Must your chair sit in their chair?

A municipality’s efforts to prevent its mayor from chairing council meetings have been struck down by the Manitoba Court of Appeal.

The Manitoba Court of Appeal recently considered whether a municipal council can remove a mayor’s duty to preside as chair during council meetings in Sul v The Rural Municipality of St. Andrews, Manitoba et al., 2023 MBCA 25.

In December 2019, Council for the RM of St. Andrews (“Council”) voted to remove the mayor’s duty to preside over council meetings following the mayor’s controversial public comments and failure to maintain decorum at council meetings. Council amended its procedures bylaw to give it the authority to appoint council members to preside as chair over council meetings. Council subsequently passed two resolutions that appointed certain councillors to the positions of chair, deputy chair and spokesperson on behalf of the RM.

The mayor challenged the validity of the bylaw amendments and corresponding resolutions, which the application judge deemed to be within the RM’s authority. The mayor subsequently appealed the application judge’s decision to the Manitoba Court of Appeal

Reasonableness review requires a contextual analysis

The Court of Appeal was tasked with determining whether the application judge chose the correct standard of review and properly applied it in his decision.

After reviewing the decision, the Court of Appeal determined the application judge erred in his application of the reasonableness standard of review when determining whether Council’s interpretation of its authority was justified in the circumstances. This is because the application judge failed to consider the appropriate legal and factual constraints applicable to the procedures bylaw amendment.

The Court of Appeal determined that the only reasonable interpretation of the statutory provisions applicable to the procedures bylaw did not allow Council to appoint a councillor to chair council meetings absent specific conditions. A procedures bylaw can only appoint a council member to act as head of council if (1) the head or deputy head are unable to act or (2) their offices are vacant. Since those conditions did not apply in this case, the Court of Appeal determined the procedures bylaw amendment was beyond the authority of the RM and therefore invalid. The corresponding resolutions to appoint certain councillors to the positions of chair, deputy chair and spokesperson were deemed invalid as well.

The lawyers in our Municipal practice group have wide-ranging experience advising municipalities across Western Canada on a variety of matters. If you have questions about what this decision means for your municipality, contact us to learn how we can help.

This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.