A principled man
The County has lost a thoughtful and caring man. Lyle McBurney passed away last week after a short illness.
Lyle was likely many things in his life but he was best known to me as a defender of principle, and eager to contribute to his adopted community. He was one of the original founders of Concerned Citizens of Prince Edward County—a group formed out of frustration by the casual, and at times indifferent, manner with which municipal administrators were going about the business of procuring and situating a new sewage plant in Picton.
The group went on to form a voice for change and accountability in this community. Concerned Citizens ruffled the feathers of many elected folks who believed that a majority of the municipal vote enabled them to do and say whatever they wanted. Lyle McBurney and the Concerned Citizens held them to a higher standard.
Many still don’t like it—but it is a measure of the Concerned Citizens’ success that these elected officials rarely grouse about it out loud anymore.
Lyle’s was never the loudest voice around the table. But he cared a great deal about his community and worried about the direction in which it was headed. Whether it was ill-considered infrastructure projects, runaway property taxes or ineffective municipal leadership, Lyle was in the midst of the battle. He organized, facilitated and agitated for change.
He wasn’t willing to sit idly by. He had to be involved— to do his part.
Lyle will likely best be remembered for his effort, along with Jim McPherson, to reduce the size of council and redraw ward boundaries to improve the balance of representation.
Lyle believed there was great inequity in the wide variation in populations between County wards. For example, Wellington, with over 1,700 voters, sends just one representative to council as does Bloomfield with just 500. Three times fewer voters, same number or councillors.
Both Lyle and Jim felt council hadn’t fully put their shoulder into the effort to find a workable solution toward fairer ward population distribution and a smaller council. So they took their campaign to the streets—gathering more than 600 signatures on a petition—urging Council to go back to the table and not to get up until they had a resolution.
Council ignored the challenge. So McBurney and McPherson brought the matter to the Ontario Municipal Board in an effort to compel council to act. Time was running out, however. The appeal would have to be heard, decided and the OMB’s decision enacted by council before the end of 2009. The appeal wasn’t heard until late fall. For all intents and purposes, it was already too late.
Many, including this newspaper, urged Lyle and Jim to pull up—that this was the wrong fight at the wrong time.
Undaunted, the pair pushed forward. They believed they were defending principles of fairness and equity. And despite the cost to themselves and others they felt they had no choice but to push forward and fight for what they believed to be right.
They lost that battle. But in the election that followed last fall, more than 80 per cent of those who responded to the question on the ballot said they wanted to see a smaller council. Reform of council will surely come—and County historians will properly document the role that Lyle and Jim played as catalysts of change.
Lyle couldn’t hear very well. He strained to pick up detail and nuance. Another man might have used this challenge as a crutch— a reason why he couldn’t help out or participate—why he couldn’t speak up. Lyle wasn’t held back by this disability. He wouldn’t allow it. There was a quiet stubbornness about him—a determination to do his part even when it was difficult for him to do so.
I didn’t agree with Lyle on every matter—but we agreed on many more issues of the day than not. I could not help but admire his tenacity—his willingness to burrow into a subject and work to find the truth. He rarely, if ever, raised his voice—but instead quietly and with resolve worked to push the debate further along the path. Ever forward.
Lyle was an honest, decent and principled man—who cared passionately about his community. He will be missed.