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Ontario bill to allow removal of councillors who violate codes of conduct fails

Queen's Park

A private member's bill in the Ontario legislature that aimed to give municipalities the power to kick people off city council if they violate the code of conduct has failed.

Bill 5, known as the "Stopping Harassment and Abuse by Local Leaders Act", was up for second reading but lost on division in a vote Wednesday.

Orléans Liberal MPP Stephen Blais moved the bill. Had it passed, it would have permitted municipalities and local boards to direct the Integrity Commissioner to apply to the court to vacate a member’s seat if a council member has contravened the code of conduct by failing to comply with the workplace violence or harassment policies.

It was raised on the heels of scandals involving former Ottawa city councillor Rick Chiarelli, who was the subject of numerous complaints of inappropriate behaviour toward female staff members and women applying to work in his office. While Chiarelli continued to deny the allegations, the city's integrity commissioner repeatedly ruled against him, and council voted twice to suspend his pay in wake of the reports into his conduct.

Blais's first attempt at this bill passed second reading but died on the order paper when the 2022 provincial election was called.

Speaking during private members' business at the legislature Tuesday, Blais said his bill had widespread support.

"The need for change and stronger consequences, including the removal from office and a prohibition against seeking re-election has been endorsed by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario," he said. "Bill 5 is endorsed by over 150 municipalities across the province."

He stressed that the bill also had safeguards against misuse.

"It involves the municipal integrity commissioner and, ultimately, a judicial review, to ensure that this process is not used as a political weapon and the integrity of our democracy is protected."

Associate minister of women's social and economic opportunity, Charmaine Williams, said she was worried about the effects of the bill.

"I appreciate the essence of the bill; however, I'm concerned about the consequences that will occur if this bill was to go forward," she said. "This bill might drop the guard that is in place with our Municipal Act, so much so that women who are elected to council tables are at risk of losing their spot if they speak out against their council colleagues."

Williams also said she was concerned about granting too much power to municipal integrity commissioners.

"This bill wants to make integrity commissioners more powerful than an appointed judge," she said. "If you're accused of something illegal, you get a trial. But this bill wants to replace that and this bill wants to allow the integrity commissioner to remove an elected official without a trial." 

Blais said Wednesday that he was disappointed in the result and criticized Williams for her comments.

"The @fordnation government is turning its back on women across #Ontario.150 municipalities and counting asked for this Legislation," he said in a tweet. "[Charmaine Williams] should be ashamed of the displays she put on last night."

When speaking to reporters at a housing announcement in Ottawa last week, Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark said that the concept of the bill was "very important for the government" but declined to comment further on a private member's bill.

Blais told Newstalk 580 CFRA's Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron he is hopeful the Progressive Conservative government introduces its own legislation that aims to accomplish the same thing.

"I know that the minister of municipal affairs wants to see something like this happen. How do I know that? He's told me," Blais said. "We're going to continue to put the pressure on. I'm hoping that, over time, Minister Clark will do the right thing and bring his own bill forward. I will be the biggest champion for that bill when he brings it forward because it this wasn't a partisan issue, it's never been a partisan issue and it shouldn't be a partisan issue going forward." Top Stories

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