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Calgary’s new integrity commissioner to stay ‘independent and unbiased’: Whittaker

Pandemic entry precautions have been lifted at Calgary city hall as of July 21, 2021. Dani Lantela/Global News/File

Calgary’s new integrity commissioner is intending to be as arms-length as possible. That’s what Meryl Whittaker told a city council meeting Monday morning.

“Because the integrity commissioner is an adjudicator, I think it’s really crucial that I am independent and unbiased,” the new council watchdog said.

Read more: Calgary budget ‘strikes the right balance’: mayor

“I don’t intend to meet with any of you socially outside of my role as the integrity commissioner,” Whittaker told councillors.

“I won’t engage or comment publicly on any of my investigations or decisions outside of when I report to you in council because I think that my decisions will speak for themselves.”

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A lawyer by trade, Whittaker said she believes the actions of public servants like herself should meet a “high ethical standard.”

“For me, that’s encapsulated in accountability, integrity and respect. And so I always led my teams when I was in public service based on those three principles.”

Whittaker previously was the deputy minister of Municipal Affairs and of Culture and Tourism, among other senior positions with the provincial government, and retired in 2019.

She has served in leadership and judicial roles with the Alberta Local Authorities Pension Plan Corporation and as solicitor with the City of Edmonton.

Whittaker was also a member of the Calgary 2026 bid corporation.

Read more: Calgary budget ‘strikes the right balance’: mayor

“I bring a level of independence to the role because my entire career, until a year ago, was in Edmonton, and so I have not been a Calgarian,” Whittaker said.

“I don’t come with any long-held opinions or biases about Calgary politics.”

Other than meeting councillors in her previous roles, she said she doesn’t know any of the councillors personally.

“And as much as it might be nice to get to know you, I don’t plan on getting to know you that well,” Whittaker told council. “And I mean that in the nicest sense.”

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Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he thinks there’s a place for a professional relationship between the integrity commissioner and councillors.

“Council members may go to the ethics advisor if they have questions and the ethics advisor should be able to manage those,” Nenshi said. “But if they have questions that are work related for the integrity commissioner, I don’t have any problem with them having those conversations.”

Read more: Calgary councillor changes tune on firing integrity commissioner, calls for investigation to continue

Nenshi announced Whittaker’s appointment following budget deliberations on Nov. 26. A civilian committee selected the new integrity commissioner, a process that began in March.

The previous integrity commissioner Sal Lovecchio recused himself from investigating Ward 2 Coun. Joe Magliocca’s expenses after it came to light that a personal lunch between Lovecchio and Magliocca was expensed by Magliocca.

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