EDITORIAL – Conflict of interest rulings should be removed from the courts
An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
IT’S HIGH TIME to revamp the rules of conflict of interest for civic governments in B.C.
While definitions of conflict of interest have been tweaked here and there over the years, the process has remained pretty much the same — it’s up to City councillors or regional district directors to decide if they have an apparent conflict and to declare it.
If they’re wrong, they stand to be booted out of office.
As I wrote in my Saturday column, the ultimate authority for deciding on conflicts of interest is the B.C. Supreme Court. If enough citizens believe a local politician has an undeclared conflict they can take the matter to a judge.
It’s lengthy and cumbersome. There’s got to be a better way. Conflicts of interest are faced at one time or another by almost every member of a city council or regional district. It happens here frequently, in Kamloops, in nearby communities, and elsewhere in places big and small.
In that same Saturday column, I mentioned the case of Michael Wiebe, a Vancouver councillor and restauranteur who landed in court for voting on patio extensions during COVID. The B.C Supreme Court dismissed the complaint based on the fact a large number of other restauranteurs were also affected.
Turns out the B.C Court of Appeals disagreed and sent the case back to the Supreme Court for reconsideration. The issue was resolved indirectly since Wiebe lost last year’s civic election, a victim of a major turnover on the Vancouver council.
When courts bounce conflict of interest cases back and forth it’s a sure sign the system needs a tune-up, and here’s a way to fix it.
First, empower municipal CAOs or independent legal counsel to rule on conflicts. Provincially, expand the scope of the B.C. conflict of interest commissioner from MLAs to include appeals on municipal and regional conflict matters.
That would avoid a lot of angst, and a lot of conflict.
I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops, alternate TNRD director and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a recipient of the Jack Webster Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The local CAO did intervene then he was “overruled” by a clerk then Machiavellian intervention erupted. I think making promises and not following through with them, or blabbering pointlessly should be a good reason for removal from council.