While the Board of a regulatory body is quite different from a municipal Council, some analogies can be made in terms of their governance responsibilities. The recently enacted (but not yet proclaimed) Health Professions and Occupations Act in British Columbia contains a process for complaints about the governance conduct of a regulator’s Board member that is analogous to the role of an Integrity Commissioner for some municipalities. The case of Villeneuve v. North Stormont (Township), 2022 ONSC 6551 (CanLII), may be of interest to regulators.
In that case a Councillor had communications with the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of the municipality requesting financial information to which the Court later indicated the Councillor was not entitled. The tone of the communications, including calling the CAO’s conduct “completely irresponsible”, and allegedly berating the CAO at a public meeting resulted in a complaint to the Integrity Commissioner. The Integrity Commissioner ruled that the complaint was founded and recommended “a 45-day suspension of her remuneration and a nine-month prohibition on the Applicant communicating directly with the CAO by email”. A majority of the Court upheld this recommendation. They said:
This finding was reasonable. This Part of the Code of Conduct serves as a reminder to publicly elected officials that municipal employees “serve Council as a whole and no Member of Council may direct staff absent of a resolution of Council. Council approves policy and the Chief Administrative Officer directs staff to ensure the direction of Council is achieved.” The relative power imbalance between staff, who do not have a voice at Council, and elected Members, who do, mean that their respective roles and responsibilities must be acknowledged and respected. The Integrity Commissioner’s finding was responsive to that expectation contained in the Township Code of Conduct.
The majority of the Court did not, however, support the more onerous sanction (a longer suspension and broader restrictions on email communications with staff) originally imposed by the Council. A dissenting opinion by one member of the Court characterized the finding against the Councillor as reflecting “an impossibly sensitive standard”.
Code of Conduct provisions are important and governance principles are enforceable.