Fed-up town council calls for MLA Pat Rehn to resign

Rehn accuses council of ‘sowing political division’

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Slave Lake town council took the unprecedented step last week of calling for Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn to resign. In an ‘open letter’ posted on social media on the afternoon of Jan. 5, the letter – signed by every member of council – said, “We need somebody new. We deserve representation.”

Mayor Tyler Warman, reached by phone shortly after the letter appeared, assured The Leader the decision to release the letter was “not taken lightly.”

He also said the news of Mr. Rehn’s ill-advised Mexican vacation was not even council’s main beef. It may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for council, but the disillusionment has been building for some time.

The town council letter goes into surprising detail, for example accusing the MLA of “spending more time managing your business in Texas than being physically present in our region.”

It gets worse. Council alleges a list of missed meetings, and “lack of preparation” for meetings Rehn did attend.

“It is apparent you do not read the material we send you.”

“We have lost faith,” the letter concludes, and asks for Rehn’s resignation.

MLA fires right back

Rehn wasted little time in firing back. A response statement appeared on his Facebook page later that same day.

“Recently I made some poor choices around travel, for which I have taken full responsibility,” he says. “It’s disappointing to see some municipal officials seizing on this to try and sow political division at this difficult time.”

In his response Rehn also mentions his connections with the riding, takes a few shots at the former government and speaks of his efforts to help that government improve the economy of Alberta.

“I will continue representing Lesser Slave Lake – the region I love and call home,” he concludes.

Councillors aren’t buying it. In interviews subsequent to the release of the letter, both Warman and deputy mayor Shawn Gramlich talked about their growing frustration over Rehn’s lack of engagement. It should be noted that both Warman and Gramlich – and indeed the majority of council if we’re not mistaken – have been United Conservative Party supporters. They may still be, if this isn’t a bridge too far. Gramlich told Ryan Jespersen in a radio interview that council has been working behind the scenes to engage Rehn on the issues, “but it just doesn’t work any more.”

Asked by Jespersen about possible ramifications, Warman said, “We didn’t think we had much to lose.”

Warman told The Leader much the same thing. Asked how he envisions working with Rehn if the MLA doesn’t resign, he repeated what he’d told Jespersen.

The Leader did reach out to Rehn’s office for comment, and received an email with a link to his response statement – the one referred to above. The person who responded, Tim Gerwing, also said Mr. Rehn had returned to Alberta and was in quarantine.

Warman also told The Leader he’d heard Rehn had been reaching out to other municipalities in the region, asking them what he could do for them.
“He also announced the dialysis for High Prairie today,” Warman said, “which is interesting.”

It is interesting, and it suggests Rehn is springing into action in response to the controversy.

That could be a good thing, but it’s hard to see the MLA wanting to have anything to do with town council after this breach.

As for other municipalities, the High Prairie South Peace News reported on Jan. 6 that councils of the Town of High Prairie and Big Lakes County would be discussing it at their meetings this week. At a special meeting on Jan. 7, High Prairie council decided not to ask for Rehn’s resignation, but are expected to issue a letter this week stating how unhappy they are with his performance.

The M.D. of Lesser Slave River council, meanwhile, held a special meeting last week to discuss the MLA situation. Reeve Murray Kerik told The Leader Friday morning the M.D. would be sending a letter to the Premier, “letting him know we agree with all the statements in the TOSL letter to Pat Rehn.”

Further, Kerik said the letter will urge Kenney to establish recall legislation.

“We feel if this had been in place, we would have had a tool to correct the main concerns before it hit a critical point and lost public trust.”

Responding to a question about Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard’s resignation (after her Hawaiian vacation came to light), Kerik said he’s sad to see her go, “as she was one of the best municipal affairs ministers we have had for a long time.” On the other hand, he said, “There is a price to pay for thinking you are above other people.”

There’s certainly a price to be paid on social media, if you pay attention to that sort of thing. The reaction to the ‘vacation controversy’ has been savage and relentless.

Whether Mr. Rehn still enjoys the support of the United Conservative Party is a good question – one it isn’t answering. The local constituency association president had “no comment” on the situation last week. Premier Kenney had also not commented, as of Jan. 7.

It’s fair to say none of these people imagined themselves being in the position they now are in – having burned their bridges with the duly elected Member of the Legislative Assembly. But that is where they stand. Left to right are Slave Lake town councillors Brice Ferguson, Darin Busk, Shawn Gramlich, mayor Tyler Warman, Julie Brandle, Joy McGregor and Rebecca King.

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