After months of debate, Airdrie city council finally approved a new Code of Conduct for councillors and members of city boards and committees Sept. 18.
“My whole goal with the Code of Conduct is that it would sit on the shelf and collect dust for years. It’s there if we need it – and, hopefully, we never need it,” said Deputy Mayor Fred Burley. “Once you’re elected, 24-7 you’re a council member. We have to monitor ourselves.”
The issue of updating the existing Code of Conduct was first raised at council’s March 2, 2015 meeting and again during the May 5, 2016 council meeting. In both instances, concerns were raised about the conduct of Coun. Allan Hunter, which some councillors said they found to be inappropriate. Hunter has been the centre of controversy recently for posts on social media.
Staff was directed June 6, 2016 to hold a workshop and prepare a proposed code of conduct bylaw, which was initially presented to council June 19, 2017. At that meeting, council asked it be run by members of city boards and committees for feedback. The document returned to the Aug. 21 council meeting at which point council decided to seek a legal review prior to voting.
The city does not have a lawyer on staff but enlisted the services of Joane Klauer, a lawyer with the Calgary law firm MLT Aikens, who is an expert in municipal law, to conduct the review.
Director of the chief administrative officer’s office Sharon Pollyck told council Sept. 18 the legal review had been completed and some changes made to the draft document.
“We brought it into alignment with the new Modernized Municipal Government Act (MGA). Those rights are out for discussion now and so that deals with a complaint system and that’s been included (in the city’s draft),” she said.
Other changes included a clearer definition of bias and the addition of broader sanctions to the section of the bylaw dealing with how councillors and members of city boards and committees are expected to act. A redline version of the bylaw showing all the changes was provided to council and the public prior to the meeting.
Hunter asked for an explanation of how the complaint process would work and how investigations would be conducted.
“The first issue is that the complaint has to be made and that can be made by a fellow councillor, a member of administration or a member of the public. The complaint has to be in writing, it has to name all the parties and the relevant incidents,” Klauer said. “It will be a majority decision of council of whether or not to pursue an investigation.”
The Code of Conduct also allows a third party investigator to be brought in.
Hunter said he felt the Code of Conduct would not stand up to a Charter of Rights challenge. Klauer was able to provide precedence that showed this not to be true.
“There has been a charge with respect to a code of conduct in parliament that was being challenged saying it violated the Charter of Rights. The Supreme Court of Canada said, ‘this code of conduct goes to governance, internal governance and maintaining decorum and respect,’” she said. “Those are the terms that have already been utilized by the Supreme Court of Canada, so I don’t think it would take much to define what the parameters are of respectful communication if put to a court challenge.”
Klauer said codes of conduct for elected councils are not unique.
“From my review of this Code of Conduct, it is pretty much in line with the codes of conduct across the province. It deals, generally, with most of the same topics that most of the codes of conducts deal with. I think it’s actually a bit more progressive because it has been drafted with a view to the draft regulations that will be coming forward (through the MGA).”
The new Code of Conduct will go into effect immediately.