Councilors Have Insulted Each Other Forever

Editor’s Note: While looking for captions for the photos in this week’s Faces from the Cape Breton Highlander feature, I ran across these accounts of City of Sydney council meetings from 1967. I think you’ll see why they struck me as being à propos.


Cape Breton Highlander, 4 October 1967

Aspersions cast on council: ponder punishment for Peter

It wasn’t the first time Ald. Peter Stephenson had walked out on his fellow council members but when he took his stormy leave in the midst of a council session last week it was just too much to pass unnoticed.

For Stephenson prefaced his exit with some pungent observations taken by some aldermen as having called their conduct of city business, as well as their choice of deodorant into question. He said there was a stink in the council chamber.

Sometime after Stephenson’s noisy departure for ward five, Ald. Alf Nathanson decided that he personally thought Stephenson should renege on his remarks or be reprimanded from the chair before resuming his seat.

Council ultimately approved the Nathanson suggestion and railbirds were keenly awaiting tomorrow (Thursday) night’s council meeting to see how the unprecedented censure move works out. It wasn’t immediately clear just what the wording of the censure would be or what alternatives would be open should Stephenson refuse to recant. One observer felt the closest thing to what was being proposed for Stephenson was the old practice of being “read out from the altar” and the betting was it wouldn’t make much impression on the free-swinging ward five representative anyway.

Immediate cause of the Stephenson explosion was a couple of items on which he’d taken ironclad stands. One, the appointment of policeman Con Neville to the fire department, was opposed by Stephenson on the ground that the job hadn’t been thrown open to the public and even as an intra-department job posting it should have gone to one of six call fireman who applied along with Neville. Council stood fast on its recently adopted hiring policy and approved the Neville appointment because of his 16-years good service as a policeman and previous experience as a marine firefighter.

The other target of the Stephenson wrath went back a little farther to a motion passed many months ago calling for the removal of a petroleum storage tank installed in a Bay street yard without city approval. The petroleum was apparently removed from the tank but the tank itself allowed to remain in the ground. Ald. Starr MacLeod said the matter was being held in abeyance till determination of just what the city could legally do about moving the tank.

Stephenson cited the incidents as further evidence of council vacillation and unwillingness to follow through on its motion. He went so far a to say there was no law in the city as far as council was concerned.

The ward five alderman drew a surprising measure of support from Ald. Ed Johnston who agreed Stephenson’s remarks were hard for some aldermen to take but “I understand how he feels. When council makes a decision it should be followed through or at least we should be given a good reason for not doing what we decided on.”

Johnston agreed with Stephenson that there were many instances were council has passed a motion on some subject and immediately forgotten it. The result was the same old things were turning up at the next meeting or maybe six months later. “We’ve got to get to the point where we decide whether the laws of council are going to be obeyed. That means passing motions that are feasible and reasonable and making it a point to back them up.”

Mayor [Russell] Urquhart noted that the Nathanson motion referred only to Stephenson’s remarks about other members of council. He said Stephenson “says things he doesn’t mean or perhaps shouldn’t say. Every alderman here is working for what he considers the best interests of the city.”


Cape Breton Highlander, 29 November 1967

Sydney Mayor Russell Urquhart

Sydney Mayor Russell Urquhart

Stephenson: no apologies

Mayor Fails to Deliver Reprimand

When Ward Five Alderman Peter Stephenson left a September Council meeting after stating that there was a stink in the Council chamber, Alderman Alf Nathanson thought he should be publicly reprimanded from the chair and required to apologize publicly for his heated remarks. His wish was subsequently presented as a motion passed by Council.

Neither reprimand nor apology were delivered because of Stephenson’s absence from Council sessions while on vacation. At his first post-vacation appearance during Thursday’s meeting Stephenson reminded Council of the censure vote and concluded his reminder with the statement that “You fellows can do what you want, but I am not going to apologize to Council now or at any other time.”

“That sounds like a challenge,” replied Mayor Russell Urquhart (who was expected to deliver the reprimand) [and who] adjourned the meeting without enlightening Stephenson as to whether he intended to pick up the gauntlet at a future meeting.



Editor’s Other Note: I found no reference to the gauntlet in subsequent council reports so can only assume the motion to censure was forgotten.





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