New regulations to combat bullying within municipal governments have exceeded her expectations, says one of the original lobbyers for the law.
“We raised so many concerns with the government to ask for protection, and it did,” said Cheryl Christian, mayor of the RM of West St. Paul.
“It doesn’t mean that there’s not going to be bullying and harassment but now there’s a process to follow to investigate it and some real sanctions to deal with it,” she added.
The Municipal Amendment Act and Council Members’ Codes of Conduct regulation took effect on November 1, the province announced.
The act and regulation provide guidelines for the conduct expected from municipal council members, mandates code of conduct training and sets out a blueprint for investigating complaints.
The regulation requires municipalities to pass a code of conduct bylaw and for council members to complete training on that code by May 1, 2021.
The new rules came after lobbying efforts from the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM).
Christian worked with a group of women to draft one of the initial resolutions in 2017 after hearing several reports of dysfunctional municipal governments.
“We were hearing so many stories of councillors who were not treating each other well, not treating staff well,” said Christian. “There was nothing in place to offer any kind of protection and ensure a safe workplace.”
In December 2017, Christian told the Co-operator that the motion wasn’t about heated debates or discussions around the council table.
“We are talking about situations so bad councillors have had restraining orders against one another, harassment allegations that have municipalities in this province currently dealing with lawsuits,” she said.
For instance, RM of Ritchot Mayor Jackie Hunt resigned in 2017, alleging name-calling and other uncivil behaviour during council meetings. Two Ritchot councillors also resigned, which forced a byelection of the entire council that summer, according to a 2017 Co-operator report.
While women drafted the resolution, “this is not a gender-specific issue,” Christian said. She received calls from male councillors who’d also experienced workplace bullying, she said.
The regulation is even more rigorous than they’d asked, said Christian. She noted that the province hired a third party to review complaints externally. A memo she provided said Manitoba company BC Advisory Group will act as intake reviewer. As intake reviewer, BC Advisory Group will review which complaints received are valid and must go through the complaints process.
The province consulted with AMM to fine-tune the regulation along with the Association of Manitoba Municipal Administrators and the Association of Manitoba Bilingual Municipalities, said AMM president Ralph Groening.
“We’re pleased,” he said. “We’re happy that the legislation has finally been presented.”
Groening acknowledged that training all council members in the new codes of conduct wouldn’t be easy, but said AMM members were up to the task.
“Let’s give this a chance. I know it will make a difference,” he said.