CENTRE WELLINGTON – After a tense meeting Monday, Centre Wellington councillor Steven Vanleeuwen has been replaced as deputy mayor by councillor Neil Dunsmore.
VanLeeuwen had stirred controversy for helping form an anti-lockdown caucus with other politicians across Canada and posed for a mask-less picture with other founders.
Mayor Kelly Linton had decided to put forward a motion to remove VanLeeuwen as deputy mayor — which is not an elected position in Centre Wellington — but this was deferred by the committee of the whole until an integrity commissioner investigation could determine if VanLeeuwen violated the code of conduct or municipal act.
At Monday's meeting, Dunsmore asked council to reconsider the deferral because he said the integrity commissioner has ruled in the past he will not rule on matters regarding political speech.
“This motion to defer is poor judgment and this is the moment we draw a line in the snow,” Dunsmore said. “We can’t bury our heads in the snow and punt this off to the integrity commissioner.”
Councillor Bob Foster got heated as he defended the motion he made at the committee of the whole.
He criticized the mayor for not taking earlier action based on an email exchange with VanLeeuwen — who later said he was taken out of context — and stressed VanLeeuwen’s actions warrant an investigation.
“There’s a reason we have a code of conduct, it is probable that councillor VanLeeuwen breached that code of conduct,” Foster said. “How can we sit idle and not have these matters investigated?”
Foster then questioned why they would debate removing VanLeeuwen as deputy mayor but not have an integrity commissioner investigate the same actions.
“Neil, this smacks of a cover-up,” Foster said.
Dunsmore called a point of privilege saying he wouldn’t stand for being accused of being part of a cover-up.
This led to a back-and-forth exchange where Foster clarified that wasn’t the intent of his comment.
VanLeeuwen said he was amazed that a conversation about removing him as deputy mayor had descended into “absolute anarchy” which has never been his intention with his actions.
For the most part, the rest of council had stood by their vote at the previous meeting.
Councillors Stephen Kitras and Kirk McElwain wanted an investigation and Linton called it a waste of time and taxpayer money.
Councillor Ian MacRae was the deciding factor as he no longer supported the investigation.
The recommendation to defer was defeated as Dunsmore, Linton, and MacRae voted against with VanLeeuwen abstaining which counts as a no.
Foster then put forward a new motion to both remove VanLeeuwen and have an integrity commissioner investigation.
Council agreed this more or less accomplished what they wanted anyway, but MacRae was compelled to express his disappointment over them getting lost in politics.
He said what should be a discussion focused on if VanLeeuwen was suited to remain as deputy mayor had turned into political attacks between councillors and the mayor.
“Really, I just look at all of us and I say ‘shame on all of us,’” MacRae said. “This has just gone too far and has gone on for two years and I’m really sick and tired of the games and there’s a lot of members of the municipality who are as well.”
MacRae later asked for a recorded vote so “the community knows who to blame when they get the cost for this.”
This motion passed 5-2 with Kitras and VanLeeuwen abstaining but Linton, Dunsmore and MacRae said they wished the motion had been split in two parts.
MacRae then nominated Dunsmore to be the new deputy mayor saying he puts community interests ahead of his own.
This was approved by a 4-3 vote.