Regina council delays decision on possible sanctions for councillors over homelessness lawsuit

Regina Ward 3 Coun. Andrew Stevens sits in a city council meeting. City manager Niki Anderson is in the picture's foreground.  (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)
Regina Ward 3 Coun. Andrew Stevens sits in a city council meeting. City manager Niki Anderson is in the picture's foreground. (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)

A pair of Regina city councillors will have to wait at least a few more weeks before they find out the potential repercussions for a lawsuit they filed against the city manager.

On Wednesday, city council received a report from integrity commissioner Angela Kruk that said the two councillors' actions violated council's code of ethics bylaw. Council was to decide how to proceed at Wednesday's meeting.

Hours of debate — and submissions from half a dozen residents — were brought to an abrupt halt after Mayor Sandra Masters proposed a motion to table the debate to allow for more confidential discussions at a closed door meeting of council.

LISTEN| Regina's mayor weighs in on integrity report, Experience Regina: 

Ward 3 Coun. Andrew Stevens, who along with Ward 6 Coun. Dan LeBlanc, were the subject of the integrity commissioner's investigation, said that resolution was frustrating.

"I'm not enjoying the fact that we're kicking this down the road a little bit further," Stevens told media Wednesday.

Council will now meet in private during next week's executive committee meeting.

Alexander Quon/CBC
Alexander Quon/CBC

It's not clear what the outcome of that discussion will be, but the decision by LeBlanc and Stevens to recuse themselves on Wednesday means they will not take part in the debate.

Council is required by law to resolve a integrity commissioners investigation in a public meeting, so the matter will not be fully resolved until the May 24 meeting of city council at the earliest.

WATCH | Integrity commissioner says Regina councillors should apologize for lawsuit:

How council got here

Last June, council unanimously voted to direct city administration to figure out how much it would cost to end homelessness in the city.

According to meeting minutes published on the city's website, administration was to have that cost as a "clearly demarcated in a line item of its own" in the city's budget.

When administration released a preliminary budget document in November, it provided an estimated figure of $122.5 million to implement a housing-first model to address homelessness, but did not recommend that the city do so, citing the high cost of the project to the city's residents.

As a result LeBlanc, who is also a lawyer, represented Stevens and Florence Stratton, a well-known social activist, in a lawsuit against city manager Niki Anderson launched on Nov. 22.

Alexander Quon/CBC
Alexander Quon/CBC

The lawsuit called for Anderson's office to be compelled to include a line item describing the cost of ending homelessness in the 2023 city budget.

While that legal action would ultimately fail, the fallout has continued through the first half of this year, with allegations of sexism, harassment and political retribution being tossed back and forth.

Violating code of conduct

The dispute was supposed to culminate with Kruk's report, which revealed for the first time that LeBlanc met with Anderson ahead of the release of the proposed budget.

LeBlanc informed the city manager that if the funding for homelessness was not included in the document he would file a court application.

"While I accept that the respondents did not target Ms. Anderson personally, the lawsuit still had a considerable negative impact on her professionally and personally," Kruk wrote in the report.

"I know this, not only because I heard this directly from Ms. Anderson, but also because the lawsuit would have had a negative impact on any person in Ms. Anderson's position."

LISTEN | Unpacking the latest report from Regina's integrity commissioner: 

Mayor Sandra Masters has said that Anderson felt harassed by the councillors as a result of the lawsuit, but Kruk's investigation found no evidence that the councillors treated the city manager without dignity, understanding or respect.

Instead, Kruk described the lawsuit as novel, unorthodox and unnecessary, and said it made city governance look dysfunctional.

The integrity commissioner stated that the councillors failed to serve their constituents in a conscientious and diligent manner, to act in the best interests of the municipality, and to build and inspire the public's trust and confidence in local government.

Kruk recommended that Stevens and LeBlanc write an apology to the city manager.

"My hope was that in sitting down to write that apology, that it would give them some time to reflect on their actions and the effect that those actions had on one individual person, and would [have them] give pause in the future before taking action," Kruk said on Wednesday.

She further stressed to council that her recommendation was not meant to punish or serve as retribution.

In a post-council scrum Wednesday, Anderson told media that she does not want a written apology. Instead, she said the ongoing dispute between herself and LeBlanc and Stevens could be resolved if the pair issued an apology to the public.

Alexander Quon/CBC
Alexander Quon/CBC

Anderson said she disagrees with how Stevens and LeBlanc have conducted themselves, but refused to use the word harassment to describe their actions.

"When I have to work in a place where my bosses are saying things that are untrue to the media, where they're skewing words, where frankly they're creating chaos in the social media world … I'll let you pick what that word is," she said.

Reprimand through apology

City council already moved to take action against Stevens and LeBlanc before the report was released.

Council voted to remove LeBlanc from his position on Community and Social Impact Regina over concerns he could no longer represent the will of council.

On Dec. 7, Regina City Council voted unanimously affirming its confidence in Anderson, and expressing disappointment over the negative impact the lawsuit had created on council's operational integrity and oversight.

The integrity commissioner determined the council's vote expressing its disappointment in the lawsuit was a sufficient reprimand for Stevens and LeBlanc.

Despite the aftermath, LeBlanc said he does regret filing the lawsuit, but stressed that a forced apology isn't an apology at all.

He said he fundamentally believes this is a disagreement over policy and politics.

"I'll do what council directs me to do as long as it's very clear that's why I'm doing it," he said.

"So my recommendation, if after several more meetings they do decide to tell me to write an apology, is to say 'you folks write the apology to describe what you think I should feel,' and then insert a line that says we're requiring Dan to sign this and I'll sign that document."

Stevens struck a more subdued tone.

He said he would likely not choose to go to court over an issue like this again and would be willing to offer an apology if directed to by council.

He suggested mediation as a way for Anderson, LeBlanc and himself.

"I'm willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that we can trust each other and work effectively," Stevens said.

Alexander Quon/CBC
Alexander Quon/CBC

Wednesday's non-decision continues to highlight the ongoing rift at council, with multiple councillors saying on it only distracted from the good public policy they're working to create.

Kruk also serves as the integrity commissioner for Saskatoon.

Her latest annual report said she received no complaints in Saskatoon in 2022. In Regina she received eight.

One of those complaints resulted in the first ever ruling that someone had violated the city's code of conduct since it came into force in 2017.