By MEL ROTHENBURGER
Director, Electoral Area P, TNRD
CAN POLITICIANS get along?
At the federal and provincial levels, it would seem not. Even civic politics can be uncivil at times.
Most city councils and regional district boards are less rancorous, though, due mainly to the fact they don’t involve party politics. Councillors and directors are free to vote according to their own principles, not based on party policies.
Nevertheless, written rules of conduct are common at the local level, and have been getting a new look after a number of confrontations within city councils around the province. Before new directors take their seats at the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board table they’ll sit through a fairly detailed orientation process, and Policy No. 1.1.13, Board Code of Conduct, will no doubt be on the agenda.
That’s the one that outlines how board members should conduct themselves with regard to integrity, accountability, respect, leadership and collaboration.
Under “collaboration,” the code states that “Individual Directors may state that he or she voted against a decision but will refrain from making disparaging comments about other Directors or the Board’s decision and by doing so will affirm the respect for and integrity in the decision making process of the Board.”
That doesn’t mean they always have to agree, only that they should disagree respectfully.
“Disparage” is an important word. It means to demean, belittle or trivialize, to “speak contemptuously of.” That’s what the Collins English dictionary says.
Board directors can criticize arguments made by other directors, and can criticize decisions made by the board as a whole. We certainly do that in the course of regular debate at board meetings by disagreeing with an opposing side.
So, I could say I disagree with another director, and with a decision made by the board. I could say it’s a bad decision, an unfortunate decision, or the wrong decision. Clearly, if I didn’t think that, I would have voted for it.
What I shouldn’t do, though, is call the decision stupid, and those who voted for it stupid. I shouldn’t call them idiots and morons. Name-calling is where the right to disagree or criticize ends, under code of conduct rules.
But what happens if a city councillor or regional board director is deemed to have broken the code of conduct? One thing the council or board can do is pass a motion of censure against the member, but motions of censure carry little authority.
The person being censured can be removed from committees and denied travel expenses but that’s pretty much it.
Nevertheless, motions of censure aren’t to be taken lightly, nor applied too readily. It’s generally the case that when councils or boards get involved in censuring a member, it’s the council or board that ends up looking bad in the eyes of the public. Lawyers often get involved, and that’s expensive.
Still, they aren’t totally uncommon. Early this year, for example, Nanaimo city council made the news over censure hearings involving one of its councillors and the mayor. Council meetings were reported as often being marked by shouting and insults. The situation even made the Globe and Mail.
Nanaimo was back in the news again as voters elected a new mayor in the just-finished civic election. NDP MLA Leonard Krog, who campaigned on restoring calm and respect to city hall, was the winner.
Among other cities that have gone through motions of censure are Prince George, White Rock, Langley, Fort St John and Quesnel.
They’ve involved a variety of conduct issues other than members not being nice to one another but, suffice it to say, it’s best when civic politicians interact in a respectful manner even when agreeing to disagree.
This column first appeared in the Sun Peaks Independent News.