Letter to the editor
Published August 11, 2021 in the The Beacon Herald

It’s time for a new Stratford integrity commissioner.

Yesterday’s farcical report by Stratford’s integrity commissioner is the clearest example yet of the need for new blood to run this city. By giving the mayor a free integrity pass, he has shown once again that transparency and accountability are not part of the lexicon of our elected officials.

The commissioner confirmed what was clear from the closed meeting investigator’s report — that the mayor acted alone in asking the minister to grant him a Ministerial Zoning Order for the float glass factory. The commissioner defended the mayor’s apparent lack of integrity by pointing out that the minister alone has the power to issue a zoning order. His report stated, “I dismissed the complaints on the basis that the MZO is completely within the jurisdiction of the minister and does not require an application approved by council.”

That wasn’t the point of the complaint. The Planning Act and the Municipal Act give council the power to decide zoning issues, following a quite rigorous local planning process. In very rare circumstances, the minister can short circuit that process by issuing an order. But as he has stated on a number of occasions, he only does so if a council asks him to. In this case, council did not. It was the mayor on his own.

For the integrity commissioner to now bless this action by the mayor on the very flimsy and specious argument that the power rests with the minister is to ignore the very foundation of the Code of Conduct and the acts upon which it rests.

From the Stratford Council Code of Conduct, passed in August 2018.

“Each Member in exercising their powers and in discharging their official duties shall, in accordance with the Municipal Act, 2001 and Municipal Conflict of Interest Act … vi. At all times respect the council decision-making process.”

In our view, council was the duly elected body responsible for deciding planning issues, including the decision to bypass planning entirely. The mayor, by acting alone, did not respect the council decision-making process on matters of planning. Whether the minister could or could not act alone is not relevant to the integrity issue.

By issuing the mayor a free pass to act alone, the integrity commissioner has signalled that council can be made irrelevant. Stratford citizens did not elect them to be irrelevant.

Sharon Collingwood, Doug Tripp, Mike Sullivan, Susan McSherry, Jamie Gibb, Melissa Verspeeten
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