Casual Legal: Tips on code of conduct bylaws

By Bethany Schatz
Reynolds Mirth Richards Farmer LLP
Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Service Provider

Section 146.1 of the of the Municipal Government Act (MGA) requires councils to establish a bylaw governing the conduct of councillors. The basic requirements for a code of conduct bylaw are found in the Code of Conduct for Elected Officials Regulation (“Regulation”).

Section 1

Section 1 of the Regulation addresses the content of a bylaw – the types of conduct matters that need to be included. The bylaw needs to include the following topics:

  • Representing the municipality
  • Communicating on behalf of the municipality
  • Respecting the decision-making process
  • Adherence to policies, procedures and bylaws
  • Respectful interactions with councillors, staff, the public and others
  • Confidential information
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Improper use of influence
  • Use of municipal assets and services
  • Orientation and other training attendance.

Here are some tips:

The bylaw can include additional topics, but the list in Section 1 needs to be included.

A municipality may have bylaws or other policy documents that address some of these topics. To the extent that those exist, these should be referenced and incorporated into the code of conduct bylaw.

With respect to conflicts of interest, the rules for a pecuniary interest are found in Part 5, Division 6 of the MGA. The bylaw cannot change the pecuniary interest rules. Rather, this is meant to address other conflicts of interest such as the receipt of gifts or the soliciting of a councillor’s business.

Section 2

Section 2 of the Regulation deals with the system for complaints – the procedure to follow if there is a complaint. The bylaw needs to establish a complaint system which outlines: 

  • Who may make a complaint alleging a breach of the code of conduct
  • The method by which a complaint may be made
  • The process to be used to determine the validity of a complaint
  • The process to be used to determine how sanctions are imposed if a complaint is determined to be valid.

Here are some tips:

  • Complaints should be made in writing and there should be a clear submission protocol.
  • The bylaw should state what information needs to be included in a complaint. A sample form can be provided.
  • A clear and fair procedure needs to be established for handling the complaint. Some things to consider: early resolution process, triage for frivolous and vexations complaints, confidentiality of the complainant, investigation procedure, who investigates, who decides on a breach, who decides on sanctions, requirements for reasons.
  • The municipality owes a duty of procedural fairness to the Councillor against whom a complaint is made. The councillor must be given notice of the complaint and be given an opportunity to respond. The procedures in the bylaw must be fair and must be followed.

Section 5

Section 5 of the Regulation sets out the sanctions that may be imposed if a councillor has failed to adhere to the code of conduct. A councillor cannot be removed from council for breach of a code of conduct bylaw and the sanctions imposed cannot prevent the councillor from carrying out their duties.

To access Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Helpline, Alberta Municipalities members can call toll-free to 1-800-661-7673 or send an casuallegal [at] (email) to reach the municipal legal experts at Reynolds Mirth Richards and Farmer LLP. For more information on the Casual Legal Service, please call 310-MUNI (6864) or send an riskcontrol [at] (email) to speak to Alberta Municipalities Risk Management staff. Any Regular or Associate member of Alberta Municipalities can access the Casual Legal Service.

DISCLAIMER: This article is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. You should seek the advice of legal counsel to address your specific set of circumstances. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this article to be outdated.