Three elected councillors refused to take their oath of office. One sitting councillor resigned. Then, the mayor was sworn in.

Following Tuesday’s election, the new mayor of the Northwest Territories hamlet of Enterprise, Sandra McMaster, formally took office on Wednesday alongside one newly elected councillor, Barbara Hart.

But the rest of McMaster’s council collapsed as other elected representatives said they would refuse to serve alongside her.

Michael Zak Kimble, Malcolm MacPhail and Charles Sutherland, all elected on Tuesday, declined to take their oath of office and gave up their seats. 

The three said they lacked confidence in McMaster according to hamlet senior administrator Blair Porter, who attended the meeting at which they resigned.

“They didn’t give me a chance,” McMaster told Cabin Radio on Thursday. 

“Our community should be working together. The worst times of people’s lives, we should all be working together and not trying to hurt each other.”

Enterprise, with 64 eligible voters, was the N.W.T.’s worst-hit community in 2023’s devastating wildfire season. The majority of the hamlet burned after a direct hit from a mid-August fire as it swept east across the South Slave.

McMaster says she plans to serve her term as mayor despite Wednesday’s drama, representing the interests of the entire community by listening to residents.

“I’m there for our people. We’ve got to move forward. We’ve got to make Enterprise the great community that it can be,” said McMaster. “I still will work that way of bringing the whole community together.”

Before running for mayor, McMaster had served as a councillor since 2020 and was most recently Enterprise’s deputy mayor. She defeated Michael St. Amour, the outgoing mayor, by 29 votes to 25 in an election that featured an 84 per cent turnout.

‘Democracy has spoken’ 

Jim Dives, who had been a sitting councillor, says he sent his letter of resignation before Wednesday’s meeting because he didn’t want to “partake in” the swearing-in of McMaster.

“I talked to some of the people that had been elected and none of them wanted to serve with the person that got elected as mayor,” Dives said. 

“I don’t want to serve under her either … I have no faith in her whatsoever.”

McMaster said she will not be intimidated by people unhappy with the election results. 

“The people have spoken and democracy has spoken,” McMaster said. “I won’t put up with bullying and harassment. We’re there for the community.”

Hart, the one councillor to be sworn in alongside McMaster, said she was “very disappointed in what happened last night, but I still see that we have a future and I’m hoping that we can get past all this.” 

“All councils have their little quirks and dissensions and minor things,” Hart added, “but you work it out — not anything like I saw last night, ever.”

“I’m kind-of shocked they would support me that way,” said the defeated St. Amour. “I’ve never seen that before.”

Dives considers Wednesday’s swearing-in “illegal” because with his absence, he argues not enough council members were present to reach a quorum. The Hamlets Act defines a quorum as “a majority of the council members then holding office”.

Senior administrator Porter disagrees, saying a quorum was not necessary to swear in a new council. Both the N.W.T.’s Department of Municipal and Community Affairs and the hamlet’s legal team agree a quorum was not required for councillors to take their oath, he said.

“It’s a moot point,” said Porter. “The only thing the act says is that the oath has to be taken before they can serve as a counsellor.”

What now?

McMaster says the first issue she will address as mayor is how to move forward. She says council will then focus on “planning for the whole year.”

St Amour was the hamlet’s mayor through the wildfire that burned many Enterprise homes last summer, as well as recovery efforts post-fire.

With much of the community still displaced, he believes the most important thing for the hamlet’s recovery is to mend the divides between those with different opinions and between insured and uninsured residents.

“We are all people that lost our homes. We should all be treated the same way, because it was no fault of our own that the fire came through,” said St. Amour. 

“A council that is united with its residents will get things moving faster and collectively.”

The election, which had been delayed from the fall because of the wildfire and its aftermath, had the highest turnout Porter could recall seeing “in a long time”.

“The simple fact? If they were giving up on the community, nobody would’ve come to vote,” said Hart. 

“But they believe in the community. We’ve always had a strong community.”

Porter says the way forward is unclear because the situation is unprecedented.

“I’ve been in contact with MACA to see what the next steps will be. They were kind-of shocked by it, too,” said Porter. 

“Since we’ve never had to deal with this kind of thing before, we’re just figuring out our next steps.”

By Simona Rosenfield, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Feb 15, 2024 at 20:32

This item reprinted with permission from   Cabin Radio   Yellowknife, NorthWest Territories