British Columbia

Vancouver Island councillor urges city hall code of conduct

A councillor in North Cowichan says it’s time to introduce a code of conduct to avoid bullying and harassment in municipal offices.

Al Siebring says it's unclear when councillors 'step out of line,' wants concrete guidelines

Al Siebring brought forward a motion this week to create standards for his council. (Al Siebring/Facebook)

A councillor in North Cowichan on Vancouver Island says it's time to introduce a code of conduct to avoid bullying and harassment in municipal offices.

Al Siebring brought forward a motion to create standards for his council after allegations of harassment emerged from Nanaimo's city hall this week. He wants a clearer framework of enforcement and more training about ethical behaviour.

"It's really unclear in terms of what statutory authority we have as municipal councillors to discipline a fellow councillor who steps out of line," Siebring told All Points West guest host Megan Thomas.

Earlier this week, Nanaimo city hall issued a news release stating that a person had been arrested in an incident in which police were called to the building.

Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay said Tuesday the incident involved threats uttered against several people who work at city hall, including himself, and that city employees were concerned about their safety.

"Part of the problem we have here in B.C. is even if somebody does step out of bounds there's very little that council can do because this is not an employee-employer relationship where you can slap somebody on the wrist and say we're going to dock your pay or we're going to suspend you for 90 days," Siebring said.

Leadership needed, says councillor

Ultimately, councillors are accountable to the voters. And he said the province needs to step in to to provide enforcement leadership.

Siebring drew from a number of recommendations listed in the Union of B.C.Municipalities' 2017 report on the issue. He has included them in his own four-page code of conduct he's suggesting for the North Cowichan council.

It includes the suggestion of a third-party review to keep claims from turning "political."

"If a councillor steps out of line in terms of governance, harassing or bullying staff, that's one thing," he said.

"But if a councillor is perceived to step out of line just because the politicians at the table don't agree with his position, that creates a real problem."

His suggestion mirrors Toronto's model of contracting a third-party review through the role of an integrity commissioner, who would be responsible for providing advice, complaint resolution and education to councillors about guidelines regarding ethical behaviour.

He suggests the best way to implement a code would be to include it in the Oath of Office, which every council member is required to make at the beginning of each term.

"Now you can say to somebody if they step out of line not only did you violate the code, you violated your Oath of Office," said Siebring.

He described the oath as "archaic" and said it only covers general conduct such as promising to not take bribes. He wants to see that expanded.

Council is currently working on creating standards of conduct and hopes to have them in place for the fall election.

With files from All Points West