NPA make mass exit from city hall

Four NPA councillors declared conflicts, left council chambers

12th and Cambie

Years from now, people will ask: Where were you when that  spellbinding historical event happened at city hall on the 15th day of November in 2017?

And your response will be: Huh?

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But not for me it won't.

Because I was there, man. I was the lone newsman seated at the deep vein thrombosis-inducing media table in the council chamber and observed an event that has shaken the Twitterverse to the core.

Well, maybe not shaken, but people are tweeting about it.

Yes, I'm referring to "The Great Non-Partisan Association Walkout of 2017." I've always wanted to do my part for history, so follow along as I potentially bore you to death with my summary of what the heck happened.

Some background: I wrote a piece earlier this week on how Vision Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer wants a mechanism to force all council members to declare their non-council income.

That income would include any work, for example, that a politician's public relations company does with a client. So, yes, show me and the public the clients, says Reimer, whose motion to council Wednesday was clearly pointed at three of the four NPA councillors.

She didn't name George Affleck, Melissa De Genova or Hector Bremner but referred to their non-council work in her motion and in a conversation we had last week.

Affleck owns Curve Communications Group Ltd. De Genova runs Eventure Holdings Ltd. Bremner is a vice-president of public affairs at the Pace Group. Coun. Elizabeth Ball co-owns Eos Lightmedia Corp.

I encourage you to go back and read the responses from Affleck, De Genova and Bremner, which I provided in the previous piece. In short, they said Reimer's motion was ridiculous and out-of-touch.

They also pointed out former Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs used to run a public relations company but didn't list his clients in annual financial disclosure statements.

More recently, Vision Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang did $4,000 worth of work for the new NDP government in Victoria, but that information hasn't been updated in his disclosure statement.

Anyway, fast forward to Wednesday afternoon and before Reimer could explain her reasons for introducing the motion, Affleck — followed by De Genova, Ball and Bremner — all declared a conflict and walked out.

They all pointed to the language in Reimer's motion and how they would be in conflict in discussing a motion directly aimed at them and their non-council work.

Affleck: "Unfortunately, the way the motion we have here today is worded and specifically targets the kind of business I operate, I think it would be appropriate to recuse myself because I'm concerned there will be an appearance of conflict if I vote or take part in this."

De Genova: "I feel that out of an abundance of caution, I also will be conflicting out of this item."

Ball: "I feel that I could be in conflict here and will have to leave. My apologies. Thank you."

Bremner: "I feel like I can't speak to this issue and not be in a conflict. So, unfortunately, I won't be able to debate the matter. Thank you."

The walkout prompted Reimer to go on a "transparency" bender, listing all the work the city has done to give the public more access to salaries, expenses and the nature and worth of so-called gifts received by council members. There's also a lobbyist registry in the works.

She acknowledged she should have earlier requested more transparency about council members' non-council pecuniary interests, but that didn't happen.

"So the point here is not about conflict of interest," said Reimer, responding to reasons given by the NPA to walk out. "It's about transparency and disclosure of one's financial interest."

Mayor Gregor Robertson also couldn't resist a dig at his council foes, saying it was "bizarre and unsettling that the four NPA councillors declared conflicts on voting on transparency in financial disclosure. That astounds me."

In the end, Vision Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie successfully moved a motion to have the city's legal department determine "where it is appropriate for council members to declare conflict of interest."

That, I've got to say, confused me.

Afterall, didn't I just quote Reimer saying this wasn't about conflict of interest? And besides, doesn't the Vancouver Charter say it's up to each council member to declare a conflict when there is a conflict?

Then there's the provincial Financial Disclosure Act requirements, which already say civic politicians have to declare all their non-council cash. I guess Reimer's point here is the Act is not being followed closely enough, or needs a re-do to ensure clients of business owners are disclosed.

While I'm piling on the various mechanisms for council members to show us the money, there's that little problem about all that campaign money Vision and the NPA receive from developers.

Yes, I know it eventually gets disclosed after an election. But that doesn't stop politicians from voting on projects from the very developers who have dropped hundreds of thousands in their campaign buckets.

But there's no conflict there, according to court rulings.

One more: How about the fact the majority of council voted themselves a pay raise? No conflict there, either, apparently.

And on it goes...

To think I could have spent the day with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Angelina Jolie instead of the good time I had at a council Wednesday makes me wonder whether my news judgment is sliding.

But, as I understand it from city hall reporters of yesteryear, heroes who chronicle civic political history often occupy a lonely seat at a media table that does nothing for varicose veins.

So thanks for reading.

mhowell@vancourier.com

@Howellings

 

 

 

 

 

 

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