Ombudsman promotes changes to Municipal Act : New rules for open meetings as of New Year’s Day

Ombudsman promotes changes to Municipal Act : New rules for open meetings as of New Year’s Day

December 29, 2017

29 December, 2017

Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé today shared new resources to inform municipal councils and their constituents about changes to the open meeting rules that take effect on New Year’s Day.
 

(TORONTO – December 29, 2017) – Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé today shared new resources to inform municipal councils and their constituents about changes to the open meeting rules that take effect on New Year’s Day.

Two new “tip cards” are available on the Ombudsman’s website starting today and are designed to serve as a quick reference guide for councillors and municipal stakeholders.

As of January 1, 2018, changes to the Municipal Act, 2001 give municipalities four more options for closing meetings to the public, noted Mr. Dubé, whose office is the closed meeting investigator for more than 200 of Ontario’s 444 municipalities.

The date also marks 10 years since the province implemented a complaints regime to ensure open meetings, under which anyone who believes a municipal meeting has been wrongly closed to the public can complain to the Ombudsman or another investigator appointed by their municipality.

“It has long been the law in Ontario that municipal meetings have to be open to the public, with very narrow exceptions,” Mr. Dubé said. “As of New Year’s Day, the number of exceptions grows to 14, giving councils the ability to discuss such things as proprietary information or instructions for negotiations behind closed doors."

Over the past 10 years, the Ombudsman’s office has issued hundreds of recommendations and reports on decisions about closed meetings, building up expertise in this important area of municipal law, Mr. Dubé added. “Our staff also answer numerous questions about the rules from municipal clerks and councillors, and will continue to do so as the new changes take effect.”

Also taking effect January 1 is a new definition of “meeting” under s.238 of the Act, which clarifies that the term “meeting” refers to “any regular, special or other meeting of a council, of a local board or of a committee of either of them, where (a) a quorum of members is present, and (b) members discuss or otherwise deal with any matter in a way that materially advances the business or decision-making of the council, local board or committee.” Other new provisions permit members to participate in meetings electronically under certain circumstances, but they cannot be counted as part of a quorum.

The Ombudsman’s office posted two new “tip cards” today to serve as a quick reference guide: One lists the 14 exceptions, and the other gives the new definition of “meeting.”

More changes to the legislation will take effect on March 1, 2019, requiring all municipalities to have a code of conduct for members of council, local boards and committees, and to provide access to an integrity commissioner. The Ombudsman’s office routinely recommends that all municipalities have codes of conduct and integrity commissioners.


For more information, contact:
Linda Williamson, Director of Communications
416-586-3426, lwilliamson@ombudsman.on.ca


View, download or order copies of our tip cards here.
More about the Ombudsman’s work with municipalities here.