Nothing gets the blood boiling more than having our electoral faith broken by misbehaving councillors or regional directors.
What do Sooke taxpayers do when a councillor has missed 30 per cent of all council and special meetings during a three year period? What do Langford taxpayers do when council obstructs access to public information? What do Victoria taxpayers do when a councillor wanders off to another jurisdiction to berate the RCMP at the Fairy Creek old-growth protest?
The Local Government Act or the Community Charter, the underlying legislation for local government, offer few remedies. Taxpayers are usually left to steam until they can pass judgment in the next election months or even years away.
There will now be more recourse for taxpayers and councils following changes to municipal government legislation during the fall session under Bill 26.
The province has created a legal requirement that all municipal and regional governments develop or upgrade a code of conduct for councils and board members. It must be done at least once within six months of a new term of office, and a public statement must be made respecting the reasons for the decision.
Some existing codes of conduct require an independent third-party to investigate and they can recommend the mayor or councillor apologize, go to counselling, be publicly censured, or even heavily fined.
The provincial mandate follows a recommendation by the Union of B.C. Municipalities at their fall convention. Delegates underwhelming voted only 61.7 per cent in favour of the resolution.
While municipalities are creations of the province and operate under their legislation, the 162 fiefdoms are testy about their sovereignty and retain considerable legislative power. While limited jurisdictions, municipalities are thought to be ‘autonomous, responsible and accountable to their citizens.’
But with these conduct code amendments – and those under the NDP’s ambitious climate plan mandating major changes to city and regional development – the province may have to get tougher with municipalities.
In the past the province has tread lightly when telling local government what to do and has come under heavy criticism for taking too much of a hands-off, self-determination approach. Legislation has stifled significant improvements to municipal governance.
The Community Charter requires the province to consult with the UBCM before changing legislation – incredibly, it restrains provincial powers – although it also allows for ministerial direction.
In this instance, UBCM also called for an update of the oath of office sworn by local politicians. It wanted the foundational principles identified by its Working Group on Responsible Conduct included. Adding the words ‘integrity, responsibility, accountability, leadership and collaboration’ doesn’t sound unreasonable, but the province hasn’t acted on that recommendation.
In our view, during a time of tremendous upheaval with the pandemic, economic meltdown, drug crisis and a worrying uptick in severe and violent crime, it’s vital the province take on a far greater leadership role.
There’s much more that needs to be done by the senior partner.
Why is there no residency requirement for running for municipal office?
Theoretically, Sooke could draft Ryan Reynolds and Oak Bay residents Pamela Anderson for council. As non-residents they are eligible since the province remains the only jurisdiction in the country where there’s no residency requirement.
Why aren’t municipalities required to post annual financial disclosure statements of council on their website where it can be easily found?
As it stands now legislation allows taxpayers to go cap-in-hand to municipal hall to ask for the documents.
Most taxpayers aren’t aware that incumbent mayors and councillors as well as municipal nominees and employees must submit annual financial disclosure statements by Jan. 15, pursuant to the BC Financial Disclosure Act.
The legislation requires that politicians list income, real property, liabilities and corporate assets and investments with the aim of preventing and spotting conflicts of interest.
Victoria, Saanich, and Vancouver are three of the few jurisdictions that provide the public with findable website links to the financial disclosure statements. Locally, Langford and Colwood haven’t bothered.
Why is there nothing preventing people charged or convicted of a serious criminal offence from holding municipal office?
While the Community Charter disqualifies elected officials from holding office due to conflict of interest, failing to attend meetings or not taking an oath of office, having a criminal record does not get in the way.
A Pitt Meadows councillor in 2017 was convicted of committing sexual assault and resigned voluntarily the next week. In 2008, the then Port Coquitlam mayor pleaded guilty to assault and breach of an undertaking, but only left after he failed to get re-elected.
Local government is the most important government in our lives: During a time of multiple crises, we need politicians who conduct themselves professionally, who are beyond reproach, and who are held accountable prior to the next election.
The Town of View Royal recognizes the problem and brought in a code of conduct in November.
The new provincial code of conduct requirements are one small step by the province, we hope will lead to one giant leap in faith for municipal taxpayers.