Bullying message hits Manitoba municipalities

Resolution brought forward at convention sees overwhelming support

Municipal leaders have sent a strong message that rude, belligerent and bullying behaviour by council members will no longer be tolerated.

Delegates at last week’s Association of Manitoba Municipalities convention overwhelmingly supported two resolutions which would give municipal leaders recourse if they’re subject to harassment or other forms of misconduct by fellow councillors.

The matter of bullying on council came to light last spring after RM of Ritchot Mayor Jackie Hunt resigned from her post and went public about the name-calling and other forms of uncivil behaviour going on during public and in-camera meetings. Two other councillors also resigned leaving Ritchot without a quorum and forcing a byelection of the entire council in July.

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This kind of behaviour has become far too common in municipal governments, several leaders said during the Brandon debate.

This isn’t about open debates or heated discussions around council tables, said Cheryl Christian, a councillor with the RM of West St. Paul.

“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.

Christian and RM of Springfield Councillor Heather Erickson began work on one of the resolutions up for debate last week. They and others speak- ing to it last week stressed this is not a gender-based issue.

“Bullying and harassment of elected representatives and staff, male and female, has become far too common,” Erickson said.

Delegates passed two resolutions aimed at addressing the problem.

Citing the limited means councils currently have to deal with the problem, one calls on the AMM to ask the province to allow complaints about conduct to be heard by the ombudsman. Right now the Municipal Act requires that councils establish Codes of Conduct but there is no external investigative process to handle complaints.

A second resolution calls for AMM to lobby government to include elected representatives in the language of the Workplace Safety and Health Amendment Act. Elected officials should have the same right as employers and employees to a safe, harassment-free workplace, said Erickson. Without this it is going to get a lot harder to attract people to serve on councils, she said.

“As elected representatives we need to send a message that there’s zero tolerance for bullying and harassment of colleagues and staff,” she said.

Virden Mayor Jeff McConnell said there has to be a better way to deal with this than by resignations and dissolving councils.

“How was that in anyone’s best interest?” he said.

These resolutions are “telling everybody that our current system isn’t working,” he said.

About the author

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Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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