Canada

Dan Fumano: ‘Heavy’ political influence behind Vancouver councillor’s conflict case, lawyer says

“It is not the intent of the legislation to provide a vehicle for partisan disputes,” embattled city councillor’s lawyer tells B.C. Supreme Court.

Article content

The effort to remove Vancouver Coun. Michael Wiebe from office was launched with “heavy influence from a political party,” his lawyer told B.C. Supreme Court on Thursday.

But the opposing lawyer, representing Vancouver voters seeking Wiebe’s ouster, said any political differences were “irrelevant,” and the politician had clearly broken conflict rules by “wearing two hats” when he voted in council last year on a restaurant patio program despite owning an interest in a restaurant and a pub.

The case could cost the councillor his job and potentially alter the makeup of Vancouver’s council, but it will not reach a resolution any time soon. The matter had been set for Wednesday and Thursday this week, but by halfway through the second day it became apparent more time would be needed, and it will not likely resume until at least May or June, subject to the judge’s availability.

The case was heard remotely by B.C. Supreme Court Judge John Steeves presiding from Victoria, with lawyers and journalists dialing in through the internet and phone.

Advertisement

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

Wiebe’s lawyer, Aurora Faulkner-Killam, has claimed the first-term councillor’s vote on the patio program was in common with the interests of the city at large, and that if he did make an error, it was inadvertent.

But Wes Mussio, the lawyer for a group of Vancouverites seeking Wiebe’s removal, told the court the councillor could not argue he had inadvertently made an error in good faith because he had previously demonstrated his familiarity with conflict of interest rules, and in this particular case he failed to seek advice on whether he might be in conflict.

Faulkner-Killam also told the court Thursday that the complaint against Wiebe was “being brought with heavy influence from a political party,” adding, “it is not the intent of the legislation to provide a vehicle for partisan disputes.”

Faulkner-Killam did not elaborate on her claim of political influence before the end of Thursday’s hearing, but she apparently was referring to Mussio and some of his clients’ affiliation with the Non-Partisan Association, a rival of Wiebe’s Green party.

Weeks after Mussio filed the petition last October, he was appointed to the NPA board of directors. At that time, he told Postmedia News that the two matters were unrelated.

The original complainant, Michael Redmond, is also an NPA member, and current NPA president David Mawhinney and NPA board member Federico Fuoco are also among the 15 petitioners seeking Wiebe’s removal.

Advertisement

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

Redmond filed a formal complaint with the city after reading a June story in the Georgia Straight about Wiebe’s involvement in the patio votes and discussion. An independent investigator was appointed and completed a report in September, finding Wiebe had breached the rules, was “disqualified from holding office” and should resign.

After Wiebe opted not to voluntarily resign, and his council colleagues did not remove him, the 15 Vancouver voters sought his removal through the courts.

The case centres around a temporary patio program approved by Vancouver council last May so restaurants and other businesses could expand outdoor operations and keep running in a safer manner during COVID-19.

Both Wiebe’s Mount Pleasant restaurant, which was previously called Eight 1/2 but rebranded as Side Hustle Sandwiches during the pandemic, and his Gastown pub, Portside, received temporary patio licences, as more than 400 other locations eventually did, including eateries, bars, cafes and breweries across town.

Mussio told the court Wednesday that between the two sides of the legal dispute, “there’s not a lot of disparity in the facts in this case, it’s surprisingly consistent … It’s a matter of how you interpret it on the law.”

Wiebe’s financial interest in the two businesses is not in dispute, and it was already disclosed in his annual public financial statements.

“The question is really going to be whether he acted in good faith or whether it was an inadvertent error,” said Nathalie Baker, a Vancouver lawyer who specializes in municipal law. “That’s probably the heart of the matter, whether he acted in good faith.”

Advertisement

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

The Vancouver Charter dictates any elected official who breaks conflict rules is disqualified from office, “unless the contravention was done inadvertently or because of an error in judgment made in good faith.”

Under the Charter, an elected official found to break conflict rules is disqualified from holding office until the next election.

The penalty is “quite severe,” Baker said, “but I think that’s there for a reason, and it’s to ensure that people aren’t voting on things in which they have an interest, because you want to make sure councillors are voting in the public interest, not for their own personal interests.”

The next municipal election is in October 2022. If Wiebe were to be removed from office, it would trigger a byelection to replace him, and local parties and potential candidates are preparing for that possibility.

[email protected]

twitter.com/fumano

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.



File source

Tags
Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button
Close