Feud shaping up in RM of St. Andrews’ race for mayor

A race for mayor is shaping up in the Rural Municipality of St. Andrews between the incumbent who was stripped of some key duties by her own council, and one of the councillors who had voted to remove the duties from her.

It hasn’t been an easy term, but that’s not stopping RM of St. Andrews incumbent Joy Sul from running for mayor.

“Residents have always been my number one priority and I will not back down from that,” said Sul, who owns her own event planning business.

Sul was elected in 2018 with nearly 63 per cent of the vote, but has faced a rocky tenure as mayor.

A political dispute in the rural municipality came to a head in December 2019 when a majority of council voted to remove Sul as chair of council and spokesperson for the RM – duties traditionally held by an elected mayor.

Sul alleged the decision was due to discrimination, while opposing councillors said it was the result of a culture of bullying and disrespect.

Sul took the RM to court over the decision, requesting a judicial review. However, the judge ruled against the request saying Sul hadn’t established clear evidence of bad faith or fraudulent intent.

Sul says she is in the process of appealing that decision.

“We are elected to act in the best interest of the residents, we are the voice of the people and my biggest challenge since being elected mayor is no following of legislation, no following of our own bylaws, policies. If you don’t follow rules, it is not fair to anyone.”

John Preun is joining the race for mayor, taking on Sul. The long-time area farmer was first elected councillor in 2018 but said he decided to set his sights on the role of mayor this year.

“I’ve lived here all my life, my children live here, my grandchildren live here, and certainly I have all the reasons in the world to want them to stay. I want this to be the municipality of choice for them and for their friends,” he said.

“I think this community has a lot to offer. I look at myself as a person who can forward think and my vision is to make this a great municipality through economic development, recreation and environmental stewardship.”

Preun is also the councillor who was appointed chair of council after Sul was removed from the position.

The rural municipality’s CAO told CTV News the role of chair of council will revert back to the elected mayor following the election. However, the new council will have the opportunity to appoint a new chair if they choose.

It’s political drama that political scientist Aaron Moore worries will distract from election issues.

“This could turn into simply a referendum on the mayor and there is a possibility I think that it could become pretty personal,” said Moore, an associate professor and chair of the University of Winnipeg’s department of political science.

“Unfortunately that will detract from any substantive discussions about the state of the municipality and what needs to be done.”

Despite what has happened in the past on the St. Andrews council, both candidates say they are now looking to the future to get things done in the RM.

“In spite of all the difficulties that we’ve had on council, we’ve really moved a lot of things along,” Preun said, adding he wants to continue the work that the current council has started.

“I’m an eternal optimist, right. So moving forward in a responsible manner, and for me, the people have to get out and vote. They are the ones that are going to tell us which direction we need to go.”

For Sul, beyond looking at reform on the council, the mayoral candidate wants to address seniors’ housing.

“The biggest thing is St. Andrews is a gorgeous wonderful municipality with wonderful residents. We have to look at senior housing. We have been very good at looking at recreation for the young, but this also has to include the seniors,” she said.

As for who will be leading that charge? Moore said in a rural election name recognition is a big factor in success.

“In this case, you have two candidates with name recognition and that can change the dynamics of the race quite a bit,” he said.

Residents wanting to run for mayor have until Sept. 20 to register as an official candidate. Election day is Oct. 26.

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