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IN PERSON: Meet Ward 3 councillor Rory Nisan

Former foreign service officer relishes making a 'tangible difference' in people's lives
Burlington Ward 3 councillor Rory Nisan.

As Burlington council prepared to kick off its new term Nov. 15 with the inauguration of the mayor and the members elected to represent the city’s six wards, BurlingtonToday reached out to each of them to find out more about who they are, their reflections on the previous term and their goals for the next four years. 


Rory Nisan may have taken a different route to municipal politics than most, but the north Burlington resident says there’s no place he’d rather be.

Nisan, first elected in 2018 to the Ward 3 seat vacated by retiring councillor John Taylor, was a Foreign Service Officer for 11 years. His work for Global Affairs Canada included negotiating human rights resolutions at the United Nations, supporting the North Atlantic Treaty Organizations and helping Canadians in the aftermath of natural and man-made disasters. But he wanted to do more.

“I enjoyed my previous career, because it was important work,” he said. “I was working on important issues, sometimes human rights issues, sometimes national security, analyzing risk globally. So it was a pleasing role, but it just didn’t feel like I was making enough of a difference. 

“I thought I would like to be in the driver’s seat of change and…the place to be, really, is at the local level.”

Looking back

He’s also not afraid to aim high. While on the campaign trail in Brant Hills in 2018  — he would go on to win the seat with better than 54 per cent of the vote in the five-person race  — he met a young mother who pointed out the need for a splash pad in the area. Despite resounding support for the idea from local residents, however, he ran into headwinds. 

“The previous councillor at the time said it was impossible, and I found out later staff also said it wasn’t possible,” he said, noting that lack of space in Brant Hills Park was cited as the reason. After much work with the city manager and senior design staff, a solution was reached: a site previously deemed unsafe due to its proximity to the main baseball diamond was enhanced with a barrier to prevent fly balls from entering the play area. 

“So, for the cost of a fence, we got the splash pad done, from impossible to complete,” said Nisan. “I had to advocate with my colleagues, and local residents delegated to city council, explaining why it was important. Kudos to my colleagues; they supported me and I had it approved in the first budget using the park reserve fund, so there was no tax impact on residents.”

Since it opened in 2021  — later than planned due to the pandemic  — the splash pad has become a connection point within the community, says Nisan. “It became ‘Meet me at the splash pad on Saturday,’” he noted, with kids coming from soccer or the nearby playground, then back again while parents and grandparents enjoying some social time of their own. “In many ways, we’re not changing the world here, we’re  just improving the lives of thousands of people locally in a very tangible way, which is exactly what I was hoping to achieve as a councillor.”

Nisan was pleased with the result of the Oct. 24 election which sent him back to council for a second term. “I think there was a degree of endorsement in the ward for the work that I did in the last four years,” he said.

He acknowledged that there was a learning curve when he first arrived on council, but credited staff at the City and at Halton Region for making the transition for all new counillors as smooth as possible. 

In addition to the splash pad project, he got to work on implementing free transit for high school students  — an issue that ran into obstacles due to COVID-19, but one which he plans to continue to advocate for. 

“I think that’s a really important item because, as our city grows, we want more people on the bus, taking pressure off the roads, off of traffic,” he said, noting that as more young people make public transit part of their daily routine, the easier it will be to improve the service for them. “(Public transit) requires bold investment. You have to really step up and say, ‘We are putting buses on the road.’

“It’s an environmental issue, it’s a quality of life issue and an economics issue.”

Looking ahead

As the current council works to manage growth and intensification throughout the city, Nisan stresses the need to implement projects that strengthen connections in the community   — for example, a pedestrian/active transportation bridge over the QEW that would link the hydro paths in North Burlington to the bike routes south of the highway, all the way to the lakeshore.

“In Burlington, often in people's minds, there’s a disconnect between the north of the highway and south of the highway, and I think that is largely due to the infrastructure,” he explained. “You have the train, you have the highway; it creates a physical barrier in the city.”

With the projected new building developments along the Major Transportation Station Arteries, NIsan foresees a city that looks very different in the future. “Burlington in 20 or 30 years, Fairview will be the main link, the way Brant Street was 30 years ago, up to the present day.”

Still, he adds, it will be possible to preserve the best things about the city. 

“The character of Burlington is very unique; it’s a place that a lot of people want to be,” he said. “The soul of the city is a certain kindness. We need to keep that kind of heart and soul while growing and changing.

“And it is possible. A lot of it is in the ‘how.’ With the new provincial plans…we need to be constantly having one eye on the long-term.”


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Brenda Jefferies

About the Author: Brenda Jefferies

Brenda Jefferies is Editor of BurlingtonToday. Brenda’s work has been recognized at the provincial, national and international levels, with awards for local sports, headline and editorial writing
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