In a news release dated Mar.5, the Province announced that it is launching consultations with the municipal sector to strengthen accountability for council members. It noted that the Province wants to ensure that councillors and heads of council maintain a safe and respectful workplace, and carry out their duties as elected officials in an “ethical and responsible manner.” The primary objective of the consultation is to “strengthen municipal codes of conduct.”
As we reported at the time, one of the first things that the present MV Council did was to bring in a watered-down version of its former Code of Conduct. At the same time, they also made it more difficult for residents to make a complaint to the Township’s Integrity Commissioner. We also reported that these changes put MV residents in a less favourable position than most, if not all, other municipalities in Ontario.
The new Code of Conduct and Integrity Commissioner Protocol were prepared by the Township’s solicitors, Wishart Law of Sault Ste. Marie. The Current decided to try to learn the reasons behind the changes and were referred to solicitor Paul Cassan of Wishart Law. We asked him why MV’s existing Code of Conduct needed changing resulting in reduced protection for residents, and also when compared to other municipalities. The resulting correspondence did not throw any light on the matter and The Current questioned Cassan about what appeared to be his evasive answers.
With this background, was it just a coincidence that two months later Cassan wrote the letter, which included the suggestion that the Publisher had misled the public about his legal career, that triggered the character assassination of The Current’s owners at the Aug.27 2019 Council meeting? Cassan recommended that his letter be made public, which members of Council and the CAO rushed to do the same day they received it and without giving their target an opportunity to respond. When Council and the Township refused to retract, or even justify, the accusations they made following being provided proof of the Publisher’s qualifications, we were advised by our solicitor to seek vindication from the court so as to deter a repetition of such behaviour. The action is being defended on the ground that the alleged defamatory statements “related to the public interest.” Cassan, together with several members of his law firm, represents the defendants. Three invitations to participate in mediation have been rejected.
The Current welcomes the Province’s initiative as it believes too many members of councils in too many municipalities abuse the power they have acquired by misusing their bully pulpits.