Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Burlington Council Makeup

Years ago I learned that one could be considered informed on local matters if one read the Burlington Post.

I strive to follow this sage advice but admit to slipping from time to time as I lose sight of the news under the cover of all those ads.

Anyway lately I noticed a front page story capturing the concerns of many of my neighbours. It seems that the leaf collection program has been vanquished by the earlier than usual arrival of winter. Indeed, emerging from my self-imposed winter hibernation I observed piles of last fall’s raked leaves appearing from under the melting snow. Global warming, I guess, but what can I do about it? Leave it to the Prime Minister.

This story though caught my eye as a matter I could sink my teeth into.

“Is city council too small?

Jason Misner, Burlington Post reporter says it is (too small) and we do need more politicians in a “My View” opinion piece (December 28th).

Misner an earnest, hard-working reporter who has covered Burlington Council for nearly two years makes a good case for this much needed reform. I’ll get back to Jason’s argument but first some historical perspective.


Burlington functioned pretty well with a 17-member Council - two per ward (one who covered Regional and city duties, one who was strictly a city representative) until 1997. Our current MP Mike Wallace caught up in the Mike Harris Commonsense thinking in vogue in 1996 saw it differently. Less government was the order of the day and fewer politicians were part and parcel of that now largely discredited and simplistic attack on local democracy.

Wallace took the lead and with the support of then Mayor Mulkewich convinced a majority of Council in a 9 -8 vote to downsize to its current six ward reps and a Mayor. Did any other Council in Ontario downsized itself to this extent?

Back to the Post Story

Misner argues that Council has a heavy workload and handles millions of dollars. He is worried that overworked Councillors may make hasty decisions because they could be tired at the end of a long day. He thinks “that issues that shouldn’t have been pursued” such as fighting Wal Mart would have had a different outcome with more than seven councillors.

More importantly in this blogger’s view is the fact that with the potential of Councillor member absences or conflicts of interest important decisions can be made for a community of 155,000 by as few as three people. (Joan Little has spoken strongly to this point in her Spectator column on more than one occasion.)


Raising the number of Councillors to nine or eleven has merit. However, such a change would impact Halton Region Council where Burlington with about a third of the Regional population has one third of the representatives (7 of 21). Increasing the size of Halton Council isn’t on. Some sort of division of duties so that some Burlington Councillors serve at the Region and others just serve at the City might work.

Or we could just get rid of the Region as a political body. While the services it provides are important and typically well run the Halton politicians spend most of their time debating what to put in letters to senior levels of government all saying variations of the same theme - we need more money.

I’m not holding my breath waiting for the Region to go. Hopefully though, Jason Misner’s column will inspire some dialogue on reforming Burlington Council.