The Ontario Municipal Act, 2001 as amended in 2006, granted broad and sweeping powers to municipalities and balanced the expanded power of local government with requirements for improved accountability and limpid conduct. Section 224 (d.1) of the Ontario Municipal Act 2001, summarizes the role of Council and explicitly includes “accountability and transparency”. The Act outlines potential actions municipalities may take in ensuring their obligations of accountability are fulfilled. These include: engaging an Integrity Commissioner, a municipal Ombudsman, an Auditor General, a lobbyist registry.
The Integrity Commissioner independently reviews the application of procedures, rules and policies governing the ethical behavior of members of council. If council follows the rules then an investigation by the Integrity Commissioner is not needed and furthermore no financial expenses are incurred. Most Integrity Commissioners are lawyers who allow municipalities to retain them on stand-by.
The lobbyist registry establishes a public registration system for those wishing to meet with members of council to further their private initiatives. The registry would allow the public to know who is meeting with councillors and why. The lobbyist registry applies to private meetings with members of council regarding private business interests. Lobbyist registries do not apply to anyone expressing opinions through public meetings such as council, committee, neighbourhood, boards and commission meetings.
By supporting an Integrity Commissioner, members of council are advising their constituents that they will hold themselves to the high ethical standard, expected of an elected official. Yes complaints concerning conduct may be filed with the Integrity Commissioner and this aspect is critically important to ensuring accountability. It is easy to say ethical conduct is always adhered to, but words don’t assuage public perception. To put in place the independent protocol to ensure council members are held to account provides taxpayers with direct accountability.
There will always be differences of opinion on council, and sometimes these will be expressed more forcibly than others. Strong opinions do not reflect a lack of integrity. It is about putting in place the mechanisms that will assist in ensuring public confidence in open and accountable government.
.A quick search (not extensive) shows the following municipalities use an Integrity Commissioner: Toronto, Mississauga, Vaughan, Ottawa, Kitchener, Waterloo, Windsor, Hamilton, Oakville, Brantford, Carleton Place, Port Hope, Caledon.