Editorial: Conflicts of interest hamstring council

Declarations of conflict prevent council from doing business

There is something wrong with a system where people who volunteer can be ham-strung if they choose to run for public office.

At the last council meeting, two councillors excused themselves from the council table because of what they felt would be a conflict of interest. This wasn’t a pecuniary conflict where they would gain financially in any way. In one case, a councillor sat on the CREST board, and felt she could not vote because of a line item in the Telecommunications section of the district’s proposed Five Year Financial Plan. The councillor would receive no pecuniary benefit, so it seems absurd for her to excuse herself from such an important vote.

The other situation involved a councillor whose husband was a volunteer fireman, repeat volunteer. There is a line item in the budget for volunteer fire fighters, so how is this a pecuniary benefit to the councillor or her spouse? Volunteers are not paid.

These types of declarations of conflict are absurd. This would mean that anyone, or their spouse, who volunteered in the community and if their organization or group received a grant or fee for service they would be in a conflict of interest position.

Each of the councillors and the mayor receive a stipend for their work, so one could argue that voting on the financial plan would then become a conflict.

This is carrying the perception of conflict of interest too far and some common sense needs to be used in these situations. If a councillor was voting on a bylaw which would see their business benefit then that would be a conflict, but sitting on a volunteer board doing their public duty is not a conflict as defined in the Community Charter (under Ethical Conduct). They are not benefiting personally or business-wise. Council enacting bylaws which would support a councillor’s business is a different thing altogether, and that needs more scrutiny.

These two councillors are trying to be responsible but in fact they are not, in that they are impeding the business of council. Let’s be realistic about how we define conflict of interest because in these cases the interests of the taxpayers are not being met.