A recent court ruling on conflict of interest is starting to have consequences for community organizations, putting some elected officials in a tough spot.
During a Colwood council meeting on Feb. 25 Coun. Rob Martin had to leave the room for an agenda item related to West Shore Parks and Recreation
Society, for which Martin is the chair.
The Jan. 11 court decision states an elected official to be in a conflict of interest when voting on decisions related to a society of which they are a member.
Previously, elected officials were only perceived to be in a conflict of interest if voting on a motion from which they could benefit financially, directly or indirectly.
“From a council standpoint, we don’t want to put ourselves in a difficult position,” Martin said. “So you end up erring on the side of caution and we’re not able to do the work that actually should get done.”
Beyond that, councillors now can’t provide information to council on behalf of a board.
“We’re appointed by council to be on that (board) so that we can report back,” Martin said. “Council is now in a position that they’re not able to actually hear from their own board members about why financial decisions are being asked.”
Langford has three councillors on the West Shore Parks and Recreation board, who will now have to excuse themselves from related decisions. That leaves four people, the minimum needed for quorum, and all would have to vote unanimously for anything to pass.
Coun. Lanny Seaton, who sits on the WSPR board, said he and the others will remove themselves from financial decisions council makes in relation to the society. He said the ruling shouldn’t cause many problems for Langford, but sees potential problems for smaller communities.
“It kind of affects them more because there’s more societies,” Seaton said. “I don’t think there’s anything to worry about. The lawyers advised us not to do anything and that’s what we’re doing, we’re just not voting on anything to do with money.”
Al Richmond, third vice president for the Union of British Columbia Municipalities and chair of the Cariboo Regional District, said a number of elected officials are resigning from boards to avoid conflict of interest.
The case on which the decision is related, involving Islands Trust on Salt Spring Island, is a unique one, Richmond said, and he’s concerned to see its far-reaching implications.
“I don’t know how you draw the lines with what’s been done here,” Richmond said. “We’re sort of caught in the crossfire.”
He agreed communities where elected officials serve on more groups and societies will suffer.
“People in the smaller communities wear many different hats,” Richmond said. “Volunteer groups, non-profit groups are losing some very hardworking folks on some of their boards.”Members of UBCM plan to meet with provincial officials to look at a potential solution at the legislative level. The executive and membership will have upcoming opportunities to discuss the issue and figure out further responses.