Was chair of PNE Board in conflict of interest?

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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Some folks are asking whether Vision councillor Raymond Louie should have raised his hand and voted on the future of the PNE when he is also chairman of their board

Moments after we posted our story about the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) playing host to the Vancouver Whitecaps and BC Lions, we were contacted by a few of our readers who were upset that we missed a critical bit of information.

They pointed out that during the recent debate and vote on the Hastings Park/PNE master plan, Vision Vancouver councillor Raymond Louie, Chairman of the PNE Board, did not declare himself in a conflict of interest. If you recall, Vancouver council appointed Louie as Chairman of the Board for the PNE, Vancouver's largest "crown corporation". It is not known what level of compensation Louie receives from the PNE as the board of directors page on their website does not provide that kind of information.

Local residents were apparently aghast when Louie participated in the debate on the future of Hastings Park (a plan that he would have supported and helped develop as Chair) then actually moved the motion requesting council support it. A review of the video from council also clearly indicates that Louie actively participated in the debate and grilled numerous speakers (including NDP MLA Shane Simpson) who attended the special council meeting dealing with Hastings Park.

The onus to declare a conflict of interest rests with the individual politician themselves. There is no independent body or commissioner that helps civic officials determine who is and is not in a conflict. Yet councillors regularly declare conflicts in every municipality across Canada. A couple of weeks ago Vision Councillor Kerry Jang indicated he was in a conflict of interest in relation to a vote on the City providing funding to the Mental Health Commission (MHC). According to the minutes:

Councillor Jang declared Conflict of Interest on Administrative Report A9 as he is on an advisory committee to the Mental Health Commission of Canada. He left the Council Chamber at 4:45 pm, and did not return until conclusion of the vote at 4:58 pm.

If Jang declared a conflict of interest for simply being on an advisory committee, critics are asking why Louie didn't consider declaring a conflict when the issue of the Hastings Park master plan came before council. You would think that as Chair of the PNE Board, it would have made sense for Louie to recuse himself from the debate and let his colleagues manage the voting process. By doing so, he would have ensured there was no potential issue relating to real or perceived conflict of interest.

On April 9th, 2009 Louie's caucus colleague Andrea Reimer also declared a conflict of interest and didn't vote on an issue related to the Gastown Business Improvement Association. According to the minutes:

Councillor Reimer declared Conflict of Interest on Motion B as she is involved in the Gastown BIA.

Reimer isn't the chair of the board for the Gastown BIA, she is merely "involved" in the association. Yet she did the right thing and declared her conflict and decided not to vote on the issue. According to the Vancouver Charter (the legislation governing the City of Vancouver) councillors must declare all conflicts of interest in advance of the meeting dealing with the subject:

Disclosure of conflict

145.2 (1) This section applies to Council members in relation to

(a) Council meetings,

(b) Council committee meetings, and

(c) meetings of any other body referred to in section 165.7 [application of open meeting rules to other city bodies].

(2) If a Council member attending a meeting considers that he or she is not entitled to participate in the discussion of a matter, or to vote on a question in respect of a matter, because the member has

(a) a direct or indirect pecuniary interest in the matter, or

(b) another interest in the matter that constitutes a conflict of interest,

the member must declare this and state in general terms the reason why the member considers this to be the case.

According to section 4.2 of the City's official code of conduct:

A conflict exists when an individual is, or could be, influenced, or appear to be influenced, by a personal interest, financial (pecuniary) or otherwise, when carrying out their public duty. Personal interest can include direct or indirect pecuniary interest, bias, pre-judgment, close mindedness or undue influence...

When considering whether or not a conflict of interest exists, it is important to consider whether there are any grounds for a reasonable person to think that a conflict exists.

The reality is the issue of declaring a conflict of interest is not always black and white. There are often situations that fall into a grey zone and this could well be one of them. Louie was appointed by council to his PNE post, therefore, he could well argue he is merely fulfilling his duties and doesn't benefit beyond what he might be paid to attend meetings. It is worth noting there are no minutes posted on the PNE website since Louie took over the helm at the PNE. There is also no reference of Louie on the website.

It would appear that councillor Raymond Louie does not believe his role as chairman of the board for the PNE might be perceived as a potential conflict of interest . There are clearly a number of folks within the Hastings Sunrise community who would beg to differ with Louie's assessment of the situation. We'll be following this issue closely over the coming weeks as local residents plan their next move to save Hastings Park from further privatization.

Check out our new online poll on this subject and let us know what you think.

- Post by Daniel

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