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Rural Manitoba council may be dissolved after mass exodus of elected officials: province

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A mass exodus of elected officials from a rural Manitoba municipality has put the community in limbo and may force the province to dissolve what's left of the crumbling council.

On April 9, four out of the six council members in the RM of Armstrong – Paul Humeny, Ted Sumka, Pat Stein and Brent Dziadek – sent letters of resignation, effective immediately.

This leaves only the RM's Reeve Kate Basford and one other councillor.

"The Province has been made aware of the situation and we will work closely with them to ensure municipal services continue to be provided," the municipality's interim CAO Nancy Howell told CTV News in an email.

Howell was not able to share the reasons for the resignations, and declined an interview.

CTV News has reached out to the four councillors for comment, but has not yet heard back.

What happens now?

The mass resignation means the rural council has lost its quorum – according to Manitoba's Municipal Act, at least three elected officials required for a council to function.

A provincial spokesperson said Manitoba's Municipal and Northern Relations department is in the process of appointing an administrator who will make sure the municipality's day-to-day operations continue.

But this will also trigger the dissolution of the remaining council, according to the province.

"Under the Municipal Act… if a provincial administrator is appointed, all remaining members of the council and the chief administrative officer are deemed to have resigned," the spokesperson told CTV News in an email.

They said by-elections for all council positions will be planned, "as soon as practically possible."

In response to this, Basford told CTV News she has not been told what this means for the future of Armstrong's council or her position on it.

"I have not resigned. I was elected," she said. "Nobody has told me different, so I am not going to speculate. I am the reeve until somebody tells me different.”

Basford said right now, the RM of Armstrong is 'in limbo' until the province steps in and a by-election is called.

"Unfortunately, that is not something that happens overnight," Basford said. "My understanding is that it can take anywhere from three to six months."

Has this happened before?

This is not the first time a Manitoba municipality has been faced with a situation like this.

In 2019, the Town of Teulon lost quorum after three of five council members resigned. This led to the appointment of an administrator, the dissolution of the remaining council, and a by-election.

That same year, the Rural Municipality of Norfolk Treherne saw four of its seven-member council resign. However, in this case, as three members of council remained, quorum was maintained and a by-election was held to fill the seats left vacant.

Complaint prompted order for mandatory harassment prevention training: province 

Basford told CTV News she was not at the meeting last Tuesday when the four councillors resigned, and is not aware of why they've made this decision.

"There is a harassment issue within this municipality and I won't speak more than that until things are sort of taking place," Basford said, adding Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health had to step in.

A provincial spokesperson confirmed Workplace Safety and Health received a complaint, but would not provide further detail about the complaint. They said this prompted an improvement order in late March requiring the Rural Municipality of Armstrong to train its staff on its harassment prevention policy.

Basford said she hasn't spoken to any of the former councillors since their resignations.

"I'm sorry that council has chosen to take this route. These are their choices and, yes, I wish them luck and we will continue to do what we need to do and be an effective municipality."

The RM of Armstrong is located about an hour’s drive north of Winnipeg.

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