The issue of municipal representative accountability and the rights of workers in the workplace may lead to future changes in how councillors can be penalized for harassment.
The issue of Councillor accountability was discussed in a presentation before Muskoka District Council on Monday by The Women Of Ontario Say No, a nonpartisan group. Charles Boldt made the presentation to council for The Women Of Ontario Say No, which states it is made up of those who care deeply about basic human rights in the workplace.
According to Boldt, the current regulations and penalties regarding councillor harassment are unacceptable. According to Boldt, there is no process to remove a councillor from office, with the largest possible penalty a councillor can face is 90 days without pay. Boldt stated that the Municipal Act presents challenges in this regard to Ontario municipalities.
“Multiple Ontario municipalities have learned the hard way in the last few years about the lack of tools and the municipal act for holding councillors accountable for workplace harassment,” Boldt said.
Earlier this year a private members bill in the Ontario Legislature titled Bill 5, “Stopping Harassment and Abuse by Local Leaders Act, 2023,” was voted down. The failure of legislative efforts has caused activists and groups including the Women of Ontario Say No to focus on municipal governments themselves as the place to push for change.
Boldt highlights Barry, Ottawa, Mississauga and Brampton as municipalities which have had to face high-profile cases of improper behaviour by councillors. The Women Of Ontario Say No goal is to make municipal councillors subject to the same harassment policies which govern other workplaces in the province.
“There are many good people that serve the people as elected representatives. However, like every sector of business and government, there are people who are guilty of harassment in the workplace,” Boldt said.
Boldt highlights that presently under the law improper financial disclosures can result in a larger penalty than a proven case of harassment by council members.
“An elected representative perpetrates harassment, no matter how egregious and they can retain their position and seek reelection. We believe that this is unacceptable,” Boldt stated.
The recommendations from the presentation included updating municipal codes of conduct to account for workplace safety and harassment, creating a flexible administrative penalty regime, and increasing the training and consistency of integrity commissions. The final two recommendations were aimed at egregious or systemic cases of harassment. These include if an integrity commissioner recommended the removal of a councillor, a municipality can apply to the courts to have that councillor removed. The next recommendation was to prohibit any expelled member from running for reelection in the present and subsequent terms of office.
According to Boldt, it is vital to protect the human rights of workers to avoid harassment in the workplace. He also stated that protection from harassment was key to supporting diversity of voice within the workplace.
“You cannot obtain diversity of voice at the decision-making table when the workplace is unsafe,” Boldt said.
Councillor Heidi Lorenz spoke about the wide support for this initiative she has seen. Lorenz stated that she saw this proposal brought forward at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) meeting earlier and that it received clear support from all groups.
“It was quite moving because there was about a three-minute standing round of applause and support to someone who brought this question forward,” Lorenz said.
District Chair Jeff Lehman seconded the enthusiasm and support displayed for the initiative.
“That was the strongest reaction I’ve ever seen from an AMO crowd. A unified standing ovation for many minutes indicating how strongly our sector wants the government to move on this issue,” Lehman stated.
Council voted unanimously to pass a motion endorsing the recommendations outlined in the presentation. More information can be found on The Women Of Ontario Say NO website.
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