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Ontario judge quashes plan to appoint former Brampton councillor to seat

Entrance to Brampton City Hall. Global News

An Ontario judge has quashed a motion voted through by six members of Brampton council at the end of May to appoint a former councillor to replace MPP Charmaine Williams at city hall.

A motion to appoint former Coun. Elaine Moore to Williams’ seat has been the centre of recent gridlock at city hall. It passed six-to-five on May 31, with Williams casting the decisive vote.

In a decision on Monday, an Ontario court ruled that motion should not stand.

“The Applicant brought this urgent application to quash the Resolution and By-law for illegality by asserting that both were passed without jurisdiction,” the decision said.

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Since Williams won the riding of Brampton Centre in June’s provincial election for the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario — and subsequently resigned her seat — municipal governance in Brampton has ground to a halt.

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Two groups of council members have formed.

On one side, Mayor Patrick Brown and four city councillors have grouped together, while deputy mayors Pat Fortini and Martin Medeiros, alongside three other councillors, make up the other group of five.

“(I hope) as this term of council ends in the next few months, councillors will prioritize protecting the taxpayer rather than focusing on petty, personal vendettas,” Coun. Harkirat Singh, who brought the court motion to overturn Moore’s appointment, said Tuesday.

Four council meetings have been cancelled since the motion passed at the end of May.

Three failed to take place because Brown and four councillors did not attend, leaving the meeting without enough members to proceed. The fourth was cancelled by the mayor the day after he was disqualified from the Conservative Party leadership race.

Brown is in the process of appealing his disqualification for allegedly breaking financial rules.

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Coun. Singh — part of Brown’s group on council — filed a motion at the Superior Court of Justice to have the decision to appoint Moore as a councillor thrown out.

On Monday, Justice Doi agreed with Singh’s motion, ruling the motion to appoint Moore should not stand.

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“I am satisfied that municipal council can only proceed to appoint a person to fill a vacant office after it has declared the vacancy at its next meeting after the vacancy has occurred,” the decision read.

Williams’ seat was due to be declared vacant at the meeting that followed her election to Queen’s Park — no meeting has yet taken place.

Her replacement will hold the casting vote on a council split into two groups of five.

Brampton’s city solicitor, Sameer Akhtar, and city clerk, Peter Fay, both previously raised concerns about the motion to select Moore as the appointee for Williams’ seat . Akhtar is no longer employed by the City of Brampton.

“Brampton taxpayers should not be responsible for their illegal shenanigans,” Brown said of the now-quashed motion.

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A spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing previously told Global News, before the judicial decision was rendered, that the province would not step in.

“The city is responsible for and is in the best position to make a decision about filling a council vacancy,” the spokesperson said. “Ministry staff or the Minister do not have a role.”

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Justice Doi wrote that council’s “failure to comply” with mandatory requirements set out in the Municipal Act “led to a total absence of jurisdiction and an illegality that is clearly demonstrated.”

Todd Letts, CEO of the Brampton Board of Trade, said the local business community was growing frustrated with the dysfunction inside city hall.

“We’re disappointed in council’s conduct — not only in this recent scandal but the cost to the business community in terms of delays in important files including transit and transportation, healthcare, post-secondary education,” he told Global News.

He said “confidence has been waning over the past couple of years” in Brampton.

“When that happens it jeopardizes investment, jobs and the prosperity of our community,” Letts added.

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The five councillors who passed the motion issued a statement Tuesday, reiterating concerns about the alleged conduct of Brown and his tenure as Mayor of Brampton.

They said investigations had begun into contracts signed by the City of Brampton, particularly around plans to develop a local university. The councillors alleged people with ties to the mayor were benefitting.

“Brown does not want the work of independent investigators to come forward,” the councillors wrote in a statement.

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“They were hired to probe numerous contracts and ‘questionable’ financial arrangement with associates of Brown, which have already come to light since a majority group of Councillors directed staff for information.”

The five councillors — Fortini, Medeiros, Jeff Bowman, Gurpreet Dhillon and Doug Whillans — called on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to launch an investigation into city hall finances since 2018.

“We need an outside authority, not controlled by Brown, to conduct a thorough investigation,” the statement said. “On behalf of the residents of Brampton, we are calling on the RCMP to undertake a full investigation into these serious allegations”

It is unclear if the court decision will clear the gridlock on Brampton City Council.

A minimum of six members must be in attendance for a council meeting to take place in Brampton — both groups are made up of five people.

“I’d like to see council immediately back to work,” Brown, who did not attend three recent meetings and cancelled a fourth, said.

He said he would consult with all members of council to find a time to convene a meeting.

Brampton City Council has a special council meeting scheduled for July 25.

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