swear speech bubble1

- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

F****** C***.    Is that how low we have to sink before we admit we have a problem with incivility and misogyny in municipal politics?

The full disgusting epithet is what one councillor called a fellow councillor during a Kincardine council meeting. After a short break, the mayor –  the Head of Council – told members they should be careful not to be caught on a hot mic. Nothing else. The meeting continued.

There is to be an investigation by the municipality's Integrity Commissioner. An investigation to determine whether calling a colleague a f****** c*** on camera in a workplace is a violation of a code of conduct and whether there should be consequences.

Kincardine is the municipality that lost its mayor last April. Mid-term, after 18 years in municipal politics, Anne Eadie read a letter of resignation at a council meeting, and handed the meeting over to the deputy mayor.

The letter did not include an explanation of Ms. Eadie's reasons for her decision. It was full of thanks and gratitude. Yet the deputy mayor responded by saying “I know how you feel. I’m like you – I have some battle scars on me too. I hope I did not put any negative feelings onto you with respect to this. Politics is a tough business.” So he knew.

But lest you think for a moment that Kincardine is some sort of outlier in Grey-Bruce municipalities, let me assure that it is not.

I will not forget telling a former female mayor of a local municipality that I had been reduced to tears by one of her male colleagues. She told me that one of her personal goals was never to give him the satisfaction of seeing her cry.

We had an investigation in Owen Sound by our provincially-mandated, municipally-paid Integrity Commissioner. They found a councillor guilty of “bullying and harassing behaviour”, and the council voted, unanimously, to accept that decision. The irony was that the specific bullying behaviour investigated was this councillor calling out another member of council ...for bullying. The Commissioners had no conversations with the people the councillor viewed as the targets of his colleague's bullying – they saw that as outside the scope of the investigation.

This is the same council term where a member of the public making a delegation was called out by a councillor for “inappropriate language in this chamber” for saying someone was “goofy”.   Another delegate fantasized aloud about the founder of council returning from his grave to take a flamethrower to a particular councillor's seat.  His professional College called his language "unnecessarily violent and of an unprofessional nature”, yet no one, including the Head of Council, stopped him or commented.

During the pandemic, the deputy mayor of Arran-Elderslie gave a “some of my good friends are Mennonites but...” interview with a Sun Times reporter. “I don’t want to bad mouth them, but ...” he said, continuing “I’m not going to say they’re breaking the law but boy they’re taking it right to the limit.” This is a council where members have also been called out by their peers for comments about women and Indigenous people that are unbecoming in the 21st century. A few hours of “diversity training” provided by two older white men will not turn such attitudes around.

The mayor of Georgian Bluffs was the subject of multiple complaints to that municipality's Integrity Commissioner by fellow members of council this term. Some regarded process and transparency; others were about disparaging and sexist comments and attitudes. Some members of the council were dissatisfied with the report on the investigation, and with the mayor's response. “I'll just keep my mouth shut,” he told a reporter.“Before the world changed, there were certain things you could joke with your fellow councillors about and so on and they wouldn’t be upset about it.” As he sees it, the problem is not his, but that the world has changed.

Faced with a potential double-digit tax increase, West Grey council recently agreed, in a 4-3 vote, to invite both the OPP and Owen Sound Police Services to provide them with a costing for police services. Since then, the four councillors who supported the request for information have been insulted on social media, accused in the newspaper of not supporting the local police, and have been required to turn over all emails from their municipal accounts on the subject as a result of anonymous complaints to the municipality.

One councillor reported on this intimidation at council, including a phone call she received at her home warning her that she had better vote to rescind the police costing requests or “people are going to get hurt.”

There was no further comment on the subject at council, but at the end of the meeting the councillor received an email from the Police Chief saying that he assumed she was implicating a member of his service and as a result of her comments, he was opening a criminal investigation into these threats. “Can you advise when you will be free to discuss this matter further?”  The email was sent to her personal email address before she had even left the council chamber.  The local police investigating themselves and people who are acting in support of them.  There's a problem there.

Before anyone begins the “few bad apples” speech, let's remember that the rest of that saying is “spoils the whole barrel”. This is not about individuals, it is about a culture of disrespect at some of our municipal tables. No code of conduct or threat of Integrity Commissioners will change that.

But it can not exist where the citizens do not tolerate it.

This is an election year. There will be all-candidates' meetings and both incumbents and newcomers will be asking for your vote. This is your opportunity to make clear that you expect healthy, civil, respectful discussion at the council table and a safe working environment for every member of your municipality's staff and council.