A new watchdog is coming to municipal governments.
At yesterday’s Association française des municipalités de l’Ontario (AFMO) conference in St-Isidore, Jean-Frédéric Hubsch spoke about openness and integrity—two virtues at the heart the province’s recent Modernizing Ontario’s Municipal Legislation Act.
The act includes regulations for things like parental leave, requires councils to adopt a code of conduct and, most notably, ensure the public has access to an integrity commissioner to deal with conflicts of interest and municipal conduct.
Hubsch, a lawyer with the provincial ombudsman, focused on that last item.
“There are different approaches to having an integrity commissioner,” he said to the municipal representatives.
He suggested having a reference list of qualified people or sharing costs among many municipalities.
“We discourage application fees,” he added. “It’s a question of public accessibility.”
At its latest council meeting, on August 23, UCPR was grappling with how to hire and appoint an integrity commissioner. Stéphane Parisien, UCPR’s CAO, also presented a draft code of conduct for the members of council.
Council agreed to work towards hiring a commissioner through a request for proposal. Once hired, the commissioner would be “on retainer” by UCPR.
Parisien likened the commissioner’s role to that of a “local ombudsman” that would be in charge of overseeing any complaints by the public regarding council.
Though not yet approved by council, Parisien said in an email that the ballpark figure for the retainer fee would be about $1,000 a month.
If the commissioner investigates a claim, then the municipality in question would assume the costs.
Currently the public must contact the Ontario ombudsman to complain about municipal conduct. Once an integrity commissioner is appointed—by March 1, 2019, the public would contact that office directly.
The conversation then shifted towards the proposed code of conduct.
In the current draft, if an employee feels harassed by a member of council, the integrity commissioner would automatically oversee the case. Fernand Dicaire, the mayor of Alfred-Plantagenet, disagreed with that process.
He said some cases could just be frivolous and “could be expensive” if they go directly to the commissioner.
Parisien said UCPR already has a harassment policy, this one would pertain specifically to conduct between council and department heads.
Parisien said the code of conduct should be approved by the end of year.