Pouce Coupe affair shows more accountability needed for municipal leaders - The Orca
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Pouce Coupe affair shows more accountability needed for municipal leaders

Dene Moore
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Dene Moore: When a mayor embarrasses an entire community, there needs to be more options than waiting for the next election.

As of last night, 1,487 people had signed an online petition calling for the resignation of the mayor of Pouce Coupe, a picturesque resource town in the heart of the Peace River region. There are only 792 residents of Pouce Coupe.

It would be unfair to assume that most – or even many – of those who signed are from the town. After all, Mayor Lorraine Michetti’s bad behaviour has made headlines across the country and even abroad. Indeed, her own council has demanded her resignation, along with all First Nations in her area.

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre and B’nai Brith Canada have both asked for an apology; the area regional district (of which she was a member of the board of directors) called her social media posts “deeply troubling;” and the councils of pretty much every neighbouring community have moved quickly to distance themselves.

“The District of Chetwynd wishes to unequivocally denounce racist statements that have recently been shared by Pouce Coupe Mayor Lorraine Michetti. Statements that are racist, biased, hostile or advocate a stereotypical view of any sector of our population have no place in today’s society, whether done in public or private, on social media or in face-to-face communications,” Allen Courtoreille, mayor of Chetwynd, said in a statement.

She says she is sorry – just not enough to resign, or face any consequences apparently.

The trouble began for Michetti when a Facebook post (which she says was made and deleted more than a year ago) resurfaced in a public discussion group last month. She says the post – clearly a reference to Indigenous people opposed to construction of oil and gas pipelines – is being taken out of context.

The post says: “Don’t want Pipeline’s? [sic] They want to protect our land. Yeah ok.” It is accompanied by photos of homes surrounded by garbage and unkempt lawns.

In a heated council meeting last week, Michetti was asked about another social media post in which she commented on federal gun control legislation, saying everyone but Caucasians seem to be able to have guns.

“I feel like a Jews [sic] back in the day. Waiting for my cattle car,” Michetti wrote.

She says she is sorry – just not enough to resign, or face any consequences apparently.

“Council did not elect me to do this job; neither did social media community groups or local media; people did. The people of Pouce Coupe that I have taken an oath to represent, and will continue to until those same people decide otherwise during a general election,” Michetti said in a statement.

Municipal elections in B.C. won’t take place until October 2022.

The whole episode highlights BC’s appallingly weak rules for holding municipal politicians accountable.

While Pouce Coupe has a code of conduct for council members that Michetti’s conduct most certainly violates, there’s no way for council to force her out.

While MLAs are subject to the (never successful) Recall Act, and both provincial and federal representatives are subject to party discipline (more effective), outside of criminal financial wrongdoing municipal politicians pretty much operate on the honour system. That doesn’t always do the trick.

While Pouce Coupe has a code of conduct for council members, there’s no way for council to force her out.

In 2008, Port Coquitlam’s then-mayor refused to resign after being convicted of two counts of assault. He stayed in office until voters removed him in the next election.

Former Pitt Meadows councillor Dave Murray continued to attend council meetings until voters and colleagues revolted following his 2017 conviction for sexual assault. The victim was a 14-year-old girl.

Last week the provincial government introduced reforms to campaign financing and transparency for municipal elections. Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne said the province is exploring the possibility of updating legislation and enhancing the tools available to local government.

“We know more can be done to support local officials’ accountability to their communities,” she told reporters.

Clearly.

Dene Moore is an award-winning journalist and writer. A news editor and reporter for The Canadian Press news agency for 16 years, Moore is now a freelance journalist living in the South Cariboo. Moore’s two decades in daily journalism took her as far afield as Kandahar as a war correspondent and the Innu communities of Labrador. She has worked in newsrooms in Vancouver, Montreal, Regina, Saskatoon, St. John’s and Edmonton. She has been published in the Globe and Mail, Maclean’s magazine, the New York Times and the Toronto Star, among others. She is a Habs fan and believes this is the year.

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