Perspectives Papers | 2017

Accountability Officers and Integrity in Canadian Municipal Government

In theory, governments in Canada are held to account by elections and, to a lesser extent, by the courts. But these are blunt instruments and they are not of much help in dealing with particular cases of maladministration, individual grievance, or unethical behaviour. In response, many governments have established various independent accountability officer positions. In the past two decades, these positions have become more common in major Canadian municipal governments.

By 2006, municipal legislation in Ontario had established five kinds of accountability officer:
• auditor general
• ombudsman
• integrity commissioner
• lobbyist registrar
• closed meeting investigator

The functions of each office are outlined in this paper and examples are presented of how the offices have operated in Ontario and elsewhere. Particular attention is paid to the following non-Ontario cities: Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Halifax.

The role of integrity commissioners is examined in special detail, because they must make rulings about sensitive, sometimes controversial, issues relating to the ethical standards we expect of our local elected officials. The examples here illustrate these officers’ authority to impose penalties, the need for them to follow due process and principles of natural justice, and the problems caused if their investigations overlap with other investigations into the same behaviour.

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