Ousted mayor, councillors running again in Chestermere byelection on Monday

Voters in the City of Chestermere will choose a new mayor and five municipal councillors on Monday, and among the candidates are four individuals recently forced out of their seats by the province.

In December 2023, Alberta Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver dismissed ex-mayor Jeff Colvin and former councillors Mel Foat, Blaine Funk and Stephen Hanley, as well as three chief administrative officers.

Colvin, Foat, Funk and Hanley are running to regain their former seats in the byelection, which was set after the dismissal order was issued.

At the time of the dismissals, McIver stated that the city had not done enough to abide by a number of directives issued following a months-long municipal inspection, nor had it complied with the supervision of an official administrator.

The four dismissed Chestermere councillors. Clockwise from top left; Mayor Jeff Colvin, Blaine Funk, Mel Foat and Stephen Hanley.
The four dismissed Chestermere councillors. Clockwise from top left; Mayor Jeff Colvin, Blaine Funk, Mel Foat and Stephen Hanley. (City of Chestermere)

Asked this week how the province would approach a scenario in which any of those individuals won re-election as part of the byelection, spokesperson Heather Jenkins in the Municipal Affairs ministry said it would not speculate on the outcome of the election.

However, Jenkins wrote that when the province released an inspection report of Chestermere's finances, McIver had issued two binding directives to the city.

Those require the city to report on the city's plan to address each of the inspection report's 94 recommendations, or explain why action wasn't taken on each recommendation.

"The city is expected to comply with the directives, and once council quorum has been restored following the byelection, the city's plan to address the recommendations in the inspection report must be discussed in an open session of council, and approved by council resolution," Jenkins wrote in a statement.

Colvin, Foat, Funk and Hanley were also recently sued by the City of Chestermere for more than $650,000, alleging improper spending on parties, alcohol, a private investigator and more. The city's claims have not yet been tested in court.

Jeff Moroz, a lawyer for the four men, declined to comment on the specifics of the suit, citing its status before the court. He said all allegations in the statement of claim are denied.

"It is important to note the statement of claim was authorized by those appointed by the province, one day after the advanced polling and some four days before the byelection," Moroz wrote in an email to CBC News.

Further, he wrote that McIver should not be able to remove people duly elected by residents.

"The people should be the ones who decide, not one person alone. This is the antithesis of democracy," Moroz wrote.

Moroz said his clients are still seeking a judicial review of McIver's dismissal, claiming that the minister's office has yet to provide evidence to the court. The courts previously denied two bids for injunctions, and the City of Chestermere subsequently wrote in a statement on Feb. 13 that it would abandon the pursuit of a judicial review.

CBC News has reached out to McIver's office for additional comment.

Since the dismissals, Chestermere has been run by an administrator, Douglas Lagore, who was given the powers and duties of council until quorum is restored.

Three individuals — Shannon Dean, Sandy Johal-Watt and Ritesh Narayan — were left on council, though only Narayan remains. Dean has since resigned to seek the mayor's chair, and Johal-Watt has moved into an administrative role.

Joining Colvin and Dean in the race for the mayor's chair is Marshall Chalmers, Chestermere's former mayor from 2017 to 2021, and Christopher Steeves, a longtime former Chestermere councillor. A crowded field of 23, including Foat, Funk and Hanley, are seeking to round out council.

Mount Royal University political science assistant professor Lori Williams says the documents show a lot of strategizing and media savvy by the Alberta NDP government.
Lori Williams, a political science professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said provincial directives are addressed towards specific problems which will need to be heeded by whomever ends up on council in Chestermere. (Colin Hall/CBC)

Mount Royal University political science professor Lori Williams noted that the provincial directives will need to be addressed, no matter who ends up on council.

"If there isn't compliance, then we already know what the outcome can be. It could mean that the current oversight that's in place, the city manager that's basically running the show presently, will probably come back into play," Williams said.

"There's very clear guidelines in place. It's quite clear what has to be done."

Voting will take place between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Monday with voting stations located at the Chestermere Recreation Centre.

Chestermere is home to about 20,000 residents and is located approximately 10 kilometres east of Calgary.