PORT HOOD: Betty Ann MacQuarrie is still the Warden of Inverness County.
MacQuarrie’s position as warden was reviewed last Friday morning at a special meeting of Inverness Municipal Council. The meeting was requested by four councillors serving on the six-person council unit.
The meeting began with councillors John Dowling, John MacLennan, and Jim Mustard, as well as deputy warden Alfred Poirier, positioned to vote against continuing with MacQuarrie in the big chair. Laurie Cranton, councillor for Margaree and area, had not expressed support for taking a stand against MacQuarrie.
The meeting proceeded with each council member having an opportunity to present his or her appraisal of the warden’s performance. Speaking last was Mustard, who said he changed his mind about voting non-competency.
“Last week, I signed a document looking at a formal vote of non-competence thinking it would be a signal to the warden that now, rather than November, was the time for change,” he said, noting that November is when the warden’s position was scheduled to be reviewed.
Mustard said that, since signing the document, he’s spent some time at a conference in Halifax on the topic of making Nova Scotia thrive. That conference, he noted, was mostly attended by women. He mentioned he also visited Wagmatcook for the installation of the first indigenous court in Canada. Both those trips were inspiring, he said.
“And I had to reflect on what this day, right here and right now, means to us,” he said. “So I’m pledging to work with our CAO, our warden and council, to help better define the role and responsibilities of the warden position. We need a shared understanding of what we need to practice.
“I’ve learned a lesson since last Friday. I’m here to support the structure of this council as it is now,” he said, noting there are issues to address but that he looks forward to doing so with MacQuarrie leading the table.
With Mustard deciding to vote against non-competency, council was left with only three members willing to vote against MacQuarrie. A decision for non-competency requires two-thirds of the elected officials (four in this case) to be in favour of the decision. As the prospective motion of non-competency didn’t have enough support, the vote didn’t take place.
During the course of the meeting, Dowling, MacLennan, and Poirier explained the issues they had regarding MacQuarrie’s leadership. All three said their problems were professional ones, not personal.
Some of the big ticket items in terms of criticism included an allegation that MacQuarrie meet unbeknownst to council with Cabot Golf owner Ben Cowan-Dewar and former Premier Rodney MacDonald regarding the purposed expansion of Cabot Golf in South West Mabou.
Another bone of contention is the lack of funding for the Port Hawkesbury Airport, officially named the Allan J. MacEachen Port Hawkesbury Airport. Dowling said he’s been looking for documentation as to why Inverness County doesn’t fund the airport, but he’s not seen any paperwork since coming to council.
Matters of decorum at council meetings were also brought into question.
In relation to the Cabot matter, MacQuarrie said the allegation is false. She also said the matter of airport funding could have been brought up at an audit committee meeting prior to the budget being passed.
She also maintained decorum at council meetings is not generally a problem.
Cranton spoke in favour of MacQuarrie, saying the municipality took several steps forward since she came to her position. He noted that a new CAO was hired, several new positions have been created for staff, the tax rate was maintained, and the budget is in the black.
“I think we’re seen as one of the more solid municipal units in the province in terms of our finances and taxes,” he said.
Following the meeting, MacQuarrie said Mustard’s decision to support her was appreciated.
“I wasn’t sure how that was going to play,” she said. “Jim did bring forward issues, but the end result was welcome. There is an effort and desire to work as a team and have harmony at our meetings. I thought we had that, but it’s something to work on.
“This was a learning experience. Next time we meet, if the things they are dissatisfied with are brought to the table, I will make every effort to justifiably make improvements.”
She also mentioned that she appreciated so many people attending the meeting. The council chamber was packed with MacQuarrie supporters. Indeed, the meeting ended with a standing ovation for the warden.
“I don’t think this is a personal victory, it’s a victory for Inverness County,” she said.
“It’s great to have the support. They are here in support of Inverness County. They want to make sure Inverness County continues to thrive.”
Dowling said he and the rest of council are anxious to get back to business.
“I think we got a lot of issues out in the open,” he said. “I’m hoping that the discussion opened up some doors and that she truly understands what our reasoning is. I’ve always been willing to move forward. I’m stubborn and vocal, but I follow my principals.”
Given that MacQuarrie is the only woman to have ever served as warden, some allegations on Facebook (and from the public attending the meeting) regarded sexism. Both MacQuarrie and Dowling said sexism was not the motivation for the vote.
“I am the only female on council, but I don’t think that’s an issue,” MacQuarrie said.
“There was absolutely no gender issue whatsoever,” Dowling said. “This was an issue not against Betty Ann MacQuarrie but Warden MacQuarrie.”