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St. John’s councillor Maggie Burton reflects on ‘painful part of the path’ of politics

Magie Burton. Photo illustration by Belle DeMont
Maggie Burton. -Photo by Juanita Mercer, photo illustration by Belle DeMont.

Life in politics


Maggie Burton hadn’t planned to become a city councillor.

After the 2013 election — when the city voted in a council of 11 men — she decided it was time to get involved.

She wanted to work on a campaign, but people kept telling her it was her name that should be on the ballot.

At the time, she was 26 years old with two children and a busy work schedule.

“Several of my friends thought it was silly to think I could win an election, especially with so many established incumbents,” she told The Telegram.

“And of course, I couldn’t on my own – but as a team, a lot is possible.”

Therein lies the secret to much of Burton’s success as a young politician and artist.

She sums it up in seven words: Aim high and ask everyone for help.

Born in ‘a society in transition’

Asked how being an Atlantic Canadian shapes her perspective, Burton recalls her childhood.

She was a year old when the cod moratorium devastated the province.

She says a lot of people expect their childhood to be stable. For her, it was very much unstable.

“I was born into a society in transition.”

Burton saw the effects of the cod stock collapse everywhere in her childhood home, the small community of Brigus.

That was 26 years ago. Despite a few good years with offshore oil, many would argue the province has never fully recovered.

It’s at the forefront of Burton’s mind as a municipal politician.

“For the part of Atlantic Canada I grew up in to be alive and thriving in 50 years, it will have to embrace new economic opportunities and it will have to continue on the path to being more inclusive and more progressive.”

The question she’s grappling with right now is how to plan for the St. John’s of the future while still meeting residents’ immediate needs.

“We face a lot of challenges: a sprawling car-centric urban fabric, a harsh climate, an aging population, and an uncertain economy,” says Burton.

“I hope that by making small changes in our neighbourhoods that work to promote mental and physical health, we can strengthen capacity and build a healthy, sustainable future.”


Overcoming doubts, carving out a space

After a year in politics, Burton says she finally feels like she belongs.

Dealing with Impostor Syndrome was “a painful part of the path so far for me,” she says.

“It surprised me when I felt it go away and yield to something more like a sense of belonging.”

Burton’s ex-husband and best friend — with whom she’s raising her children — says Burton is making a difference.

“Maggie is helping to carve out a space in municipal politics not only for young women, but for any regular person who wants to get involved and try to improve the things they are passionate about,” says Chris McGee, who is also Burton’s closest collaborator in her music career and the sign coordinator during her campaign.

McGee says he’s learned “a million things” from Burton over the seven years since they’ve had children together.

“But I think the most important, broadly, is that it’s OK to set high standards for ourselves and to work towards something important, even if we’re assailed with doubts.”

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