Original Published on Aug 22, 2022 at 10:26

By Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Blue Mountains Integrity Commissioner (IC) Suzanne Craig has ruled that Mayor Alar Soever breached the town’s code of conduct with comments he made about Coun. Paula Hope during a recent council debate.

Craig delivered her report at council’s special meeting held on Aug. 18. The mayor made the comments at council’s meeting on June 28 during a debate about transferring town-owned property at 171 King Street to the Blue Mountains Attainable Housing Corporation (BMAHC) to be used for the Gateway attainable housing project.

“I find that the (the mayor’s) statements at the June 28, 2022 meeting were a contravention of the code. The (the mayor’s) comments were not statements of fact or responsible communication about public matters regarding town business,” Craig stated in her report.

The IC further stated: “I find that the (mayor’s) conduct disparaged the councillor, and while the statements did not rise to the level of, abuse, bullying, violence, or intimidation, as contemplated under rule 13 of the code, the (mayor’s) statement had the effect of injuring the reputation of a fellow member of council.”

Although she ruled that Soever’s comments breached the code of conduct, Craig made no recommendation for a sanction against the mayor citing that the current council term is coming to an end.

Hope launched the complaint to the IC after the mayor made the following comments at the June 28 meeting: “I know she’s been working hard to get this project deferred for a long time, and unfortunately it has taken this long, we did engage with the community, she was very involved in the engagement with the community, and so I think this is again an example of politics getting in the way of practicality.”

During the discussion on the report and in an interview afterwards, Hope said she asked the mayor to retract his comments in a council meeting in an effort to avoid a full code of conduct process.

“I knew I couldn’t let it sit. It was too dangerous to let people interpret that I was against attainable housing or Gateway. I had to follow up,” Hope said in an interview. “I asked for a retraction and said I would not go forward with the code if there was a retraction. There was an opportunity. I’ve always tried not to go the code of conduct route.”

Hope, who suggested the decision should be deferred for the new council, ultimately voted in favour of the transfer of land to BMAHC, and denied that she wanted to delay the attainable housing project.

“I never once thought of delaying the Gateway project. I didn’t even ever consider it,” she said.

Mayor Soever provided a detailed response to the complaint that referred to the debate/discussion on June 28 and coun. Hope’s previous comments and voting record on the Gateway project.

“I stand by my remarks, but reiterate that there was nothing in my remarks to imply that Coun. Hope was doing anything outside of her role as councillor. She is free to raise as many issues as she wants to drag things out to cater to a relatively small part of the community, (i.e., politics getting in the way of practicality). Similarly, I should have the right to point that out to the community at large. Ultimately, it is the community who will decide what kind of representation they want,” Soever said in his response.

In an interview after the report was presented, Soever said he felt his comment had been taken out of context.

“By and large, the IC does a good job. She put a lot of interpretation into my comments. The intent was not to disparage Coun. Hope, disagree – yes. This should have been a political debate and it should have been settled by arguments in the council chambers,” he said.

This item reprinted with permission from CollingwoodToday.ca, Collingwood, Ontario