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The consultations are done and about 2,000 submissions from municipal councillors and others have been received as part of the province’s plan to modernize the Municipalities Act, 1999, the City of St. John’s Act, the City of Mount Pearl Act, and the City of Corner Brook Act.
Among those submissions Municipal Affairs and Environment Minister Graham Letto said conflict of interest is an issue that stands out.
“They want some clarification and more clear language around the conflict of interest piece,” he said.
Letto said the act as it stands now is open to interpretation and that needs to change.
“So, there’s no doubt as to what constitutes a conflict of interest.
“That’s where we need to go with this,” said Letto.
“To make it so that councillors can clearly identify whether or not they’re in a conflict of interest on any particular issue.”
Among the concerns that are being voiced is when a member of a council should or should not be part of any discussion or vote.
“That seems to be the trouble area,” said Letto.
“Sometimes they stay in the meeting when they shouldn’t be. They vote when they shouldn’t be. It’s even to the point where now some councillors who are very precautious don’t vote when they probably could have.”
Leaving the room once a conflict is declared is something that can vary among councils and some members will declare yet remain while the discussion and vote takes place.
Letto said the regulations now are clear. “You have to leave the room.”
There is something else that Letto said could help clear up confusion around the regulations, and that’s training.
“I think if councillors, and mayors and staff, if everybody was properly trained now you would have less incidents of conflict of interest even around the legislation that’s in place today.”
“It can be as clear as you like, if you’re not properly trained, if you don’t get the proper training on it, then it’s not going to be any better than it is today.”
The department does provide training now, but it’s not mandatory.
“That’s going to change,” said Letto.
“So that councillors who get elected, they have to take this training.”
Letto said there’s also a need to put in a code of conduct.
“What we need to do is modernize the act so it represents 2019.”
Letto sat at a council table in Labrador City for 20 years and said he never had an issue with conflict.
There were times that the lines got blurry, but the council was careful about the issues on which it voted.
“We always used the philosophy if in doubt, get out. And that works,” said Letto.
“I don’t think the incidents have changed that much, it’s just that today it’s more public than it was 20 years ago.”
Letto said the province is aiming to introduce the new legislation during the spring sitting of the House.