ED ALLARD: Dupelle has sunk his teeth into transparency concerns

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Councillor Dupelle has got a ‘transparency’ bone in his teeth and he is not going to let go.  And I fully support him.  

Conflict of interest at the council table is a difficult issue.  If the one in conflict won’t voluntarily declare that conflict, then his or her colleagues don’t have much power to challenge it unless they do so as private citizens.  Only a registered voter can file a complaint before a provincial court judge.  It’s doubtful anyone will spend the necessary cash for that just to prove a point of principle unless, perhaps, the conflict clearly involves city money going into a councillor’s pocket.

But conflict of interest is not just about personal money.  It applies to any organization a councillor belongs to that comes looking for taxpayer’s money.  That’s called an indirect interest.  They might not be receiving any personal benefit from the issue, but we don’t know that for sure.  As long as money is involved, there’s a pecuniary interest.  But the wording of the legal advice on that really left it up to individual councillors to decide.  

The only clear point was that it doesn’t apply to councillors who are appointed by the mayor to sit on various local boards.  And that’s fair enough.  

Councillors are elected to look after taxpayers’ interests.  That should be the underlying motive behind every decision they make.  If they belong to an organization that approaches the city for money, and they participate in the vote on that, we’re left with the very real perception that they are putting the organization’s interests above ours.  That’s not what they’re there for.   Our taxes are not a slush fund for their personal interests.  

They might want to believe those interests are the same – that taxpayers will benefit by supporting their organization.  Mayor Kilger and Councillor MacDonald obviously believed that when the university group they belong to came asking for cash.  But it should be up to their colleagues to decide that.  I still believe both of them should have stepped aside, on principle, so a less biased vote could have occurred.  

Councillor Gardiner believes that if an organization he belongs to approaches council for money, it’s his job to educate his fellow councillors about the request.  You couldn’t be more wrong, Syd.  That’s the role of the presenter or the delegation that appears before council.  If you wish to be part of that, fine, but adding your vote is not.  It also tips the balance away from organizations without a councillor-member to advocate for them.  

Getting regulators to regulate themselves is a problem.  Having the best intentions just isn’t enough on its own.  Some councillors get it and readily step back at even a hint of conflict.  Unfortunately, some others are more stubborn about it.   

Dupelle recognizes he has lost the legal battle, so he has tailored his latest motion so that conflict of interest is not the issue.  He is not asking his colleagues to step away from the table.  He just wants a more transparent process, so he is merely asking them to state up front any relationship to the organization under consideration.  That’s a half measure.

If I were at the table, I would go one step further.  I would say that I’m prepared to support the request, but if councillor X participates in the debate and the vote, I would vote against, on principle.  And I would encourage my colleagues to do the same.  Maybe peer pressure could accomplish what the intricacies of the rules will not.  But I’m not there, so Maurice, you’re on your own.  

And that’s the way I see it. 

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