Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch called it “disturbing” that the provincial government shot down legislation that would have allowed municipalities to essentially fire city council for bad behaviour.
Despite previously supporting the private members bill by Liberal MPP Stephen Blais from Orléans, Progressive Conservative MPPs voted against Bill 5 — the Stopping Harassment and Abuse by Local Leaders Act — when it was up for second reading, Wednesday.
The legislation would have authorized municipalities and boards to request court orders to declare a member’s seat vacant if they violate workplace violence or harassment policies. It would have also prevented violators from seeking immediate subsequent re-election, or reappointment to council or local boards.
Burch, the NDP’s municipal affairs critic, said PC members voted in favour of the same bill last term during its first reading, but opted to vote against during second reading this week.
“That was disturbing. What seemed to be happening was because it was not a conservative member’s motion, they decided not to pass it,” he said.
Welland city councillors also passed a motion urging support for Bill 5, after considering a city report on the legislation two weeks ago.
Ward 2 Coun. Leo VanVliet who brought forward the motion of support said he too was disappointed “but not overly surprised, because it was a private member’s bill.”
VanVliet said the legislation “would have been a defence for people who really can’t always defend themselves.”
“Quite frankly I don’t think Bill 5 would have done much for me because I can defend myself, but there are a lot of people out there who are being used and abused and they don’t have the wherewithal to defend themselves. This bill would have defended them.”
Although Welland has been dealing with repeated integrity commissioner reports, VanVliet said the legislation “would not have made a great deal of difference as far as the incidents that are happening at the city.”
“As far as I’m concerned, what’s happening at the city isn’t severe enough,” he said, adding he’s far more concerned about incidents in other communities.
In some cases, he said elected officials are “telling their secretaries to wear sexier clothing or go bra-less, you know that’s something totally uncalled for.”
Burch said he participated in consultation meetings regarding Bill 5 prior to last year’s election, working with Blais, the Liberal party’s municipal affairs and housing critic; Minister of Municipal Affairs Steve Clarke as well as Green Party leader Mike Schreiner.
He said the meetings were held in the expectation that the legislation would be approved, “but nothing happened. There were crickets.”
“The province decided not to do anything at all,” he said. “This bill has come forward for the second time, the exact same bill. It was passed unanimously in the Legislature previously.”
But Wednesday, he said “all the Conservatives voted against it — all the other parties spoke in favour of, spoke about the need for it.”
He said two women from Ottawa who experienced the impact of dealing with harassment from political leaders were in the gallery at Queen’s Park for the meeting.
“They were there in the hope that something would finally be passed, and the Conservatives just decided to all vote against it.”
Burch spoke in support of the legislation, prior to the vote taking place.
“We’re strongly in favour of efforts to strengthen workplace violence and harassment policies, especially when it comes to councillors, local leaders, and those in positions of power,” he said at Queen’s Park.
“We’ve seen time and again in this province councillors get away with absolutely disgusting and egregious behaviour from Ottawa, West Lincoln, Mississauga, Brampton and the list goes on and on. When councillors who commit such acts are not held to account, it denies justice for those who’ve been harassed and creates an environment that prevents others from coming forward.”
He said without that legislation, local leaders can operate by “a different set of rules when they should be held to a much higher standard.”
Burch said when councillors who have harassed municipal staff or their fellow councillors “can retain their positions, no matter how serious, it creates and protects toxic workplaces; which in turn has an adverse effect on mental health in the workplace and throughout the community.”
While Burch suspects the Progressive Conservatives may come forward with their own version of similar legislation, “but I’m not holding my breath.”
“They’ve been talking about it, but they haven’t done anything,” he said. “They don’t seem to take the issue seriously.”
VanVliet also hopes similar legislation will ultimately be enacted.
“I’m almost sure that someone else, sooner or later, will take the ball and run with it,” he said.
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