Ontario Launches Consultation to Strengthen Municipal Codes of Conduct

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Clergue Park is a bright spot in the City of Sault Ste. Marie's waterfront. (photo by Lynne Brown, Superior Media)

Province seeking input on ways to increase accountability of council members

The Ontario government announced Friday, March 5th, 2021 that it is launching consultations with the municipal sector to strengthen accountability for council members. The province wants to ensure that councillors and heads of council maintain a safe and respectful workplace and carry out their duties as elected officials in an ethical and responsible manner.

Bill 68, Modernizing Ontario’s Municipal Legislation Act, 2017 made it mandatory for Ontario municipalities to appoint an independent Integrity Commissioner.

“We want to gather input to ensure there are adequate mechanisms in place to hold council members accountable for any unacceptable behaviour,” said Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. “It’s critical that everyone feels safe and respected in the workplace, and that they know there are accountability measures in place for members who violate codes of conduct.”

Jill Dunlop, the Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues will be leading the consultations to hear from members of council, municipal associations as well as municipal staff on how to ensure that municipal staff and officials are supported and respected in the workplace.

“Our government has been absolutely clear that we will not tolerate workplace harassment or discrimination of any kind,” said Associate Minister Dunlop. “We are committed to upholding our shared values of respect, equity, equality and fairness for all people in Ontario. These consultations are to help us move that commitment forward in municipal governments so that everyone feels safe.”

Under the Municipal Act, 2001, all municipalities are required to establish a code of conduct for councillors and certain local boards. They are also required to provide access to an integrity commissioner.

The City of Sault Ste. Marie Municipal Council Code of Conduct (Council and Local Boards) By-law 2017-242, Date:11 December 2017, can be found on the City’s website.

‘A code of conduct sets minimum standards for the behaviour of members of Council and local boards directly appointed by Council in carrying out their municipal roles and functions. The code of conduct is intended to protect public interest and encourage high ethical standards.’

The role of a municipal integrity commissioner is to investigate allegations of violations of ethics and municipal codes of conduct by members of council. Under the Modernizing Ontario’s Municipal Legislation Act of 2017, the role of the commissioner was expanded to include several new responsibilities.

On May 1, 2018, the Council of the Corporation of the City of Sault Ste. Marie, appointed Antoinette Blunt, President, Ironside Consulting Services Inc. as the City’s first Integrity Commissioner. The period of appointment was from May 1, 2018 until December 31, 2020.

The Integrity Commissioner has the power to conduct investigations and obtain access to relevant information and documents from a municipality. Following inquiry, a Municipal Council can act in accordance with the commissioner’s recommendations, including imposing reprimands and suspending members of council as necessary.

The role of the Integrity Commissioner is defined in the Municipal Act, 2001 and further, in the City’s Complaint Protocol for Code of Conduct (Council and Local Boards). The process for the Integrity Commissioner applies to members of Sault Ste. Marie City Council and its local boards as defined in section 223.1 of the Municipal Act (members).

The Integrity Commissioner functions independently from City Administration and report directly to City Council. An Integrity Commissioner’s role includes the following responsibilities:

  • To provide written and oral advice to members and City staff concerning the interpretation of and compliance with the Code of Conduct for Council and Local Boards governing the ethical behaviour of the members (the “Code”)
  • To provide Council and its local boards with specific and general opinions and advice on the interpretation of the Code
  • To conduct inquiries into a request made by Council, a local board, a member of City staff or any person demonstrably acting in the public interest into whether a member has contravened any application provision of the Code
  • To attempt to settle any complaint between the complainant and the member before commencing an inquiry.”

The cost for services rendered for the period from January 1, 2019 until January 31, 2020 was $1,940.78. This included the expenses related to the December 31, 2019 response to the Mayor’s inquiry, development of the 2019 Annual Report for Council and the preparation and presentation to City Council on the role of the Integrity Commissioner.

The cost for services rendered for the period from May 1, 2018 until December 31, 2018 was $1,158.25. The total cost for services rendered since date of appointment is $3,099.03. The full report completed by Antoinette Blunt, President, Ironside Consulting Services Inc. can be found on the City of Sault Ste. Marie’s website.

On March 1st, 2019, it became mandatory for municipalities in Ontario to hire their own integrity commissioner and to lay out a code of conduct for municipal leaders to follow.

Workers, supervisors and employers have rights and duties when dealing with workplace violence and harassment. Ontario has a guide that explains what every worker, supervisor, and employer needs to know about workplace violence and workplace harassment.