Bill 53–The Municipal Statutes Amendment Act dealing with a municipal code of conduct and newspapers only publishing notices on their web sites
On March 25, I spoke at second reading on Bill 53. It provides for a code of conduct for municipal officials. It also contains a provision that newspapers can meet the public notice requirements by putting public notices on their web pages instead of putting them in their newspapers. Both of these provisions are poorly thought out as I discuss in my comments at second reading (from Hansard) - see below. Bill 53 can be found by clicking on this link.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): We have major concerns with the legislation as it is written. We feel that the approach to code of conduct is just wrong. It's analogous to saying that if there's a problem with somebody who has code of conduct in our Legislature, that the majority plus one is going to decide whether there's an issue. Well, of course. the majority plus one in the government would decide that there was never an issue if it was a government person, but if it was an opposition person, that it would be very quickly decided that there was a problem with their conduct.
That is why, in this Legislature, we have a Conflict of Interest Commissioner who can deal with issues which come up. We have a process for dealing with concerns about harassment. This is not something to be decided by majority; it is something which should be decided by an independent, knowledgeable, capable individual, and that's why in our Legislature we have argued for an independent individual to manage harassment complaints rather than to try and deal with them internally.
So I think, as this is written, it is very bad. It makes it very easy for a majority on a council to go after a minority on a council and to cause a lot of problems for the minority. We have seen this happen in a number of cases in Manitoba. This is just not acceptable legislation or process. In fact, it is bad process.
With regard to the notice in newspapers. I say to the MLA for Concordia, you are correct; the minister is wrong. Subject to subsection 1, do one, not two of the following: either put it twice in a local newspaper or other publication having general circulation in the municipality or post a notice prominently on the website of a newspaper. So what we will have is it's okay just to put it in a website, not to publish it in the print version. We feel that it's not very likely that most Manitobans will check their local municipal website on a regular basis for notices. You know, I use the Internet a lot. I don't regularly check the City of Winnipeg website for notices; I depend on a lot of other different ways.
In fact, in today's world, I mean, what should be there is the requirement that if an individual would like, if he registers with the municipality, that that individual should be able to receive by email or text or both, notice of any municipal issues or meetings which come up. And that would be far more effective and would complement publishing this in a local newspaper, as it has been done and people are used to receiving notification. Putting it on a website is a poor way of letting people know.
It is a good way of people finding information on occasion when they are searching, but it is not a good way of notifying people. And this, at least, should be–it's on a website and in a newspaper. But I believe it also needs to be brought into the modern world and allow for and facilitate the use of emails and texts to notify people.
So those are my comments. This is very bad legislation, and we will do everything we can to not only oppose it, but to ensure that it is changed.