A B.C. Court of Appeal tribunal ruled unanimously to overturn a lower court decision to not disqualify Green Party of Vancouver Coun. Michael Wiebe for being among the first restaurateurs to get a new patio licence early in the pandemic.
Chief Justice Robert Bauman, on behalf of fellow justices Gail Dickson and Gregory Fitch, wrote in the July 13 verdict that B.C. Supreme Court Justice John Steeves erred in determining that only a pecuniary interest unique to Wiebe was sufficient.
“In my view, good judgment would conclude, as do I, that Councillor Wiebe did not share a pecuniary interest in this matter similar in kind with a significant segment of the public, with the electors generally, as required by [the Vancouver Charter],” Bauman wrote. “Quite simply, the class of persons with whom Councillor Wiebe might be said to share a pecuniary interest is too small a segment of the community to found an application of the exception.”
The decision means the case should be sent back to the B.C. Supreme Court to decide whether Wiebe is entitled to two other conflict of interest defences: a remoteness exception or a good-faith excuse.
The Court of Appeal ruling does not hinder Wiebe’s current seat on council or his plan to campaign for re-election on Oct. 15. But he is seeking advice from his lawyer on next steps.
“I’m reviewing quite an interesting verdict that kind of challenges the notion of a lot of elements for the case,” Wiebe said in an interview.
On July 19, 2021, Steeves ruled that Wiebe should not be disqualified from office, even after he lobbied for and voted on a temporary measure to expand patio licences to restaurants, including his Eight 1/2 bistro in Mount Pleasant, in May 2020. Wiebe’s company was among the first 14 licences announced under the program.
Steeves found that Wiebe competes with 3,100 licensees in the city’s restaurant and bar industry, so he survived the petition from 15 citizens, many with connections to the Non-Partisan Association.
Bauman, however, sided with the petitioners and emphasized that the onus was on Wiebe to bring himself within the “interest-in-common” exception and he did not meet that legal burden because not all licensees were ready to partake in the program.
“Theirs was an interest that was different in kind from the broader population of licensees,” Bauman wrote. “This was a small group, numbering in the hundreds.”
If the case doesn’t return in front of a judge soon, Wiebe’s fate will rest in the court of public opinion at the ballot box. He remains a Green nominee, though the official registration period for candidates runs Aug. 30-Sept. 9, and continues to enjoy support of the party board and caucus.
“I’m going to continue to do the good work I do because I make the city better off,” Wiebe said in an interview.
City council does not have a legal assistance program like ones available for provincial or federal lawmakers, so Wiebe has sought $1,200 maximum donations from individual supporters and plans to publish the list of donations, except those under $50.
“I could go ask someone for $50,000, but I believe that accountability and trust is a huge part of democracy and I think that that’s fair,” he said.
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