Mayor fears coup in the works on St. Andrews council
The current members of council for the R.M. of St. Andrews. (Source: RM of St. Andrews)
WINNIPEG -- A special council meeting in the R.M. of St. Andrews called on short notice has left the Mayor and residents fearing a coup is in the works from other members of council – an act that some residents say appears to be discrimination and bullying against the women on council.
The future is uncertain for St. Andrews Mayor Joy Sul, who – along with a number of residents – is concerned a special council meeting on Monday will end with a group of councillors stripping away her authority as Mayor of the R.M.
On Thursday, the R.M. of St. Andrews gave notice of a special council meeting being held on Monday afternoon. The top of the agenda is the appointment of a new chair (a position currently held by Sul,) and deputy chair. Other items include an appointment of a municipality spokesperson, and appointment of additional signing authorities.
“I was elected the mayor. No one can strip that title for me, but they can take all my power away, which appears is the intent,” Sul told CTV News Winnipeg. “No speaking to media, no chairing meetings, no signing authority. It's a mirror image to what happened in Teulon which is unprecedented. It’s never happened in Manitoba.”
The Town of Teulon’s council was dissolved in October by the province, after a number of council members resigned in the midst of a power struggle. A by-election in Teulon was held in early December.
READ MORE: BY-ELECTION TO BE CALLED IN TEULON AFTER COUNCILLORS QUIT
Sul told CTV News for the past few months it began to feel that a “coup was going on” in council.
The mayor said at the suggestion of the interim CAO, the special meeting was requested by three councillors: Matthew Prychun, Darryl Pohl and John Preun.
Coun. John Preun said councillors would not comment, but said he will release a statement at the conclusion of the meeting on Monday.
A HISTORY OF ALLEGED DISCRIMINATION AND BULLYING AMONG COUNCIL
While the special council meeting has concerned many people living in the R.M. of St. Andrews, seven residents reached out to CTV News saying they are not surprised a coup may be brewing.
Since Sul was voted mayor in 2018, winning in a landslide victory with over 61 per cent of the vote, residents say two groups have formed within council – five members of council who are men, and two members who are women.
“The bottom line is that this story is all about a group of men playing power politics,” Lou Morissette, a resident of St. Andrews told CTV News in an email. “I would call it very disturbing politics going on here.”
Another resident, Sid Prokipchuk detailed the behaviour directed against Sul by other male members of council – saying the men “stick together” shunning her in meetings and shutting down her ideas with no apparent reasoning.
“Anything that Joy tried to implement, the men just shut her down,” said long-time St. Andrews resident Hedy Wereschuk. “It’s almost like they gang up on her.”
Sul said it’s no secret she, along with the only other female councillor Kristin Hoebee, have had a difficult time on council. She said at one point the two faced sexist comments – with a councillor allegedly asking the women why they didn’t bring homemade baked cookies to the meeting.
“It’s just that we’re unheard,” Sul said. “You could have the best idea in the world to move the R.M. forward, but it’s just if it came from a woman – it’s not even listened too.”
Coun. Hoebee told CTV News she would like to wait until Monday’s meeting to make any statement.
“By the optics – It certainly appears to be a gender bias simply because you've got two women up against five men,” said Karen McKenzie, a resident who said she has attended many council meetings and has seen the behaviour first hand. “I hesitate to pin a label on it as gender-based because I can't account for how their minds work. It certainly has that appearance.”
Three other residents who reached out to CTV News said they had witnessed similar events within council.
Coun. Prychun told CTV News any allegations of discrimination or sexist comments being made are false and inaccurate.
“No decisions are made in the R.M. of St. Andrews based on gender, or based on any type of discrimination,” Prychun told CTV News.
Prychun added a statement can be expected from the council following the meeting.
The meeting is taking place on Monday at 3:25 p.m. at the municipal office in Clandeboye.