By David Maher
Harassment within municipal councils is one of the issues the provincial government seeks to address in upcoming updates to the Municipalities Act.
On Wednesday, Municipal Affairs Minister Eddie Joyce announced public consultations about amending that act, along with the legislation governing the cities of St. John’s, Mount Pearl and Corner Brook.
Municipalities NL president Tony Keats says there needs to be clear definitions of harassment, and the consequences offenders will face, within town halls across the province.
“I’d just like to see a better understanding inside the act of what is really needed. It needs to be simplified to say, ‘this is what you can and this is what you can’t do,” said Keats.
Currently, the word “harassment” doesn’t appear in the act.
“It does happen. It happens in every part of society, so we’re not immune to that as an employer or a municipality,” said St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen.
Breen says the city is drafting its own code of conduct bylaws that will be made available to other municipalities as a guideline.
In addition to addressing harassment concerns, the government wants to look at increasing access to information, more clearly defining the jurisdiction of municipalities and extending protections for whistleblowers.
The Municipalities Act, introduced in 1999, has been amended 33 times to date. Joyce says he hopes an overhaul of the act will allow it to avoid that amount of tinkering in the future.
Breen says the capital city has been lobbying for updates to its governing act for more than 20 years. More control over the city’s water supply is one thing the city will look for.
“I think we need to have more clear definitions of the protection of the watershed,” said Breen.
“We need to have more clear legislation of what control we have over the watershed and how we can protect that water supply for generations to come.”
Public comments will be accepted through EngageNL.ca.