PHOTOS: St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse. Below: Mayoral candidates Cam MacKay and Cathy Heron.

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

An Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice yesterday dismissed an application by a St. Albert resident to have Mayor Nolan Crouse removed from office based on allegations the mayor had violated provisions of the Municipal Government Act dealing with the actions of council members who have a pecuniary interest in matters before council.

Steve Stone, who is now a candidate for city council, sought a declaration from the court that Mr. Crouse had a monetary interest in three motions before council in 2015 and 2016 – one concerning hiring an independent auditor to perform a forensic audit of council expenses, one proposing a limit on city funding of a defamation action by the city manager, and one related to environmental concerns at a city property near another property owned by a company owned by the mayor.

In his written decision handed down yesterday after he heard the matter on July 26, Mr. Justice Brian Burrows ruled that while the mayor should technically have recused himself from council’s deliberations on the first two motions dealing with expense claims and defamation funding, the violations of the act were technical and minor.

The judge wrote that in both technical violations Mayor Crouse appeared to have made an error in good faith after taking advice from city officials.

“In my view, disqualification in these circumstances would be unreasonably harsh, unjust and entirely inappropriate,” Justice Burrows said of the expense claim audit motion.

Similarly, on the defamation funding motion, the judge ruled that “disqualification of Mayor (sic) would be out of all proportion to the seriousness of his violation of the pecuniary interest rules. That violation was in the circumstances technical. Disqualification would be unjustly harsh.”

In both cases he ruled that Mr. Crouse could remain a member of council.

As for the environmental matter, Justice Burrows rejected Mr. Stone’s arguments.

“I have determined that it would be entirely unjust and disproportional to the seriousness of the violations to declare Mayor Crouse disqualified and his position on St. Albert City Council to be vacant,” the judge wrote in his disposition of the case.

This ruling can be seen as a vindication of Mr. Crouse. The judge’s decision and commentary suggests the mayor did not intend to be dishonest, but was trying to navigate a complex and difficult situation with care, seeking the advice of the city’s administration and lawyers. As for the environmental matter, the judge saw it as being without merit.

The court’s decision will be seen by many St. Albertans as a setback for supporters of the mayoral campaign of Councillor Cam MacKay, which seems from online commentary to have hoped the mayor would be removed from office, even though he is not seeking re-election.

During the July 26 hearing, Mayor Crouses’s lawyers questioned the involvement in the case of Councillor MacKay’s father, Cameron D. MacKay, whom the St. Albert Gazette reported had ordered and paid for transcripts given to the court by Mr. Stone.

The reasons Councillor MacKay, who is deputy mayor for July and August, waited outside the courtroom during the hearing remain controversial among many St. Albertans.

On the day of the hearing Councillor MacKay told a St. Albert Gazette reporter that if the judge had removed the mayor from office, “I would have had to do a whole bunch of stuff in the evening and [the next] morning.”

He later made a statement online that said that this stuff might include “informing the city manager so appropriate security measures could be taken, preparing a press release for the media, calling a special council meeting to determine next steps, or taking no action at all.”

However, as a result of Justice Burrow’s ruling, the interim deputy mayor will not be called upon to do anything during his short rotation in that role.

Mr. Stone was represented in the matter before the court by Brent Rathgeber, the former Conservative Member of Parliament for the federal riding that includes the City of St. Albert. Lawyers for the parties “may arrange to speak to costs,” the judge noted at the end of his ruling.

The election campaign is already effectively under way, with nomination day set for Sept. 18. The only other candidate for mayor to have declared so far is Councillor Cathy Heron, whom Councillor MacKay’s supporters have tried to tie to Mayor Crouse. Elections will take place in municipalities throughout Alberta on Oct. 16.

Another shoe remains to fall in St. Albert’s political closet.

That is, the Municipal Affairs Ministry’s inspection of governance practices at the City of St. Albert, another procedural matter that has the potential to impact the St. Albert city council election and which is expected to to be resolved before the day of the election.

The review was ordered by the provincial Municipal Affairs minister based on a request from St. Albert City Council late last year. The request was made after strong disagreements on council broke out over the hiring of a sitting councillor as a city employee.

The inspection report is expected to be made public before the election, and may identify elected officials who have contributed to the increasingly dysfunctional nature of council operations.

NOTE: This story has been updated with information about the Municipal Affairs Ministry’s inspection report.

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  1. Just a note: since Nomination Day isn’t until September, would it not be premature to completely rule out Mr Crouse’s running again? Politicians have often said they would leave politics, and then change their minds and stay in. While this scenario is unlikely, as Mr Crouse has publicly stated he wouldn’t run for reelection, in reality nobody is or is not a candidate until Nom. Day.

    1. This is a good point, Jerry, and now that the judge has dismissed the attempt to use the courts to unseat him, I suppose it’s a possibility, although at this hour an unlikely one. He seems pretty determined to me to step aside – although he seemed pretty determined to me to seek the Alberta Liberal leadership too. There will be a few people, of course, who float a balloon, and then decide not to submit their paperwork on Nomination Day, as there may be a couple of surprises at that time. Reading between the lines of this judgment – always a dangerous thing for a layperson to do – I sense that his Lordship viewed this as an attempt to use the courts to practice politics. Another shoe remains to fall, the report on the operations of St. Albert Council by the Municipal Affairs Ministry. DJC

    1. “The inspection report is expected to be made public before the election, and may identify elected officials who have contributed to the increasingly dysfunctional nature of council operations.” I’ve been a silent observer for awhile now, but it seems that only a few chickens are yet to roost.
      My contention is that St Albert deserves a mayoral candidate who hasn’t served on council. I hope someone presents to counter our current contenders. I voted for them, but neither should end up as mayor!

      1. Heron and Brodhead will want to distance themselves from Crouse if they hope to be elected.I think the judge has put a hot potato in the duo’s hands by not removing Crouse. We will see if Crouse stays on to drag them down.

  2. David, do you still stand behind your story today after the news said Mr. Crouse lied on his facebook page last night. Isn’t it even more interesting that you try and cherrypick the decision like Mr. Crouse does. I don’t care if it is a technicality or whatever, he broke the rules and the judge did not say that Mr. Crouse was innocent and in only one case did he say Mr. Crouse unknowingly voted on issues. Now, on the defamation issue, didn’t Mr. Crouse vote on a matter that he was involved in and voted to cap spending so that Mr. Draper had to settle rather than Mr. Crouse getting caught because he caused the defamatory comments to go to the paper? Not too innocent today is he!

  3. Do does anyone know how his other lawsuit(s) are going. not sure how many there are but it would be great if you could write an article on those. Thanks

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