Court ruling 'a disaster' for elected officials in small towns like Terrace

TERRACE CITY Councillor Marylin Davies wants to address the implications of a B.C. Court of Appeal's “potentially far-reaching decision” about conflicts of interest involving elected officials.

On January 13 the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned a ruling in the Schlenker v. Torgrimson Supreme Court case and decided it was in fact illegal according to the Community Charter for two elected officials on Salt Spring Island to have cast votes to provide money to non-profit organizations on which they sat as directors.

Conflict of interest is now considered pecuniary (in other words to involve money) even if the director of the non-profit is a volunteer who wouldn't directly benefit from the money provided.

“The effect of the court decision could mean that elected officials will no longer be able to participate in non-profit societies that rely on money from local government,” said a Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) February report.

According to Davies the precedent set by Schlenker v. Torgrimson has the potential to open a whole slew of conflict of interest scenarios based on suspicions and the “casting of aspersions.”

Davies called this “truly a disaster for small towns where community minded citizens often sit on boards of their own choosing ... I have no doubt we will talk about this as it affects us. As well as taking direction from UBCM.”

“These two [councillors] formed an island trust out of Salt Spring but they were the only directors,” Davies said of the maverick move by island officials to fund environmental groups without following protocol, in effect complicating life for elected officials around the B.C..

The two Salt Spring officials didn't run in the subsequent general election and the repayment section 191 of the Community Charter does not apply to conflict of interest issues, according to one legal bulletin.

“It used to be that you excused yourself. You were the one who would decide if you were in conflict,” Davies said.


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