Where do the people who want to get elected to serve the public come from?

By Pepper Parr

April 13th, 2024



Burlington seems to have a pattern when it comes to electing their City Council.

They elect a council that has more than half as first term Councillors.  When it is time to re-elect four years later – the citizens tend to re-elect all of them.  When that second term ends – the boot out a majority.

Is this what we might be looking at in 2026?

Mayor Marianne Meed Ward speaking at a public event.

We know this – the Mayor is in trouble – but she has close to two years to recover and she will need every month of it if she is to continue to wear the chain of office.

Four of the current council members are at least eyeing the Office of Mayor.  Both Stolte and Galbraith have talked openly about liking the idea of being the next Mayor.

We will talk about the merits of each at some other point.

Right now the question we have is – where do new candidates come from?

Is the city at the point where a group of people – six to eight would be an optimum size, gather and begin the search for new candidates.  They would not be running for office – but they would be tapping people on the shoulder and asking if they might be interested in running for office.

For some reason people wait until about 10 months before an election to begin to create a public profile; look for ways to let the public know who they are and what they think city council should be doing.

Municipal politics doesn’t run on political party lines.

Municipal budgets are much different than the budget process used in the corporate sector. Very few people fully understand the procedures; as a result there is no one to critique how the city is spending the money raised through taxes. The example from 2018.

Municipal government is complex – they are creating policy for a $500 million corporation that doesn’t follow the financial pattern of a corporation in the private sector.

Voters are not shareholders – every question has to be answered and every complaint responded to – quickly.

Municipalities cannot have a loss – they create reserve funds that are in place to cover those situations where the budgeted amount doesn’t cover the actual costs.

They do not a Profit/Loss statement nor is there a balance sheet.   The budget document in the past ten years has run in excess of 700 pages.

Probably the best candidate for public office at the municipal level would be someone at least 50 – that was an upper level manager – better yet a director who has come to realize that he or she is not going to be made a partner in a profession – legal, accounting.

They want something that is a little slower where the focus can be on serving people and not on being riveted to constant demands to increase revenue.

There are times when the demand is heavy but it isn’t heavy all the time.  Lots of time for family, six weeks off during the summer.  Great benefits and if you run for three terms you leave the scene with a 12 year pension that is very comfortable.

You want to learn to be able to give your constituents a polite no – I can’t do that, I don’t want to do that.

Photo ops are the most cost effective way to get your name before the public and unfortunately those people who do bother to cast a ballot settle for a name and picture they have seen again and again.

The public would, we believe, want to hear from people who have ideas, experience and a desire to engage with the public.

Photo ops are the biggest tool used by members of Council. It is an opportunity to put their best foot forward. On this occasion Burlington is being awarded by the United Way Hamilton Halton.

This kind of person is out there.

Someone has to do the asking around.

It is a little like a congregation that is looking for a new pastor or minister.  They advertise – the city doesn’t do that – nor should they.  Finding the people that are interested in running for office is a citizen responsibility – city hall has to butt out and let the citizens work it out.

Burlington has to learn to take responsibility for who runs for office.

That process should have started by now.


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4 comments to Where do the people who want to get elected to serve the public come from?

  • Stephen White

    What is lacking from the composition of the present Council is real-world experience. You have diversity of experience, but frankly, not much depth.

    Except for Paul Sharman this Council has no one with any substantive business acumen. Practical understanding of things such as compliance, conflict-of-interest, government regulations, operations management, human resources, finance, accounting, etc., aren’t their strong points. A couple are small business owners. One comes from the not-for-profit sector. One from the public sector. One from journalism. This is interesting, but truthfully, not particularly relevant.

    We need elected officials who understand what it is like to work in and operate within a large corporate entity. We need people who aren’t afraid to challenge and pushback on ideas promoted by municipal public servants. That credibility and gravitas comes with age and experience. Sadly, what we have are ambitious opportunists, and while that may be advantageous for them, it doesn’t bode especially well for the rest of us.

  • Sue C.C.

    An interesting perspective, as always. The two Councillors whom you identify as having a mayoral interest are possibly the two least capable to fill the role. Galbraith has no idea what public service is, even after a term and a half filling the Ward 1 chair. He is a small business man who, disappointingly, really brings very little to the table – other than conflicts of interest. The latter are just swept under the table by our “fee for service” Integrity Commissioner. Stolte has no heart left; MMW broke her spirit and she is now filling the chair because, frankly, she needs the job. Whether her constituents in Ward 4 are actually getting effective representation is problematic.

    As for the Mayor, herself, she remains something of an enigma. She has accomplished very little of lasting significance and her current term is, to date, an unmitigated disaster. She appears to remain the charismatic draw but, perhaps, even this ‘look-at-me’ appeal is wearing thin. The current kerfuffle with her jealous hold on the autocratic Strong Mayor powers has revealed a quite petty side to her nature – she can’t seem to bow her knee to the popular will if and when it challenges her authority. It seems that there can never be any inference that she, personally, has erred. She goes to great, perhaps obsessive, lengths, to justify her position and her profile. At the very least, this takes attention, focus and resources away from the actual issues facing the City and gives, in return, only summer theatre melodrama. I sincerely hope that she (and her Svengali in pj pants) will see the next great crusade elsewhere.

    • Blair (Moon Unit) Smith

      Well Susie Cream Cheese, Uncle Frank has asked me to take you out of the closet. So, here you stand – exposed.

  • Grahame

    You need to get some better talent at the council level.Then pick from that crop a good mayor.I had a lot of respect for George Harrington,Rob Macisac(Mike Wallace Lloyd Beryman and Rick Goldring.We used to have at least one or two Lawyers which helped .This current crop is the weakest I have seen in the last 25+ years.