Former Ottawa councillor turned MPP wants to see mechanism to remove councillors after Chiarelli probe

OTTAWA — A former Ottawa City Councillor turned Member of Provincial Parliament says he wants the provincial government to come up with a way to remove municipal politicians from office in cases where they have “abus(ed) the trust and authority placed in them.”

Orléans Liberal MPP Stephen Blais, the former councillor for Cumberland ward, rose in the Ontario Legislature Monday to speak specifically of College ward Coun. Rick Chiarelli, who was sanctioned by city council last week following a damning report into allegations of harassment and inappropriate behaviour.

“Recently, the integrity commissioner at the City of Ottawa finished a years-long investigation into shocking and horrific abuse and harassment of women in the workplace by city councillor Rick Chiarelli,” Blais said. “His actions are so beyond the pale that the City has imposed the most severe penalties afforded to them under legislation, the suspension of pay.

“The City has done its best to support the courageous women who have come forward with their stories and take action but anyone who has read the report will know that in any other workplace, the penalties would be much more severe.”

Robert Marleau’s report into Chiarelli’s behaviour concluded that the councillor’s conduct was “a shocking and astounding failure to treat the complainants with the respect they were due and required of him by the code of conduct.”

It was the second such report into Chiarelli’s conduct. In July, Council ruled Chiarelli broke the code of conduct and suspended his pay for 270-days following Marleau’s investigation into alleged inappropriate behaviour by Chiarelli towards three women applying for jobs in his office. 

On Wednesday, councillors voted unanimously to suspend Chiarelli’s pay for an additional 180 days, remove him from standing committees for the remainder of the council term, and to demand his resignation. The pay suspension is the most severe punishment available to Council.

Chiarelli has denied the allegations and is challenging the integrity commissioner’s jurisdiction in court. A hearing is scheduled for January 2021.

In a statement after the council meeting, Chiarelli’s office said, “Coun. Chiarelli is not resigning. He was democratically elected to serve a four year term and he intends to do so.”

Blais said Monday that the provincial government must consider ways to remove municipal politicians from office in circumstances such as this.

“There must be a system put in place to stop elected officials from abusing the trust and authority placed in them and, if necessary, remove them from office for violating this trust,” Blais said.

Shortly after council voted to sanction Chiarelli, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark condemned Chiarelli, but said he would not remove him.

“Allowing the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to remove, at his sole discretion, elected Members of Council is not a power I believe the Minister should have – despite how useful it could be in situations like this,” said Clark. “I therefore, in the strongest terms possible, urge Coun. Chiarelli to resign his position.”

The City had also voted Wednesday to ask the Ontario government for the power to remove an elected member.

Blais said that, despite the challenges, the province must find a way to address the situation.

“There will always be reasons not to do something,” Blais said. “Taking action often requires difficult conversations and contemplating the tough, what-if questions, but the women who suffered this abuse deserve the respect of having those conversations, asking the what-ifs, and finding a solution.

“I hope that the government will step up for them because they deserve nothing short of the province’s full support.” 

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