Codes of Conduct at City Hall
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Codes of Conduct at City Hall

Toronto’s integrity commissioner wants to add a paragraph about proper behaviour to the councillors' code of conduct—and make new members officially declare they've read it.

Toronto city councillors are expected to abide by a code of conduct—the “Code of Conduct for Members of Council,” to be precise. And incoming councillors take an oath, which involves promising and declaring things like “I will truly, faithfully and impartially exercise this office to the best of my knowledge and ability” and “I have not received and will not receive any payment or reward, or promise thereof, for the exercise of this office in a biased, corrupt or any improper manner” (and there might also be something about “true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second”).

But codes of conduct can be difficult to abide by if they have not been read: Mayor Rob Ford, for his part, admitted in a 2012 conflict of interest case that he had not spent any time with the City’s councillor orientation handbook.

So Toronto’s integrity commissioner, Janet Leiper, would now like to add an additional step: she wants incoming councillors both to read and then sign a declaration indicating they have “received a copy of the Code of Conduct for Members of Council,” have “read the Code of Conduct for Members of Council,” and while on council, will “uphold and abide by the provisions of the Code of Conduct for Members of Council.”

She also suggests that because there have been “ongoing complaints about decorum in Council from the public and members” and “members of the public service who appear in Council and at Committee have also complained about disrespectful treatment by members of Council,” a new paragraph should be added to the code itself:

A member of Council does best when he acts in service of the people who elect him. She strives to speak clearly and honestly. He does not attack or demonize those who complain or do not agree with him. She is careful with the people’s trust and resources. When faced with a complaint, he looks for what he can learn. She apologizes with generosity and forgives with equanimity. All members of Council can set a good example for the future leaders who are among them.

The executive committee will be considering these matters during its May 27 meeting. Whether having to declare officially that one has read a code of conduct or being reminded that good councillors do not attack or demonize others would actually promote decorum and discourage disrespectfulness at City Hall remains to be seen—but it can’t hurt to remind everyone (and councillors in particular) that they’re supposed to set a good example.