The City of Nanaimo has adopted bylaws to create a new code of conduct for councillors and committee members.
The bylaws were voted on by council on Monday, May 16, following a report presented by Karen Robertson, deputy city clerk, and legal counsel Reece Harding of Young Anderson Barristers and Solicitors, which specializes in local government law.
The code of conduct bylaws follows amendments to provincial Bill 26, made in 2021, that require municipal councils and regional district boards to consider developing or updating codes of conduct and adding supporting companion bylaws and policies.
Nanaimo’s current council worked on a formal code of conduct policy that was adopted in early 2019, but Robertson said in her report to council that that code had no enforcement provisions.
“It is foundational in nature only and so there are no processes in place or accountability provisions contained within it, so one would not know how to address a conflict if it arose,” she said.
Robertson said best practices recommend that before getting into a situation in which misconduct could become an issue, standards should be in place.
Nanaimo’s updated code now includes those accountability provisions and processes for complaints, breaches and disciplinary action. That will help everyone understand the process, make compliance more likely, and ensure everyone is treated to the same standard, said staff.
The provisions also establish that sanction hearings will be deliberated in meetings open to the public to ensure accountability.
Nanaimo is one of the first cities in B.C. to adopt enhanced code of conduct bylaws.
“Most of the provinces are well out ahead of British Columbia when it comes to code of conducts around elected officials at a local government level,” said Harding. “We really are well behind, lagging behind almost the entire country. We’re one of the few places left that don’t have mandatory provision around codes of conduct for local elected officials in our legislation.”
He said every Ontario municipality, for example, must have a code of conduct and access to an integrity commissioner and added that Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta also have much more robust legislation than is found in B.C.
“Many local governments [in B.C.] have chosen, to date, to adopt codes of conduct, but they’re very different and many are very ineffective or brief. Many of them are old or drafted in a time frame when there really wasn’t much thought or account given to codes of conduct,” Harding said.
Surrey, in 2020, was the first B.C. municipality to adopt a “robust code of conduct with an ethics commissioner model” and Vancouver followed suit in January, 2021, Harding said. Ethics commissioners aren’t employed by the cities, but are available to fulfill education, advisory or investigative responsibilities when the need arises.
Harding praised city staff for its work on Nanaimo’s draft code of conduct, which he said is possibly the best in the province.
Coun. Tyler Brown, along with other councillors, voiced his appreciation for the work of Robertson, Harding and city clerk Sheila Gurrie in developing the enhanced code of conduct and supporting bylaws.
“I think this is fundamentally different than what’s been looked at previously,” Brown said. “This is comprehensive, very holistic and has meat to it. There’s consequences for … behaviours that aren’t becoming to the position in the office and it sets out a clear trajectory for what is acceptable and what is civil and the importance of the work that we do through discourse and, ultimately, democracy.”
Council voted unanimously to adopt the enhanced code of conduct bylaws.