Scan any headline these past couple of months and you’re sure to find mention of investigations and law suits into potential conflicts of interest.
It’s a serious matter and one that might scare any potential politician from running for office. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In November of 2015, the province strengthened rules on conflict of interest by way of Bill 186. Legislative changes were put in place to provide clearer direction and guidance for elected officials to prevent conflicts at the local level.
When the new rules came into effect, we acted right away,” says Kim McIvor, the administrator for the RM of Edenwold No. 158, which encompasses the high-density subdivision of Emerald Park and other large acreage developments just east of Regina along the Trans Canada.
“We’re a big diverse area, and one of the only rural municipalities in the province that provides its own water and sewer,” he says proudly. “Reporters are always at our council meetings getting the latest news, and we even have a ratepayer who’s an avid blogger who regularly comes to meetings. We’re in the public eye a lot, which means having a system in place to keep things transparent and accountable is critical. We welcomed the changes to legislation. It’s made our jobs easier.”
Under the new rules, council members, including mayors and reeves, were required by law to file – and annually update and submit – a Public Disclosure Statement. In addition, councils are now required to adopt an Employee Code of Conduct and a Council Procedures Bylaw.
“We didn’t mind getting this done at all – in fact we relished it – because it keeps everyone on their toes,” explains Kim. “And it helps the public realize that everything we do is above board. If a member of the public comes in and complains that there might be a conflict with a councillor when it comes to a piece of land or a development project, we can say – without any doubt – that everyone has disclosed their personal and private interests in the matter.”
Kim says the RM’s procedures bylaw sets out step-by-step guidelines about what council members must do if a matter is discussed that they may have a personal interest in, from abstaining from voting, to refraining from participating in the discussion.
He admits that the current RM council is a “pretty good bunch” and if anyone has an inkling that they might be in a conflict of interest, they leave the table.
“It gives members confidence that it’s OK to be a business person or have interests in your community – that’s probably why he or she ran for council in the first place, because they care about the growth and wellbeing of their community. They’re not in it for the money, but for doing good,” adds Kim. “Having conflict of interest guidelines in place simply makes sure there’s no goofy stuff going on, and the only time we hit the headlines is for good news.”
For example, the RM of Edenwold No. 158 and the Town White City worked together to form a local wastewater authority for their immediate region. That authority – formed by two municipal governments – is now working to build a new wastewater treatment facility that will be funded in part by the federal and provincial governments.
“I can understand how filling out a public interest disclosure form might be daunting, or you might not want to let others know your business, but it’s for your own good. It lets the public know you have their best interests at heart, and it keeps the headlines focused on the positive.”