During a continued discussion during a committee meeting this week regarding the new code of conduct for councillors, a point of privilege was called when a councillor questioned the conduct of one of their own.
During Thursday’s special strategic initiatives standing committee meeting, councillors got a revised look at the brand new 2021 Collingwood Code of Conduct, which seeks to incorporate recommendations to tighten up and clarify the rules for councillors, members of committees and local boards based on recommendations out of the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry (CJI).
However, a stand-out moment occurred when Coun. Bob Madigan left his microphone on, seemingly in error.
Coun. Yvonne Hamlin asked for numerous clarifications regarding the language in the code. During one question where she referenced Walkerton, Coun. Madigan interrupted.
“Oh my God,” said Madigan, in exasperation.
Immediately, Hamlin stopped her comments, and Mayor Brian Saunderson asked councillors to please make sure their microphones were muted. Madigan put his hand over his mouth.
“I would like to call a personal point of privilege. I have personally observed so many instances of this councillor rolling his eyes and creating all kinds of ‘Gee, I wish you would shut up’-kind of looks,” said Hamlin, raising her voice.
“I am just at the limit of what I can take. I would ask you Mr. Mayor if you could kindly ask this councillor to keep his mouth shut when I’m speaking and show some decorum,” she said.
Mayor Saunderson told Coun. Madigan to keep himself muted and to keep his comments to himself.
The meeting was a continuation of discussion that occurred on the new code at the Oct. 4 meeting.
To read our full story on the first meeting with an overview of the draft code, click here.
The initial Collingwood Code of Ethics was created in 2007 and was mostly unchanged until the current Code of Conduct was established in 2015. After the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry (CJI) Report was received by the town in Fall 2020, the town endeavoured to modify the code based on recommendations out of the inquiry.
The new Code of Conduct document now includes 18 specific rules that cover scenarios such as avoidance of conflict of interest, acceptance of gifts, election campaigns, use of town resources, member conduct and the employment of council relatives and family members.
The Code of Conduct also contains commentary for several of the rules to provide additional context and hypothetical practical examples of applying the rules.
During Thursday’s meeting, Deputy Mayor Keith Hull and Coun. Steve Berman offered comments on a rule regarding business relationships.
“I’ll use myself as an example. I’ve had people say to me... they’re not comfortable with me being both a realtor and deputy mayor, simply for the optics of there being a perceived conflict,” said Hull. “From Day 1, I’ve taken that very seriously. It’s a very valid point.”
“Every time an agenda is put forward, I spend more time perusing that agenda to make sure I’m not in a direct conflict...but also that the persons I may be affiliated with don’t have business with the municipality,” he said. Hull said that while he works to avoid conflicts, you never know down the road if others will be as diligent.
“I’m so concerned about us having rules of conduct that are supposed to make sure in very broad language that we’re being honest and full of integrity, being used to restrain us in some ways from carrying out a business or participating in community events,” said Hamlin.
“We have part-time councillors here. If someone doesn’t like somebody else on council... it could go down a rabbit hole of a complaint to the integrity commissioner that we’re not putting in enough time. I have a lot of trouble with this,” she said.
Integrity commissioner Jeffrey Abrams responded that the code is a scheme and interpretations of the integrity commissioner is part of how it is made to work.
“You could take the perspective that you interpret a code, like a criminal code, so there are prohibitions in it that are going to trap members of council, or you can take it as we propose you take it, as a guide to proper and ethical behaviour,” said Abrams.
“When there are concerns, you work them out by consulting with the integrity commissioner or by adding commentary so the interpretation is clear,” he said.
Hamlin asked that referencing the code as a guide be added to the code, a suggestion that was supported by Coun. Mariane McLeod.
When McLeod moved an amendment to add language indicating that the code was a guideline, clerk Sara Almas raised concerns.
“In my opinion, this document is not a guideline. This is a code of conduct. There are penalties,” said Almas. “I would be cautious to tell the public and members of boards that this is just a guide and they don’t really have to follow it. That would put out the wrong perspective, I think.”
“We ought not to be weaponizing the document,” said Abrams.
McLeod also asked that legal advice be sought regarding rules dealing with financial disclosure, to add a requirement that sources of income for councillors and members of local boards be disclosed publicly.
Coun. Hamlin, Coun. Deb Doherty and Coun. Tina Comi disagreed that financial disclosure should be a requirement. Doherty raised the point that those who are looking to find a loophole will do so regardless of rules.
“I just think that’s an intrusion,” said Hamlin.
Hull also provided comments concerning how many amendments and questions were being brought forward. While he said he felt the intentions were good, the outcomes may not be.
“I think we’re getting to the point of being so prescriptive that we may, in fact, actually overstep,” said Hull. “Rather than creating a framework that promotes people wanting to actively pursue public service, we are actively creating minutia that we are screwing the nails into people who may look at public service as a positive means.”
During Thursday’s meeting, the committee voted in favour of receiving and endorsing the code of conduct with some wording amendments, and authorized staff to move forward with the public consultation phase. After that time, the code will come back to be considered by council before implementation.