Councillors seek an end to bullying
Resolution prompted by resignation of RM of Ritchot mayor
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/07/2017 (1866 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
West St. Paul Coun. Cheryl Christian has written what may become the new anti-bullying legislation for Manitoba municipalities, but she wasn’t around to see it pass. That’s because when she emailed it to fellow councillors last month, one colleague told her the motion wasn’t necessary and the others didn’t respond.
Unable to get traction with her own council, she started emailing councillors in other municipalities.
Christian’s motion was prompted by the resignation last April of then- Ritchot mayor Jackie Hunt, who was the victim of bullying and belligerent behaviour by her fellow councillors. Christian needed the motion passed by June 1 to get it on to the agenda of municipal district meetings, then onto the agenda of the fall convention of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM). That would put it on the provincial government’s agenda.
In the RM of St. Andrews, Coun. Joy Sul took the motion to her council and moved it, but her fellow councillors refused to second it. St. Andrews Mayor George Pike said he knew the resolution had already been passed in other municipalities, making it unnecessary for St. Andrews to pass it. In Selkirk, the motion was tabled.
With time running out, Coun. Heather Erickson brought it forward in the RM of Springfield, and it passed unanimously. Erickson then took it to the eastern district meeting of the AMM. Not only did it pass unanimously, but Erickson was greeted by thunderous applause and congratulations. One councillor even hugged her.
“This isn’t an isolated incident,” said Christian, referring to Hunt’s troubles in the RM of Ritchot. “There’s change coming from this.”
After Hunt’s resignation, Christian arranged a private meeting with three other female councillors from other Manitoba municipalities to share stories and talk about what could be done. Then she drafted a motion.
The motion addresses bullying and harassment by elected officials against other elected officials. As it stands now, elected officials are not included in the Workplace Health and Safety Act as they are defined as neither employers nor employees.
Christian’s resolution would protect elected officials under the law. “We want the same protection as all employees and employers,” she said.
The only way councils can deal with inappropriate behaviour now is by censure. Censure, said Christian, “is a line in the council minutes” that few people read, stating a councillor acted inappropriately in the opinion of other councillors. Her motion calls censure “the only penalty option for elected officials who have violated any aspect of the Council Code of Conduct (and) a meaningless and purely symbolic public statement from council.”
Even though the proposed legislation is driven by women, Christian insists it’s gender-neutral. It also applies to municipalities’ chief administrators.
Municipal Affairs Minister Eileen Clarke has told the authors of the motion she’s paying attention and takes the issue seriously, Christian said.
“Our government welcomes the initiative undertaken by the RM of Springfield and the Association of Manitoba Municipalities to enhance decorum at municipal council,” Clarke told the Free Press in a statement. “The province looks forward to exploring opportunities where we can work together going forward to help prevent incidents of harassment in the workplace.”
West St. Paul council has since passed a similar motion with broader parameters after the June 1 deadline.
Of the four female councillors who met to draft the motion, one has asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, Christian said. The other two are Erickson and Sul.
Hunt, who is seeking re-election in Ritchot after council was dissolved and a byelection called, has been in touch with the women.
Christian recently attended forums on councillor harassment and attracting and retaining good candidates to local councils at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in Ottawa. She said she learned council bullying is a nationwide problem. Councillors told stories of inappropriate comments, insults, threats of violence, racism and even physical assaults.
“One woman said another councillor threatened he would tie pantyhose around her neck,” she said.
Erickson said she can’t believe the support she’s received since presenting Christian’s resolution at the AMM’s eastern district meeting.
“Many people came to congratulate me for my courage, and subsequently I have been contacted by email in this regard. I feel a little uncomfortable about it because I was merely the delivery system,” she said, giving the credit to Christian.
Another email said it was “the best resolution I have ever seen. Unfortunately, I experienced such behaviour — and nothing was done.”
The resolution will be voted on at the AMM’s November convention by all Manitoba councils. If passed, the AMM will begin to work with government toward its implementation.
Updated on Monday, July 3, 2017 9:13 AM CDT: Photo fixed.