Ottawa

Plans to fast-track law to unseat badly behaving councillors on hold

The Ontario government has backed away from fast-tracking legislation that would allow city councillors to be removed from office for egregious misconduct, such as the behaviour by College ward Coun. Rick Chiarelli outlined in two integrity commissioner reports.

Minister of municipalities had planned to introduce government bill before holiday break

Ottawa city council and others, including these protestors in 2020, have called for Coun. Rick Chiarelli's resignation, which he's declined to do. The province was set to fast-track legislation to allow for the removal for councillors found to have committed egregious conduct, but then backed off. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

The Ontario government has backed away from fast-tracking legislation that would allow city councillors to be removed from office for egregious misconduct, such as the behaviour by College ward Coun. Rick Chiarelli outlined in two integrity commissioner reports.

Opposition MPPs are worried the new rules won't be in place in time for next year's municipal elections.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark was expected to table a bill last week, before Queen's Park took a break for the holidays. Clark had even reached out to the other political parties about fast-tracking the legislation, to which the NDP and Liberals agreed.

"We agreed to work on an expedited basis, to have night sittings and pass it into law very quickly before the end of the year," said Stephen Blais, the Liberal MPP for Orléans. "And unfortunately, the government chose not to bring that bill forward last week."

According to an emailed statement from Clark's spokesperson, the bill is "an incredibly important and complex piece of legislation.

"Set against the backdrop of a patchwork system of inconsistent codes of conduct and integrity commissioners within each municipality, rushing out a piece of legislation that impacts each of Ontario's 444 municipalities differently would compromise our ongoing efforts to foster safe and respectful workplaces — which is not something our government is willing to do," the statement read.

WATCH | New legislation to help remove bad councillors won't happen before the holiday break 

New legislation to help remove bad councillors won’t happen before the holiday break

8 months ago
Duration 0:46
MPP Stephen Blais says that under the current system, the strictest consequence an elected official can face is a suspension of pay, leaving little other recourse against councillors found to have committed misconduct.

All municipalities have been required to have codes of conduct for members of council and appoint integrity commissioners for more than two years, although Ottawa has had its own code and commissioner for longer.

Joel Harden, the NDP MPP for Ottawa Centre, said it's "disappointing to hear a rationale that it's too complicated."

Harden agrees municipalities have a wide range of codes, but he says the government has had enough time to develop a "systemic response." 

"The time for talking about it is over," he said. "We need consequences and they need to come now."

Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, right, stands beside Ontario Premier Doug Ford last month. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

Municipal elections might go ahead without new legislation

The province announced in March 2021 it would, among other things,look at strengthening the rules in the Municipal Act to allow a councillor who has behaved disreputably — including harassed staff members — could be removed from office, and prevented from running again in the next election. The new legislation would likely refer the decision of whether to unseat a councillor to a judge.

Currently, the most severe penalty for bad behaviour is a 90-day suspension of pay. Chiarelli's paycheque was docked 450 days — 90 days for each of the five official complaints against him — but was re-instated last month.

"This isn't just an Ottawa problem," said Harden. "We remain ashamed and embarrassed and disgusted that Mr. Chiarelli is still collecting a salary from people here in Ottawa after what's been proven to have taken place in his office. But I honestly don't understand why the government couldn't come out with a very clear piece of legislation."

WATCH | MPP says more consequences necessary when elected officials behave badly 

MPP says more consequences necessary when elected officials behave badly

8 months ago
Duration 1:03
MPP Joel Harden is advocating for the introduction of provincial legislation to allow for the removal of elected officials when they’re found to have committed serious misconduct, something the provincial government has now backed away from.

Clark's office did not indicate when the bill would be tabled. The provincial legislature doesn't convene again until after Family Day in February.

If the government doesn't table its own bill at that time, Blais is on the agenda in March 2022 to debate his private member's bill, which calls for similar measures. That doesn't leave much time to amend the law before municipal election campaigns across the province are officially launched at the start of May, in time for voting day on Oct. 24.

"I am concerned." said Blais, who used to be an Ottawa city councillor. He said "everyone who wants to put their name forward for election should understand the rules of the game before the election begins. 

"I do believe that Minister Clark wants to see this bill come forward. I don't understand why he didn't come forward before the end of the year."

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