Ontario government seeks feedback

The Ontario government, in partnership with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), appears eager to ramp up workplace safety and respect. A three-month consultation process has been launched to allow the government to strengthen municipal codes of conduct.

Roundtable discussions with a variety of municipal stakeholders are planned, to underscore that workplace harassment and discrimination will not be tolerated in the province. Strict accountability measures for councillors who violate the code are anticipated, including increased financial penalties, suspension for certain violations, removal from office in certain circumstances, and better training and standards for Integrity Commissioners.

In a press statement, Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, encouraged Ontarians to participate in this process and share their thoughts on how to bring effective accountability to municipal governments.

Public comments for the consultation are welcomed through an online survey, available until July 15, 2021. https://www.ontario.ca/form/survey-strengthening-accountability-municipal-council-members.

Region of Niagara Chair Jim Bradley commented that, “the Niagara Region supports the provincial decision to explore options to strength municipal codes of conduct across Ontario. Currently, the Municipal Act offers only limited options for recourse, and I believe updates to the Act may be beneficial in defined and specific situations. While we have yet to take a formal position as Regional Council, the provision of additional tools for municipal governments will be likely to increase accountability and compliance among elected officials.”

Pelham Regional Councillor Diana Huson indicated that she is in favour of the consultation initiative.

“This review stems from Integrity Commissioner reports that found a member of Ottawa City Council guilty of ‘incomprehensible incidents of harassment’ involving five women, and a Brampton Regional Councillor found guilty of sexually harassing a woman while on municipal business,” said Huson. “The reports are both shocking and appalling.”

Huson said that the most severe sanction an Integrity Commissioner can currently recommend is a three-month suspension of pay.

“In consideration of the seriousness of these cases, I question whether that sanction goes far enough. Elected officials are stewards of the public’s trust. Their actions reflect on their respective communities, and for this reason we must be held to a higher standard than that of a public citizen.”

The issue of whether a mechanism should be in place for removing an elected official who has proven themselves unworthy of the position in which they’ve been entrusted, is an important one for discussion related to municipal accountability, said Huson. “It’s clearly time for a policy refresh.”

Huson noted that she and Councillor Barbara Butters have made efforts to pass a similar motion at Niagara Regional Council, which was referred to Corporate Services for an update in May.

Pelham CAO David Cribbs told the Voice that, “the Clerk’s Department is planning to bring the item to council’s attention so that they can make submissions if so inclined. Council as a whole has not yet had an opportunity to develop formal positions on these issues. If they do so it will be by way of resolution.”

Pelham Councillor Wayne Olson commented that Pelham residents have a strong interest in public meetings.

“They react to unfairness,” said Olson, “for themselves and for others. They rely upon the availability of goals and promises and possibilities to inform their acts of citizenship. As politicians, we need to be extremely reluctant to go into closed session. We need to devise ways of getting information to our citizens as quickly as possible.”