• John Jantak

Ste. Anne council votes to remove code of ethics for committee citizen volunteers


PHOTO BY JOHN JANTAK

Ste. Anne council voted four to three in favour of dropping the code of ethics requirement for citizens who volunteer to sit on the city’s various advisory committees.

A resolution presented at the start of the March 14 Ste. Anne de Bellevue council meeting by newly elected councillor Francis Juneau calling for the suspension of the city’s code of ethics for citizen volunteers who sit on municipal committees to maintain confidentiality regarding sensitive information, was adopted by a four-to-three margin.

The four councillors who voted for the resolution included Juneau, who sat in on his first meeting after winning a bi-election in late February to replace former District 3 Councillor Andrée Deschamps who passed away last November, and Councillors Daniel Boyer, Yvan Labelle and Michel Boudreault. Mayor Paola Hawa and Councillors Dana Chevalier and Ryan Young voted against the resolution.

While the decision was supported by some of the 50 residents who crowded into the Harpell Centre, others voiced their concerns that the adoption of the resolution could result in less transparency and possibly hurt the city if sensitive material was revealed, either intentionally or unintentionally.

Boyer, who supported the resolution, said he has sat on many committees over the years before becoming a councillor and didn’t feel it was imperative for the city to have a code of ethics for citizens who participate in the city’s various advisory committees.

“When we passed it initially about one year ago, it seemed like the prudent thing to do but the reaction from the residents who came to speak to us was very negative,” Boyer told Your Local Journal. “They felt it went against the trust of the committee towards its members and it discouraged people from coming forward to volunteer on committees. That’s what a majority of council believes.”

Boudreault said that having citizens sign a confidentiality agreement wouldn’t necessarily prevent any citizen member on a committee from revealing what was discussed during a meeting. He added that he can’t recall a time when a citizen committee member revealed information outside of a meeting forum.

“Basically, when the motion was first presented we all voted for it but over time we had a lot of comments from citizens asking us what the purpose was for the resolution,” said Boudreault. “And to be honest, we couldn’t give any answer aside from telling people about the confidentiality aspect of our discussions. It’s not legally binding and it won’t stop people from telling others what was discussed in a committee meeting.”

These arguments were disputed by Young who said that while there may be no legal basis for having a citizen adhere to a code of ethics while sitting on a committee, it’s meant to inform citizens who want to volunteer that their ethical conduct inside and outside of meetings is of paramount importance to ensure the proper functioning of the city advisory committees, particularly within the city’s Planning Advisory Committee (CCU).

“Like a gentleman said during question period, it’s a step backwards,” said Young. “I base my objection on whether someone would abuse their power in a committee like the CCU. We do know that some of the things have recently happened in other municipalities where people who sit on CCU committees abused their power.

“I don’t see how we could work within the CCU that doesn’t have a code of ethics for citizen volunteers,” Young added. “It’s not the law yet in Quebec that members of a CCU sign a document, but it’s foreseeable that it will come eventually. After all, why did the government think it was important for council or for employees of the town to sign these things?”

Mayor Hawa was dismayed the resolution passed, saying the code of ethics for citizen volunteers was meant to have them display professional conduct during and after meetings.

“As one of the citizens was saying before, it puts things into perspective for people,” said Hawa. “This is the framework in which a citizen will be working. They’re made aware of it. We’ve been talking about ethical standards and conduct in municipalities for over four years now. It is inconceivable for me that we are removing this requirement.

“I offered my colleagues a compromise in terms of removing the requirement for the environment and community development committees except for the CCU and public security,” Hawa added. “With everything we’ve seen over the past few years with the lack of morals and scruples that we’ve seen at the Charbonneau Commission, our code of ethics came directly from actions taken by individuals from other municipalities within their respective CCU.”

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