Investigate Richmond County

Editor’s note: The following letter was written to the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Chuck Porter.

Dear Mr. Porter,

As a citizen of Richmond County, I have serious concerns regarding the recent actions of three members of our municipal council. In a majority-rule democratic system, it is a reality that representatives with similar interests may choose to vote together as a block. Sadly, the recent situation in our county goes far beyond block voting and differences of opinion.

Over the past four weeks, it appears as though three councillors in our council of five have begun the process of effectively cutting off my councillor, as well as the (now former) warden, from participating in the municipal governance process. It seems that major decisions for our municipality, decisions with substantial financial implications, have been decided not around the council table but in backrooms. In addition, these three councillors appear to have been wilfully neglectful, having made decisions hastily as a show of power, without proper financial analysis or legal advice.

What scenario is considered “excessive” enough to have Municipal Affairs step in to discipline councillors acting dishonestly and violating their own code of conduct? Do “majorities” have the ultimate power to rule unilaterally until the next election cycle, making decisions with little regard for the “minority” districts, costs to the taxpayers or the best interests of their municipality? If these three councillors continue this pattern, I and the other constituents of these two districts, no longer have representation at the municipal level.

The events in Richmond County have shined a spotlight on the weaknesses of the Municipal Government Act and the problems with “self-governing” codes of conducts. If these three councillors have acted in bad faith and are not held accountable for their behaviour, what kind of precedence does this set for other municipalities and towns around the province? There must be safeguards put in place to protect the public from a self-serving municipal council that can govern with few rules or consequences.

I ask that your department investigate the recent events in our county, and if there is any evidence of wrong doing, set an example that abuse of power by municipal councillors will not be tolerated. I would also ask that your department examine the practices of other provinces, such as the “Council Code of Conduct” legislation recently introduced in Manitoba for example.

The situation in our county should certainly provide reason to expedite the action item listed in your department’s Business Plan 2019-2020 to “Review options with respect to regulations pertaining to Municipal Codes of Conduct.” We must strengthen the Municipal Government Act and ensure honest and fair municipal representation for the people of this province.

Perhaps the events here in Richmond are just politics as usual and another incident that will continue to erode the confidence and trust the people have in their politicians and the political process. An investigation into the matters here in Richmond County would go a long way in reassuring the public that government is actually for the people.

Robert Samson

Petit de Grat