As MLA for La Verendrye and Minister of Local Government, Ron Lemieux meets with councils all the time, however he says that it is up to the public to keep their municipal representatives honest.
By Marianne Curtis
In less then three months, voters will be heading to the polls to vote for new municipal representatives. While the majority of municipalities and councils across the province have gone through the past four years without major incidents, others like the RM’s of La Broquerie, St. Clements and Springfield have seen more then their fair share of controversy.
As Minister of Local Government, La Verendrye MLA Ron Lemieux is in charge of the department that handles the various issues that have arisen within these municipalities. This includes acting upon recommendations made by the Auditor General in her special report on the RM of La Broquerie.
When the PAC meet in May to discuss the report and former CAO Lori Wood’s submission, Lemieux’s department came under fire over the way they handled the situation. His department was questioned by the committee what their responsibilities were, did they have the power to act and how can such issues be prevented in the future.
First, Lemieux denies allegations that his department did not take Wood’s concerns seriously when she first brought up matters pertaining the RM of La Broquerie to their attention a year ago.
“We always respond and we always follow up – we also routinely followup with a council if there has been a citizen complaint or any other complaints when we get them,” stated Lemieux. “My department advised Ms. Wood of the different avenues she could pursue her issues because we have very limited authority that can be used to intervene in municipal issues.”
In financial matters, Lemieux’s department can step in quickly. If the CAO had reported infractions under three sections of the Municipal Act that involve finance the department would have stepped in but none of these circumstances occurred, he added.
Some of Auditor General’s recommendations in the special report included making changes to the Municipal Act. The changes included how the province monitors the finances for all municipalities, conflict of interest and transparency to the public.
Lemieux admits since changes were made to the Act in 1997, his department actively monitors a municipality’s financial situation but has to rely on the public to ensure that a municipal plays by the rules in other areas.
“The intent of the Act is to make it so local elected councils must answer to the public,” stated Lemieux. “They are elected and they are answerable to the citizens and if they are not, the citizens can take action by not bringing them back into office or take it to other avenues.”
He adds that these avenues include the Ombudsman, Auditor General, RCMP or the Employment Standards Branch if they are an employee of a municipality.
“They (the public) do not have to wait four years until the next election if there is a problem,” Lemieux stated. “Our government has no intention to baby-sit municipalities to make sure they are doing their job.”
However he also recognizes that many citizens do not understand the Municipal Act or have time to monitor their council. The province is already looking into ways to make it easier for the general public to access and understand.
Lemieux says that his department has set up a system where citizens can find information easier on the provincial website. Residents can also call his department where staff walk residents through the Municipal Act and receive information on where they can take their issues.
“On a whole, the vast majority of municipality’s are doing what they are supposed to be doing,” Lemieux concluded. “We can not change the legislation and punish the rest of the municipalities because a few are not following the rules.”