A Vancouver city councillor will keep his seat for the remainder of his term, after a B.C. Supreme Court judge dismissed a conflict of interest petition.
Justice John Steeves ruled July 19 that Vancouver Green Party Coun. Michael Wiebe committed conflict of interest when he lobbied for and voted on a temporary measure to expand patio licences to restaurants, including his Eight 1/2 bistro in Mount Pleasant, early in the pandemic.
But, since Wiebe’s pecuniary interest was the same as more than 3,000 competitors, the case was thrown out after four days of hearings in February and June.
“I find that the petitioners have established that, at the material times, the respondent had a pecuniary interest in the opening/expansion of patio use via the temporary patio program,” Steeves wrote. “That pecuniary interest was his ownership stake in a restaurant and pub that potentially stood to benefit from the program. Despite having this interest, there is no evidence that the respondent disclosed it at the meetings on May 13 and May 27, 2020 (his business interests were disclosed as required by legislation and were a matter of public record).”
Instead, Wiebe stayed and participated in meetings, contrary to the conflict of interest sections in the Vancouver Charter. However, Wiebe successfully argued he was among 3,127 restaurateurs and bar owners licenced in 2019. The fact that Wiebe was among the first 14 licences announced under the program did not harm his case.
“Overall, I conclude that the respondent did have a pecuniary interest in common with the owners of restaurants and bars in Vancouver in May 2020. This included during the meetings on May 13, 2020 and May 27, 2020. All members of this group benefitted from the decision of council to expand patio seating.”
Since Wiebe is “entitled to an exception from the restrictions on conflicts of interest” under the Vancouver Charter, Steeves wrote, “that is the end of the matter and there is no need to proceed to consider whether the respondent acted inadvertently or made an error in judgment in good faith.”
The 14 petitioners were represented by lawyer and NPA board member Wes Mussio.
“While my clients are disappointed in the final outcome, the Judge did make some key findings against Councillor Wiebe,” Mussio said by email.
The petitioners argued that Wiebe’s interest was in common with the wider pool of voters from the 2018 election, not the smaller pool of liquor licence holders that figured in the judge’s reasons.
“That interpretation of the law seems to widen the ability of City Councillors in the future to participate and vote on Motions even where they will see an economic benefit personally. As a result, my clients are reviewing this broad interpretation of the Charter to determine if an Appeal of the decision is warranted.”
Michael Redmond, one of the petitioners, originally 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 2020 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.
Since the October 2020 filing of the case against Wiebe, three of the four remaining NPA councillors went independent in protest of the board’s closed-doors naming of Park Board Commissioner John Coupar as the party’s mayoral candidate in 2022.
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