegation may only be extended by majority vote of the members present.

46.9       Delegations must abide by the rules of procedure and public conduct at meetings. They will accept any decisions of the Chair and not enter into cross debate with members, other delegations, or staff. Any discourse between members and the delegation will be limited to members asking questions for clarification and obtaining additional, relevant information only.

46.10     Where the City Manager or the Clerk determines that a person requesting to delegate is likely to engage in unreasonable or offensive conduct, make unreasonable or offensive statements or demands, repeatedly speak on a subject matter that is not within the City’s jurisdiction, or otherwise misuse the privilege of addressing Committee or Council, the person will not be permitted to appear as a delegate at the meeting.

46.11     At the discretion of the Mayor/Chair, City Manager or City Clerk, written delegation material may be requested in advance of the meeting prior to confirming registration as a delegation. Upon review of that material by the Mayor/Chair, City Manager or City Clerk, if it is deemed not applicable to the business of Council or Standing Committee, the delegation will not be registered to speak at the meeting.

46.12     If a request to delegate has been denied in accordance with section 46.1, the City Manager or the Clerk will:

  1. a) Notify the requester that they will not be permitted to appear as a delegate and provide reasons for the decision; and
  2. b) Inform the members of the decision to deny the request.

46.13     Delegations are not permitted at Council Workshops.

During the municipal election last October the City Clerk did in fact unilaterally decide that a person running for office would not be permitted to speak.  That is as authoritarian as a government can get.  These are the people you elected.

City Clerk on the left – City Manager on the right.. Councillor was not present at Council for much of the pandemic; he has since returned to the Council Chamber. The debate on Monday should be interesting.

Stuff like this doesn’t get much attention until a person finds that when they have an issue their access to their council is limited.

Is it naive to expect that governments, federal, provincial, regional and municipal are in place to protect your right?


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9 comments to The right to speak to your municipal government might be limited and micro-managed by senior Staff

  • Joe Gaetan

    Former Mayor Rick Goldring at one time opined on the CHML Bill Kelly show that having people delegate gave them “false hope”. Very prescient.

  • Blair we remember supporting Rick Craven’s lead on the number of Councillors needing to increase at least a decade ago. We would normally have been able to find the discussion in the available Council minutes but the City saw fit to remove access to such historical discussions right before the last election. Taxpayers are being reduced to the status of the “Three Blind Mice” nowhere to go to find the historical support for their delegations

  • Stephen White

    If Council is so concerned about citizens being disrespectful, obnoxious, offensive or rude, then simply hire an off duty police officer and have them available at Council meetings. If a member of the public who is delegating gets out of hand then they are escorted out. That’s the role performed by the Sergeant at Arms in the Legislature or the House of Commons.

    Council’s focus should really be upon opening channels and mediums to facilitate public discussion, debate and review, not silencing dissenting voices. Once again, Council conflates “dissent” with “disruption”. However, given the number of less than stellar decisions emanating from that body lately it’s perhaps no wonder they feel the revolutionaries are armed with pitchforks and massing at the gates.

  • Jim Young

    Not sure anything has changed, delegation has always been very tightly controlled by committee staff. Given recent outbursts at Hamilton City Council and disruptive FreeDumb attacks on liberal cabinet members at public meetings, I think they are trying to avoid that kind of rowdiness. Their rules of engagement have always been very staid. The ability for a council majority vote to extend delegation time is better than present I believe. My understanding is the duty committee clerk has that power presently and extensions are very rarely approved. Some of it looks like formalizing some “unwritten rules”.
    Be interesting to hear other takes on the changes.

  • Lynn Crosby

    The hypocrisy is staggering. MMW literally got where she is by begging/encouraging as many residents as possible to delegate in support of her motions when she was councillor – sometimes over 30 of them all saying essentially the same thing – and now it’s about shutting us down? My, how things change. All the railing about “it’s democracy!” – what happened to that? What about the promises to make it easier for residents to delegate, to have FEWER constraining rules, to have true two-way engagement and make us feel welcomed? Newsflash: everything in this article screams the OPPOSITE.

    And what is this nonsense about demanding apologies from each other and giving the Chair the right to kick out council members? There are seven of you! You can’t get along well enough to manage without this heavy-handedness? I would have thought after the embarrassing “apology demanding” performance in the last term they’d have learned how bad that makes them look. Our City Manager and Clerk: really? You support this?

    Just as gross is the fact that the rest of council is happy to go along. Of course we know Nisan and Galbraith would (one wonders if they ever make an independent decision), but I thought a couple of others were better than this – in fact some promised they would be if elected a second time. More broken promises.

    We saw hints of this back during the downtown precinct “let’s pretend we are seeking public input” charade, but now it seems to me they’re doubling down and ensuring we don’t have an opportunity for real engagement, ever, unless we agree exactly with the “powers that be.” Patsies welcome, the rest of you: no.

  • Gary Scobie

    As someone who has delegated a number of times, I find further restrictions on delegators will work as intended. Fewer people will delegate. The sheer frustration of not being able to ask a question or engage in debate with staff or a Councillor is already present and demeans the process. More restrictions will only demean it further.

    Remember that old movie or TV drama you saw where they held a Town Hall meeting and everyone could ask questions (and sometimes get answers), both audience and town officials? Well someone figured out that was too much uncontrolled transparency, information sharing and debate and they set up the rules we have today.

    Council long ago figured out the best way to deny a delegator his/her wish to be heard and to question – don’t ask a single question of the delegator after he/she finishes. Then he/she can be quickly dismissed. Really don’t need other barriers to deny the person even the right to appear at the lecturn.

  • The first time the Marsdens addressed the democratic and legislation issues that are blatant in 46.10 and 46.11 above with their Ward 2 Councillor, was right after her election in 2018.

    Councillor Lisa Kearns’ lack of response and action, despite reminders of the seriousness of the issue, clearly demonstrated she liked the idea of relying on the Clerk/City Manager to keep unwelcome constituent voices like ours from being heard from the lectern, as occurred in 2018-2022.

    It wasn’t until 46.10 was used against a registered Ward 2 candidate in the 2022 election that the public and media became aware of what this meant in terms of the power to improperly silence the voices of ANY taxpayer. There is not a hint in the Procedural By-law discussion material for Monday’s Council Workshop that 46.10 and 46.11 will change.

    A current proposed change in the Procedural By-law marked as “Green Section” and held as a straight forward change that needs little or no discussion is the fuse to a bomb going off to control and obliterate required public engagement , that completes what 46.10 and 46.11 started.

    ” Add from Section 20 Meetings Open to the Public: The Chair may expel or exclude from any meeting any person who has engaged in improper conduct at the meeting.”

    NOTE: No delegations allowed at Council Workshops. Therefore, no voice of reason from the taxpayer is welcome in this discusssion.

  • Blair Smith

    If I was being a ‘wag’, I would title this article “Don’t Squeeze the Sharman … or the Meed Ward, Stolte, Kearns, Nisan, Galbraith and Bentivegna”. The basic functional tenor of this workshop is, in my opinion, just fundamentally wrong. Rather than looking at how Council can open itself up to true engagement with the citizen, staff (including a self-proclaimed open government advocate as Clerk) are imposing even more restrictions and constraints. Why? It is certainly not for the benefit of those delegating and wishing to be heard. It is so this very small group of elected officials can ‘get through their day’ with minimal disruption and discomfort. There are only seven of them; it is not Toronto – it is not even Oakville. Burlington Council meetings should be productive bear-pit sessions that impose an onus for respectful interaction on both sides of the podium. And staff should not be placed in a position to decide who can or can not delegate. Perhaps, we should critically examine the size of Burlington Council for the population and geography of the City that it serves. Too small by half I think. And they need more and more rules around engagement in order to manage a workload that is far beyond their capacity. As the Walrus said to the Carpenter – “Time to shuck this oyster”.