The Carpenter’s District Council of Ontario (CDCO) says it has brought forward an application to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act alleging what it claims is a serious breach of municipal conflict of interest obligations by Waterloo Regional councillor Michael Harris.
The union asserts that Harris introduced, spoke to, and voted on a motion on Jan. 19 “in which he has a pecuniary interest but failed to declare that conflict and recuse himself from the issue.”
“Mr. Harris brought forward a motion in Council to have the Region of Waterloo declare support for Bill 66, legislation currently before the Ontario Legislature, which would, among other things declare that municipalities in Ontario are no longer designated as ‘construction employers’,” CDCO president Mike Yorke said in a statement. “In the case of Waterloo,
should this bill pass, it would mean the region would no longer be obligated to recognize the existing bargaining rights of the Carpenters’ Union and to follow the existing collective agreement with the CDCO.”
The union says that council minutes show that Harris failed to disclose that he has a pecuniary interest in the outcome of that vote. Sarah Harris, Harris’ spouse, works for the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC), an organization that would benefit directly if Bill 66 is passed and the Region of Waterloo is allowed to ignore the collective bargaining rights of CDCO and its members, the CDCO statement says.
“Under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, Mr. Harris should never have introduced his motion at Council given his clear pecuniary interest in its outcome based on his spouse’s employment with CLAC,” Yorke said. “Accordingly, had another councillor moved the motion, Mr. Harris should have declared a conflict and recused himself from the debate and vote on the motion.”
In filing its application with the Ontario Superior Court, the CDCO seeks the court to, among other thing:
- 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.
Harris told the Kitchener-Waterloo Record that he wasn’t aware of the union’s legal action when contacted by its reporter on March 4, and he would need to speak to his lawyer before responding formally.
“I have been a staunch defender of fair and open tendering in the best interest of taxpayers and skilled workers in this community since 2012,” he told the newspaper. “I will be consulting legal advice and have more to say in the coming days.”
Harris, the former MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga, has been arguing since 2012 that restrictions on bidding creates a construction monopoly that hurts local companies and drives up the prices of those projects, the newspaper reported. “He tried to change the law with a private member’s bill 2013; the changes have largely been adopted in the proposed legislation.”
Sarah Harris is CLAC’s Ontario jobs and apprenticeship co-ordinator. In the April 2018 provincial election, she sought the Progressive Conservative nomination in Kitchener-Conestoga, the riding her husband Michael Harris had “decided to vacate due to poor health,” the Record reported.