BOB’S BLOG: Memories of a Deputy Burgermeister
Toronto has a new one. Or, do they have four of them?
There is a real one (Denzil Minnan-Wong) with significant responsibilities. There are also three area ones (West, East and South) whose jobs are largely symbolic.
For a year, the previous Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly assumed most of the duties of the elected Mayor. So, we knew what he was doing.
But what does a Deputy Mayor really do?
Some will remember the American TV series (Spin City) where Michael J. Fox played Mike Flaherty, the Deputy Mayor. Flaherty was a staffer who had real power. Your local Deputy Mayor in Ontario usually does not.
I can speak from experience.
Yes, your blogger was a Deputy Mayor.
Back in the nineties in Burlington, I was usually on DM duties in the month of November.
Then I would go to ribbon cuttings, bring greetings from the City and attend other ceremonial events that the real Mayor wasn’t interested in attending.
One November I carried a teddy bear around for the entire month. This was to highlight National Diabetes Awareness Month. I was simulating being diabetic by checking my blood sugar and injecting pretend insulin into the bear at appropriate times. I learned a lot about diabetes that month. Strangely, though, no one ever asked me why I was carrying around that silly teddy bear.
Another time I was subbing for the Mayor at a function where I was seated at the head table with the much better-known local MP and local MPP. A friend of mine was in the audience. After the meeting, the friend came up and spoke with me with something like awe in her voice. “I didn’t know you were Deputy Mayor,” she said. I fessed up.
My most significant assignment as a Deputy Mayor came in 1997 when I accompanied the Burlington Teen Tour Band to Holland for 10 days. I was privileged to have the opportunity to make this trip and represent the City of Burlington in a number of events that commemorated the 1945 Liberation of Holland and our country’s highly regarded participation in that liberation and the loss of 7,600 Canadian lives.
The trip did have its lighter moments though.
One such moment arose in Groningen when I was repeatedly referred to and addressed as “The Burgermeister from Burlington.” The Dutch, like us, didn’t seem to understand the concept of Deputy Mayor.
In this northern Dutch city, I took part in a parade commemorating that day 325 years earlier when the city was freed from the siege by the Bishop of the German city of Münster.
I rode in a (covered) carriage with the real Burgermeister and his lovely wife while giving the royal wave (I didn't know the correct Burgermeister wave.) to the tens of thousands people gathered along the route. It was absolutely pouring rain and the hard working and drenched chaperones from the Teen Tour Band were not amused as my carriage passed them repeatedly and I waved. The joke was on them as they were the ones who had embellished my Burgermeister bona fides.
Someone took a picture of me and I was looking down with an appropriate disdainful scowl that I'm sure I affected again when the Burgermeister's wife pointed out the Communist member of Council waving at us from his doorway.
I could go on …
Bob Wood is a housing and poverty advocate and former two-term Burlington City Councillor who has built a bed-and-breakfast with his wife on Lake Erie. He is on Twitter at @timberwood24.