Every seat in a fourth-floor Edmonton courtroom was packed with residents from Thorhild County Friday. It’s a rural community 45 minutes north of Edmonton that is bitterly divided over municipal politics.
Residents watched lawyers argue about whether a judge should overturn orders issued by the Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister to fire three of the county’s five members of council.
Former Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee removed reeve Dan Buryn and councillors Larry Sisson and Wayne Crosswell from office in March 2015 after a third-party inspection unearthed “irregular, improper and improvident” actions and inappropriate behaviour, including violations of conflict of interest and confidentiality rules.
The next day, the two councillors and the reeve were granted a temporary injunction, staying the ministerial order and allowing them to return to work the following week. They’ve remained on the job ever since, with continuous oversight from the province.
“We continue to do the work but we’re constantly manipulated by these official administrators,” Reeve Dan Buryn said outside court.
“It’s been absolute torture.”
Council granted judicial review
A lawyer representing the Thorhild County council argued the three ousted council members were not given a chance to defend themselves after allegations regarding their conduct were made by the provincially appointed investigator.
Government lawyer William Olthuis told Justice John Little the province’s investigation was “neutral and thorough” and the minister owed a duty to the county as a whole, not just to individual councillors.
The lawyer representing the council vehemently disagreed.
“This is the nuclear bomb of municipal law,” Ian Wachowicz said. “I think it’s very clear that procedural fairness was not given to the county to respond.”
“A scathing report comes out…