MPP Hil­lier scoffs at ac­cu­sa­tions he ha­rassed town plan­ning staff

‘Un­wel­come’ com­ments fair crit­i­cism of slow build­ing ap­provals, he says

Ottawa Citizen - - CITY - KELLY EGAN To con­tact Kelly Egan, please call 613-726-5896 or email kegan@ post­media.com. Twit­ter.com/ kel­lye­gan­col­umn

It be­comes mean­ing­less when an un­wel­come com­ment is equated with ha­rass­ment.

La­nark-area MPP Randy Hil­lier en­gaged in work­place ha­rass­ment with his “un­wel­come” crit­i­cism of staff at Tay Val­ley Town­ship, an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tor has con­cluded.

A con­fi­den­tial re­port from lawyer John Cur­tis, who spent three months on the case, was given to town­ship coun­cil on Mon­day. It cen­tred on al­le­ga­tions that three in­di­vid­u­als, in­clud­ing Hil­lier and an un­named coun­cil­lor, had vi­o­lated in­ter­nal con­duct poli­cies and the Oc­cu­pa­tional Health and Safety Act.

The out­spo­ken Hil­lier, who had crit­i­cized the plan­ning and build­ing de­part­ments at a town­ship meet­ing on June 26, dis­missed the find­ing as the work of a kan­ga­roo court. “This has given me even more re­solve to call a spade a spade.”

He had, in fact, re­fused to an­swer writ­ten ques­tions from Cur­tis, call­ing the process a mock­ery.

“Mr. Cur­tis has de­ter­mined that ‘you did en­gage in a course of con­duct and com­ment that was known or ought rea­son­ably to have been known to be un­wel­come’,” reads a let­ter sent to Hil­lier. “This is the def­i­ni­tion of work­place ha­rass­ment in both the Pro­gram and the Act.”

Hil­lier strongly dis­agrees, say­ing that bring­ing forth the many con­cerns of con­stituents about the town­ship’s han­dling of hous­ing de­vel­op­ment is not only his job, but his duty as an MPP in a se­nior level of gov­ern­ment.

“I haven’t ‘ha­rassed’ any­body,” he said Wed­nes­day. “It be­lit­tles the term ha­rass­ment. It be­comes mean­ing­less when an un­wel­come com­ment is equated with ha­rass­ment.”

He said he knew his re­marks might be “un­wel­come” be­cause they were crit­i­cal of how the town­ship’s staff were han­dling is­sues about build­ing is­sues and plan­ning mat­ters.

How, he won­dered, can a pub­lic ser­vant work in the pub­lic do­main — pro­vid­ing ra­tioned pub­lic ser­vices — where there are pol­icy guar­an­tees that no “un­wel­come” com­ment will be tol­er­ated?

(To that end, Hil­lier later put out a news re­lease sug­gest­ing the en­tire provin­cial au­di­tor general’s re­port, re­leased Wed­nes­day and deal­ing with short­com­ings in the run­ning of On­tario, was no doubt “un­wel­come” in many cir­cles and pos­si­bly and act of ha­rass­ment.)

The town­ship in­ves­ti­ga­tion, how­ever, said Hil­lier did more than crit­i­cize the em­ploy­ees but “un­fairly called into ques­tion the com­pe­tence and pro­fi­ciency of Town­ship staff and un­der­mined their in­tegrity.”

The let­ter sent to Hil­lier from town­ship chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer Larry Don­ald­son said there was a pat­tern of crit­i­cism and that the MPP had been “cau­tioned” about this “type of be­hav­iour” in March.

“Much of the in­for­ma­tion upon which you rely for your crit­i­cisms is in­ac­cu­rate and the com­men­tary about staff is dis­parag­ing. The im­pact of this be­hav­iour is made even more harm­ful by the po­si­tion and au­thor­ity that you hold as MPP.”

The town­ship, west of Perth, has a “Re­spect in the Work­place Pro­gram” that traces its le­gal stand­ing to On­tario’s Oc­cu­pa­tional Health and Safety Act. Faced with a com­plaint that could not be in­ter­nally re­solved, the town­ship says, it was re­quired to seek an in­de­pen­dent re­view. Sim­i­larly, it has a “coun­cil­lor code of con­duct” that kicked in af­ter com­plaints about an un­named coun­cil­lor.

In an email re­ply, Don­ald­son said he could not be spe­cific about what ac­tion the town­ship would take to en­sure the work­place was a healthy one when it comes to deal­ing with Hil­lier and oth­ers but as­sured there would be “re­me­dial steps.”

Hil­lier told Post­media in Septem­ber that he’d re­ceived a “dis­pro­por­tion­ate” num­ber of com­plaints about the build­ing ap­proval process in Tay Val­ley. He said he had at least twice sent his con­cerns via email to coun­cil­lors or se­nior staff, had nu­mer­ous phone con­ver­sa­tions with var­i­ous stake­hold­ers in the in­dus­try and made a pub­lic pre­sen­ta­tion to coun­cil in June.

Tay Val­ley, he told coun­cil­lors, has three peo­ple in the plan­ning de­part­ment, yet was only able to ap­prove eight new homes in 2016, far be­low the growth in neigh­bour­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

Fur­ther­more, he said players in the sec­tor are afraid to speak up, mak­ing it dou­bly im­por­tant that their MPP carry for­ward their con­cerns, with­out fear of ret­ri­bu­tion.

Com­plaints of work­place ha­rass­ment ap­pear to be on the rise in On­tario.

Though re­port­ing is not manda­tory, in 2014-15 the Min­istry of Labour re­ported 902 ha­rass­ment com­plaints in all work­places, a num­ber that rock­eted to 1,986 in 2016-17.

Hil­lier — who re­ceives no penalty for his trans­gres­sion — says he has no plans to change the way he deals with mu­nic­i­pal staff, which he claims is al­ways civil and re­spect­ful.

AN­TONELLA AR­TUSO

Randy Hil­lier says he was do­ing his duty as an MPP when he ques­tioned Tay Val­ley Town­ship staff over plan­ning ap­provals.

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