A woman of faith, Mayor Marianne Meed Ward is the second female mayor in the history of Burlington, Ont. For 12 years, she has worked in service to her community. Over the last four years as mayor, she has seen through many initiatives including free transportation for low-income residents, youth and seniors, and led a COVID-19 task force. Mayor Meed Ward is making history in her community, all while leading with grace and compassion, and is using her gifts to better the people around her. Freelance writer Kimberly McIntyre interviewed her at her home in Burlington:
How does it feel to be elected for a second term?
I am absolutely thrilled to be back. I am honoured and excited to be doing this again. This was a much more positive election than 2018. My team and I were out during the week and on weekends knocking on doors. The response from the community was overwhelmingly positive. There are lots of new residents in the city. With everything shut down, many hadn’t had a chance to meet new people or get out into the community, and they were delighted to meet the mayor at their front door! Our community is changing. New people, new perspectives.
What priorities are you focusing on this term?
A big issue continues to be how we will accommodate growth and development in the city. We are well on our way to the right growth in the right places. Currently, we are looking at three growth stations: new communities, parks and community centres. Previous council built a strong foundation and we are all back, which helps to implement affordable housing, climate action, and adding more community centres and parks for our population. We are also supporting farming as half our land mass is agricultural and green belt. Farmers need to have a viable agricultural economy to help them be better. Another priority is ensuring everyone feels welcome, included and respected, specifically advancing steps toward Truth and Reconciliation and Calls to Action for Indigenous residents in Burlington.
What was your faith upbringing?
I was raised in a religious home with a blend of Baptist, Pentecostal and evangelical non-denominational influences. I’m a real mix! When I graduated university with my bachelor of journalism, my first job was writing for Faith Today, which is published by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and that certainly exposed me to a broader range of denominations, all within the evangelical spectrum.
In what ways has your faith or faith background shaped how you lead Burlington’s communities?
Certainly, the stories that I was raised with and the teaching about service to the community are what guide me now. It’s about giving of yourself, giving your gifts to the community—whatever those gifts might be—in service of the people that you serve, the people in your community. That’s how I approach my role as mayor. It’s not about me, it’s about “we.” It’s about what a community needs and what will make our city better. It’s making sure everyone in our community feels welcomed, feels included, feels accepted.
What is the importance or significance of faith communities in Burlington?
We really saw churches across the city step up and reach out to people in our community during the pandemic. It was really inspiring. People put denominational and religious differences aside to serve the community together. It was being the hands and feet of Jesus in the community and making sure people felt included and not stigmatized. When people were losing their jobs and waiting for income support or other measures to come through, this became a huge service to the community. The churches got together and supported each other.
How did COVID-19 impact your own faith?
The one thing that I appreciated is that people would reach out from different religious groups saying that they were praying for me, the council, and the elected officials and leaders across the country to be supportive and make good decisions. That meant a lot to me, knowing that people were out there wanting us to feel that support.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
It comes down to being able to use the gifts that I have in service to the community and see progress, results and amazing things that we’ve been able to do together. You often hear from people at their worst when they are scared, unemployed and suffering. They come to you with that angst. It’s not easy to go through that, but every now and then you get a random email, and it’s always right in the thick of a really difficult situation. People send it to the team! It’s simply, “You’re in service, and we’re praying for you to support you.” Whether people are religious or not, it doesn’t matter; it matters that people are thinking of us.
Have you faced challenges due to your gender?
I grew up in church circles that felt that women should not be in leadership. I personally never believed that. It’s a perspective of many denominations, and I know that bitter fights have happened over this issue. I’ve always believed that we are here to serve the community. That’s what I believe my calling is, to be in this role, at this time and in this place. Ultimately, that gets decided by the people, which is perfect! As it should be. They’ve chosen me to be here. Only 18 to 20 percent of mayors across the country are women. That’s it. I’m only the second female mayor in Burlington in more than a generation. I want to be a good role model and do the job well, and serve in the way that I would—and as a woman, that is different! The reward of seeing things put into motion, pushed through or championed—there’s nothing more rewarding than that. The community can take pride in my achievements.
How do you keep your strength during rough times?
I have a folder of nice emails! I have cards that people have sent me. I’ve been in public service for 12 years now, so I go and look at them when I need a boost. You have to know why you’re in this role. You have to be in it for the right reasons, which is to serve the community and do good. I have a wonderfully supportive husband and family and could not do this without them. They remind me that I can do it. I have an amazing staff and we support each other. You can’t just will yourself to be strong; we need each other to do this. Every time you get through something, it gives you the courage to do it again. You’ve done it before. You can do this, too!