On November 10, 2020, Bonfield’s mayor Randy McLaren abolished the position of deputy mayor, then held by Sylvie Beaudoin, who resigned from council in June 2021.
The decision made waves, and a complaint was submitted to the Ombudsman, who provided council a report last December. The Ombudsman’s office suggested council clarify the language within their procedural by-law to establish rules surrounding how a deputy mayor is appointed or removed.
During their last council meeting, councillor Foisy brought up the topic for discussion, to see how those recommendations are coming along. The by-laws have not been updated since the Ombudsman’s report was received, and there is no concrete date set to make those changes.
Mayor McLaren is in favour of altering the procedural by-law, and suggested that after each municipal election, “it should be asked of the newly elected head of council whether they wish to have a deputy mayor or not.”
Better yet, the question should be posed “in an informal manner prior to the inaugural meeting” to allow the head of council—the mayor—to make the decision without the “awkwardness” of choosing in public.
Choosing whether to have a deputy mayor can lead to “an awkward discussion,” the mayor admitted, “and I think that’s how it’s historically been overlooked that the head of council has the choice of whether they can have a deputy mayor in place of not.”
As the Ombudsman explained, a deputy mayor is appointed by a resolution of council, and the Municipal Act does not specify that the head of council can unilaterally remove a deputy mayor once appointed by council.
However, McLaren explained that the Municipal Act allows for the head of council to consent to having a deputy mayor “or they can consent not to have one.” And on that November evening, he decided to remove his consent and removed the position of deputy mayor.
Mayor McLaren also provided some context for his decision, noting the deputy mayor was exhibiting “reckless behaviour” by suggesting the municipality remove the state of emergency measure implemented on March 25, 2020, a measure which remains in effect, “along with 184 municipalities,” the mayor added.
He explained that at that November meeting, he was concerned the deputy mayor was planning to “fax in the document to Emergency Measures Ontario,” that would essentially end the state of emergency. Such action would usurp his role, he explained, noting “she did not understand her role as deputy mayor.”
Foisy read excerpts from that November 10 meeting and suggested the mayor could have expelled the deputy mayor from the meeting. “You could have done that instead of taking away the deputy mayor status.”
That would not have sufficed, the mayor explained, noting he believed the document was filled out and ready to fax to Emergency Measures Ontario. “She had no authority to do that,” he said, and if that form was delivered, he described the action “as reckless as it can get.”
“That needed to be squashed indefinitely,” he said, so he removed the position, and the emergency status stands to this day. As for the video Foisy drew his excerpts from—viewable on the municipality’s YouTube channel—“I think that video should be shown to every kid in school,” McLaren said, “because it shows how reckless people can be when they’re misinformed about their authority.”
He stands by his decision, but “was it done in a classy way? No, it was not,” he said. The decision “left a lot of hard feelings, and it wasn’t done as well as it could have been.”
He suggested when the time comes to revise council’s procedural by-law, they include “a clearer and more appropriate way for that consent to be withdrawn” to have a deputy mayor. After all, “there’s never any question that it’s a unilateral decision of the head of council” whether or not the deputy mayor position exists at all.
David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.