No Code of Conduct complaints during an election. WHAT?

Council prevented any Code complaints being filed regarding Council members misconduct during an "election period" in 2010.

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No Code of Conduct complaints during an election. WHAT?
Kerr Street Cafe
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John McLaughlin

John McLaughlin

John McLaughlin is a Senior lawyer with over 20 years of experience in areas including Tax Law, Corporate/Commercial Law, Litigation, Tort Law, Securities Law and Employment Law. John has appeared before, or worked on files, at all levels of courts in Canada including the Supreme Court of Canada. He was also a Mayoral candidate in the 2014 Oakville Municipal Election receiving 24% of the vote.

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In 2008, Oakville established a “Code of Conduct” (“the Code”), pursuant to the Municipal Act, 2001, regulating both the behaviours and ethical conduct expected of members of Council members (and the Mayor) – by prohibiting conduct which can discredit the Town of Oakville’s reputation such as performing their duties dishonestly, using Town property for election related purposes, using undue influence for private gain, using inappropriate or disrespectful language, avoiding conflicts of interests etc. This is all part of a larger transparency and accountability framework on the part of elected officials, who are expected to act in the best interests of the municipality (and are also subject to other legislation, such as the Criminal Code and provincial conflict of interest laws etc.).

The current Integrity Commissioner was appointed by Council under the Municipal Act, 2001 to administratively “enforce” the Code, not only by offering advice to Council members on a daily basis, but also by undertaking inquiries into alleged breaches of the Code through a complaint process, whereby amongst others, members of the public who feel that a Council member has breached the Code, can file a complaint with the Town Clerk – seeking an inquiry by the Integrity Commissioner.

Although not well known, Oakville’s current complaint process (Procedure G-GEN-009-002) requires that (a) Council first “pre-screen” or approve of any publicly filed Code complaints, before (b) referral to the Integrity Commissioner for inquiry. Residents may well question whether Council should “pre-screen” any public complaint into alleged Code wrongdoings by Council members, especially after the Bellamy judicial inquiry into Toronto’s computer leasing scandal recommended in 2005 that there be no “pre-screening” by elected officials into Code complaints. What incentive is there for Council to permit an inquiry into their own alleged Code misconduct?

Perhaps even less well known (As Oakville’s web-site complaint protocol wasn’t updated until late October), is that Council prevented any Code complaints being filed with the Town Clerk regarding Council members misconduct during an “election period”. While ostensibly adopted by Council in 2010 to prevent “politically motivated” complaints from damaging an incumbents campaign (i.e. the Code only applies to Council members, not outside candidates), an election “blackout” period may also allow incumbent Council candidates seeking re-election to breach the Code at will, through any means, without the right of the public (a) to file a complaint – until the election is over, (b) to be made aware of alleged complaints – before voting, and (c) to have the Integrity Commissioner conduct an inquiry – until the election is over. How does that ensure the transparency and accountability of the municipality under section 224 of the Municipal Act, 2001? What about voter’s rights to hold Council and the Mayor accountable – at the ballot box?

However, it appears that Oakville went even one step further. Almost unnoticed, it has apparently recently added an additional 3 word change to the “Code of Conduct” complaint procedure, now purporting to prevent “any reporting out” of any prohibited complaint filings during an election period. While I don’t exactly know what ill “any reporting out” was intended to cure, I assume Oakville would agree that everyone nonetheless has the right to freedom of expression – and freedom of the press – guaranteed under section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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Readers Comments (3)

  1. Dave Ouderkirk says:

    So you can’t complain about impropriety during an election and then you must clear it with Council first before you lodge a complaint against Council? Even Putin doesn’t have it that good. What’s the point of having an integrity commissioner or even elections for that matter?

     Reply
  2. John McLaughlin says:

    Many Ontario municipalities have procedures (a)allowing a complaint alleging a breach of the “Code of Conduct” to proceed directly to the Integrity Commissioner, and (b) do not have an election “blackout” period.

     Reply
  3. John McLaughlin says:

    A “Code of Conduct” complaint will be put before Council on December 22nd which was given to the town clerk during the election.

     Reply



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