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Harassment in the chambers


Bullying is something that is now talked about often, freely and without reservation. Unfortunately, while that statement is very much true when it comes to children it's much less so when turned to the adult population.
I read an interesting article in the Winnipeg Free Press early last week that told the story of a West St. Paul Councillor seeking to make this very subject a little more open around the council table. But, not without great difficulty.
Unable to get traction with her own council, Cheryl Christian started emailing out her proposed motion to other councillors with hope of getting it on the agenda for this November’s Association of Manitoba Municipalities convention. The motion was prompted by the resignation of Richot mayor Jackie Hunt – who has claimed to have been a victim of bullying and belligerent behaviour by her fellow councillors.
The motion itself addresses just that – bullying and harassment by elected officials against other elected officials. Surprisingly, elected officials are considered neither an employer or and employee so they are not covered by the Workplace Health and Safety Act. Currently the only way councils can deal with behaviour deemed inappropriate is by censure, a method Christian described as meaningless and purely symbolic.
Although the proposed legislation had been driven by four women they recognize that the issue is gender neutral and that so many more are effected that many realize. Working together, the four were finally able to get the resolution passed at council level as well as at the AMMs Eastern District meeting which will allow it to be brought province wide this fall. If it is passed, the AMM will begin to work with government to get it implemented.
In Christian’s case, she wasn't able to get the motion passed herself, at her own council table, as they felt there wasn't an issue. Like in many cases, those too close to the issue can sometimes be the most blind to it.
We often hear the word bully thrown around when it comes to the Municipality of Swan Valley West. And yes, we all know they have had problems with this in the past and probably still do. In fact, I think you would be hard pressed to find a council in the country that hasn't had an issue with this at some point in the recent past, at least at some level.
You see, as adults we are expected to endure so much more than we would expect our children to. And, as public representatives, councillors are expected to endure even more. While it's highly inappropriate for ratepayers to be the ones bullying them it's even worse when it is the people they sit around the table with, especially when there is little penalty for the wrong.
I think it is time for councils to be proactive in their fair treatment of each other. We hear time and time again that council members are to check their personal issues and agendas at the door in order to run their municipality to the best of their ability. But, the reality is that sometimes stepping into some council chambers feels like stepping onto a school yard – filled with children who don't know any better looking to get their way without respect and willing to do whatever it takes.
Maybe it will take something like Christian’s motion for councils with this issue to see the seriousness of the situation or maybe everyone's just happier if they burry their heads in the sand and pretend the issue doesn't apply to them at all.