Manitoba

Province moves to clamp down on misbehaving Manitoba municipal officials with standardized code of conduct

A mayor in rural Manitoba who took a stand against harassment involving municipal government officials is pleased the province is cracking down.

Rural politician who sounded alarm on bullying, harassment is pleased PCs will mandate conduct training

West St. Paul Mayor Cheryl Christian is pleased the provincial government has put forward a municipal code of conduct bill. (CBC)

A mayor in rural Manitoba who took a stand against harassment involving municipal government officials is pleased the province is cracking down on such behaviour.

The Manitoba government introduced legislation Thursday that would standardize a code of conduct among all municipalities and set penalties for those who don't comply.

"Everything from animals left on people's porches — the abuse and harassment has been extreme," said Cheryl Christian, the newly elected mayor in West St. Paul.

"To find ways to deal with that, and set a standard of what's acceptable conduct, I think that's [why it's] really important that this standard is set that will apply to us."

In 2017, when she was a councillor in West St. Paul, Christian spoke out against municipal misconduct when she introduced a motion at the Association of Manitoba Municipalities' annual convention. The resolution called on the AMM to lobby the province to change the legislation to  protect politicians from workplace bullying.

The bill introduced Thursday follows consultations with elected officials and municipal administrators earlier this year, the province said.

Mandatory training

The government promised the strengthened legislation would require training for all elected municipal officials, and suspend anyone who doesn't complete it within six months.

"The mandatory training will be excellent if we all start off on the same page," Christian said.

Municipalities will also be directed to establish their codes of conduct through a bylaw. 

Jeff Wharton said it's important to devise a minimum standards and values that all municipal council members must adhere to. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"Right now, municipalities across Manitoba, they're doing their own code of conducts," said Municipal Relations Minister Jeff Wharton. "Some of them don't even have a code of conduct."

Wharton said the standardized code of conduct would be devised in collaboration with municipalities.

Winnipeg and Brandon are not included in the bill's purview, but Wharton said his department is speaking with municipals governments in the province's two largest cities about possible improvements.

Association of Manitoba Municipalities president Chris Goertzen welcomes the province's oversight. 

'A level playing field'

"That creates a level playing field, a consistent playing field that all municipalities will work with," he said.

The bill would also permit the province to improve the uniform code of conduct once it's established. Possible future improvements may include establishing suspensions of up to 90 days for misbehaving officials and developing protocols to evaluate complaints, a news release from the province said.

"Hopefully the key focus is then on prevention and, going forward, to require there be an investigation process for complaints," Christian said.

"When things go sideways, and we know they do, there'll be a process clearly outlined within each of our municipalities on how they're going to address that."

Christian believes a flaw in the bill is that it doesn't call for an independent integrity commissioner to enforce the legislation.

She said that would go a long way toward ensuring objective and fair investigations.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont agrees, and he wants members of the legislative assembly to fall under the purview of a commissioner as well.

"There's due process there and it protects the complainant and the accused alike," he said.

A revamped harassment policy for the legislature is expected to be complete before the end of the year and in place in 2019, Speaker of the House Myrna Driedger told CBC News last month.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. He previously reported on a bit of everything for newspapers. You can reach him at ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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