The Ontario Conservative government is proposing minimum qualifications for school board integrity commissioners, and will require school board trustees to be physically present at meetings after the 2026 election.

The changes are outlined in proposed Ontario Regulations, which are open for comment until the end of the day on April 2, 2024.

The Education Act, which governs school board trustees, and the Municipal Act, which governs municipal councils, share many similarities regarding governance, transparency, and accountability regulations.

Changes to governance rules in one are often later implemented in the other.

In this case, changes are being made to the Education Act not the Municipal Act.

Integrity Commissioners First in Municipal Act, Then Added to Education Act.

Integrity Commissioners (IC) were first added to the Municipal Act in 2006. At the time, having an IC was optional.  A 2013 Law Times article says 26 municipalities had one in July of that year. (This article features Robert Swayze, one of the best ICs)

In 2017, the Municipal Act was amended to make hiring an IC mandatory for all municipalities.

In 2023, Bill 98, Better Schools and Student Outcomes Act, 2023, mandated school boards implement codes of conduct for trustees and retain ICs to enforce them.

Education Act Standards for Integrity Commissioners

The Municipal Act does not prescribe any qualifications or requirements for integrity commissioners. Municipal councils can hire anyone they wish as “integrity commissioner.”

(In July 2018, Hamilton City Council hired their former City Solicitor, Janice Atwood-Petkovski, instead of conducting a competitive process. The contract was extended three times [Contract extension: 1,2,3] before a competitive bid occurred.)

The Ontario government plans to impose qualification requirements for education ICs, including a minimum of three years of experience “in investigation or adjudication, and the application of administrative law principles including the duties of fairness and natural justice.” (Two of Hamilton’s past integrity commissioners would’ve failed this minimum qualification requirement.)

The Ministry of Education will create a roster of qualified ICs for school boards to choose from. The Ministry will use an executive search firm to create the roster.

Education Act Appeals Process for IC Decisions

There will be a provincial appeal process for trustees. The proposal is for a three-member panel that will decide based on written submissions.

At present, appeals of IC decisions must be made to Ontario’s Divisional Court, which is costly for everyone involved.

Return to In-Person Meetings for Trustees

Beginning November 14, 2026 (the start of the 2026-30 term of office), all trustees will be required to “be physically present for all regular meetings of the board in each year of the term of office” unless they live more than 125 kilometres from the meeting location, cannot be physically present due to health reasons or “the trustee has a disability that makes attending meetings in-person more challenging may participate electronically, as necessary” and there is an exception for weather conditions such as snow storms.

It will be interesting to see if these changes are eventually added to the Municipal Act.

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Published: April 1, 2024
Last edited: April 1, 2024
Author: Joey Coleman
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