Opposition urges P.E.I. government to investigate City of Charlottetown

·4 min read
P.E.I.'s Official Opposition wants the province to step into a controversy at Charlottetown City Hall. MLA Steve Howard has asked Minister of Communities Jamie Fox to launch a review under the Municipal Government Act, after a CBC report detailing how the city's deputy CAO told council he believed he'd been fired in retaliation for raising financial concerns. (Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)
P.E.I.'s Official Opposition wants the province to step into a controversy at Charlottetown City Hall. MLA Steve Howard has asked Minister of Communities Jamie Fox to launch a review under the Municipal Government Act, after a CBC report detailing how the city's deputy CAO told council he believed he'd been fired in retaliation for raising financial concerns. (Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)

The Official Opposition called on P.E.I.'s minister of communities Tuesday to conduct a review into allegations of financial irregularities at Charlottetown City Hall.

While he didn't share the information during question period, Minister Jamie Fox later told CBC News such a review has already been conducted and found nothing wrong. But his department did not immediately produce a copy of that review, which has never been made public.

The Green Party was responding to a story from CBC News detailing how the former deputy CAO for the City of Charlottetown alleged he was fired by his boss, chief administrative officer Peter Kelly, in retaliation for bringing forward concerns about financial irregularities, adherence to city bylaws and possible breaches of P.E.I.'s Municipal Government Act.

Scott Messervey was fired by Peter Kelly in 2019, then sent council members a letter outlining 18 specific concerns with the city's administration under Kelly.

Earlier this month Kelly fired another deputy CAO, providing no reasons and raising concerns among some councillors.

'Serious issues going on'

"It's clear that there are some serious issues going on with the management of Charlottetown City Council," said Green MLA Steve Howard.

"At least one councillor, as well as members of the public, have called on the department to intervene and order an investigation into all this potential mismanagement, but the request was declined. What kind of message does that send?"

Under the Municipal Government Act Fox has the power to order an audit, inspection or investigation of any municipality.

An HR issue for the city, says minister

During question period Fox characterized the concerns raised with the City of Charlottetown as a human resources issue the city can deal with on its own.

"I have to stand up and laugh at the opposition because they want the government to come in and be the strong arm and overpower people that are elected and have the power to deal with a matter," Fox said in response.

P.E.I. Legislative Assembly
P.E.I. Legislative Assembly

Fox said he would allow the city to investigate, "and if they request the minister investigate a matter or look into the matter, then we will look at that request if the [Municipal Government Act] is broken and a law is not looked after."

What Fox didn't say is that at least one member of council has already done that.

Bob Doiron began raising concerns publicly after Messervey's firing in 2019. He wrote to Fox and eventually landed a meeting with Fox and senior department officials to discuss those concerns.

On Tuesday Fox told CBC that as a result of the meeting, his department "investigated and then we actually went to a third party and had a review conducted and a report back to us."

Fox said the report indicated there had been no breach of the MGA, information he said was "passed back to the city."

But Doiron, who raised the concerns, said he was never advised of any report, only told that the province would not pursue the matter because there was "nothing illegal here."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

When contacted by CBC, Mayor Philip Brown also said he never received a copy of the report, or was aware of its existence.

The report was apparently never made public. CBC asked for a copy along with more information about the investigation, but received nothing before publication time.

Westlock report supported allegations

How P.E.I. seems to have dealt with the issue contrasts with how the province of Alberta dealt with a similar situation involving Kelly when he was CAO for Westlock County in 2016.

A third-party review ordered by the Alberta Department of Municipal Affairs substantiated allegations raised by Westlock County staff and members of council that Kelly had exceeded his authority there, authorizing hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending without the knowledge or the required approval of council.

That report was made public.

Province of P.E.I.
Province of P.E.I.

Similar allegations were raised in Charlottetown. Both Alberta's and P.E.I.'s municipal government acts require most spending to be authorized by council.

Asked about a whistleblower complaint submitted by Messervey, Fox said "just because somebody comes forward and they provide information to the city, doesn't mean that the MGA has been breached or the law has been broken. …If there is a concern that possibly a law has been broken, then under the MGA we will investigate as required."

But Howard said the province needs to become involved in the situation.

"We have all these red flags being thrown up, whistleblowers being fired, … and yet the minister's willing to look the other way? What kind of message does that send? What kind of governance are we setting up for our municipalities? It's terrible."

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