Code of conduct conundrum in municipalities; Alberta to consider changes

Municipality codes of conduct have been a source of drama across Alberta lately, and now Premier Danielle Smith may be changing them.

While speaking at a news conference in Brooks on April 5, Smith expressed dismay at how codes of conduct appear to be used.

“I must say I am a bit concerned that it seems to me that the code of conduct is often being used to have one council member fight with another council member, and that’s not what it is supposed to be for,” Smith said.

“It is supposed to be making sure a person in their position is doing something in an ethical way.”

Municipalities must establish codes of conduct bylaws under the province’s Municipal Government Act, and it must apply to all councillors equally.

“I’ve asked our minister to make sure that we’re looking at the legislation to see if we need to give better guidelines because it really shouldn’t be used as a way of just scoring political points from one council member who disagrees with another,” Smith said.

Tyler Gandam, the president of Alberta Municipalities and the Wetaskiwin mayor, says codes of conduct and the recall legislation have been weaponized in municipalities.

“I think we need to take a good look at how these codes of conduct are filed, to make sure they are not just out of spite or because someone voted in favour of something,” he said.

Calgary Ward 13 councillor Dan McLean, who has been twice sanctioned under the city’s code of conduct, agrees.

“To be using code of conduct, filing ethics reports, to score political points or for your political enemies, it’s happened and it’s wrong,” he told reporters.

McLean was sanctioned in 2022 for not wearing a mask at a restaurant amid COVID-19 health restrictions, and again in 2023 for being at a golf course during a council meeting.

The law has been at the centre of some municipal politics in the province.

Over 100 code of conduct complaints were lodged against three Chestermere councillors who pushed for a municipal inspection.

The inspection ultimately found that Chestermere was being governed in an “irregular and improper” manner. Municipal affairs eventually removed Mayor Jeff Colvin, three councillors, and three city staffers.

Medicine Hat has also seen its share of drama when it comes to the code of conduct bylaw.

Mayor Linnsie Clark was stripped of her powers after she was found to have breached the code of conduct for failing to treat the city manager with courtesy, dignity and respect during an August 2023 council meeting.

As a result, her pay has been cut in half, she is no longer the official spokesperson for council, and her presiding duties have been suspended.

She is also not allowed to enter the administration area of city hall or have direct contact with city staff. Any communication with the city manager must be through email, and in-person meetings between the two must have a councillor present.

Kym Porter, a resident of Medicine Hat, launched a petition calling for the sanctions against the mayor to be removed. She tells CityNews many people in the city believe what happened to the mayor was undemocratic.

“We voted for Linnsie Clark to be our full-time mayor. We didn’t vote for council members to be the mayor. We also feel that having this kind of a rift interferes with the work our city has been elected to do,” she said.

Porter would like to see the province consider a possible inspection.

“This is an embarrassment for our community,” she said.

“Things are broken, whether it is beyond our capability to fix them or not they definitely need to be fixed.”

Heather Jenkins, press secretary for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, says it expects municipal codes of conduct to be used effectively and will continue monitoring their use throughout the province.

“While the Minister is not currently prepared to order a municipal inspection, he would consider such an action should electors of the city be able to meet the established legislative requirements with respect to initiating a petition for a municipal inspection or should council request an inspection,” she said in a statement.

In the meantime, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the city takes its code of conduct bylaw very seriously.

“We have very thoroughly looked at our code of conduct. We have an ethics advisor, we have an integrity commissioner and we have an entire legal team,” she said.

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