Centre Wellington councillor punished for anti-lockdown views
KITCHENER -- A Centre Wellington councillor has been stripped of his deputy mayor title for his anti-lockdown views.
Tempers flared in a Monday night council meeting as politicians debated the price their colleague councillor Steven VanLeeuwen would pay for his anti-lockdown views. Ultimately, council decided to strip VanLeeuwen of his deputy mayor title.
All council members agreed that VanLeeuwen’s views are not consistent with the message they are trying to send the public and they agreed he should be removed as the deputy mayor. However, a debate over whether to do it immediately or take it to the integrity commissioner first caused the fireworks.
Coun. VanLeeuwen does not deny the anti-lockdown accusations that generated council's debate, including joining a Facebook group called End the Lockdowns Caucus that shares his views.
“Our focus really is to say that the lockdowns themselves are what’s causing these difficulties and struggles,” said VanLeeuwen during the meeting.
As a result, all of the other councillors agreed that there needed to be a response.
“We all have the freedom of speech, but the deputy mayor is different, the mayor and the deputy mayor need to be on the same page, particularly in a crisis,” said Coun. Neil Dunsmore.
Some argued that council should immediately remove him as deputy mayor.
“Coun. VanLeeuwen is entitled to his beliefs, he is entitled to his opinions and he is allowed to share them, however I do not share Coun. VanLeeuwen’s beliefs, in fact I think in this case they are dangerous. It is time for this council to speak with one voice, to stand up and support the public health unit,” added Dunsmor.
Others wanted the township's integrity commissioner to first determine if there was a code of conduct breach.
“How can we possibly sit idle and not have these matters investigated?,” asked Coun. Bob Foster during the meeting.
The difference in opinion resulted in an accusation and this tense exchange:
“This smacks as a cover-up in my view, why are we are covering it up? Let’s get to the truth and have the matter investigated, those are my remarks mayor,” said Foster.
“Point of privilege your worship,” Dunsmore responded, “He just accused me of participating in cover-up, and I am not going to stand by for that. Ask him retract the remark please.”
“It smacks as a cover-up is what I said, I did not say your name,” Foster reacted.
After nearly two hours of debate, council chose to do both. They voted to strip Coun. VanLeeuwen of his role as deputy mayor and ask for an integrity commissioners’ report.
For his part, VanLeeuwen did not vote and says he understands council's decision.
"I can understand in regards to, it would be very difficult for me to stand and promote the type of lockdowns and type of restrictions to the general public in regard to something I find harmful,” he said.
Coun. VanLeeuwen will stay on as a member of council. Coun. Dunsmore will now act as the new deputy mayor.
For his part VanLeeuwen did not vote and says he understands council's decision.
"I can understand in regards to it would be very difficult for me to stand and promote the type of lockdowns and type of restrictions to the general public in regard to something I find harmful,” he said.
Councillor VanLeeuwen will stay on as a member of council. Councillor Neil Dunsmore will now act as the new deputy mayor.