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The petition

The story behind the petition calling for the resignation of Coun. Brian Swanson
swanson resignation screen shot

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.  

On November 13, 2018 Jody Chell was on a mission.

She was speaking before Moose Jaw City Council delivering an almost 900 signature petition calling for the resignation of long-time Councillor Brian Swanson for his involvement in the DFFH Scandal.

Councillor Brian Swanson had taken home the files of Mosaic Place employees in the wake of some serious personnel issues and for his actions been reprimanded along with Councillors Crystal Froese and Scott McMann.

By all appearances Chell had created the petition, presented the speech and was now on her own, calling for Councillor Swanson’s resignation but was this true or were there other things going on hidden from the public eye and what is the truth about - The Petition?

“I was literally the face to get rid of Swanson,” Chell said in an interview this past June with MJ Independent and the start of a five-month investigation into the allegations she was making.

Chell had voluntarily come forward to do what she described as the “right thing” and finally tell the truth about the petition asking Councillor Brian Swanson to resign in the wake of the DFFH Scandal.

Chell says that the petition was engineered for the most part by Tourism Moose Jaw’s Executive Director L’Heureux.  She further claims that the presentation before council was discussed and approved at a secret meeting in Regina between herself, L’Heureux, Krista McDonald and Mayor Fraser Tolmie.

The Meeting

In response to questions posed to L’Heureux, McDonald, Tolmie and Chell, all four appear to agree the planned meeting took place on October 24, 2018 at Brewed Awakening in Regina but that is where the agreement ends.

Chell and McDonald claim there was more than innocent chat going on.

Chell says that is unaware how the meeting was set up, just that it was done by L’Heureux.  Chell claims the meeting was held in Regina so the group would not be recognized.  She indicates that there was even a codeword “the Epicure Client” used between herself and L’Heureux for Mayor Tolmie to prevent people from knowing they were talking about the Mayor.  The codeword “the Epicure Client” was used because the Mayor’s wife bought the beauty product from L’Heureux.

Although the meeting attendees knew that the petition to remove Councillor Swanson would be discussed at the meeting, Chell indicates that her goal was for Mayor Tolmie to endorse the petition, something she in her mind received at the meeting.

“He said this is exactly the right thing to do and he explained there was legally no way to fire him (Councillor Swanson)….I had done my research myself and there is no way he could be fired,” she said.

“I was literally looking for his approval and he said yes he was excited about the presentation. I did not tell him exactly what I was going to say but I gave him a rundown on how I was going to plan out the presentation and yup continue on with that and this is what I am going to say after you present. He told me what he was going to say and we kind of left it at that,” Chell claimed.

“He doesn’t like Brian (Swanson) he said that at the meeting. He encouraged me to come to Council and do what I could to get rid of him. He said he did not like him, he said there was conflict between the Board (Council). Nobody got along with him (Councillor Swanson) and they wanted him gone.”

Chell would further claim Mayor Tolmie agreed to stand up after her presentation at Council and speak out in support of it.

MJ1_2043Brewed Awakening in Regina - MJ Independent photo

McDonald claimed to have heard Mayor Tolmie say something very similar.

“Oh, he was in support of the petition and he had expressed his frustration with Brian and did not enjoy working with him…because he is known as being combative and the one odd vote out. And saying his opinions on things. I believe it was just the Mayor reiterating those things but from his perspective of having to sit next to him at Council,” she said.

In reply to questions posed to Mayor Tolmie, he denies that the meeting was “secret” or that anything untoward happened.   For Mayor Tolmie, the informal meeting was something he regularly did.

“As I mentioned in my last email response, I receive meeting requests - constantly - in addition to having people stop me to discuss issues when I’m out and about. This issue was one that upset a lot of people. I was often questioned as to why the Council didn’t remove the Councillors involved and I have repeatedly explained the process to many, many people, including the three people I met with that day,” Mayor Tolmie wrote.

“As you would imagine, I am often asked for meetings, even impromptu ones while I’m out and about, on many subjects. This was an issue that came up a fair bit with people.  Many didn’t understand the process involved and would approach me to ask me why it was handled in the manner it was,” Mayor Tolmie wrote in a request for comment.

For Mayor Tolmie that is as far as the conversation advanced. Nothing more was discussed at the meeting. Any other interpretation of what he said is a misunderstanding.

“If I used the term 'respond favourably,' it would mean that I would cast a vote in favour of hearing a citizen speak at Council. I am very cautious with legal and privacy issues. I take it very seriously,” he wrote in response for a requested comment.

Mayor Tolmie said the meeting was held in Regina because it was convenient for all parties who were in the Queen City for the reading of the Speech from the Throne.

“I believe this meeting took place in Regina because I was in Regina for meetings and the opening of the Legislature that day.  As I recall, so were the people who requested the meeting,” he wrote. “I don’t think there was anything inappropriate about meeting with citizens to help them understand how city processes work. Petitions are non-binding on Council and that is not always understood,” Mayor Tolmie wrote in an email response to questions.

 

mayors daytimer oct 24 2018Excerpt from Mayor Fraser Tolmie’s appointment daytimer obtained by a Freedom of Information request

The Mayor saw the meeting as just part of his regular duties and something he did all of the time. The meeting was not recorded in his daytimer schedule for that day.

Council was never informed Mayor Tolmie had met in private with the authors of the petition.

“There was no reason to inform the Council of the meeting.  As for my personal feelings, they are irrelevant. At all times, I acted according to due procedure and in the best interests of the community,” he wrote.

Mayor Tolmie said there was a major outcry in the community to remove Councillor Brian Swanson from Council and what happened at the DFFH had been thoroughly and professionally investigated.

“Many in the community felt that we as Council had not been strong enough. But Council followed all procedures.  Council went through a very intense investigation. At all times, the Province (the Ministry for Government Relations) was informed of our investigation, the process and finally the sanctions against the Councillors for their handling of this very serious situation. The investigation was conducted by a retired RCMP officer and our legal advice was given by a now Queens Court Judge,” Mayor Tolmie wrote.

Mayor Tolmie for his part says that he is unaware of being referred to as “the Epicure Client” but his wife did in fact buy the beauty product from L’Heureux.

“As for the meeting being referred to as Epicure Client, I’m not really sure what you mean by that. I don’t recall the meeting having any such name. I do know that one of the meeting participants, Jacki, is an Epicure representative and our family has purchased those products from her for many years,” Mayor Tolmie wrote in a statement.

epicure clientText message of L’Heureux in grey using the codeword “Epicure Client”

L’Heureux initially said she could not remember the meeting but was there to support a friend.

“So since this was two years ago, I would like to see the documentation and hear the recording to help me answer the questions accurately. I will be happy to answer the questions, but I don’t recall any minutes or recordings taking place, as it was a personal issue, I was helping a friend with,” L’Heureux wrote.

In follow up questions, L’Heureux did not specifically discuss the nature of the discussions at the meeting.

The Petition

Although she had done a lot of research going into it and had served as the petition’s public face Chell claimed she was not the only person behind the petition. Chell claimed L’Heureux had participated extensively in writing the petition but remained in the shadows. This is borne out in the text messages between the pair.

Chell said she had two reasons for writing the petition - privacy and the allegations of sexual harassment.

“As an occupational health and safety consultant one thing that really stuck out in my mind was the fact Brian Swanson had taken personal HR files home with him. I know Council is forced as they don’t have offices to take files home with them. The difference with this one it is illegal to take someone’s HR file personally home with them,” Chell said. “As a woman for the alleged sexual harassment that went on for a year and nobody talked about it, that also upset me.”

Both Chell and McDonald claimed L’Heureux had worked extensively on the on-line petition and had also helped behind the scenes to promote it without being exposed as participating.

“I had help from Jacqui with the petition. She helped me write the petition. I launched the petition and I thought I had to go one step further because I knew that petition wasn’t legal and so I wanted to present to Council,” Chell claimed.

Chell claimed L’Heureux had said she had to hide her involvement. A text message provided showed L’Heureux saying she wished she did not have to remain “incognito.”

incognito lheureuxText mesage of L’Heureux in grey mentioning about being incognito at the launch of the petition - Chell is in blue

“Throughout the whole process Jacki always said I cannot be with you at City Council when you present. I wish I could be, but I can’t because I am the director of tourism and we get funding from them. If I am at this and encouraging this and promoting you it is going to look really bad for Jacki L’Heureux Tourism Director,” Chell claimed.

McDonald said from her front desk at Tourism Moose Jaw she could often see and hear L’Heureux and Chell discuss writing the petition together as well as their dislike for Councillor Swanson. It is a conversation she also joined in.

McDonald also provided documents to the MJ Independent in which L’Heureux expressed opposition to Swanson.

A text message between L’Heureux and McDonald mentions that Tourism Moose Jaw’s Executive Director “may likely face disciplinary action but this is the right thing to do.”

A second text message would see L’Heureux complain to McDonald how Swanson was always voting against everything.

A third text message between L’Heureux and McDonald would state the Tourism Director’s true feelings about Councillor Swanson. “#$%&#*@ hate him!!!” she had written.

lheureux text hate himText message where Jacki L’Heuruex expresses here feelings about Councillor Brian Swanson

In now deleted Facebook posts L’Heureux expressed an almost decade long dislike for Councillor Swanson because of his political stand on issues.

After MJ Independent sent over some of the text messages, L’Heureux issued a statement that she had indeed been actively involved in the petition.

“As a woman, I had a strong reaction to the news of the coverup of sexual harassment, and as a citizen, I reacted according to my beliefs. I have been and would continue to be passionate about that issue at all times. Jody Chell was a friend at the time, and we shared the wish to do something about this situation and sought help from various levels of government. We spoke publicly with many people, made many phone calls and had several meetings in preparation of the petition and presentation,” L’Heureux wrote.

During Chell’s Council presentation L’Heureux remained at the Crushed Can where both Chell and McDonald said afterwards L’Heureux bought drinks in celebration.

The Pawn

Chell said today she feels used during the petition drive and the subsequent presentation at Council.

“I didn’t understand the politics of why she (L’Heureux) did not like Brian. I didn’t understand the politics of why she was pushing this petition to go through. I thought she was my friend so now four years later I am a little wiser and I personally feel I was used…But I don’t think any of them were there to be my friend I think I was used to be the voice that they couldn’t publicly put it there.”

“I was the idiot standing at the podium. I was their pawn”

Chell’s feelings of being used extends to Mayor Tolmie.

“She wasn’t the only one who used me. After the meeting with the Mayor, yeah the Mayor, I thought he was my friend. He is not my friend. I didn’t go to him as a friend…I went to him to ask him what I was doing is right.”

Why Come Forward

Both Chell and McDonald came forward because they felt it was the right thing to do.

Asked if she had come forward because she is running for a Councillor spot Chell denied it was her motivation as she had initially come forward on her own volition to tell the truth.

“Oh God, oh God no. I mean you and I have spoken about this months ago. Months and months ago before I decided to run for Council.”

Editor’s note - Chell initially came forward in May 2020 with her story.

She said her motivation for coming forward was people need to know the truth.

L’Heureux for her part is non-complimentary of Chell.

“As we have all seen from Jody’s online metamorphosis, peoples’ opinions and views can change over time. My personal feelings shared with a friend as we endeavored on this task together were reflective of just that – my personal opinions at the time,” L’Heureux wrote.

McDonald said initially she had seen nothing wrong with the meeting but later realized it was wrong and then decided to go public so people would know what really happened.

“Because it is wrong (the meeting and what was discussed),” she said adding that at first she was upset about no longer being a Tourism Moose Jaw employee but after a year she no longer bears any animosity. It was a job she loved.

L'Heureux did not respond to further questions posed by the MJ Independent.

Councillor Brian Swanson declined comment at this time.

The full story can be read with all attachments at: https://www.mjindependent.com/new-blog/2020/10/17/the-petition



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