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EDITORIAL: City council squandered its mandate

Charlottetown mayor-elect Philip Brown has no intention of easing into his new role when the new council is sworn in on Dec. 6. Brown wants to get to work right away on a whole host of issues.
Charlottetown mayor-elect Philip Brown has no intention of easing into his new role when the new council is sworn in on Dec. 6. Brown wants to get to work right away on a whole host of issues. - Jim Day

The old council had no mandate passing the procedural bylaw. It dithered away its opportunity over the past months and lost its moral authority after the Nov. 5 civic election.

Philip Brown is being sworn as the 46th mayor of Charlottetown this afternoon -- along with his city council -- but, his first day on the job won’t quite follow historical pattern. Far from it.

Last Wednesday, a story in The Guardian detailed how mayor-elect Brown was anxious to start his new job and act on a long list of issues. One of those priorities was to meet the day after the swearing-in and get approval on standing committees and the roles of councillors.

Two days later, a lame-duck council met to start dismantling Mr. Brown’s agenda. On Tuesday, it completed its unsavourary task. The new mayor won’t be hitting the ground running, as he had hoped. Instead, his new council faces unforeseen delays getting to work.

Those important matters are on hold because his powers have been curbed, thanks in part to the new Municipal Government Act (MGA) which requires more collaboration and consensus government. This new bylaw requires the mayor, along with two councillors selected by council, and the city’s chief administrative officer, to act as an executive committee. Together, they would, for example, select committee members, chairs and define their roles.

In a move accurately described by one councillor as “underhanded,” the old council rushed to pass the procedural bylaw to implement those changes under the MGA. The same council sat on the issue for almost year but then felt obligated to take action with its dying gasp. Mr. Brown was forced to stop his transition preparations and wait on these new rules and procedures before beginning the task of moving on his agenda.

The old council had no mandate passing the procedural bylaw. It dithered away its opportunity over the past months and lost its moral authority after the Nov. 5 civic election. Following that date, the bylaw should have been left to the new council to ratify. A Dec. 22 deadline could be easily accommodated.

Melissa Hilton, who lost her seat, and Eddie Rice, who didn’t re-offer, had no businesses being involved with a bylaw affecting the new council. The conspiring over the past two meetings are a slap in the face for new councillors Alanna Jankov and Julie McCabe; passage was seemingly rushed through to spite Mr. Brown.

Coun. Bob Doiron has expressed his disgust with the proceedings, while Mayor Clifford Lee, who leaves office officially at 4 p.m. today, gave both meetings a wide berth, signaling his distaste for this brazen challenge.

And the reason for this last-minute bylaw push? Perhaps a signal to Mr. Brown that the CAO and senior councillors are flexing their new-found authority and they expect to be treated accordingly? While few people have an issue with those MGA changes, and Mr. Brown is one of them, it's the timing that smells. Rarely had this council acted so quickly and assertively.

This same group had no problem deferring a conflict of interest issue under the new MGA last week – for the new council to deal with. It could easily have decided the same fate for this procedural bylaw. Its actions seem brazenly hypocritical.

Criticism of this procedural bylaw, which affects all municipalities, was raised in the legislature Tuesday afternoon, as negatively impacting the role of mayors and being confusing for councils. Communities Minister Richard Brown announced a six-month extension for implementation because of the concerns and confusion, just after Charlottetown council pushed forward with second and final reading.

Mayor-elect Brown and some of his team met with the CAO some 10 days ago to discuss the swearing-in and other transitional procedures. There was not a mention of this detailed bylaw which really should have been the main topic on the agenda for Mr. Brown’s benefit.

Mr. Brown had said after the election that he would be respectful of all councillors and staff, and would work collaboratively with them. This must work both ways.

It seems that more than the city’s CAO should be undergoing sensitivity training.

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