How to make a winning deputation at city hall

By Kirk Winter

Council offers the opportunity for Kawartha Lakes residents to speak out.

Late in 2023, I celebrated covering my one hundredth Kawartha Lakes council meeting either in person or via Zoom. As part of those meetings, I have seen well over three hundred deputations on issues both large and small.

For those unfamiliar with what a deputation is, the clerk of council offers the opportunity for Kawartha Lakes residents to speak to council about issues that directly impact them. The deputants get five minutes to present, and then may have to answer questions from councillors looking for clarification.

As part of my job covering council, I have spoken to dozens of these individuals after the fact who are quite concerned that their entreaties did not sway council into immediate action. I listen politely to their stories, and in many cases want to tell them that their concerns fell on deaf ears because the deputations they made to council were so poorly prepared and/or delivered that they never really had a fighting chance.

In no particular order, here are eight tips from this veteran deputation watcher that you might want to consider before making your presentation to council.

– Make sure the issue of concern is within municipal purview – I have seen far too many deputations, particularly those involving waterfront, docks and water pollution where the real decision makers are either the federal government or the Trent-Severn Waterway officials. The deputations should have been made to those bodies, not to the city.

– Don’t ambush your councillor with your deputation – A huge factor that increases the likelihood of your deputation being acted on is having your ward councillor on your side, well briefed and supportive of your wishes. Hell hath no fury like a councillor embarrassed in front of their peers by a ward resident presenting a burning issue for action that the councillor was unaware of.

– Do your research – Treat your deputation like a term paper or a well-crafted wedding speech. Don’t present it before it is ready. Make sure the research is focused and that you can provide council with your sources for further study. If you have put the time and effort in and council recognizes your request as reasonable and well thought out, your deputation is far more likely to be acted upon.

– Five minutes means five minutes – I cringe when I see a deputant arrive with sheafs of paper, diagrams and even PowerPoint presentations more appropriate for a sixty-minute committee briefing than a five-minute deputation. Mayor Doug Elmslie has often been willing to give deputants a few more minutes to finish up their presentations, but at 10 minutes the microphones are shut off. Be brief, and save your details for another time.

– Make sure your technology is working – Many deputants try to save themselves a drive into Lindsay by using Zoom without having test run the app to see if they have the software and bandwidth to make the presentation possible. I have seen a number of potential worthwhile presentations crash and burn with frozen screens and no volume. If there is any doubt and council is open to the public, come in person.

– Be nice – My great-grandfather said you could always catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Too many deputants come to council angry, embittered and frustrated. These folks are itching for a fight. They make it clear that they view council as their enemy, instead of remembering to say please and thank you and showing some consideration for the difficult jobs councillors have. I have never seen an angry or aggressive deputant get what they asked for.

– Be nice (Part 2) – Deputations are no place for sarcasm or attempts at humour. They almost always fall flat and end up hurting the deputant and their deputation.

– Be nice (Part 3) – Do not randomly accuse council of some kind of unsubstantiated legal malfeasance. Do not threaten to call the police, integrity commissioner, ombudsman or your lawyer if your deputation does not lead to an outcome that is to your benefit. These kinds of cheap theatrics stop a deputation in its tracks and turn many on council against the deputant even if the issue is worthy of further study.

If you are one of the brave and engaged members of the body politic to make a deputation to council regarding an issue you feel passionate about, I look forward to covering your presentation. With a little planning and forethought and an elimination of the correctable errors listed above, you might be pleasantly surprised at the outcome – and the good that you do.


  1. Diane Engelstad says:

    Hey, thanks, that was helpful!

  2. Joan Abernethy says:

    While I agree that angry deputants who may have a case can turn Council against them, I believe it is the job of Council members to suspend their personal feelings and assess deputations presented by residents dispassionately and fairly. Refusing to consider a deputant’s case because of personal prejudice, negative hearsay, or political pressures or prejudice does not serve the City’s goal of good customer service and it runs the risk of reinforcing the deputant’s frustration and sense of injustice.

    In some cases, it might better serve Council members, security interests, City residents collectively and the angry deputant for Council members to ask the argumentative deputant to submit a one-page summary of their grievances (it is unreasonable to expect Council to read through 400 pages), then for the deputant’s ward councillor and two other members (chosen for superior listening skills) to set aside twenty minutes to meet with the individual just to listen, no matter how offensive the deputant’s words. Not everyone is blessed with the ability to speak well, after all, and as you have observed, Kirk, we get more with honey than with vinegar.

    Dale Carnegie recommended using phrases like “I understand how you feel” and “I don’t blame you for feeling that way” to create in others a sense of trust and friendship. Meet with the angry deputant, listen without arguing, thank him/her/them for meeting, then tell the deputant you will respond in writing after consulting with Council and other experts, if necessary, and representing their case to Council if Council has the jurisdiction to respond.

    If there are valid grounds for the deputant’s frustration or claim, Council should not let their offence at a deputant’s rough manner – or politics or gender or other minority or oppositional difference – get in the way of fairness. If the deputant has a valid case or claim, act fairly and quickly to rectify it. Don’t make them take the City to court.

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