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John Mascarin: Greater clarity around Ontario’s conflict of interest

The rules around how Ontario residents can lodge complaints about their local governments have changed over the past year. However, the new guidelines offer significant opportunities, at least according to John Mascarin.

Mascarin, a partner at Aird & Berlis LLP, shared his thoughts at the 2019 Ontario Municipal Administrators’ Association (OMAA) Spring Workshop at Niagara-on-the-Lake. Afterward, he continued the conversation in an interview with Municipal World CEO Susan Gardner.

“You have to feel for these members of council,” he said. “Some of them are not being paid terribly much. They are doing it for the public interest, for the public good. And yet, they have to be beholden to these relatively complex rules dealing with pecuniary interest, when to declare, when to recuse yourself, and so now they can come to us Integrity Commissioners for advice.”

Legislative Changes Seen as Game-Changers

Mascarin serves as Integrity Commissioner for several Ontario municipalities. In the video he explains there are some fundamental changes around the province’s Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (MCIA).

Chiefly, until now, it had always been an elector who had to fund their own complaint. Now, however, this is something anyone can ask the Integrity Commissioner to do for them. Another significant change, which he also called a “game-changer,” is that Integrity Commissioners can now give specific, written advice to council members around the MCIA.

Clarifying Confusion around Conflict of Interest

Mascarin also talked about the perceived cost issues around the MCIA changes and how – unbeknownst to many municipal councillors – local boards and commissions all need to have their own rules in place around code of conduct. Another confusing question he is often asked about is the “surprising” (to him at least) perception that two Integrity Commissioners are required – one to give advice, and another to handle investigations.

Ultimately, Mascarin said, the public would be better served with more regular education around conflict of interest issues.

“I think at least once a year there should be an open public session where you may be training and educating the council as a whole, the members themselves, staff should be invited, but also the public,” he said. “The public should be able to come and ask questions. That’s the proper opportunity to do that.”  MW

✯ Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in David Arbuckle’s article: In search of political accountability. Note that you can now access the complete collection of past articles (and more) from your membership dashboard.

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