Edmonton appoints city's first integrity commissioner and ethics adviser

The mayor and city councillors will be held more accountable for their behaviour in and out of office with the appointment the city's first integrity commissioner and ethics adviser, the city says.

Positions intended to ensure complaints about conduct of council members will be investigated independently

Lawyer Jamie Pytel will investigate potential breaches of the city's new code of conduct as integrity commissioner. Brent Rathgeber, a former MP and MLA, will provide legal advice to council regarding individual ethics and policy. (Alberta Cancer Foundation (Pytel)/Brent Rathgeber )

The mayor and city councillors will be held more accountable with the appointment of the city's first integrity commissioner and ethics adviser, the city says.

The two positions will "ensure an independent party investigates complaints of the mayor's and councillors' conduct and ethics," the city said in news release Wednesday.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said the code of conduct and new positions should help clarify what is appropriate behaviour for council and mayor. 

"I saw some things in previous terms on city council that I thought didn't feel quite right, but there was no mechanism to hold people accountable," he said. "Now we have those things."

The code sets out rules for gifts councillors can receive, attendance records and conflicts of interest when it comes to personal gain. 

Long-time Edmonton lawyer Jamie Pytel will be the city's first integrity commissioner.

Pytel, whose legal practice focuses on conflict resolution, development of codes of conduct, governance and external whistleblower services, will investigate potential breaches of the city's new code of conduct, which was passed earlier this year as required by provincial legislation. 

Coun. Bev Esslinger said the ethics adviser will be useful when a situation isn't clear.

"I'm invited as a person to a political event. I'm not going in my capacity as a councillor, should I go? And what are the rules around that?" she said. "Even if I agree to buy my own ticket, you know there's a grey area, should you go at all. You know, it's just giving council advice."

Brent Rathgeber, former Conservative MP for Edmonton-St. Albert and former MLA for Edmonton-Calder, was appointed the city's ethics adviser.

He will give mayor and council legal advice on ethics and policy, as well as educational programs and materials.

Rathgeber gives Edmonton council kudos for going beyond the requirements in a code of conduct mandated by the provincial government by July 23, 2018.

"It wasn't mandated that you had to have an investigative arm of it, which is the new integrity commissioner, nor that you have an ethics adviser to give proactive advice to councillors to try to keep them on side the code of conduct."

Edmonton city council is under a new code of conduct since June 2018, with guidelines on accepting gifts, attending meetings and conflicts of interest related to personal gain. (CBC)
"I believe this council takes these matters very seriously."

Rathgeber will continue to practice law while performing duties as council's ethics adviser. 

Iveson said council can draw on Rathgeber's expertise and experience. 

"I think Mr. Rathgeber's background as a lawyer, and his parliamentary background and the fact that he's stood on principle in his political career are all things that make him highly respected by me," Iveson said. "I think he'll provide great advice to us individually or as a group."

Rathgeber stepped down as MP from Stephen Harper's Conservative caucus in 2013, over concerns the federal government lacked transparency. 

Both city positions are five-year contract appointments and are expected to cost the city $180,000 a year, including administrative staff​.