'A very dangerous precedent': RM of St. Andrews draws provincial attention over coup in council
WINNIPEG -- The R.M. of St. Andrews is drawing the attention of a provincial leader, as council met for the first time since stripping the mayor of key powers.
In December, five members of council – a majority – voted to remove Mayor Joy Sul as chairperson and spokesperson for the RM, positions traditionally held by the mayor.
Manitoba Liberal leader Dougald Lamont made the trip to St. Andrews on Tuesday night to sit in on the regular council meeting in the RM, and show his support.
He says the situation in St. Andrews is serious.
"It's a very, very dangerous precedent for councils just to be taking them over and pushing them aside," Lamont told CTV News. "Ultimately, you cannot have a situation like this where council is just sort of rising up and overthrowing the mayor. There has to be a proper, due process for that to happen."
Lamont said he's been contacted by several people who are frustrated with the situation and want change. He said he is visiting St. Andrews to see for himself.
"If we can help in some way, we will do that," he said.
Lamont was not the only supporter in the St. Andrews council meeting Tuesday night.
A majority of council members in the R.M. of St. Andrews, Man., voted to strip Mayor Joy Sul (pictured) of a large portion of her power and authority as mayor during a special council meeting on Dec. 16, 2019. (Source: Danton Unger/ CTV News Winnipeg)
Raymond Kashuba, a St. Andrews resident of 29 years, said he sat in on the meeting in support of Sul.
"We shouldn’t have to go through this," Kashuba said. "When (Joy Sul) was elected, she was supposed to be the spokesman and it holds as a title certain responsibilities, end of story."
As for Sul, she has requested a judicial review into the decision.
"The province has to step in, because this is the end of democracy in St. Andrews," Sul told CTV News. "There's so much good we should be doing and the residents just don't deserve this. This is just wrong."
Sul said she's received hundreds of letters and messages from residents in the area, showing their support and urging her to keep fighting for her position.
On Tuesday, Bruce Gray, Deputy Minister of Municipal Relations, responded to some residents' concerns in a letter obtained by CTV News.
Gray said the Municipal Act allows "broad authority" for elected council members to make decisions, adding this includes introducing and amending by-laws for specific duties to council members.
"Overall, this legislative authority is based on the understanding that, as mature and responsible local governments, Manitoba municipalities and their elected officials govern their own internal matters, and are accountable to their community for their behaviour, decisions and actions through the local democratic process," the letter reads.
The letter said the provincial government is continuing to monitor the situation in St. Andrews closely.
The agenda for Tuesday's council meeting showed councillors would be discussing a "legal issue" in-camera, meaning behind closed doors and no minutes are recorded.
Coun. John Preun, the newly appointed St. Andrews spokesperson, declined to comment when asked about the judicial review by CTV News.
Sul said for now, she has to wait to see the results of the judicial review. There will be a hearing regarding the matter in the Court of Queen's Bench on Jan. 21 in Winnipeg.