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Arguments heard in court fight against city manager

Mandamus application was heard Tuesday in King’s Bench on whether to order Regina City Manager Niki Anderson to include homeless funding in 2023-24 budget.
Councillor Dan LeBlanc, seen outside the Regina Court House Tuesday, had appeared in court for applicants seeking an order against Regina City Manager Niki Anderson.

REGINA - Those involved in a court application against the Regina City Manager on homeless funding now wait for a decision.

A mandamus application made by Regina Councillor Andrew Stevens and local activist Florence Stratton against City Manager Niki Anderson was heard in King’s Bench Chambers on Tuesday before Justice John Morrall.

The applicants, who are represented by Regina Councillor Dan LeBlanc, are looking for a court order to require Anderson to include a line item of $24.9 million in the city’s budget for homeless initiatives using a Housing First model. 

But in the end Justice Morrall has reserved his decision to Wednesday, which the same day that budget deliberations are set to start in Regina. Even if a decision does not come down until the afternoon, any uncertainty over the outcome seems unlikely to make a major difference on the first day as council were set to hear from numerous delegations and city residents on the budget. 

Arguments were lengthy in the small and jam-packed Regina courtroom, with both Anderson as well as several homeless advocates present in the audience.

Proponents of the court application have pointed to a July 15 council resolution passed unanimously which supported including homeless funding in a line item in the budget. But when the multiyear budget was made public on Nov. 22, the line item was not included.

The applicants have since accused Anderson of refusing to follow council’s direction. In making the argument for mandamus, LeBlanc argued Anderson had a public legal duty to include the funding in the budget.

“Basically, three points are all agreed upon,” LeBlanc told reporters outside the courthouse afterwards. “One is the city manager’s duties are outlined in the bylaws. I say that makes it public. Second is we gave clear direction in June to put this money in the budget. Third is she didn’t want to do that, so decided not to. I think that’s enough for mandamus, that’s the application we’re seeking.”

Counsel for Anderson argued the case for mandamus was not made. Among his submissions, lawyer Milad Alishahi argued there were other political remedies available to council that could have been pursued, including sanctioning or even terminating the City Manager. Because those were available, he argued the legal test for mandamus was not met.

Also during his submissions, Alishahi pointed to the Dec. 7 resolution at council supported by Mayor Sandra Masters and eight councillors, which voted confidence in Anderson.

“Politics should be left to the politicians,” said Alishahi. He argued the issue here was “purely political and does not require any legal remedies.”

Now both sides wait for a decision in this case, which could be precedent-setting based on the facts. 

LeBlanc said to reporters this was a novel case across Canada. “I don’t think there’s ever been a situation of a city manager saying ‘I know better than you politicians, I’m not putting it in.’ That’s quite novel and so is the application. The judge has an interesting task, in basically deciding where the law is going to go on that area.”

LeBlanc felt it was a strong case for his side but acknowledged “it is always in the judge’s hands.” 

“We’ll see tomorrow, but then at least we have certainty as we head into budget debate,” said LeBlanc.