Regular readers of The Current know that from time to time we report on perceived breaches of the obligations of accountability, transparency and integrity on the part of local government. This reporting has not only been about Madawaska Valley, but also Brudenell Lyndoch & Raglan and North Algona Wilberforce. Examples of these have included lack of transparency over legal cases including justification for substantial legal expense, Code of Conduct concerns, cover-ups of councillors’ conduct, non-compliance with procurement by-laws and improper response to freedom of information requests. This is consistent with our editorial policy of performing a watchdog role which James Di Fiore wrote about in a recent article. Click HERE to read. To be clear, these conduct issues are not limited to our local municipalities, but are common across the province.
This was confirmed in a report released this week by Frank Marrocco, Associate Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Ontario, following a two-year public inquiry. It investigated concerns including “closed door decision making, undeclared conflicts of interest, dodgy procurement practices, and misleading and inaccurate public reporting.” The inquiry was prompted by complaints arising from two multi-million dollar transactions in Collingwood “leading to fair and troubling concerns from the public.”
However, Marrocco expanded his report to make it clear that it was a matter of province-wide concern. He stated that he hoped that his recommendations, which totalled 306, will be useful across the province “for any other municipalities facing similar issues.” He acknowledged that he is far from the first to urge the province to plug holes in municipal rules that govern towns and cities, and their elected officials and staff. He referred to a previous inquiry concerning Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion where Justice Douglas Cunningham who led that inquiry said, “It is clear that Mississauga and indeed all Ontario municipalities require a better ethical infrastructure.”
The report recommends changes to provincial legislation to improve transparency and accountability in municipal government. It also recommends that municipalities enhance their codes of conduct for members of council. The Current reported on the fact that the present Madawaska Valley Council changed its Code of Conduct shortly after taking office to make it more restrictive for the public to complain.
It is to be hoped that in the public interest the Province will take heed of the serious and pressing concerns raised by this report and will act promptly to address them.