Editor's note: this story has been updated with comments from councillor Steven VanLeeuwen
CENTRE WELLINGTON – A Centre Wellington councillor is possibly facing political repercussions locally for joining an anti-lockdown political group.
Councillor Steven VanLeeuwen had formed the End the Lockdowns Caucus along with MPP Randy Hillier, People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier, MP Derek Sloan and Perth East councillor Daryl Herlick.
Mayor Kelly Linton said in a phone call that he will be bringing forward a motion at the next council meeting to remove VanLeeuwen from his role as deputy mayor.
“It’s so critical that the deputy mayor and myself are on the same page, right now that’s not the case,” Linton said, explaining why he is putting this motion forward.
After previously declining to directly comment on this issue, Linton said he needed to have internal discussions with VanLeeuwen to understand where he was coming from with this after finding out through social media.
Then he contacted the integrity commissioner to find out if VanLeeuwen had contravened the Municipal Act.
Linton said he was told there was no legal obligation from him as head of council.
“This is a councillor making a decision on something that was not consistent with public health ... councillor VanLeeuwen, based on what (the integrity commissioner) seen, hasn’t contravened the municipal act,” Linton said.
“Legally there wasn’t anything that I was required to do, he said ‘politically is another story.’”
Linton said he knew VanLeeuwen was concerned with the approach the government was taking with COVID but he felt joining the End the Lockdown Caucus was a step too far.
“That’s taking it to the next level and I don’t understand it, I don’t agree with it,” Linton said. “I told councillor VanLeeuwen until hell freezes over I’m not going to ever agree with that perspective.”
If any councillor feels VanLeeuwen is not in compliance with the council code of conduct, Linton explained that’s up to them to initiate a complaint with the integrity commissioner.
The mayor said his view has been clear from the beginning that the public and the local government needs to lean on health professionals for guidance through COVID.
Although this situation concerns him, Linton said every politician has the right to disagree and freedom of speech.
“Our community deserves good leadership and I’m committed to working with all members of council to get past this and to then refocus on the needs of Centre Wellington residents, families and businesses,” Linton said.
When reached on Friday, VanLeeuwen said it’s unfortunate the mayor is taking this route.
“I am obviously a little disappointed in his idea that if you don’t like my opinion then cancel me,” VanLeeuwen said in a phone call. “It seems to be the prevailing thought nowadays.”
He acknowledged that he knew their opinions differed and suspected the mayor would have to make a decision on where they stand.
He stressed his views have not changed how he's responded in this crisis.
“Just because I’m opposed to the lockdown, doesn’t mean that I haven’t worked really hard with Kelly and the economic development task force in order to work within the restrictions to keep business going,” VanLeeuwen said. “I just don’t agree with the restrictions.”
VanLeeuwen will remain as a councillor as deputy mayor is not an elected position in Centre Wellington.
Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com