Charges against Thunder Bay mayor show need for more local oversight, says Carleton professor

Criminal charges against Keith Hobbs, the mayor of Thunder Bay, Ont., is further proof that municipal politics in Canada need to be more transparent, and have more oversight, says Robert Shepherd, an associate professor in the school of public policy administration at Carleton University.

Personal, professional intergrity mesh in municipal politics says Robert Shepherd

The mayor of Thunder Bay, Ont., Keith Hobbs, is facing criminal charges but he's not the first high-profile municipal official to be heading to court, says Robert Shepherd of the school of public policy administration at Carleton University. He argues that municipal politics should be more transparent and have greater oversight. (Cathy Alex/CBC )

Criminal charges of extortion and obstruction of justice against Keith Hobbs, the mayor of Thunder Bay, Ont.,  are further proof that municipal politics in Canada need to be more transparent, and have more oversight, says a public policy expert in Ottawa.

The scenario unfolding in Thunder Bay is not an isolated incident, said Robert Shepherd, an associate professor in the school of public policy administration at Carleton University.

He pointed to 2014 when London, Ont., mayor Joe Fontana was found guilty of fraud, and more recently the jail time served by Gilles Vaillancourt, the mayor of Laval, Que., when he pleaded guilty to fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust in 2016.

Although the charges against Hobbs are not related to municipal issues or business, it is still enough to shake the community's confidence in city hall, said Shepherd.

Private, professional life mesh in civic politics

"When one is an elected official in office, your personal and private life mesh integrally with your professional life. You're electing peope on the basis of their integrity to these high offices and you expect them to operate in all aspects of their life with full integrity," he said.

The problem is that when senior public officials are charged with criminal actions - such as the mayor, or in the case of Thunder Bay, the police chief as well - people tend to lose faith in all municipal officials.

"The more important impact is of citizens' trust in their local government, that's where this is really going to play out," said Shepherd.

Public losing confidence in municipal politics

Over the years, as civilian oversight groups have been set up to watch over police service boards and health units, demands have been growing that municipal governments be subject to the same type of scrutiny and accountability.

Robert Shepherd, an associate professor in the school of public policy administration at Carleton University in Ottawa, says there should be more oversight for municipal governments. (Carleton University )

"We're seeing the rise of more advocacy groups looking at municipal politics and ethics. There's got to be a reason for this, people are losing confidence in the ability of municipalities to conduct themselves openly, transparently and with integrity," he said. 

"When one has oversight, people tend to behave, its a long-time axiom", said Shepherd.

There is a benefit to adding fresh faces to the council table each election cycle, he said because the longer people serve in positions of power, they "tend to get this feeling of being untouchable and that's not always healthy."