'I will accept my job back,' says chair of community council fired by province
Until the day he was fired, former Souris West chair waited for a letter from the minister that was never sent
The former chair of Souris West community council says he's now waiting for the minister who fired him to offer him his job back.
The entire council for the tiny community was fired Sept. 28 by Communities Minister Richard Brown for not complying with the province's Municipal Government Act (MGA) — specifically, for failing to prepare for municipal elections taking place Nov. 5.
Former chair Pat O'Connor said the main reason the municipality hadn't moved forward with the new requirements of the act is that it was waiting for the minister to respond to a letter sent in February asking for help in exploring municipal restructuring.
On Thursday a spokesperson for the Department of Communities, Land and Environment told CBC the response from the minister had indeed been sent, and provided a copy, addressed to O'Connor, dated Mar. 2.
When CBC shared the letter with O'Connor, he again insisted it had never been received. The community's CAO, who wasn't fired, agreed.
Late Friday afternoon the department emailed O'Connor a copy of the letter, saying: "it appears that the letter was never actually mailed. We sincerely regret this confusion."
"I want to make clear, that many things would be different had we received the minister's reply prior to our dismissal," O'Connor told CBC.
Looking to study regional municipality
What O'Connor had asked for in his letter from February was financial support to study "what a regional municipality would mean for the people of the area."
This came on the heels of an informal meeting involving the communities of Souris, Souris West, Annandale/Howe Bay/Little Pond, Central Kings and Eastern Kings — the five easternmost municipalities in P.E.I. — to discuss possible amalgamation.
O'Connor said new requirements under the MGA are too expensive for small communities like Souris West and its 400 residents to afford. The act requires all communities hold full-day elections — to fill contested seats — with paper ballots and paid staff, rather than community meetings at night with a show of hands as many have used in the past. It also requires municipalities have an office with paid staff open 20 hours per week, although some communities are pooling together to meet these requirements collectively.
O'Connor said the plan was for the five eastern municipalities to seek a mandate from their residents to pursue amalgamation talks — once they'd heard back from the minister.
'They had no word and could not say why'
He said his council spoke several times with department staff while they were waiting and always brought up the issue of the lack of response from the minister.
"It was part of every conversation and their response was they had no word and could not say why" he hadn't responded, O'Connor said.
In the response letter the province says was signed but never mailed back in March, Brown wrote he was "encouraged to see the collaborative initiative being taken to discuss the long-term opportunities available to the region by working together," and said his department was prepared to offer funding for a study.
CBC News asked to speak with Brown, but was told by a department spokesperson that "the minister does not want to publicly comment on municipal issues while an election is going on — it might be seen as interference."
The province said the former council has been replaced with a trustee until a new council is elected.
Asked if he would run in that election to try to win his old job back, O'Connor responded via email: "I will accept my job back, I haven't decided re: running."