Ivan Court allowed a 'culture of intimidation': deputy mayor

Deputy Mayor Stephen Chase is leaving Saint John council accusing Ivan Court of allowing a "culture of intimidation" to fester at city hall.

Saint John Deputy Mayor Stephen Chase criticizes Court's management style

Ivan Court is running for re-election in the May 14 election. His management style is being harshly criticized by Deputy Mayor Stephen Chase. (CBC)

Deputy Mayor Stephen Chase is leaving Saint John council but he is wading into the May 14 election by accusing Mayor Ivan Court of allowing a "culture of intimidation" to fester at city hall.

The stinging criticism of Court comes as the city's incumbent mayor is running for re-election.

After 14 years on council, Chase is not running for re-election on May 14, saying he's "feeling drained" and it's time to move on. He wants to spend more time with his family, and to focus on his career and a real estate enterprise.

But Chase said in an interview with CBC News the person who is in the mayor’s seat should set the tone at city hall and with the elected councillors.

Chase said during Court's four years as mayor there was "a void in leadership, which was stressful for most members of council."

Chase also charges Mayor Court allowed too many city business items to be handled behind closed doors, and that Court had made those decisions mainly to appease city unions and staff.

Deputy Mayor Stephen Chase is not running in the May 14 election. (CBC) (CBC)

"We can no longer subscribe to that employee-centric viewpoint. We have to look at what's in the best interests of the community," he said.

Chase goes further. He suggests Court has allowed a "culture of intimidation" at city hall that stifles attempts to bring about change.

"I believe no matter what your position is, you should be respectful of the other person's position, collaborate, because if you don't, what happens is you get council members that are feeling disenfranchised and things just spiral downward," said Chase, who regularly clashed with Court on a number of issues.

"I think the mayor is the most important position around the council table. Senior staff and well, all the employees in the city operations, and the members of council take their cues from the mayor — what’s his or her style of doing business, how do they approach team-building, if they approach it all.

"So it’s a very important position, it sets the climate and the tone for council and how they undertake their day-to-day business."

Court won a hotly contested mayoral election in 2008, defeating incumbent mayor Norm McFarlane, ex-deputy mayor Michelle Hooton, ex-councillor John Ferguson and Mike Richardson.

Court had largely run his campaign on his record of voting against an LNG tax deal in the city.

While Court defeated Ferguson in the 2008 mayor's race, the two individuals faced each other again recently, but this time in a Saint John courtroom.

The Saint John Pension Board, which included Court, sued Ferguson for defamation over comments the former councillor made about the pension fund.

Pension problems key

John Ferguson left a Saint John courtroom last week after a jury sided with him in a long-running defamation case brought against him by the Saint John Pension Board. (CBC)

A jury sided with Ferguson completely. And after the verdict came down, Court said he would not apologize to Ferguson for the five-year-long legal battle.

Meanwhile, Mel Norton, who is considered Court's main rival for mayor, said last week that he was happy for Ferguson and called the verdict "an example of common sense prevailing."

The pension issue remains a critical one for the city.

Chase said the pension deficit will continue to plague the next council even if cuts to benefits are approved by the provincial government.

Saint John council wants the provincial government to approve the reforms to help deal with the plan's $193-million deficit.

Chase described the pension as the root of most of the city's current fiscal problems. "That needs to be resolved and I'm very optimistic that will be resolved."

He contends the city should have more control over the pension. In fact, he said he sponsored a motion in March 2008, which was adopted by council to repatriate the pension back from Fredericton into a bylaw for the city.

"That way, everything begins and stops around the horseshoe" in council chambers. "We'd have more control, unlike now where we have to seek provincial legislation to make changes and that's very onerous."

Although the motion was passed by council, it was never acted upon by city staff, said Chase. "I raised the issue a number of times and the best I could get is they felt it was never an issue, despite it being a standing order of council.

"That is very disappointing. I’m very disappointed in that and the next council has to be resolved of making sure the business of this city gets done to their will."

Optimistic about future

The outgoing deputy mayor said he's leaving with mixed emotions.

"Council was a very important part of my life for the 14 years, [I was] very dedicated, trying to do the right thing for this city. I love this city."

Chase said he is proud of his accomplishments while on council and remains optimistic about the future of New Brunswick's largest city.

Although Saint John certainly has some challenges, it is nonetheless well-positioned to be successful, he said.

He expects the port to emerge as an important economic driver over the next few years, both in terms of attracting shipping and industry, to developing the waterfront for all citizens to use.

The city also has the business and industrial infrastructure to grow, and the history and architecture to attract new people, he said.