Saint John councillors suspended for supporting CUPE strike

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Joanna Killen and Brent Harris, two councillors for the city of Saint John, were recently suspended from their duties after showing support for CUPE Local 486 strikes. An investigation is ongoing.

Brent Harris/Twitter (X)

In the heart of Saint John, city councillors Joanna Killen and Brent Harris recently displayed public support for striking workers. They attended a news conference organized by CUPE Local 486, expressing solidarity with the union’s demands for fair wages. In the days that followed, the duo received notifications of a code of conduct complaint filed against them. Following a council meeting and an overwhelming majority vote on October 3rd, their council duties were temporarily suspended pending the outcome of an investigation. Additionally, they were excluded from participating in all votes related to the latest counteroffer presented by the union.

Saint John’s Mayor, Donna Reardon, released a statement on the same day addressing the actions taken. She stated, “In light of concerns Saint John City Council has concerning the behaviour of two of its members and the risk posed to the local government as a result of their behaviour … that, on the recommendation of the Committee of the Whole and pending the outcome of an investigation under the Code of Conduct By-Law, Councillors Killen and Harris be relieved of all their council committee duties and their appointments by Council to different bodies be rescinded, effective immediately.”

Councillor Harris wasted no time in responding to the council’s decision to suspend their duties before the investigation’s conclusion. He took to the social media platform X to publicly discuss their predicament.

Emma McPhee/Telegraph Journal

The complaint against Killen and Harris was filed by fellow council member Gary Sullivan, accusing the two of breaching two different sections of the Code of Conduct bylaw. One section obligates councillors to accurately communicate the decisions of the council, even if they disagree with those decisions. The second section prohibits councillors from criticizing or giving negative reviews of debates or discussions, or otherwise undermining the authority of the Council. Following the complaint and their suspension, the two councillors emphasized that their meetings with the union had not involved negotiations or promises. They simply intended to gain an understanding of the other side of the story and listen to the concerns of the striking workers.

“It’s capricious in nature,” Harris said. “Has to be. There’s no other way to see it. And since we were barred from being able to talk about the union realities, it’s a subversion of democracy. I don’t know how else to see it.”

CUPE New Brunswick president Steve Drost, who was part of the discussions between Killen and Harris, went on record to state that the two councillors had been respectful and had acted in line with their elected duties.

Roger Cosman/CBC

“Hats off to both of these councillors for wanting to be more informed but what really concerns me are a few things,” Drost said. “It’s obvious this council has no regard for the citizens and no regard for these workers. What I find concerning is what’s happening to these two councillors who were doing what they were duly elected to do (and) are now being punished.”

Since the suspension of the councillors, on October 11, the City of Saint John and CUPE Local 486 have ratified an agreement, effectively ending the strike that had persisted for nearly a month.

The investigation regarding the code of conduct breach has been entrusted to an impartial third-party investigator, and there is currently no information available regarding the expected timeline for its completion.

When speaking with The Baron, councillor Harris expressed his concern for the future of politics noting that “…it seems to me that the next generation of leaders who are not part of the establishment or the ‘norm’ in political thought and discourse are being confronted by a severe effort to force compliance and diminish debate”.

Roger Cosman/CBC

He pointed to the Higgs government saying “we have seen this within the PC Party and the dissenting voices of their caucus and now we have seen in Saint John municipally. Elected officials do not answer to other elected officials, they answer to the electorate but some of our mayors and premiers seem to think that they are the guardians of what they believe to be ‘good decorum’.

Whenever we supress honest conversation in our democratic institutions, we enable more nefarious forces like command & control leadership styles that embolden centralizing and conformity-based politics. We are seeing the breakdown in our society of trust in our democratic process and institutions globally. The decesion to try and rein this in by utilizing tools that oppress individual expression within it are a terrible instinct and prone to exacerbate the situation”.

Abigail is a first-year arts students focusing on social sciences. She wants to shoot for the stars and become the best she can be, even if she has no idea what career she wants to pursue yet! She's an avid fan of lions, seals, and dogs with long noses, and she spends a lot of time writing creatively, sketching, or chatting online