The Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario (CDCO) is accusing a Waterloo, Ont. regional councillor of conflict of interest in relation to the province’s contentious Bill 66.
The CDCO filed an application to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice March 4 alleging a breach of Municipal Conflict of Interest obligations by Waterloo Regional Councillor Michael Harris.
In mid-January, Harris introduced a motion in council to have the Region of Waterloo support Bill 66, Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, which, if passed, would include a section to amend the Labour Relations Act and deem public bodies including municipalities, school boards, hospitals, colleges and universities as non-construction employers.
That means certain public sector entities, such as the Region of Waterloo, which is considered a construction employer and is restricted to accepting bids for infrastructure projects from certain unions they are affiliated with, will be able to open up tendering to all qualified bidders.
According to the CDCO’s allegation, Harris’s spouse works for the Christian Labour Association of Canada, an organization that could benefit, should the bill be passed.
The council is claiming Harris had a pecuniary interest in the outcome of the vote but failed to disclose that conflict and recuse himself from the issue.
We felt someone needed to formally pursue this issue to ensure accountability
— Mike Yorke
Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario
“In our view, Mr. Harris has clearly violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act in bringing forward a motion at Waterloo Regional Council which could lead to a pecuniary benefit to his wife, and by extension himself,” said Mike Yorke, president and director of public affairs for the CDCO, in an email to the Daily Commercial News.
“He declared no conflict of interest at the time and in our view, given his wife works for an organization that could directly benefit from the passage of the motion, he should not have introduced the motion, should not have spoken to it and should not have voted on it. We felt someone needed to formally pursue this issue to ensure accountability for his constituents.”
Harris responded to the allegations in an email to the Daily Commercial News.
“I have fought for fair and open tendering in the best interest of taxpayers since 2012,” said Harris. “I will be consulting legal advice and won’t be commenting any further at this time.”
If Schedule 9 of Bill 66 is passed, the CDCO would automatically lose all of its bargaining rights with specific types of employers including municipalities, school boards, universities and colleges, Yorke explained.
“Further, those types of employers would no longer be bound to the collective agreements with the Carpenters’ Union that they are currently bound to and all of their employees working under those agreements would instantaneously become non-union workers, losing access to their rights concerning wages, pensions and benefits, for example,” he noted.
According to a release, the council is looking for the court to declare that Harris breached the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act; make multiple declarations about his failure to uphold the law; declare his council seat vacant; and declare that Harris can run for no municipal council seat in any municipality for a period of seven years, or a time period as determined by the court.
“Quite simply, we are hoping that Mr. Harris follows the law and conducts himself in accordance with the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.
“If the courts ultimately find that Mr. Harris has violated the law then there are a great many remedies which may be appropriate, up to and including having him removed from office. We will let the matter proceed before the courts and, specifically, at this point in those proceedings we will await his statement of defence.”
Yorke said on a broader level the CDCO will continue to oppose Bill 66.
“The CDCO and its members are determined to keep up our pressure opposing what we consider to be the unfair and unequal treatment of construction workers found within Bill 66,” Yorke stated.
“We will oppose this bill in every way we can including taking legal action as we feel that this Bill violates the Charter rights of our members.”