Infighting, bitter attacks plaguing Sarnia council

Cathy Dobson

Along with its accomplishments this term, the current city council is also dogged by a sideshow of personal insults and infighting, several councillors say.

Mike Stark

“It’s disturbing to see some members don’t think their conduct, or how they treat one another, is important,” said Coun. Mike Stark. “This has been going on for the entire term.”

Coun. Bill Dennis, who has clashed repeatedly with Stark, said that when he was elected three years ago he expected to be making decisions about road repairs.

“But there’s a lot of name calling. It’s been brewing for a long time and finally it’s starting to boil over,” Dennis said.

At least a dozen Code of Conduct complaints have been sent to Sarnia Integrity Commissioner Paul Watson about one councillor or another.

Bill Dennis

Watson has upheld just one of them.

On Feb. 7, the Commissioner told council via Zoom that he had investigated and ruled Dennis violated the Code during a Sept. 16 meeting when, during a heated debate about vaccine mandates, Dennis laughed and directed a swear word at Stark.

Watson recommended council reprimand Dennis for his “inappropriate behaviour.” But following another acrimonious debate at which other potential Code of Conduct violations occurred, council voted to take no action.

In his defence, Dennis said he isn’t tech-savvy and didn’t realize his mic was on when he swore. He said he is the victim of a “smear campaign” that has involved “a litany” of complaints against him.

“Mike Stark – there’s a history there and he attacked me…,” Dennis said.

Nathan Colquhoun

At the same meeting, Coun. Nathan Colquhoun revealed he had filed a complaint in December with the Integrity Commissioner stemming from two closed-door meetings.

“Horrific language (was) coming out of Coun. Bill Dennis’ mouth,” Colquhoun said.

“It is who you are. Own it,” Colquhoun said to Dennis during the open session. “It’s actually hurting the City of Sarnia.”

Colquhoun said Watson chose not to investigate his complaint because Dennis’ comments were made during a closed meeting.

That shouldn’t matter, Colquhoun said. “The public can hear what’s said in open meetings. It’s what’s said during closed meetings that has to be monitored.”

Colquhoun, who is serving his first term on council, said despite “the tabloid side” of things he’s impressed with council’s accomplishments, including a new rec centre initiative, waterfront master plan, and “our ability to deal with NIMBYism,” he said.

Dennis, who is also a first-term councillor, said despite it all he is able to focus on policy and forget about personality differences.

The ill will on council has even spilled over into social media.

Shortly after the last council meeting, a local trucker taking part in the Freedom Convoys threatened Dennis’ council opponents in a Tik Tok video.

“If you fxxk with my friend Bill Dennis, I promise you won’t be sitting in that office very long,” said the man, who has 30,000 Tik Tok followers. “If I were you, I would back the fxxk off real fast.”

Dennis quickly distanced himself from the video.

“When I saw that, I was embarrassed,” he said. “That’s just nuts. It’s crazy. I’ve never even met the guy before.”

The post was later taken down.