Point of Order, Mr. Mayor

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke’s term as Speaker of the Nova Scotia Legislature ran from June 2006 to October 2007 but in his head, I think it never ended.

How else to explain an agenda item like this one, from the 7 March 2017 meeting of the CBRM General Committee:



You can hear audio of the point of order and the point of privilege on the CBRM website, and I really encourage you to listen to them, but for those of you pressed for time, I will recap:

Point of order

The point of order relates to the 19 December 2016 debate in Council over the five-year extension to Harbor Port Development Partners’ exclusive contract with the CBRM. Clarke said that during that meeting, District 6 Councilor Ray Paruch (the target of both of these “findings”) expressed “grave reservations” about who lawyer Jim Gogan of the Breton Law Group was working for. Clarke hinted at the possibility of legal action (presumably by Gogan) and suggested Councilor Paruch set about having the December 19 minutes revised to remove the offending comments.

Point of privilege

The point of privilege (actually, a point of “personal” privilege) reached back further in time — and outside the Council Chambers —  to swat Councilor Paruch for remarks made at a November 2016 retirement dinner for CBRM employees. According to the mayor’s informants (Clarke himself was not in attendance), Paruch, while saying grace (which he probably shouldn’t have been doing — I thought we’d got that whole Church/State thing sorted out), joked that the grace had been written by his father whom Mayor Clarke resembled in that he, “does what he wants and he takes responsibility for nothing.” The mayor suggested this violated Council’s Code of Conduct for Elected Municipal Officials and warned Paruch that he would, “no longer treat such language, comments or behavior in council or in a public setting as tolerable or acceptable to me.”


Speaker's Chair, Clerk's Table, Mace, Nova Scotia House of Assembly (Source: NS Legislature http://nslegislature.ca/index.php/photogallery/image_full/72/)

Admittedly, sitting in this chair could go to your head. (Speaker’s Chair. Source: NS Legislature )


Robert’s Rules

The mayor’s points seemed strange to me, so I decided to read up on the rules governing CBRM Council meetings and see what they had to say about points of order and privilege. Turns out, the municipality has its own Rules of Order Policy, which states:

(8) When any question of order or practice is raised, it must be decided before further proceeding with the question in discussion.

(9) When any matter of privilege arises, it must be considered immediately.

The CBRM’s Rules of Order Policy does not define a point of order and point of privilege, but it does state:

In all cases not provided for, the proceedings of the Council shall be governed by Roberts’ [sic] Rules of Order.

Therefore, it seems safe to posit that the definitions of point of order and point of privilege from Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR) apply in the CBRM:

Point of Order:
A Point of Order is used “when a member thinks that the rules of the assembly are being violated…thereby calling upon the chair for a ruling and an enforcement of the regular rules.” (RONR p.247, l.3)

Point of Privilege
“A Question of Privilege is a device that permits a request or main motion relating to the rights and privileges of the assembly or any of its members.” (RONR p.224, l.25)


Expert opinion

Having compared the mayor’s points of order and privilege to the actual definitions of a point of order and a point of privilege, I still felt something was off, but what do I know? My days as a high school debater are long behind me. So I decided to consult a Professional Registered Parliamentarian (PRP)–in fact, I  consulted two.

PRPs advise individuals and groups on the finer points of parliamentary procedure and Robert’s Rules.

The first, Kim Goldsworthy of Robert’s Rules Consulting, is based in California and was kind enough to listen to Clarke’s points of order and personal privilege and provide the following comments:

Point of Order
“Since the speech in question is long past, it is improper to raise a Point of Order many days/weeks later. A Point of Order’s purpose is to make immediate correction of some error. Since the error was speech, and the speech is ended, there is nothing left to raise a Point of Order against.”

Point of Privilege 
“The ‘point of personal privilege’ seems to me to be out of order. What the man said does not match the purpose of the motion ‘Raise a Question of Privilege’ in Robert’s Rules of Order. So, you may call it a ‘warning’ of some kind, but the warning was not in order, or, if nothing else, it was NOT a ‘Question of Privilege.'”

The second, Robert James, is a Canadian PRP, based in Calgary, Alberta. He also listened to the mayor’s points and responded as follows:

Point of Order

“The Point of Order made by the mayor, referred to statements made by a councilor during debate. The mayor then went on to render his opinion that these remarks may be open to legal action, and may be defamatory. The Mayor then went on to demand a retraction and an apology.

“Unless another governing document provides otherwise, this was not a proper use of a Point of Order and was very unusual in that it is not the role of a chair to raise a Point of Order or to direct members to take certain actions. The assembly could have considered a motion to sanction or direct certain action by a member.

Point of Privilege

“The Point of Privilege raised by the mayor appears to be for the propose of the mayor warning a councilor that the mayor would not tolerate the councilor making comments about the mayor any longer.

“Unless another governing document provides otherwise, this was not a proper use of a Point of Privilege. Again it is very unusual for a chair to raise a matter or make a motion as a Point of Privilege.

“This appears to be a personal matter between two members of council. If conduct of a member should be addressed, a motion can be made to commence the investigation of the matter and if recommended take such further action as may be the will of the assembly.”

(Note: The aforementioned Code of Conduct for Elected Municipal Officials encourages councilors to report suspected breaches to Council, which then investigates.)

James said, further, that when an organization is considering allegations of improper behavior, it “should always take the course of action that guarantees the rights and protections of an accused to be sure that decisions taken by the body are based on facts.”


The Big Chill

But the mayor, it seems, begs to differ.  I sent him Goldsworthy’s comments and his spokesperson, Christina Lamey, told me in an email on Wednesday:

The presiding officer of the meeting, the Mayor, doesn’t agree with the interpretations. Robert’s Rules of Order is superceded by the policy of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality in addition to the parliamentary practices, procedures and precedents of Nova Scotia and Canada.

I don’t see anything in CBRM policy that would permit the mayor to do what he did during last week’s meeting, and as I noted above, CBRM policy clearly states:

In all cases not provided for, the proceedings of the Council shall be governed by Roberts’ [sic] Rules of Order.

It does not state, “In all cases not provided for, the proceedings of the Council shall be governed by the parliamentary practices, procedures and precedents of Nova Scotia and Canada.”

I think the Mayor of the CBRM broke the rules of order to send a “warning” to a councilor who has been a longtime and vocal critic. A warning that wouldn’t have been out of place in the mouth of a Game of Thrones villain:

“I will no longer treat such language, comments or behavior in council or in a public setting as tolerable or acceptable to me.”

Does Clarke intend to police the language, comments and behavior of councilors, both in and outside the chamber, to ensure they are tolerable and acceptable to him? Will he be modifying the Code of Conduct to specify that councilors are not to say or do anything that he, Cecil P. Clarke, considers neither tolerable nor acceptable? Will he be publishing his guidelines for what is tolerable and acceptable to him?

I don’t know which worries me more: that the mayor doesn’t actually understand the rules that govern council meetings or that he’s willing to twist them beyond recognition to silence a critic.




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