A recent clever New Wark Times article, entitled “experts warn Sackville town councils new code of conduct could shut down dissent” interviewed our own Dr. Geoff Martin, Dr. O’ Byrne from UNB, and M. Murray, the NB Ombudsman about the new so-called “code of conduct”. They provided informative insights:
Related to this story, Bambi has strongly condemned the silencing of Councillor Phinney earlier:
Today, in reflecting about Mr. Wark’s article, a few thoughts crossed her mind:
First, how odd that an administrative creation of a province, the municipalities, cannot benefit from a clean-up by this “creator”. In other jurisdictions, we have seen municipalities being amalgamated with other sister municipalities. If we have created them, we can also dismantle them.
In other jurisdictions, namely Québec (i.e., with a reputation of corruption in our country), we EVEN hold mayors and town staff accountable. We do not hesitate to put them in jail. We even incarcerate ex-Québec Lieutenant Governors (https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/ex-quebec-lieutenant-governor-lise-thibault-in-jail-until-at-least-tuesday-1.2590880).
Well, at least, Québeckers do municipal cleaning up from time to time.
Of course, by no means, Bambi is saying that we have the same issues here in NB or to the same extent.
However, who can deny that we have serious issues in our sweet little Sackville? Indeed, the culture of its governance seems to look like a mini-authoritarian entity than a healthy democracy.
Is this some older feudal region of Lebanon or is this Canada in 2020?
Second, and in trying to make sense of all this, Bambi chatted with her spouse, Louis (a lawyer in another jurisdiction of Canada) about Mr. Wark’s article.
The first words that came out of his mouth were: “The First Amendment… The Americans understood it all in the 1790s”.
“What is that about?”, Bambi asked.
“Why don’t you google it first”, Louis replied?
Bambi did so (she sometimes listens to her spouse ?) and came across the following text:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”.
Bambi returned to Louis for more insights.
This is what he said: “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does apply to municipalities and should be relevant to this type of situation”.
“However, this is meaningless. In reality, it is BS”, said Louis in all honesty.
“What they were nailing me for was testifying before the Assessment and Planning Appeal Board. I will even note that no one challenged the veracity of the testimony. These are the kinds of anti-democratic methods so popular in this town and province apparently. These are all just excuses to shut down dissenters.
In a real democracy, the courts would be a brake on this kind of excess via an application of the likes of the Charter, but around here, many judges are no more than politicians by another name. In fact, it’s shocking how many are retired politicians.
Phinney, whether you like him or not, was elected by the people of this town. But what I’d like to know if, if ‘they’ just decide not to let him in to the Council chamber any more or otherwise interfere with him, who is going to stop them? That’s a question that everyone should be asking themselves. Because around here, the answer is far from obvious.”
Sadly, Louis is right, all this is truly meaningless… if we recall the legal saga between him and the Town of Sackville that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
So, what should we do as a society? Shut up and not express any dissent. In other terms, resign to that unfair reality? Pretend that life is good and hide in our intellectual or moral bubble.
As Louis commented on this blog earlier (see the link above):
“At the very least, this should be a reminder that we should all vote for Phinney at the upcoming election, if the minions allow us to. He’s the only player in there we can all be sure isn’t in on any of the games.“
In addition to Louis’ comments, Bambi will allow herself to cite at the end of this post the own words of Sackville prominent citizens, as published in the New Wark Times: Ms. Sharon Hicks, Mr. Shawn Meshau (the citizen in him, not the Councillor), and earlier comments to a related article by Ms. Azi, Mr. Joel B, Mr. Norman Cole, Mr. Percy Best, and Mr. Harold (in the earlier post reported above, we an read Ms. Sharon Higgs’ wise words).
To conclude this post now, Bambi would like to thank Mr. Wark again for his rigorous journalism and for giving voices to citizens and experts.
In addition, MANY thanks to Mr. Percy Best and Ms. Sharon Hicks for having been our eyes, ears, and mouth in all town council meetings over the last four years.
Ms. Sharon Higgs:
“As Professor Geoff Martin points out, while there are some good points about Sackville’s new Code of Conduct for Members of Council, the ultimate effect is to basically shut down any ‘real’ open discussion between our elected representatives who sit on Council.
Professor Martin alluded to the fact that Councillors are elected by citizens, and they need to maintain autonomy – in other words they need to be able to speak up on behalf of the constituents who put their trust in them.
He also points out that Councillors are not “town staff’, yet this Code of Conduct would seem to place than at that level, or actually below that level, as he points out that it places them under the “supervision of the council majority and the staff”.
My understanding of how the dynamics of a municipal governing body functions has always been that the Mayor and Council are there to ‘direct’ staff to work on projects for the betterment of the Town, and that part of the Mayor’s role is to only relay the wishes of Council to the staff, via the Town Manager (called the chief Administrative Officer [CAO] here in Sackville).
For those of us who follow local Town Council meetings and activities on a regular basis, what we see has become the total opposite, especially over the past four years under our current Mayor. How did this model become so completely turned around?
The experts consulted for this article have made the point that the wording and intent of this new Code of Conduct sets up an ‘invitation’ for an ongoing litany of petty complaints, which would end up with councillors basically ‘fighting amongst themselves’.
It could be seen as a convenient ‘tool’ with which to ‘divide and conquer’ Councillors, with the resulting in-fighting distracting their focus and attention away from more important issues, allowing free reign by the mayor and town management.
Who would that benefit? Certainly not the Councillors. And certainly not the residents of Sackville.”
Mr. Norman Cole:
“I think this comment is well thought out and maybe the other councillors might want to [revist] their thoughts as to why they were elected and what their mission should really be. There seems to not be enough Accountability as to the way decisions are made on some really important issues. You are all elected and expected to have the whole town’s best interest as top priority.“
Mr. Shawn Meshau:
“**The following comment I am making is not the views of council.
These are my personal views only.**
I want to thank Mr. Wark for playing a very important role in our community of bringing information to the forefront so we can garner perspectives around many important issues our community is subject to.
It was reassuring to see that some of the concerns raised in the article by these experts were in line with what I raised during council’s opportunity to deliberate the code of conduct as presented.
I believe a code of conduct is important to ensure councillors and the Mayor conduct themselves professionally and respectfully.
It was my hope that the code implemented by council would be a work in progress and amended as required based on what we learned from its existence.
If it creates barriers for a councillor to be able to uphold the Local Governance Act which indicates a councillor must consider the welfare and interests of the entire community, the opportunity does exist to amend the code.
Where the code is mandated by the Local Governance Act, I believe municipalities should be provided guidance from the Department of Local Government in producing an effective code in the spirit of good governance.
In fact not all municipalities have the ability to afford legal advice in formulating a code of conduct, so why wouldn’t this department not strive to ensure each municipality utilizes a standard means to govern its elected officials’ conduct.
We must not forget our purpose as elected officials or let policy determine who we are as an individual councillor.
Bureaucracy/policy, although required to deliver services, can be cold and calculating and we forget that it takes the empathy of council and administrators to ensure it is developed in a manner that best represents democracy.“
And from earlier posts…
“In my experience, Mr. Phiney is a very reliable, honest, and responsible councilor. This kind of action by some other councilors/mayor makes me have even more respect for him.”
Mr. Joel B:
Bruce Phinney is one of the best councillors Sackville has ever had and something doesn’t sit well with me here .
“If Councillor Phinney said something at a meeting, and that portion of the meeting has never been revealed to the public, then how the heck can he be subjected to a bylaw infraction that says that any councillor cannot reveal to the public something that was told in confidence. It does make one wonder WHO actually owes WHO an apology here.
If the Mayor reveals to the citizens of Sackvile, the 37 seconds of audio that the Town is hiding, then they possibly have a beef with Councillor Phinney not abiding by this bylaw, but that will not be the case until we all hear the audio.”
“It is rather confusing — perhaps intentional — to refer to “elected officials” as “public servants”. It implies that they serve at the pleasure of the Town, not the will of the electorate. I wonder why all the other councillors accepted this? Do they think they are Town employees?”