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Split Penticton council adopts new code of conduct

Two members of council expressed concerns with ‘missing’ parts in the code
Penticton City Hall decked out for the holidays. (Monique Tamminga Western News file photo)

Penticton city council has adopted a new code of conduct for its elected officials, although it wasn’t an unanimous decision.

The policy is the same one that the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen adopted in 2023, with financial penalties to members of council that breach the code’s regulations on things like behaviour or handling of confidential information.

The code had originally been up for adoption in January, but was kicked down the road after Coun. James Miller, who approved the policy as an RDOS director in 2023, expressed concerns about the amount of material councillors had to go through.

Councillors Amelia Boultbee and Miller on Feb. 20 both shared issues they had with the policy as it was written.

Boultbee said that what was presented would have been a good starting point, but that it lacked parts focused on discrimination and harassment.

Staff said that those matters would be covered under existing provincial legislation or Canadian criminal law, and better dealt with through those avenues.

“It’s not intended to handle issues that arise that would be dealt with through a higher level of either provincial or federal legislation,” said staff.

READ MORE: Penticton council’s Code of Conduct tabled but not without debate

Boultbee also raised other concerns, including whether such a code would be used to squash dissent and the lack of a formal appeal process.

“I’m in favour of a code of conduct but not the way this one is drafted,” said Boultbee. “Justice Crawford sounded an important note of caution on the right to an elected counsel to take action regarding a council member’s misconduct… He said ‘“Far too easily, this could turn into an abusive process for cheap political gain and any counsel that sets out in this direction must be careful what it is doing.’”

Miller expressed his disappointment that there wasn’t a clause about bullying, stating that there were some things that didn’t rise to a Human Rights Tribunal or criminal complaint.

The code replaces the 2014 Respectful Workplace policy, which included sections regarding harassment, discrimination, and bullying complaints that had been filed internally or externally such as with WorkSafeBC or the Human Rights Tribunal.

Coun. Isaac Gilbert pointed out that the previous policy was written as though council members were employees, instead of elected officials.

“At the end of the day, we’re not covered by a lot of labour law,” said Gilbert.

The cost of hiring a lawyer to respond to complaints was also an issue that both Boultbee and Miller had concerns about.

Miller also spent a significant amount of time calling for a dress code for council meetings and public functions to be added.

“Obviously, there’s exceptions because if, for example, if Pink Shirt day happens to fall on a council day,” said Miller. “I believe that it’s important for elected officials to dress the part. … But if you’re going to something with a country western theme, blue jeans, boots, cowboy hats or whatever, you dress the part. If you’re going to a funeral of somebody, obviously, you dress as well as you can, unless specifically asked by the family to not do so.”

After the vote was passed, with Miller and Boultbee opposed, Miller later said he would be bringing forward a motion specifically to add a dress code.

Brennan Phillips

About the Author: Brennan Phillips

Brennan was raised in the Okanagan and is thankful every day that he gets to live and work in one of the most beautiful places in Canada.
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