West Nipissing council voted against sanctioning councillor Chris Fisher. Soon after voting four left the meeting, destroying quorum, and ending the proceedings.
The motion to financially sanction Fisher was put forward by councillor Denis Senecal. He wanted Fisher to apologize as per a recent council recommendation following a report from the municipality’s Integrity Commissioner (IC).
“Neither apologies have been provided,” Senecal wrote in his motion, “therefore it is recommended that councillor Fischer be suspended of pay for a period of two months.”
“There’s no action being done on this file,” Senecal said, explaining why he brought forward the motion.
Councillor Roland Larabie told Senecal his premise for the motion “was false” as Fisher already offered an apology to Senecal for including an obscenity in a correspondence to Senecal in 2020. “And you said no” to his offer, Larabie said.
Moreover, the municipality’s chief administrative officer Jay Barbeau had previously deemed the original sanctions as “not enforceable.”
“So, I don’t see what you’re getting at,” Larabie added.
“I don’t recall saying no to accepting an apology,” Senecal said, before questioning if “any” apology had been issued, “because I don’t recall hearing an apology. Maybe a mumble, I don’t know.”
“To be fair,” he added, “if councillor Fisher wants to apologize publicly, I’ll give him the floor right now.”
With that, Fisher emphasized “the motion is not true, it’s a lie.”
Referring to that June 22 meeting when the suggestion for sanctions were raised, “I said I was willing to apologize,” which was “was not accepted.”
“This is vexatious and a waste of time,” Fisher added.
See: Complaints costing West Nipissing taxpayers
Mayor Joanne Savage began speaking of the rules outlining “who duly can vote on the subject matter” at hand when Fisher declared “point of order” twice.
“You cannot force somebody not to vote,” Fisher said. “That is my choice.”
Mayor Savage “denied” his point of order, “because I cannot be fined for any violations of our rules and procedures.”
“We were given the information from the IC who could vote on the matter of the violation,” Mayor Savage said.
“I’m just going to conclude before calling this to a vote that I find it personally difficult that we have to deal with this matter this evening through a notice of motion of non-compliance regarding an apology.”
She then referenced previous advice from Barbeau that “we cannot force someone to apologize. And that’s clear.”
“The whole idea of our code of conduct is that members of council are expected to act at a higher standard,” the mayor said.
Councillor Fisher interjected with another point of order. “You just said it yourself that you cannot force somebody to apologize,” which the mayor agreed to.
As for the motion, Councillor Dan Roveda did not support it. “The punishment did not fit what was done,” by Fisher. “I think the punishment was too hard, and I will not support this type of vexation.”
He then voiced his suspicion that “there are hidden agendas” at work that inspired the motion. “And I have a problem with that.”
Roveda then told the mayor that “she should not be lecturing people around this table in a public format,” referring to an earlier comment she made regarding the length of time Roveda had has hand raised while waiting to be addressed.
Mayor Savage reminded Roveda that she had not provided him with the floor. Councillor Larabie then mentioned a “double standard.”
Mayor Savage explained to Roveda “if he did not care to acknowledge the role of the chair,” she would ask him to “vacate the meeting. You would be expelled. Consider this your notice.”
“We are discussing a matter without making personalized accusations,” she said, emphasizing there remained a motion to deal with, and “continuing to allow everyone to have their say is becoming not constructive.”
“Focus on the motion.”
They did, and the clerk called for a recorded vote at the request of Roveda. Councillor Yvon Duhaime voted yes, Fisher no, Larabie no, citing a “double standard” again, Leo Malette voted no, councillor Roveda voted no, and councillor Senecal voted yes, mentioning “that councillor Fisher has no right to vote.”
Lise Senecal voted yes, adding “if councillor Fisher is making his choice to vote, hey, that’s his choice.”
“Only he can make that decision even if he was advised not to.”
Fisher thanked her for the comment. “No, don’t thank me because I don’t agree with that,” she said, before interrupted by Larabie’s “point of order.”
“I thought we were voting,” he said. “If it’s one side of council, they can talk all they want.”
Mayor Savage mentioned she did not accept his point of order, adding she believed he only made it to interrupt Senecal.
“You provided your comment when you voted, out of respect” she said, “you should permit it.”
“Double standard again,” he said.
Returning to the vote, Mayor Savage was for the motion, and explained to council that the IC had informed her that a councillor in violation of a code of conduct issue was not allowed to vote concerning the matter.
Barbeau explained that given the context, there was no reason to preclude Fisher from voting.
“There doesn’t seem to be the will to provide an apology and to reconsider accepting the behaviour,” Mayor Savage said.
She reiterated her “vote is yes,” to which Larabie proclaimed, “that’s a double edge axe.”
Mayor Savage warned him that the next comment attempting “to be sarcastic in any way” would be grounds for expulsion from the meeting.
“Consider this your final warning.”
Larabie erupted in laughter, adjusted his glasses, and was asked to “excuse yourself” from the meeting.
He waved goodbye, gave a “good night” then turned off his camera. Fisher followed suit—“if Rolly goes, I go.”
Soon after Malette’s camera went dark, “and I am leaving too,” Roveda added. “Mismanagement of a meeting,” his said.
“They’re all gone,” councillor Lise Senecal emphasized, noting that only one had received the chair’s permission to leave.
“The three other ones will have to apologize” at a future meeting, she said.
David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca