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Bill 68 would modernize municipal councils, school boards

New legislation under consideration in Ontario would allow more flexibility for those seeking elected office, says Windsor public law lawyer Sheila MacKinnon.

Bill 68, Modernizing Ontario’s Municipal Legislation Act, amends several existing acts and passedMay 30, 2017, says MacKinnon, managing partner of Shibley Righton LLP’s Windsor office.

One aspect of the bill would provide judges more discretion in whether a school board trustee or municipal councilor should be removed from their seat for a conflict of interest, MacKinnon tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“Currently if a judge finds a school board trustee or a municipal councillor has breached the Municipal Conflicts of Interest Act, they have no real discretion as to what they can do with them,” she says. “Their seat must be vacated.”

The new bill would not make the decision so black and white, says MacKinnon, who often acts as legal counsel for school boards.

“The judge may find that while it was a technical breach, there may be mitigating factors,” she says.

Another interesting change is a new pregnancy and parental leave for municipal councilors and school board trustees, MacKinnon says. While the rules for school board trustees are strict in terms of the number of meetings an elected official can miss, the new law would allow new parents to miss meetings for a 20-week period as a result of the member's pregnancy, the birth of the member's child or the adoption of a child by a member.

“It permits a municipal councilor or school board trustee to essentially take a leave of absence from their position for a period of time. Currently, for school boards, you can’t miss more than three meetings in a row unless the board permits it by a resolution.”

“The bottom line is this is good for women and new parents,” says MacKinnon.

“It would encourage women who want to seek office in their childbearing years,” she says. “Otherwise, you’re always at the mercy of your fellow board members to permit you to miss meetings."

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