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Advocating respectful debate: Read my Point of Privilege, and about the new Anti-Bullying & Harassment task force

Analysis & Insight – Having seen many a public meeting disintegrate into shouting and accusations, with everyone going home unheard and unhappy, I committed to fostering respectful debate as an elected representative. There’s a standard slide at the beginning of all my public meetings: “We don’t need to agree; we do need to be respectful.” That slide has now been incorporated into planning staff presentations.

As chair of standing committees, I introduced a paragraph asking everyone to be respectful; that’s now a standard part of the chair’s opening remarks.

On this website, I developed Online Commenting Guidelines two years ago to welcome diverse opinions in an environment where we debate policies, not personalities.

Respectful debate requires constant diligence, especially when dealing with contentious issues like we are now as a city. People feel strongly about some of the changes they are seeing.

Emotions are good; they show people care, and we want people to care deeply about our city. When emotion and passion are tempered with kindness and diplomacy, that’s the best way to get a hearing for your point of view.

Decorum went off the rails in January during discussion of the Official Plan policies for the downtown, prompting me to call a Point of Privilege at the Jan. 24 Planning & Development Committee – the first time it’s happening in my almost eight years on council. I discussed the lack of respect in the proceedings and called on all of us to set a higher standard. There’s no place for name calling, false allegations and the like.

My full opening statement on a Point of Privilege is below. Two weeks later, Committee of the Whole unanimously approved the creation of an Anti-Bullying & Harassment Task Force. That comes to Council for final approval Feb. 20.

Read Feb. 20 Burlington Post article on bullying of women in politics.

It will take all of us working together to maintain respectful dialogue in the issues we face as a city – towards each other, staff, the public and council.


I would like to raise a point of privilege before we begin.

My goal in raising this is to ask all of us to commit to respectful dialogue.

Point of privilege is used “when a member wants to draw attention to a matter that affects the integrity, character or reputation of an individual/group”

  • Last night a delegate said planning staff should be fired; it’s not the first time our staff have been unjustly criticized publicly; I hope it will be the last.
  • The Burlington Post was told they are “not a real newspaper.”
  • Another delegate said residents are NIMBYs, motivated only by self interest.
  • The same delegate said my motions were “political interference” a serious allegation – he chose to criticize the woman who is bringing motions, but had no similar criticism for my male colleague who is also bringing motions – some of which are similar to mine.
  • Finally, a 14-page memo has been submitted to the public record from Mr. Mark Bales from Carriage Gate Homes; we all got a copy Monday. Mr. Bales has never spoken to me about my views about the Official Plan or the downtown, and yet in his memo he presumes to know my motives, calls into question my integrity and character, and makes allegations with no evidence.

All of this has to stop. None of this is helpful to our discussions.

Like many women who have been subjected to personal attacks for having an opinion, and saying it out loud, I have mostly ignored these things in the past, assuming they’re simply part of being in public service. I can take it – I have a tough skin – 22 years as a journalist and 7 in elected office does that.

But I’ve realized this isn’t about me; it’s about all of us and the culture and example we’re setting. So it’s time to speak up.

When people see others exposed to personal attacks, it discourages them from participating in the community conversation. And we lose that input. I know people who will not stand at that podium because of the way they have been treated, or have seen others treated.

When personal attacks go unaddressed, it sends the message that these are okay. They are not. We can’t have one standard for people we agree with – letting their comments go unchecked – and another for those we don’t.

It’s time for this to stop.

So, I am asking that we all – everyone around this horseshoe and all members of the community – commit ourselves to a higher standard of respectful dialogue and mutual respect.

This is in keeping with our Engagement Charter, and referred to in the draft Official Plan Chapter 11: “Mutual respect for citizens, staff and members of City Council is the basis for the development of constructive relationships and successful citizen engagement.”

We may disagree about many things today and going forward; I expect we will. But let’s commit ourselves to this: let’s assume that each one of us around this table and in the community wants the best for the future of our city, even as we have different perspectives about how to get there. Let’s allow for that difference, and maintain mutual respect.

Thank you.

Written by Marianne Meed Ward

A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made.

As journalist for 22 years, I thought “I can do something about that” and a website and newsletter were born. They’ve taken various forms and names over the years, but the intent remains: To let you know what’s happening at City Hall before decisions are made, so you can influence outcomes for A Better Burlington.

The best decisions are made when elected representatives tap the wisdom of our community members, and welcome many different perspectives.This site allows residents to comment and debate with each other; our Commenting Guidelines established in 2016 aim to keep debate respectful.

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  1. Thank you, Marianne. There is a lot of abusive language being thrown around that needs to be reigned in. In particular, if City staff are doing their jobs as directed by City Council, then any disagreement with what they are doing should be directed at City Council. Since City staff have to remain non-partisan, they cannot respond to such criticism. Picking on someone who cannot fight back is unacceptable bullying behaviour.

    And to call the Burlington Post not a “real” newspaper is absurd. Ever heard of freedom of the press?

    So the conclusion is that people should use judgement and restraint. If someone believes that there is a genuine abuse, say so, and say why. If someone disagrees with City policy, say so to City Council, and do not abuse the staff who are implementing that policy.

What's your take?





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