If a conflict of interest petition succeeds in ousting a Vancouver Green Party city councillor, the balance of power could tilt away from Mayor Kennedy Stewart.
Michael Wiebe is the target of an Oct. 26 filing in B.C. Supreme Court by 15 citizens who say he violated the Vancouver Charter’s conflict of interest law.
The petition says Wiebe should have recused himself instead of voting in May and June on a temporary measure to expand restaurant and bar patios on sidewalks. The Wiebe-owned Eight 1/2 bistro in Mount Pleasant was among the first 14 establishments permitted.
If a judge rules Wiebe must vacate his seat, a by-election would follow. The 15 petitioners include several members of the NPA as well as two who have voted for Green Party candidates. Their lawyer denies this is driven by political ambitions.
“They care about individuals that are in a position of power should not be using it for their personal agendas,” said their lawyer, Wes Mussio. “Whether or not it changes the complexion of council.”
A by-election opens the door to the possibility of an NPA or NPA-allied councillor being elected as the balance of power.
Council is currently split between five members from three centre-left parties and five elected under the NPA banner [Coun. Rebecca Bligh became an independent last year, after Conservative-leaning directors were elected to the NPA board]. Stewart is a former NDP MP who was endorsed in 2018, with Wiebe, by the Vancouver and District Labour Council.
“Councillor Wiebe not only participated in the meetings and voted in favour of the motion, but he was also instrumental in the background to bring the motion before city council,” the petition said.
In text messages reported on by the Vancouver Sun, Wiebe referenced his own restaurant and toasted the expansion with a cheers emoji shown clinking beer glasses.
The petition said Wiebe should have known to recuse himself, because of a Dec. 10, 2018 memo from the city manager, called Protocol for Potential Conflicts of Interest. Wiebe is a rookie city councillor, but no stranger to public office as a parks board commissioner.
In response to a Georgia Straight story, Wiebe claimed in a Tweet that he was “told that I’m not in conflict as the policy is city wide, temporary and doesn’t increase my seating capacity which is still at 50%. It’s a tool that will hopefully help us survive.”
But, in a Sept. 21 interview on CBC Radio, Wiebe said he had received no legal advice prior to voting.
Vancouverite Michael Redmond filed a conflict of interest complaint under the city’s code of conduct. Lawyer Raymond Young was retained by the mayor’s office to investigate.
Young found in September that Wiebe had direct and pecuniary interest in the motion and bylaw and violated the Vancouver Charter. Young recommended Wiebe be disqualified from office and resign his seat.
“His conflict of interest actions cannot be viewed as an error in judgment made in good faith,” Young wrote.
The petition comes at a crucial time in Vancouver. The city is facing a budget bind due to the coronavirus pandemic and spending to solve homeless tent cities. Ratepayers are facing a tax increase next year and even bigger increases in the years to come.
In a report for the Nov. 3 meeting, city staff want to raise $500 million over five year for a so-called “climate emergency action plan.” The taxation measures to fund the program would include a downtown road tax and tax on residential parking permits.
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