“Come on over here Timmie and I’ll punch your lights out.”
— Former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon threatening opposition politician Tim Sale in the legislature
Since their election two years ago, there has been no love lost between Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst and Richmond Ward Coun. Stephen Montague.
Around the council table and in the pages of the Brandon Sun, Montague and Decter Hirst have taken to sparring with each other over numerous issues, though the most energetic disagreements have been over taxation and charges of conflict of interest levelled at the mayor.
The growing animosity finally bubbled over on Monday night when, following the meeting, Decter Hirst walked over to Coun. Montague and uttered a few very choice words.
“Stephen, if you ever show disregard with that microphone on again, I will slap you on the back of the head so hard your head will spin,” Decter Hirst was recorded as saying by a Brandon Sun reporter.
Montague is not known for being the most diplomatic of fellows when it comes to stating his opinions at council meetings, or for hiding his disdain and disappointment if and when the majority rules against those opinions. Just sit through a council meeting and watch the expression on his face when it happens.
So it doesn’t surprise us that Decter Hirst, the mother of three children, turned Mommy Dearest on the councillor after she believed he breached protocol following this exchange earlier in the evening.
Said Decter Hirst: “Councillor Montague, I’m going to give our guests latitude, but I am going to get you to direct you to come to the chair.”
To which, Stephen Montague said “it’s your chair,” and promptly continued on with his questions to a resident on a condominium approval debate.
There have been rumours floating around the community since the taped exchange hit the news that Montague also uttered some highly “unparliamentary” language that didn’t make the recording, though the Sun has not been able to confirm this.
The situation is reminiscent of the comments made by former premier Gary Filmon, who threatened to “punch” then-Opposition NDP critic Tim Sale during a heated exchange in the Manitoba legislature in the mid-1990s. As the political blog “Winnipeg ... one great city” notes, what was not widely reported at the time was that Sale was doing a right arm at 22.5 degrees salute — the Nazi salute — from his seat when Filmon made his threat.
Mayor Decter Hirst and the councillors have borne the brunt of a storm of public criticism over the 2012 property tax increase fiasco and the verbal charge of conflict of interest — both issues that, to our minds, were handled very poorly. These issues, among others, have only served to fracture our team of elected officials and create a stressful environment around the council table.
Of course, divided councils are not unique to Brandon. Municipal politics, like all politics, can be stressful, and anyone who signs up for the job better have some pretty thick skin. But of course, even the most adept and diplomatic politician can lose their cool and say things that they regret down the road — as in Filmon’s case. But no amount of name-calling or irritation excuses the act.
It doesn’t matter what Montague may or may not have said, Decter Hirst lowered the stature of the mayor’s chair by losing her cool and uttering a threat to a councillor. It was a foolish move, and she should have known better.
Before meetings in the council chambers devolve to further mud-slinging and name-calling sessions, we suggest Montague and Decter Hirst bury the hatchet — figuratively only, of course — and keep the discord to a minimum.
There’s simply too much work to do for such childish nonsense to continue.