ST. JOHN’S, NL — Maggie Burton had never run for public office before running for general council in the 2017 municipal election in St. John’s.
But a campaign based on taking a more progressive approach to governing in Newfoundland and Labrador’s capital certainly resonated with voters, and it did four years later when it sought re-election. Burton was the top vote-getter for general counsel in both elections.
“I think there’s a real appetite for positive, progressive politics — that’s one thing,” said Burton, a classically trained violinist and graduate of Memorial University’s School of Music. “And I think people really want to have someone who is approachable, open-minded, but strong in their values and beliefs.”
A councilor for just over four years, she is encouraged by the city’s successes, whether it’s improving sidewalk snow removal or improving the métrobus.
“These are things that make me really proud of the work we’ve done as a board so far, and I guess on a day-to-day basis I enjoy helping people solve problems, whether they’re big or small,” she added. “I just try to help people as much as I can and create a lot of connections in the community that way. Reaching out to people and knowing that they feel like they can come to me with their problems is very special tome.”
It recognizes that the city’s powers are limited and that there is an important balancing act when it comes to providing services to an urban population that is small compared to other large Canadian municipalities. That, Burton said, can certainly challenge the board as a whole.
“I think there are a lot of expectations vis-à-vis the city, and meeting all these expectations, which are all very different depending on the interlocutors, is very difficult.”
A few months into her second term on the board, Burton has a number of issues close to her heart that she wants to address in St. John’s.
“Getting the sustainability plan (Resilient St. John’s Climate Plan) in place and starting the process of mitigating and adapting to climate change is definitely my number one priority,” she said. “But also trying to get more housing built and trying to fix seemingly small things that have a huge impact on people’s lives, like improving sidewalk accessibility on city sidewalks. And focusing really about the basic services that people depend on, to make sure they work well.”
1. What is your full name?
Maggie Muriel Burton.
2. Where were you born?
I was born at Grace Hospital, but not the one you might think of – Grace Hospital in Calgary, Alberta in 1991.
3. Where do you live today?
I live on Maxse Street in Georgestown, St. John’s.
4. Who do you follow on social media?
As a social media-addicted reformer, let’s say, I have an embarrassing list of people I follow. But I guess I have two Twitter accounts that I think are really good. One is James Medlock (@jdcmedlock), and the other is Kids Write Jokes (@KidsWriteJokes). They produce a lot of classics, like “What’s black and white and is a panda?”
5. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
In music school, I had such a bad experience with performance anxiety that I used to get physically ill before any solo violin performance and had a lot of bad memories. People think I’m pretty confident, but I really struggled with that. … I think if it hadn’t been for this experience with music school, I would have been much more afraid of my job (on the board). I had a lot of anxiety for the first four years, of course, but I feel much better now.
6. What was your favorite year and why?
2015 was pretty awesome. I graduated from college, on time and with honors, even though I had a little baby in the middle of my four years. And I also opened a violin studio and had a lot of cute students from three to five years old. I really looked forward to going to work every day.
7. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
Definitely becoming a mother too young, when I was 20 years old. I struggled a lot with the transition from adolescence to parenthood, with virtually no time in between to find my place in my own life and work on processing what was, in many ways, a very difficult.
8. Can you describe an experience that changed your life?
Snowmageddon, of course, and then straight into pandemic years. These two experiences really opened my eyes and allowed us to see how both fragile and strong we are as a community. Sometimes we hang by a thread.
9. What is your greatest indulgence?
As for consumables, which is what people usually think of when embarking on indulgences, I’d say bagels from Georgestown Bakery. But if you look at my bank account, my biggest indulgence is definitely my vegetable hobby. I spend way too much money on my indoor plants.
10. What is your favorite movie or book?
My favorite book is “Housekeeping” by Marilynne Robinson. And my favorite movie is “Robin Hood” from Disney.
11. What do you like to listen to?
I like to listen to a lot of different things. Joanna Newsom is my singer-songwriter. But I’m also known to listen to string quartets, operas, quite loud around the house. And I’m currently obsessed with Minnie Riperton.
12. How do you like to relax?
I take long walks with my partner, Michael, and enjoy doing yoga with my cat on a sunny Saturday morning by the window in my pajamas.
13. What are you reading or watching at the moment?
I just started on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”. And I’m reading a non-fiction book called “On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint” by Maggie Nelson.
14. What is your biggest fear?
I think it’s a toss up between the spiders and the total collapse of our democracy.
15. How would you describe your personal fashion sense?
I look like the love child of a small-town cute queer and a big-city quirky artist type. It’s a lot of wool, denim, Blundstones, Fluevogs, occasion dresses and bright colors. And lots of black.
16. What is your most prized possession?
My violin. It’s a restored 18th century French violin, and it was a gift from my children’s late grandfather, Gerry Porter.
17. What physical or personality trait are you most grateful to a parent for?
I guess being super opinionated, which plagues all sides of my family. Or my pretty nose. I got that from my Nan Bradbury.
18. What do you think is your best quality and what is your worst quality?
Well, our virtues are only vices in disguise, of course. I am super outspoken and honest. I am always myself, and sometimes I can be a little too much myself. I can overshare, I can be too direct. My pop used to tell me I should get “Loose lips sink ships” tattooed on one wrist, and “Still tongue, wise mind” on the other, and he wasn’t wrong. (Laughs.)
19. What is your biggest regret?
Stop traveling until I have children and settle down with my family. I would have really liked, I think, to spend a few years galloping and eating a lot of food. I have become quite restless during the pandemic. I can’t wait to travel some more.
20. Which three people would join you for the dinner party of your dreams?
Certainly Joanna Newsom, Emily Dickinson and David Lynch. I would like to talk to them about the time and the preponderant place that birds hold in their art. I’m hungry enough, definitely, to talk about poetry and beauty with people after being cooped up in the house for a few years.