Committee of the Whole meeting held December 6, 2022
Economic Development Committee
December 6th was the first official Committee of the Whole meeting of the new West Nipissing Council. The first order of business was to amend the constitution of the Planning Advisory Committee to reduce the number of council members from 5 to 4 and add a member-at-large from 2 to 3. This committee hosts public meetings for amendments to the zoning bylaw and official plan, and examines proposed subdivisions. Clerk Melanie Ducharme pointed out in her memo that with 5 council members on board, each meeting with a full complement constitutes a council meeting with quorum, and this should be avoided.
Council also amended the constitution of the Economic Development Committee to bring more varied representation from key sectors: agriculture, tourism, mining/forestry, retail/commercial, industrial/manufacturing and education (labour market development). The primary role of this committee is to advise council on matters involving economic development. CAO Jay Barbeau told council, “There are a lot of interesting opportunities that will present themselves in the not-to-distant future … speaking with the mayor and Mr. Poulin, we are trying to ensure we have sector representation … If you have the right people they can open up doors as well …if they have contacts in their industry.”
Coun. Anne Tessier suggested, “The Arts and Culture sector should also be involved,” noting that the film industry and other cultural initiatives are of economic significance. Barbeau responded that it was a great idea and the Mayor had indicated an interest to look at this sector as a separate item in conjunction with Community Services, to be presented to council in the future.
Code of conduct and appointment of Integrity Commissioner
Council received documentation outlining the Municipal Code of Conduct and the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. The municipality needs to retain an Integrity Commissioner as the previous IC’s term has run its course with the dissolution of the previous council. A Request for Proposal has been drafted to secure those services, as mandated by provincial statute. Council was advised by memo that “Once appointed, it is anticipated that the new IC will want to meet with Council to review the existing Code of Conduct and determine if any amendments or updates are required.” CAO Barbeau spent a fair amount of time going over the most recently amended Code of Conduct with council.
Barbeau emphasized that the directives from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs regarding conduct and conflict of interest “encourages high standards of conduct among all public officials… council and local boards… [focused on the] well-being of the community.” He said that council ‘must follow the procedural bylaws… must not make improper use of information acquired… act honestly… seek to advance the common good of the community they serve… exercise office to the best of their knowledge and ability … in good faith, honesty and transparency.” He also advised, “Staff cannot provide you with advice of whether you are in conflict or not… You seek advice from legal counsel or the Integrity Commissioner”, and that for council “Any confidential information obtained in their position is to be kept confidential unless authorized” and cannot be used for personal gain.
He also discussed his role as the council’s sole employee and noted, “This is a small community and we’re all part of it… A lot of employees may be friends of yours… Pushing your view of a staff member to me or others” is inappropriate. He read from the code, concerning staff, that no council “member shall falsely or maliciously target a staff member” and must “treat every person with dignity, understanding and respect… and always place the interests of the municipality and taxpayers first.”
Mayor Kathleen Thorne-Rochon noted that the Code of Conduct must be signed by each council member, and that it can be amended. Coun. Fern Pellerin had questions concerning the cost of maintaining an Integrity Commissioner, asking why the IC was not a provincial employee. Barbeau said that historically the provincial Ombudsman had filled the role, but recent legislation requires municipalities to retain their own Integrity Commissioner. “Typically, IC’s are also lawyers… paid by the hour… It can get costly… Elliot Lake, their bill was $870K!”
Committee chairs appointed
This council meeting also saw the appointments of council members to various roles. Coun. Jamie Restoule was named as Deputy Mayor. Mayor Kathleen Thorne-Rochon retained the chairmanship of General Government. Coun. Dan Gagné is Public Works Chair; Coun. Kristopher Rivard is Chair of Community Services; Coun. Roch St-Louis will chair Emergency Measures & Public Safety; Coun. Fern Pellerin will oversee Water & Sewer; Coun. Restoule will chair Social Services & Health; Coun. Jérôme Courchesne chairs Economic Development; Coun. Anne Tessier holds the Planning Committee chairmanship; and Coun. Kaitlin Nicol chairs Environmental Services.