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New Westminster looks to update its council code of conduct

Do B.C. municipalities need a municipal integrity commissioner? One New West councillor says they do
A New Westminster city councillor continues to call for a municipal integrity commissioner.

The City of New Westminster is getting set to revamp the existing code of conduct for council members – but should it take it even further and advocate for a municipal integrity commissioner?

Council recently directed the city solicitor to begin the statutory process of considering a review of the existing council code of conduct and to prepare a new code of conduct through workshops with city staff. A staff report noted the Community Charter now requires all local governments to consider whether to establish a code of conduct or revise and existing one within six months of the first regular meeting after a general local election, which would be May 2023 in New Westminster.

New Westminster’s council code of conduct states its purpose is to establish minimum expectations for the ethical and interpersonal conduct of council officials.

“The public expects a responsive local government with the highest standards of professional conduct from members elected to it,” states the current council code of conduct. “Honesty, integrity, objectivity, due diligence and accountability are some of the core ethical values reflected in this code. Council official are expected to perform their functions of office faithfully and to the best of their knowledge and ability, in accordance with these core ethical values.”

Coun. Nadine Nakagawa supported the update to the council code of conduct, but reiterated her support for a provincially-instituted municipal integrity commissioner, a position she said would be similar to the provincial ombudsperson.

“I will continue to advocate for that, along with some other folks,” she said. “In the meantime, I would like to explore the possibility of having this locally. I know Vancouver has one, Surrey has one. These are much larger cities than we are, so perhaps there's an ability to have someone on retainer, or to partner with other municipalities who might also be interested in having this kind of service, maybe in our either geographical proximity, or who might have similarities in size or community makeup in some way.”

The City of Surrey has an ethics commissioner, while the City of Vancouver has an integrity officer.

Nakagawa said a code of conduct is fine, but municipalities need more.

“We actually need a commissioner who has the ability to investigate, and actually has some teeth,” she said. “So I would like to add that to this conversation as well.”

Mayor Patrick Johnstone said he supports the work being proposed by staff, but asked that another issue be considered as part of those discussions. He noted he recently received some correspondence from someone seeking clarity on code of conduct issues related to council members’ second jobs.

Noting that New West councillors often have second jobs, he said questions were raised about how council members avoid conflict between their council duties and their other job, if they work in the consulting industry or work for non-profits in the city.

“So, all I'm asking is that maybe, as part of this review, we include some review of that, some discussion of that and maybe some guidelines, so council is clear about how they can protect themselves from those types of opportunities,” he said.

Lisa Spitale, chief administrative officer, said Johnstone’s and Nakagawa’s comments would be considered by staff as part of the code of conduct review process.

In the spring of 2022, former councillor Mary Trentadue told Global News the fact that former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum continued to serve as mayor while being investigated by police for public mischief (he was later found not guilty) was an example of why some municipal politicians had been calling for a civic integrity commission.