Integrity Commissioner position on the agenda at city hall

Winnipeg city council may soon have an Office of the Integrity Commissioner. The long-awaited ethics watchdog for municipal politics will be discussed at this weeks Executive Policy Committee.
City council is considering establishing the position of Integrity Commissioner at city hall Wednesday. (CBC News)

Municipal politicians may soon have guidance on ethically troubling situations and the public may have a place to complain about them. 

The executive policy committee (EPC) of city council will look at recommendations on Wednesday to establish an Office of Integrity Commissioner. The position has been in the works for years after a series of scandals plagued the administration of then-mayor Sam Katz.

Katz lost a vote in 2009 to create the office. It's taken years to get to this point.

The new position would come with an office budget of $100,000 and the power to investigate complaints from members of the public, city staff and council members.

The commissioner would also give advice to councillors on conduct or conflict of interest issues. 

The report to EPC calls for a request to the Province of Manitoba to change the City of Winnipeg Charter Act to create a section on what the role and mandate of the Integrity Commissioner should be, grant him or her investigative powers and define proper penalties. 

Fort Rouge East Fort Garry Councillor Jenny Gerbasi said  the province has to create some room for the commissioner to act.

"I still think without that provincial charter stuff we are not going to be able to handle issues that might arise the way we should be able to," Gerbasi said.

Gerbasi, who was a vocal critic of some issues during the Katz administration, said without a change in the charter, the office may not meet the public's demand to restore trust in elected officials.

"Right now if an elected official does something unethical, whether it's a policy or more serious, like a by-law, there is really not much that can be done, other than the city clerk giving them a call and asking them to behave better, I mean, there is no consequences," Gerbasi said.

Councillor John Orlikow expects the motion will pass EPC and city council with little difficulty, but getting the province to change the city's charter is a bigger challenge.

"I think it will be a little bit of a challenge,with this [provincial] government, especially where they are at with the election cycle," Orlikow said.

The River Heights Fort Garry councillor believes the commitment shown by the city to create the position will help lobby the province to get the Charter changes needed to put "teeth" in the office. 

The motion being considered by EPC and all of city council, if it's passed, would put the city's Lobbyist Registry under the oversite of the commissioner.


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