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Midland councillor in hot water with integrity commissioner over town-employed "spouse"

"She advises that they do live together, however, he doesn’t always sleep at home, nor does she, and although they are 'life intimate and life sexual partners,' she herself is 'polyamorous, gender fluid and pansexual,' report states
Coun. Carole McGinn pictured at a regular council meeting before the pandemic. Mehreen Shahid/MidlandToday

Midland councillor Carole McGinn might lose 15 days of pay as a result of conflict of interest allegations.

The integrity commissioner investigated her conduct after complaints made in April by Deputy Mayor Mike Ross. 

The report, included in the agenda for this week's council meeting, states that McGinn was part of a closed session meeting on April 1 when matters around essential and non-essential services were discussed. The staff report propelling the meeting provided options around cost-control measures for council to consider. The options included potential for layoffs of some of the town's unionized employees.

McGinn acknowledged that she is in "a long-term permanent intimate relationship" with a Town of Midland unionized employee, who could potentially be impacted by council's decisions, the integrity commissioner's report states.

"I honestly didn't think there was a pecuniary interest," said McGinn in an interview with MidlandToday. "I really thought about it long and hard and felt this one I can, because nothing to me seemed that it was anything that was not contractually permitted by OPSEU."

However, the report states that the councillor has previously declared a conflict of interest where the same employee was concerned, stating that her "domestic life partner" is an employee of the corporation.

The report further states, "the respondent’s position that she is polyamorous does not, in our view, alter our finding that her domestic partner is her spouse under both the Code and the MCIA (Municipal Conflict of Interest Act). It may be that the respondent is involved in other personal intimate and loving relationships, which, even while not living with the person, could also give rise to an apparent conflict of interest under the code and disqualify the respondent from participating in a matter."

In addition, the MCIA defines “spouse” to mean a person to whom a person is married or with whom a person is living in a conjugal relationship outside marriage. And that this definition applies even if McGinn's long-term partner is not her “spouse."

The report states, "She advises that they do live together, however, he doesn’t always sleep at home, nor does she, and although they are 'life intimate and life sexual partners,' she herself is 'polyamorous, gender fluid and pansexual.' They are not spouses."

McGinn said that's where she thinks she made a mistake. 

"Conjugal relationship as defined by Immigration Canada is a way to prove you're in a relationship," she said. "And then I realized that I'd named my current partner on one of the insurance benefits. That's when I thought, 'Crap, I've made a mistake. Jeez, you missed that one, Carole."" 

The integrity commissioner also writes, "we were made aware of numerous instances of involvement by the Respondent in operational and management issues involving her partner, which in our view constitute evidence of the nature of their relationship, but would certainly constitute evidence of improper use of influence, contrary to the Code of Conduct provision and commentary regarding avoiding conflicts of interest."

And now, if the recommendation by the integrity commissioner is approved by council, McGinn could stand to lose 15 days of pay.

'I'm going to ask them to reconsider it," she said. "That pay means something to me. It will financially impact me. It amounts to $700. I have no borrowing capacity right now."

McGinn said if she gets to speak to the issue during this week's council meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. and will be streamed online, she would own up to her mistake.

"It wasn't malicious," she said. "I wasn't tried to hide anything. I learned my lesson. It was a hard learning curve."

As for the penalty, McGinn said, if her peers decide that's the best way to go, then she will accept it.

She added she hasn't has a chance to give much thought to an alternate appropriate penalty.

"I think the stress I've gone through is more than enough, but nobody knows the anguish," said McGinn. "I understand there has to be a consequence. Maybe a mandatory course on the Municipal Act (to learn more about conflict of interest rules). That has monetary implications and takes time to get through."