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Victoria council rejects mayor's proposed code of conduct

Victoria council will not adopt the code of conduct proposed by Mayor Dean Fortin. Councillors this week voted six to three against further consideration of the code, brought forward for consideration by Fortin last week.
Victoria city hall generic photo
The statue of Sir John A. MacDonald outside Victoria City Hall

Victoria council will not adopt the code of conduct proposed by Mayor Dean Fortin.

Councillors this week voted six to three against further consideration of the code, brought forward for consideration by Fortin last week.

“Generally, council felt that there were already enough provisions within our council procedural bylaw and municipal charter which governs council and were comfortable with leaving it at that,” Fortin said.

It was clear as soon as it was introduced that the proposed code would be in for a rough ride.

Some council members felt that rather encouraging respectful debate, the code might stifle it. Others were worried about provisions that made the mayor the primary spokesperson for council.

Even the B.C. Civil Liberties Association weighed in, with executive director Josh Paterson calling elements of the proposal “over broad and virtually impossible in practice for any councillor to observe.”

Paterson suggested the code went too far.

“To impose a mandatory prohibition on certain types of expression by elected officials, and to further back that up by the possibility of very serious penalties to be imposed by the city, is a violation of the freedom of expression that the city has a constitutional obligation to uphold under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” he wrote in an email to council.

“Moreover, it is a serious affront to the very spirit of deliberative democracy. Councillors should not have to chill their expression and carefully parse their public remarks for fear of serious penalties like a stripping of public resources from their work on behalf of constituents, stripping of offices, or other sanctions.”

Proposed for meetings, standing committees and public advisory committees, the code called on council members to abide by the city’s respectful workplace policy.

Under the policy, respectful behaviour “means treating others in a manner that is free from insult, bullying, intimidation or other activity that diminishes a person’s self-esteem.”

Coun. Shellie Gudgeon, who originally supported the idea of a code of conduct, changed her mind after listening to other councillors.

She said the introduction of cameras to live-stream council meetings over the Internet this fall might have the effect of elevating debate.

“That might be enough,” she said.

Fortin and councillors Chris Coleman and Marianne Alto voted in favour of further consideration.

Coleman noted that the city’s auditor last year recommended adopting a code of conduct for employees.

“If we’re going to do a code of conduct … for our employees, we should take a leadership role and actually have one apply to us as well,” Coleman said.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com