Code of conduct for Victoria councillors dead on arrival

In-house code governing council behaviour deemed too complex, unnecessary by council majority

A proposed code of conduct for City of Victoria councillors is off the table after council voted 6-3 to nix the idea at last night’s meeting.

Councillors Pam Madoff and Shellie Gudgeon had initially voted in favour of considering the code at last week’s governance and priorities committee meeting, but changed their votes last night.

“You cannot legislate civility,” Madoff said in an interview. “This has taken up a fair bit of time and we’ve got so many other issues to deal with.”

The draft code drew criticism from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, who worried key phrases in the document could potentially stifle free speech at the council table.

Instead, councillors will receive a compendium outlining the existing regulations that apply to their behaviour, Madoff said.

“You could create a code of conduct, but really, it’s not going to be enforceable and there are no consequences,” she said.

When Mayor Dean Fortin presented the draft code last week, he said he was merely following through with recommendations from both a 2009 governance review and a 2011 consultant’s report.

Gudgeon said the code’s intent was misconstrued, and the final product would have functioned as a “touchstone” document to remind councillors of their responsibilities and rights.

“There were real problems with the (draft) code that was presented to us,” she said. “But I thought it was the right thing to have council adopt one and take the leadership on it.”

Gudgeon was swayed by arguments from Madoff and others that the code could create legal complications and supersede existing legislation.

“That was enough for me to say, ‘let’s not go down that road at all,'” she said.

Coun. Chris Coleman, Coun. Maryanne Alto and Fortin voted in favour of considering the code Thursday.

“People were trying to get into the minutia before we actually had the discussion … and they chose ultimately not to have the discussion at all. And I think that’s a loss,” Coleman said. “Code of conduct is just an expression that says, ‘this is how we should work together.'”

The live webcasting of council meetings, slated to begin Sept. 26, should also foster greater behavioural accountability for councillors, Gudgeon said.

dpalmer@vicnews.com