Editorial: Strangling local government

Conflict of Interest ruling is hampering government

Sometimes words fail and they did in last week’s editorial.

In pointing out two councillors, Bev Berger and Kerrie Reay, who excused themselves on a vote for the Five-Year Financial Plan, it may have appeared as though they did so by choice.

They did not. They left council chambers because of a ruling made in 2013  in a B.C. Supreme Court decision Schlenker v. Torgrimson. This stems from a situation where there was a conflict because of participation on the boards of directors of not for profit organizations. The Court of Appeal noted that the object of conflict of interest provisions in the Community Charter were to “prevent elected officials from having divided loyalties in deciding how to spend the public’s money…  and who as directors were under a legal obligation to put the entity first.”

This ruling impacted elected officials and both Berger and Reay were aware there could be an indirect pecuniary conflict of interest. This could have resulted in their disqualification from public office. They knew this, I did not.

So, apologies to those two councillors for my not being clear enough in stating that the situation was “absurd” —  not the councillors’ actions.

The issue at stake here and in the past editorial is that this decision is crippling government and the province needs to do something through legislation to change this situation. In small towns it is nearly impossible to find candidates for council who are not involved in the community or any of its myriad organizations. This can also hamper those who may wish to run for public office and it in turn hampers the organizations they are volunteering in. Heaven knows it is hard enough to find volunteers.

On the other hand, the fact that it is an election year should have nothing to do with opinions in editorials and treading softly is a moot point as no one has, as yet, declared they are running for office.