Provincial Bill 68 would require municipalities to add integrity commissioners

BY NATE SMELLE
The VOICE

Regional Councillors met with members of the public on Tuesday a week ago to collect input to create a new code of conduct. Interim integrity commissioner, John Mascarin, was also present to offer his suggestions. On Dec. 8, 2016, Regional Council appointed Mascarin to the position to investigate complaints related to the code. At the moment, he said there are 444 municipalities in Ontario and only 80 Integrity Commissioners appointed throughout the province.

During his presentation, Mascarin drew attention to a piece of legislation proposed by the provincial government named the Modernizing Ontario’s Municipal Legislation Act, Bill 68. If approved, the Bill -— which has already passed its second reading at Queen’s Park — will require municipalities to have a code of conduct and an integrity commissioner to help enforce it. Bill 68 also proposes an application of conflict of interest legislation that will give more authority to the Integrity Commissioner.

“If Bill 68 goes ahead as proposed, the Integrity Commissioner can under his or her own volition decide to undertake an investigation to look at any potential ethical breaches,” Mascarin said.

Though the legislation enables integrity commissioners to conduct investigations, it does not grant them the power to penalize councillors who have committed offences. Instead, this task would be the responsibility of council. Another of the changes would permit council to suspend the pay of an offending councillor for a maximum of 90 days.

“It’s the council that imposes penalties, all I do is provide recommendations to council,” said Mascarin.

Mascarin said the changes are the province’s way of ensuring accountability among elected officials.

“To date, it was always the municipal councillors’ responsibility to self-police themselves, if they weren’t sure to go and get an independent legal opinion from a lawyer that they would have to pay for,” he said.

“[Proposed change] Number 7 seeks to at least alleviate that, by saying that municipalities should allow that function to be taken over by the Integrity Commissioner, and council members should be able to go to one person to get that information.”

Furthermore, the legislation would give members of the public the ability to approach the Integrity Commissioner to file a complaint regarding municipal councillors who they believe have breached the Conflict of Interest Act. Mascarin said the current fee for the public to file such a complaint is prohibitively expensive.

As a concerned citizen of Niagara, Ed Smith has been speaking out against alleged corruption at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA). On the agenda as a speaker on this night, he stood before Council to share his input with the Integrity Commissioner and Council members. From his point of view, a code of conduct is essential to good government and something to be proud of.

“I believe that all of us want to be considered as ethical people — it’s innate in us as Canadians,” said Smith.

“A robust code of conduct along with well-defined procedures for dealing with breaches of the code is nothing to approach with caution. I believe it should be embraced as a tool for empowering and encouraging standards and norms that will be celebrated by everybody in society.”

Once the committee is finished gathering input from the public on April 18, Mascarin will be preparing a report and a draft Code of Conduct and a draft complaint protocol to be considered by the Region’s Procedural Bylaw committee.