What is it that determines when a member of council should declare a conflict of interest?

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

October 14th, 2020

BURLINGTON, ON

 

Every time the development at the top of Clearview Street in Aldershot comes up Ward 1 Councillor Kelvin Galbraith declares a conflict of interest.

His home is within the 120m distance from the development and he is seen as having a conflict.

Galbraith doesn’t have any problem with having to take this decision – he sees it as the right and proper thing to do.

Clearview from the south

The Clearview development runs the length of the space between Clearview and St. Matthew.

The Clearview development is contentious and has gone through a number of changes. Galbraith takes no part in the debate and does not vote on the matter.

KG house to street end

Kelvin Galbraith’s home is to the right of the tree trunk, one lot to the west, The Clearview development is at the top of the street where the think grey fence is located.

Galbraith knew that when he was elected he would have conflicts. He chose to do the smart thing and meet with the City Solicitor before he was actually sworn, in we understand, to ask what the rules were and what was required of him as a Councillor.

Galbraith has property interests along Plains Road as well and will declare a conflict of interest should that property become part of a development issue.

Galbraith slight smileWhat we are seeing is a sterling example of how a Councillor should behave, which was certainly not the case with at least one member of the 2014-18 council.

During the September 30th Standing Committee meeting Mayor Marianne Meed Ward and Ward 2 Councillor Lisa Kearns put forward nine amendments to the Official Plan that was being debated.

One of the amendments related to the Lions Club property that is bound by New Street, Maria, Martha and Elizabeth.

Lions Park

The Lions Park. The Mayor lives kitty corner from Maria Martha intersection centre top of the illustration,

The Lions Club began buying up pieces of property in the 1920’s. The structure that is currently the Club House for the Lions and home to ROCK – Reach Out Centre for Kids also has space in the building which is due to have a second floor added.

While the land is owned by the Lions Club it operates as a city park and is maintained by the city.

The city also has a right of first refusal should the Lions Club choose to sell the northern portion of the property.

An interesting side note – the building on the southern part of the site was once the barn for the transit cars used by the Radial Railway that used to run along what is now Centennial Trail.

View MMW to park

The Mayors home is approximately where the truck is parked in the driveway. The North East edge of the park is seen on the right hand side

During the debate around how the property would be zoned the Lions delegated and said they would like to see the park zoning designation removed from the property. They felt that zoned as parkland lessened the value of the land should a time come when the Lions wanted to sell and the city chose not to be a buyer.

Living next to a park is usually a plus for a property owner.

The Mayor happens to be a property owner who lives kitty-corner to the park.

At no point during the debate did the Mayor declare a conflict of interest.

The Gazette sent a note to the City Clerk (Does the Mayor not have a conflict – she lives across the street?) asking if there was not a conflict.

The City Clerk sent back a note saying:

Please note that the our Members of Council are bound by the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. M.50. In accordance with the Act, it is the duty of the member to disclose an interest. Staff does not provide comment or advice on whether a member may have a potential conflict under the Act. Section 28 of the Procedure By-law outlines the process that must be taken if a member has an interest that they disclose.

We don’t know if the Mayor has a conflict.  Councillor Galbraith said he has a conflict and his house is as close to the Clearview development as the Mayor’s house is to the Lions park.

This is a question that the provincial Ombudsman can answer.

 

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3 comments to What is it that determines when a member of council should declare a conflict of interest?

  • david barker

    If one thinks, considers, judges the Mayor &/or Councilor Galbraith to have a conflict because each lives close to a potential development, at what distance away from the development does the conflict no longer exist.

    From Law.com Legal Dictionary

    “conflict of interest

    A situation in which a person has a duty to more than one person or organization, but cannot do justice to the actual or potentially adverse interests of both parties. This includes when an individual’s personal interests or concerns are inconsistent with the best for a customer, or when a public official’s personal interests are contrary to his/her loyalty to public business.”

    Neither the Mayor nor Councilor Galbraith have a direct financial interest in either subject property. Their interests are no more and no less than their neighbours or other residents who they were elected to represent.

    There is, in my mind, no conflict of interest. This is a huge red herring !

    • Come now Mr Barker – there is a conflict on the part of Councillor Galbraith. He declared that conflict. As an elected official he is in a conflict – nothing wrong with that – providing he recognizes the conflict. You are making a conflict sound like a criminal act.
      The article was asking why the same rule did not apply to the Mayor.

      Your enthusiasm (let’s call it for what it is – zeal) for the Mayor has clouded your ability to separate fact from your fiction.

      • david barker

        I think you miss my point.

        I’m questioning whether either the mayor or Councilor Galbraith has a conflict of interest.I appreciate Councilor Galbraith has declared a conflict of interest. Maybe he’s being ultra careful. But it is my view, others may have different views, that neither has a conflict of interest in regards to the two situations described in the article.

        I had included the definition from law.com as a reference point. I believe most people’s understanding of a conflict of interest relates to a financial interest in the subject matter in question. Obviously in both these situations neither the mayor nor Councilor Galbraith has a financial interest. Their interests are merely the same as every other resident whether immediately adjacent or in the general area to the subject properties.

        If one believes that either or both the mayor and counselor Galbraith do have a conflict of interest, then the question I posed is at what distance does a conflict at what distance away from the subject property does the conflict of interest disappear; 100 m? 400 m? 1 km? Or what distance? negative impact on myself or my property?

        What about the situation where a councilor lives in the same ward as the property the subject of the planning application or other debate? What should the councilor do ? Recuse himself or herself because as a resident of that Ward do they have a social interest?

        I live on Lakeshore Road close to downtown, and I am also a member of the Heritage Advisory Committee. Another question for you, when the Heritage committee is asked to review a planning application in regards to a development, often but not exclusively in regards to one of the high-rises, do you think I should be recusing myself declaring a conflict of interest because I live in the same general neighborhood?

        I really think expecting someone to declare a conflict of interest because they live in the neighborhood is taking things too far.

        BTW there is no zealousness here as to supporting the Mayor. I get annoyed at those who take shots at the Mayor just for the sake of doing so. Here I am treating both the Mayor and Councilor Galbraith with the exact same standard; a standard I would apply to all members of council. Neither has a conflict of interest.

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