Editorial – Municipal reform needed

Recently there have been many instances where ethics and actions of municipal politicians have been called into question. The most public example is Ottawa councillor Rick Chiarelli, who was found in 2020 by that city’s Integrity Commissioner to have committed “incomprehensible incidents of harassment.”

Code of Conduct issues occur regularly in Ontario’s municipalities. Most are not of the scale and magnitude of what happened in Ottawa, but no municipality is immune. The process for punishment is flawed. When an Integrity Commissioner finds against an official, the maximum punishment under the Municipal Act is the loss of three months salary (per instance), and in some cases restrictions on contacting staff. Council, not the Integrity Commissioner, determines the punishment and there is no way that an elected official can be removed from office for gross misconduct. That needs to change.

The Ontario government is currently reviewing the Municipal Act with an eye on dealing with gross misconduct when it comes to harassment. That should be expanded for dealing with financial/influence issues too. In extreme cases, there should be a way to remove offenders from office mid-term, either through a citizen-recall like Alberta is currently legislating, or by council vote.

As the province looks at dealing with misconduct, it should also review who is allowed to run for office. Right now a person only has to own property in a municipality to seek election. That person does not have to be a resident. Because municipal governance has such a direct effect of the everyday lives of residents, all candidates should be a part of the community they want to represent.

Running in municipal and school board elections requires a simple form with 25 signatures from community supporters and payment of a filing fee. It is actually more complicated to volunteer in your own child’s school. Parents have to complete a police Vulnerable Sector Check in order to chaperone their own child on a school field trip. Given that these politicians are elected and work with many different sectors of the community, why isn’t the same asked of candidates for office?

This is not to say that there should be so many restrictions that it deters candidates, or that those who have had criminal convictions and paid their debt to society should not be allowed to be involved in their community. But simple screening and a level playing field would be beneficial.

Public service remains the most noble and selfless task a person can do for their community. People should run for the right reasons, to better their community and not themselves. When the latter goes awry, there needs to be better tools in place to deal with matters. Currently there are not and that is a problem.

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