By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
The future level of oversight at Oshawa city hall remains unclear as requirements under new law have yet to come into effect.
At the end of May, the province passed Bill 68, a piece of legislation that introduced a set of changes to the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act and the Municipal Act in an effort to make local governance more open and accountable. Among those changes are the requirements for municipal councils to create a code of conduct as well as have access to an integrity commissioner.
Oshawa council created its code of conduct in 2015, a set of rules which councillors are meant to abide by while carrying out their jobs. As part of the motion that saw the code’s approval, city staff were directed to investigate the options for hiring an integrity commissioner to enforce the code. To date, no integrity commissioner has been obtained or retained.
City staff told The Oshawa Express in the summer of 2016 that they were waiting on the final decision of Region of Durham council regarding its decision on an integrity commissioner.
In December, the region appointed Guy W. Giorno as its integrity commissioner. Giorno is a representative of Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP and will report directly to regional council until the end of 2021.
And while Oshawa city clerk Andrew Brouwer says that discussions have taken place about sharing the skills of the integrity commissioner across municipalities no plans have been set in stone.
“Durham Region clerks and solicitors are discussing options, but no firm plans have been made by the city,” he says.
And the city may have a few months to make a decision as the province says not all of Bill 68’s provisions have come into effect to date.
“Some provisions under the act came into force on Royal Assent on May 30, 2017, while other provisions, including new rules requiring access to an integrity commissioner will come into force on a date to be proclaimed,” states Conrad Spezowka, a spokesperson with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. “Decisions on proclamation timing and in force dates are still being determined.”
However, once a date has been set, municipalities will need to move fast.
“Upon proclamation, it would be up to municipalities to decide whether or not to appoint their own full-time integrity commissioner, share with other municipalities, retain on a fee for service basis, or find other ways to provide access to an integrity commissioner,” Spezowka says. “Municipalities should also have flexibility in providing access to an integrity commissioner for members and the public.”
According to Brouwer, work is underway to have a report coming to council in the fall to discuss next steps.
“I anticipate reporting to council in the fall relative to Bill 68, potentially with further details on the integrity commissioner contact options, depending on the progress of our internal discussions,” he says, adding that he doesn’t believe the new changes will come into effect this year.
“My understanding is that this may not occur until the next term of council to allow municipalities sufficient time to pass, or amend, their codes of conduct and make, or amend, integrity commissioner contract arrangements.”
Whichever option is chosen by council, an integrity commissioner would be responsible for enforcing council’s code of conduct and handling any complaints from the public.
Council’s code puts monetary penalties on councillors’ actions that are deemed to be in contravention of their duties. Penalties include reprimands and the suspension of a councillor’s remuneration for up to 90 days. The code also lays out specifics for how councillors deal with gifts they receive when attending events as part of their council obligations and defines the handling of confidential information.