CBRM Council: Loose Ends

Tuesday’s special session of CBRM council included a rather cryptic Issue Paper from regional solicitor Demetri Kachafanas under the title: “Qualifications to Run for Municipal Elections.”

Kachafanis says qualifications to serve on council are — like everything else involving Nova Scotian municipalities — governed by the Municipal Government Act (MGA). Section 17, to be specific, which states:

NS MGA excerpt


Section 18 deals with disqualified persons and says that:

…no person is qualified to be nominated or to serve as councillor who has been convicted of any corrupt practice or bribery contrary to this Act within five years preceding nomination day.

Kachafanis then writes:

It would appear that the legislature has turned its mind to what type of criminal offences for which a conviction would prevent a person from serving as a Councillor [sic]

I would note that any changes to the qualifications to run as a candidate or to serve as a councillor would require amendments to the Act, which is applicable to all municipalities in Nova Scotia.

The subsequent discussion didn’t shed much light on any of this, although I did gather from Kachafanas’ comments that he does not mean, as I had initially understood, that the legislature is in the process of creating new rules — he meant that at some point in the past, it had created the rules noted above.

Mayor Amanda McDougall said councilors receive questions from the public “quite frequently” as to why CBRM staff and volunteers sitting on committees must undergo criminal record and vulnerable sector checks while this is not a requirement for those running for elected office.

Kachafanas explained that while criminal record checks are required of all municipal employees and volunteers, “it’s not a total ban” if you have a record — the municipality takes into consideration the nature of the wrongdoing and the amount of time that has elapsed.

Vulnerable sector checks are required only of those who will be “in a position of trust or authority over children, the elderly, the disabled, or another vulnerable group.” (I’ve borrowed HRM’s explanation, but it seems to apply here as well.)

So if you’re asking for a total ban on anyone who has had a criminal record, that seems to be harsh, but that’s not for us to decide, the province will decide if that’s the way they want to go. If council wants this, they can certainly request it of the province.

If they do so, however, they “may want to suggest a reason, the problem that’s being addressed by any such amendment.” (Kachafanas didn’t seem to have any better sense of where this was coming from than I do.) He also noted any such ban might have “Charter implications.”

District 4 Councilor Steve Gillespie said:

It was brought up when we had the minister here that there were some concerns with regard to this past election and some of the things that were happening in certain districts and I have a tendency to agree with the councilor that brought that information up. I think, you know, we need to talk to the province with regards to who runs for council and what that person represents if they win. So, I would hope that we would be at least exploring something here and at least looking at the opportunity to suggest things to the minister because, as the minister indicated to us when we met, they are exploring changes to the MGA…

There were other veiled references to “things” that had happened during the last election but no details, so I don’t know what happened or why there is, apparently, no remedy already built into the system to deal with it.

The rules about who cannot run for office are roughly the same for federal and provincial candidates. The provincial House of Assembly Act, Sec 22 (1) states:

Any person who is convicted of having committed an offence that is an illegal practice or a corrupt practice under this Act shall, in addition to any other punishment for that offence prescribed by this Act, in the case of an illegal practice, during the next five years or, in the case of a corrupt practice, during the next seven years, after the date of their being so convicted, not be entitled to

  • (a) be elected to or sit in the House of Commons; or

  • (b) hold any office in the nomination of the Crown or of the Governor in Council.

That also applies federally, according to the Canada Elections Act, 502(3).

But apparently there are lots of questions about this issue floating around among voters and municipal officials and so CBRM council voted to write a letter to the Federation of Nova Scotia Municipalities (FNSM), of which McDougall is currently president, to ask it to look into the matter.

My immediate reaction is that I’d like more details, because municipal officials trying to restrict who can run for municipal office is not a great look.

One good thing, though. Gillespie expressed support for donation limits to municipal candidates, similar to those in HRM, where donations by individuals are capped and those by businesses, trade unions and non-profit organizations are banned outright. That’s a suggestion I can get behind.


District Energy

Last week, I wrote about a proposed district energy system in downtown Sydney — a proposal that council has apparently forwarded to the province for funding consideration.

Unable to find a record of council having done this, I wrote to the Municipal Clerk to request her help in locating the relevant minutes/voting records (she’s really good about supplying these things).

This time, however, she told me she’d send my inquiry along to the relevant municipal employees and those employees have yet to answer my question.

So I’ll ask it again and maybe I will have something to report in next week’s edition.