However, Harder escaped from having to forfeit part of her salary and repay her legal expenses to the city, as recommended by integrity commissioner Robert Marleau
By: Jon Willing
Jan Harder stepped down from the planning committee Wednesday as the veteran city councillor criticized an integrity report that accused her of having an “apparent conflict of interest” stemming from her friendly connection to a local developer.
“Quite simply, the hyper-aggressive online attacks and libel directed at me and others threatens to curtail the city-building work that must continue at planning committee,” Harder said during the council meeting when the integrity findings came up.
“I will not allow the endless noise and innuendo amplified online to railroad the important work the committee must accomplish to continue making Ottawa one of the most desirable cities to live in on the planet.”
Harder, who remains councillor for Barrhaven ward, also resigned from the Ottawa Lands Development Corporation board and the planning advisory committee in response to the integrity investigation, which found problems with her connection to development consultant Jack Stirling.
However, Harder escaped from having to forfeit part of her salary and repay her legal expenses to the city, as recommended by integrity commissioner Robert Marleau.
Council voted 14-9 in favour of a replacement motion from Mayor Jim Watson that removed all recommended penalties against Harder, except for a reprimand, which was added at the urging of Coun. Jenna Sudds.
The opponents who wanted council to recognize the severity of Harder’s conduct and stick with the sanctions recommended by the integrity commissioner were Riley Brockington, Diane Deans, Rawlson King, Carol Anne Meehan, Catherine McKenney, Mathieu Fleury, Shawn Menard, Theresa Kavanagh and Jeff Leiper.
Harder didn’t vote.
The integrity commissioner recommended that council issue a 15-day salary suspension against Harder and direct the city clerk to make sure Harder reimbursed legal fees paid from her office budget. Council heard from the clerk that Harder’s legal bill was $7,100 as of the end of April, but costs since then weren’t known.
But the majority of council was willing to accept the reprimand and nothing more, especially in light of Harder’s resignation from the planning committee.
That didn’t sit well with others.
“It is so obvious that there are two sets of rules at this city,” McKenney said, criticizing how councillors loyal to Watson had been treated differently than those who challenged his decisions.
Deans was disappointed that she didn’t hear any acknowledgement from Harder, or Watson, of the integrity findings.
“I don’t think that there’s any joy in this today, but I do believe what is at stake is public trust and confidence in this council and in our planning function,” Deans said.
Coun. Scott Moffatt defended the work of the planning committee, which, he argued, overwhelming agreed with recommendations from planning staff tasked with assessing applications against council-approved planning policies.
Moffatt said the city would trip up when the official plan and property zoning didn’t line up, resulting in rezoning applications that rankled communities.
Watson lauded Harder’s political career in remarks that illustrated how serious it was to remove the councillor from the planning file, especially as the official plan was being updated. Her political identity is strongly tied to municipal land-use planning.
The integrity investigation discovered that Harder had hired Stirling’s daughter and on other occasions issued contracts to Stirling’s company to help with Harder’s office work. The integrity commissioner also discovered that Harder received free services from Stirling’s company.
Harder and Stirling have known each other for more than 20 years. She was a councillor for the former city of Nepean when Stirling was planning commissioner. During the integrity investigation, Harder said she considered Stirling a friend and mentor.
No one improperly benefitted financially from the relationship, according to the integrity investigation.
An unidentified person submitted a complaint about Harder to the integrity commissioner in April 2020, launching the probe.
While Harder called the integrity report “politically driven,” the integrity commissioner said he found no evidence to support her claim.
Harder said she faced harassment through an organized campaign by “an agenda-driven lobby group” and she, along with others on council, “have had their good names tarnished.”
The Federation of Citizens’ Associations of Ottawa, Ecology Ottawa, Horizon Ottawa and Ottawa ACORN called for Harder’s removal from the planning committee, as recommended by the integrity commissioner.
Harder said the integrity investigation found no violations of conflict of interest protocol or hiring practices, though the integrity commissioner found violations of the council code of conduct for “non-pecuniary, apparent conflict of interest” and her failure to report the free services from Stirling on the gift registry.
Harder apologized for putting colleagues in a difficult position in having to weigh the integrity findings.
Included in council’s decision were directions for staff to review rules governing the hiring of consultants by council members and to develop an ethical framework for council members’ staff.
Council also voted in favour of a motion from Menard to have the city look into measures that would introduce post-employment “cooling off” lobbying restrictions. Council agreed with an added measure from Coun. Laura Dudas to look into policies that would help avert conflicts of interest when it came to family members of public office holders.
As for who becomes planning chair, the clerk’s office will canvass council to see who wants the committee seat vacated by Harder. The decisions on who takes the seat and who becomes chair will likely happen at the next council meeting on July 7. Planning vice-chair Glen Gower will lead the committee in the meantime.