Vancouver lawyer Reece Harding is Surrey’s first Ethics Commissioner. (Submitted photo)

Surrey’s first Ethics Commissioner brings ‘objectivity’ to the job

Vancouver lawyer Reece Harding is Surrey’s first Ethics Commissioner, also a first for B.C.

Vancouver lawyer Reece Harding has been piped aboard as Surrey’s first Ethics Commissioner, to help city council run a more open, transparent and accountable ship.

His new job is also a first for this province. Harding, 54, a resident of Port Moody, was chosen unanimously by city council over more than 30 other well-qualified candidates. Besides advising council on matters of ethical conduct, he also has the authority to investigate complaints and recommend disciplinary sanctions to its members, with the city’s Code of Conduct bylaw, which was approved in April, serving as his guidebook.

“Remember, it’s mayor and council that mete out the sanctions,” Harding told the Now-Leader on Tuesday, “I only make recommendations. I don’t have jurisdiction to imposed sanctions, they do, on my recommendations. But my goal is to be very much positive and proactive, and to push the advisory and educational aspects of this office.”

READ ALSO: Surrey Code of Conduct gets final nod on five-yes, four-no vote

READ ALSO: Surrey council removes ‘age discrimination’ clause after Code of Conduct bylaw complaint

Harding is a partner with Young Anderson, specializing in local government law, which he has practised for 26 years. “Our clients are municipalities all over B.C. We act for governments anywhere from villages up to big cities.” He will continue to practice law with his firm while also wearing his new hat as an independent officer.

Mayor Doug McCallum, in a written statement city hall issued Tuesday, said Harding’s “comprehensive experience in municipal law, advising elected officials on responsible conduct, and conflict resolution and his high standing among his peers makes him the right person to fill this important role at the City of Surrey.”

Harding admitted Tuesday he doesn’t yet have a “tremendous amount” of knowledge about Surrey.

“I know what I read in the papers,” he said.

“I’m not invested in the details of Surrey now and I think that’s actually helpful and beneficial because I do come, I think, to Surrey with a bit of objectivity and I don’t have a lot of deep relationships or historic relationships with a lot of the people in Surrey so I come, I think, with my reputation.

“It give me a sense of, I hope anyway, some objectivity coming into Surrey to help, to be of assistance.”

Speaking of relationships, news and social media reports concerning the mysterious nature of the relationship between Surrey’s mayor and Councillor Allison Patton, which neither have publicly addressed, has not been lost on him.

“I’ve read those things in the paper too,” Harding said. “I’m aware of those things but I don’t know what role if any I would be playing in that, I think time will tell when it comes to that stuff.

“Remember, I was advised only yesterday that I was appointed to this role,” he told the Now-Leader on Tuesday, “so I’m going to need some time to get familiar with things. But my aim is to get familiar pretty quickly, to get up to speed on matters. We’ll see what’s engaged by the process, the Code of Conduct bylaws there. It puts a formal process in place and will see what that process, we’ll see how it’s triggered, and what it leads to. I don’t think I can comment in any detail on that.”

READ ALSO UPDATE: Surrey council votes to hire ethics commissioner

Harding said the key, in his new role, is “education, education, and more education” with the Code of Conduct bylaw setting out the “overarching” duties of the Ethics Commissioner.

“It’s all about providing to elected officials the opportunity to be advised and assisted on understanding that role, understanding what their roles require of them,” Harding said. “One of the things in this particular Code of Conduct bylaw that I think is really bold by the city is offering the elected officials the opportunity to seek guidance from the Ethics Commissioner on conflict of interest concerns.”

His advisory role, he said, is to help council members “stay out of a problem before they get into a problem.

“I hope that role will be well utilized.”

Asked what her first question for Harding might be, Councillor Linda Annis replied, “My question is, sort of motherhood in a way, is how can he help the council in Surrey become the benchmark for local politics in our province?

“I think there’s a real opportunity there because our council has been quite fractious,” Annis said. “The good news is, though, on the notion of getting an Ethics Commissioner, and on his appointment, we were unanimous. So I think we’re starting on the right foot and I’d like to see what he can do to help us become a benchmark for local politics.”



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

Like us on Facebook and follow Tom on Twitter

City of Surrey

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

UBC soccer star Victory Shumbusho offers one-on-one training for Chilliwack players

The Chilliwack FC grad believes players need more training to reach higher levels of soccer

Wings and Wheels fundraiser ready to roll in Abbotsford this weekend

Unique collection of cars invading Tradex for drive-thru experiences on Saturday and Sunday

Vedder River gets reprieve from gravel removal this summer

Applications withdrawn by river management committee and process concluded for 2020

Chilliwack-Kent Liberal riding association president resigns

Sandy Mathies resignation follows MLA Laurie Throness LGBTQ controversies

One person dead after vehicle went over embankment on Coquihalla Highway

Trucker who was first on scene said vehicle was engulfed in flames near Great Bear Snowshed

Man, 54, charged in connection with fatal attack of Red Deer doctor

Doctor was killed in his walk-in clinic on Monday

One dead as fish boat sinks off southern Vancouver Island

Shawnigan Lake-registered Arctic Fox II went down off Cape Flattery, west of Victoria

42 more people test positive for COVID-19 in B.C.

The province has recorded no new deaths in recent days

Joe Biden selects California Sen. Kamala Harris as running mate

Harris and Biden plan to deliver remarks Wednesday in Wilmington

Displaced tenant ‘heartbroken’ to find Langley City condo robbed after fire

Wedding rings of Michelle Buchan’s have since been recovered, but much is still missing

Canucks fan risks life to celebrate at Surrey intersection

‘All fun and games until somebody falls out an open side door of the van’

‘Agitated’ man pulls out knife on 3 people in Abbotsford

Witnesses sought for incident on Monday night near city hall

FoodMesh taking its emergency food recovery project nationwide

Pilot project in Chilliwack helped show that food surpluses could be diverted to charities in need

Most Read