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Ontario will miss target to harden penalties on misbehaving politicians

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Ontario will miss target to harden penalties on misbehaving politicians

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In March, Ottawa city council endorsed a motion by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario urging the province to beef up the law by updating municipal codes of conduct.

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Legislation to toughen penalties for municipal politicians who misbehave won’t be ready before Ontario MPPs rise for their summer break, the minister of municipal affairs and housing says.

Paul Calandra said in February that he expected to introduce a bill on the matter before June. But speaking in Ottawa on Friday, Calandra said drafting the language was proving to be tougher than expected.

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“We’re starting to discover that it’s in fact far more complex than I ever thought,” Calandra said. “I won’t meet the timelines of having it in the legislature before the end of June.”

There is a patchwork of ethics and integrity rules among Ontario municipalities, he said, adding he had asked Ontario’s integrity commissioner for advice on how the system could be improved. He hopes to soon begin consultations with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

“There’s a lot more work to do on this because the more I look at this, the more disjointed and fragmented the process is,” Calandra said. “I want to make sure whatever we do is effective and meets the goals that we’re trying to accomplish.”

That frustrated Emily McIntosh of the advocacy group Women of Ontario Say No.

“We’ve been at this since before the most recent municipal election. This issue isn’t new,” McIntosh said. “We appreciate that the government is working on this, but this really can’t wait.

“The longer the government works on this, it means people are suffering in very toxic and abusive relationships, and that is not something that we would tolerate in any other workplace in Ontario.”

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Ottawa city council had to grapple with the issue of municipal misbehaviour during its previous term, when the city’s integrity commissioner found that former councillor Rick Chiarelli had sexually harassed multiple female staff members. Under the Municipal Act, the maximum penalty is a 90-day suspension for each count, but there is no power to remove a politician from office. Ultimately, Chiarelli was suspended for a total of 450 days and forfeited pay worth $132,000. Chiarelli, who has adamantly denied any wrongdoing, did not run for re-election.

In March, city council endorsed a motion by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario urging the province to beef up the law by updating municipal codes of conduct, enacting new flexible penalties and allowing municipalities to ask the courts to remove a councillor if that was recommended by the integrity commissioner.

Orléans MPP Stephen Blais, a former Ottawa councillor who served alongside Chiarelli, has twice brought a private member’s bill to Queen’s Park that would have toughened the penalties. Both times the Conservatives voted it down.

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When asked last week about removing municipal politicians from office, Premier Doug Ford said that was what elections were for.

“Ultimately, if they want to remove someone, it’s the people,” Ford said. “That’s why we have elections every four years. People either like you or they don’t like you. If they like you, they’ll give you another chance at it. If they don’t like you, well, you’re going to be sitting on the bench somewhere. But it’s the people who are going to decide.”

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