Kathleen Wynne says bureaucrats in her office were in the process of making changes to Ontario’s conflict-of-interest rules governing municipalities before she resigned from her cabinet post to jump into the provincial Liberal leadership race.
“I know there are some recommendations that are pretty much ready to go, and they’re being finalized in the ministry,” Ms. Wynne said in an interview Tuesday. “We were very close before I stepped down.”
Ms. Wynne resigned as Ontario’s minister of municipal affairs and housing earlier this month to launch her campaign to replace Dalton McGuinty, who is leaving after nine years as Premier. Ms. Wynne said officials in her office launched a review of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act after the release of a judicial inquiry’s report last October into Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion’s role in a deal to build a hotel and convention centre near City Hall.
But a spokeswoman for Ms. Wynne’s successor said there are no plans to expedite the review of the conflict-of-interest act as a result of a court decision on Monday that ejected Toronto Mayor Rob Ford from office over donations to a high-school football team.
The review is about the act in its entirety, Kelly Baker, a spokeswoman for Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Bob Chiarelli, said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail. “It doesn’t focus specifically on the penalties associated with a local member being in conflict of interest.”
The ironclad penalties in the act left Mr. Justice Charles Hackland with no choice but to order Mr. Ford to leave office, once he found that the mayor had breached the act.
David Siegel, a professor of political science at Brock University who specializes in municipal issues, says flaws surrounding the inflexible penalties contained in the act were initially identified more than two decades ago.
Prof. Siegel sat on a government-appointed panel in the late 1980s that recommended making numerous changes to the act, including no minimum penalties for councillors who broke the rules. Rather, he said, a judge could simply declare that somebody was in a conflict of interest.
But there was enormous push-back from municipal leaders, he said, because of other recommendations made by the panel, including having councillors disclose their personal assets and liabilities. As a result, the government of the day never adopted the report, he said.
The penalities have prompted many judges to go out of their way to avoid ruling that a councillor has breached the act because they don’t want to see the individual forced out of office, Prof. Siegel said.
“As a result, we have ended up with a bunch of bad case law,” he said.
Ms. Wynne said she hopes that Toronto city councillors “can get on with the business of governing. It’s a really unfortunate distraction from the real business of city governance.”