Original Published June 24, 2022

Jeff Burgar

One would think, among the best and brightest of us who go on in life to become lawyers and judges, there would be at least one small iota of intelligence in each and every one of them.

Perhaps there is! But only in days with an ‘R’ in them! And since one of those days is Saturday, it means up to 60 per cent of the decisions in some courts can be pretty well ridiculous.

Thus we have a case in Saskatchewan. A rural municipality there has a couple of citizens unhappy with their local governing council. Something to do with needing, or not needing, a building permit. The Province said they didn’t need one. The council decided they really did. The couple figured somebody on council had a gripe with them.

So, they reached out to their provincial politician. Then they went to the provincial ombudsman. No satisfaction from either. Not surprising since these days, when it comes to local councils everywhere, bigger governments run away as fast as they can.
So, the thing went to court. A judge decided there were two solutions.

First, fight it out in an election a couple years from now. Second, have the council itself decide if they did anything wrong. You know, like having the cops investigate themselves. Nothing wrong with that, until somebody points out the absolute stupidity.
This “pointing out” is a tricky legal slope. It should always be a big, big warning siren to anybody thinking to ignore facts in front of them.

Several years ago, the regional health authority in charge of High Prairie and Slave Lake hired a new CEO. The fellow’s resume didn’t check out. It didn’t matter to the board. They were mostly happy collecting their meeting and travel money, while pretending they were working hard looking after the community and business.

But, when it was pointed out they would be personally liable for money spent on the guy, plus any damage he might cause, or even money he might “misplace,” the tunes quickly changed. “We might be liable for something,” is quite a yappy refrain at some councils. It usually has them running for the nearest exit.

Strangely, this did not happen at the June 14 High Prairie town council meeting. A new CEO was hired. A councillor strongly “pointed out” some items in the CEO’s resume were “mis-stated.” The same councillor said council could be personally responsible for consequences. Not a peep. No stampede for the doors. Nothing but crickets.
But council did vote 4-3 to hire anyway. Uh, oh!

The guiding document for this in Alberta is the Municipal Government Act. Basically it says, if a council acts “in good faith,” it is not liable. Only in La-La Land known as government can lawyers write laws that somebody else has to figure out. Most days, governments won’t even enforce their own rules. Good faith is out the window when told you are wrong. But that’s just us.
This situation is so cut-and-dried there should be no quibble. Instead, a 4-3 vote. To do the wrong thing.
Oh, well! Maybe High Prairie council will be investigating itself down the road.

This item reprinted with permission from South Peace News, High Prairie, Alberta