Brantford’s recently appointed integrity commissioner would like to see councillors declare conflicts of interest on ethical as well as monetary grounds.
Robert J. Swayze, a lawyer who was appointed integrity commissioner in December 2011, reviewed the city’s code of conduct and found that councillors should be explicitly encouraged to declare personal conflicts – particularly regarding the potential for nepotism – in any situation, not only when finances are involved.
Currently, the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act only requires councillors to declare conflicts of interest regarding financial matters. Other personal conflicts can be declared at councillors’ discretion.
Swayze thinks that definition should be expanded in Brantford’s bylaws to include all ethical questions.
“I would encourage councillors to declare conflicts of interest,” Swayze said at Monday’s committee of the whole meeting. “There are times when you just can’t be impartial.”
The integrity commissioner also took exception to a bylaw that deems any councillor who refuses to vote on a question to be voting against it.
Swayze, a lawyer who serves as integrity commissioner in five other municipalities, said he had similar clauses removed from bylaws in Port Hope and has recommended the same for the city of Mississauga, where a recent hearing into a possible conflict of interest involving Mayor Hazel McCallion turned the spotlight on this issue across the province.
While his recommendations create more room for conflicts to be declared, they do not serve as an escape clause for councillors looking to duck a vote, Swayze noted.
“You don’t want a bunch of councillors sitting around and not voting because it’s a hot issue,” he said.
“Unless you have a (conflict), you should vote.”