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Matheson council kicked out of office, here’s what we know so far

A byelection will be held in the coming months
The provincial government deemed the mayor and councillor's seats in Black River-Matheson vacant on April 29.

BLACK RIVER-MATHESON - A Northern Ontario township is making headlines about a rare political move that saw the province step in to oust all of the council members.

Yesterday (April 29), Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra declared all seven positions — the mayor and six councillors — vacant. 

A manager from the Ministry's northern regional office has been appointed to temporarily exercise the duties and obligations of council until another appointee is put in place. That second appointee will be in place until a byelection is held. 

The move by Calandra was possible under the Municipal Act because the council went 60 days without holding a meeting due to a lack of quorum. With seven members on Matheson council, four members are needed at a meeting.

It's not clear when the byelection will be held. 

The next step is for the township clerk to set a nomination day, which will be 30-60 days from April 29. Voting day is 45 days after the nominations close.

The last municipal election was held in October 2022. The council voted in during the byelection will serve until the next municipal election in October 2026.

TimminsToday reached out to all of the members who were serving on Matheson council to ask for their reaction and if they plan to run in the byelection. Only six people are mentioned because there was one vacant councillor seat.

Here's what they had to say:

Steven Campsall

"I am happy with the letter from Paul Calandra, this is what we worked towards. And yes I will be running for Ward 3 in the byelection," he said.

Dave Dyment

"I'm excited. I'm happy for it. I feel it's the beginning of something positive that can happen in the community now. I'm happy that we can start moving forward and the community can breathe a sigh of relief and everybody can walk downtown happy and with their head held high," said. 

Dyment absolutely plans on running again, this time for mayor.

Louise Gadoury

“I was very pleased that he acted quickly. It's nice to see a politician who does the right thing. Somebody had to intervene. And yes, I’m running again," she said.

Chantal Rondeau

"No comment. I haven't decided but there's a good possibility that yes, my hat will be thrown in there again," she said.

Allana Schmidt

She has not responded yet. This story will be updated when a response is received.

Doug Bender

The former mayor said what's happened is very disappointing.

"Myself and the two other councillors that were remaining were attending meetings and completing our roles as we were required to do under law and under our code of conduct and under their oath of office," he said. 

"I feel since they also share my vision of trying to make the community better, trying to make us more stable and, the provincial government has basically caused a lot of the grief." 

Bender talked about the state of the municipality's finances. He also reached out to Premier Doug Ford, who he said wasn't willing to get involved.

"He just said it was up to Minister Calandra to deal with it," said Bender.

Calandra has set a dangerous precedent, he said.

"This could happen in any of the small municipalities that have small members of council. The minute that you end up with an even number of members on council, the same situation could happen over and over again where people cannot agree on specific decisions," he said.

He's not sure if he'll throw his hat in the ring again.

"But, I mean, based on the situation as it sits right now, I really don't have that intention. Unless people tell me they want me to run, there's no use of me doing that and beating my head against the wall," he said.

Ongoing labour dispute

In addition to the ongoing challenges at the council table, over a dozen municipal workers have been off the job since October 2023. 

CUPE representatives were not available to comment on what the byelection could mean for negotiations. 

However, Bender said that it shouldn’t impact the labour dispute. 

“CUPE had an opportunity to commit to signing an agreement, which they basically reneged on. They'd agreed to, and then they changed their mind. And because of that, they're still sitting there on the picket lines, which is also part of this whole mess,” he said. 

Because staff are going to be busy planning a byelection, Bender said he doesn’t think there will be much time spend on the strike.

“That's going to be up to the senior staff and the head negotiator to see if there's some way to finally bring that to an end,” he said.

How did we get here?

In the 2022 municipal election, all but one of the Black River-Matheson council positions were acclaimed. The only vote was in Ward 3, with Dyment winning the seat with 133 votes.

Because six seats were acclaimed, of the 2,605 eligible voters, only 155 cast a ballot. The voter turnout was 5.95 per cent.

The council members taking the oath of office in December 2022 were Bender, Ward 2 Coun. Keith Neal, Dyment, Ward 4 Coun. Dan DeMarchi, Ward 5 Coun. Gadoury and Ward 6 Coun. Kim Druer. 

Three of the elected councillors have since stepped down.

Here’s a timeline of what’s happened in the municipality:

  • March 28, 2023 - Ward 4 Coun. Dan DeMarchi resigns.
  • April 2023 - A policy on how to fill vacant council positions is adopted. At a special meeting on April 24, Allana Schmidt was appointed as the new Ward 4 councillor. Five people applied for the position.
  • May 2023 - In a 4-3 vote, council approved a controversial 34.2 per cent budget for 2023.
  • August 2023 - Kim Druer resigns her Ward 6 seat.
  • October 2023
  • November 2023 - The mayor is caught on camera telling locked-out staff that they should start looking for other work.
  • January 2024 
  • February 2024 
    • The township hires a third-party investigator to look into social media comments and picketers.
    • Keith Neal submits his resignation from his role as the Ward 2 councillor. It was never accepted as all of the public meetings have been cancelled.
    • Feb. 20 - Council achieves quorum to meet in-camera. The items on the agenda are the security of municipal property and potential litigation affecting the municipality about Ontario Health and Safety Act complaints, as well as labour or employee negotiations about the striking workers.
  • March 2024 
    • Residents stage a meeting to talk about the ongoing issues in the township. About 150 people attended, including Timiskaming-Cochrane NDP MPP John Vanthof. Plans are also in place to create a ratepayers’ association.
    • Councillors Dyment, Gadoury and Campsall go public with their plans to boycott meetings in an attempt to have the MMAH step in. This move is allowed under the Municipal Act, which says that if a municipal council can’t hold a meeting for 60 days because of a lack of quorum, the Minister of Municipal Affairs may declare all of the seats vacant, triggering a byelection.
    • The mayor and CAO Chris Wray speak out against the move. CAO Chris Wray said he is skeptical anything like that would happen because since the Municipal Act was established in 2001, the clause has never been used in the province.

This story has been updated to include Dave Dyment's comments. 

Marissa Lentz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Marissa Lentz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Marissa Lentz covers civic issues along the Highway 11 corridor under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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