Red Deer councillor sanctioned for pandemic social media post

·3 min read
Red Deer councillor Buck Buchanan violated council's code of conduct for his social media posts and comments, an independent consulting firm found.  (Buck Buchanan/Facebook - image credit)
Red Deer councillor Buck Buchanan violated council's code of conduct for his social media posts and comments, an independent consulting firm found. (Buck Buchanan/Facebook - image credit)

A Red Deer city councillor has been sanctioned by his peers for a pandemic-related comment he posted online earlier this year.

A majority of councillors agreed Monday that Coun. Buck Buchanan must apologize to the public and Alberta Health Services for a comment he made on social media.

The post on Facebook read: "Good job, Glenn – any AHS yet??"

It was posted in support of mayoral candidate Glen Carritt who joined a gathering at a sports lounge in Sylvan Lake on Jan. 27, flagrantly defying COVID-19 restrictions that restaurants and pubs stay closed.

Mayor Tara Veer filed a complaint on behalf of public and staff concerns in April.

The city hired independent municipal consulting agency SAGE Analytics Inc. to investigate and the company reported its findings earlier this month.

SAGE found that Buchanan broke council's code of conduct bylaw in three areas, including that he failed to respect the municipality as an institution, failed to encourage public respect for the municipality and failed to conduct himself in a way that promotes public confidence.

"The city's reputation was damaged, and the city's pandemic response efforts were negatively impacted by his actions in his private affairs," the report says.

A news release posted on the city's website says Buchanan breached the bylaw, causing city council "to lose leadership credibility and frustrating the city's pandemic response efforts."

Buchanan told CBC News Tuesday that his post was meant to support local businesses, which were suffering under forced closures for months during the pandemic.

He argued some of the province's decisions on what should stay closed and what could remain open didn't make sense to him.

"I walked into Walmart — the parking lot was absolutely chocked full and when I walked through the doors, I probably walked through with six or eight other people at the same time — just as a regular citizen, I question how does that seem ok when I can't go have bacon and eggs at a restaurant."

Buchanan said he thinks his post was taken out of context but said he plans to apologize and say, "Sorry if what I said was misunderstood."

Clear message

The council vote Monday was 6 to 3, with councillors Michael Dawe and Dianne Wyntjes joining Buchanan's dissenting vote.

Deputy Mayor Vesna Higham said the message in the Facebook post, in support of the group defying public health orders, was clear.

"It was unlawful, it was illegal to open a restaurant at the time given the government's pandemic response restrictions," Higham said in an interview Tuesday.

"His actions, both with the post and with some of the public comments that he made, certainly did not promote lawfulness and adherence to the laws of the province at the time."

Under the sanctions, Buchanan must issue a public apology to Red Deer residents, businesses, staff and council for his actions which "increased confusion and division in the community during a time of crisis," the city's website says.

He's directed to make the apology during a public portion of a council meeting.

He's also to arrange an in-person meeting with the AHS Central zone medical director for any harm caused by his public comments during the pandemic response.

Buchanan could have done that at the meeting Monday but instead offered an apology to council in private, Higham said.

Councillors agreed unanimously to a final sanction, that Buchanan should take social media training.

Buchanan is suspended from attending committee meetings and assuming rotating deputy mayor's duties until he gives the apologies.

Red Deer approved its formal code of conduct in July 2018, a requirement under provincial law.

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