Vancouver Green park board candidate's decision to withdraw doesn't pass my smell test

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      There's something fishy about a Green candidate's recent decision to withdraw from the Vancouver civic election.

      Zahra Esmail will not run for park board—after being nominated—because of her work on B.C.'s Poverty Reduction Advisory Committee.

      According to a Vancouver Green party news release, "the Province’s Crown Agencies and Board Resourcing Office advised the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction that potential conflicts were identified if she were to concurrently hold the role of Vancouver Park Board Commissioner and Chair of BC’s PRAC."

      “I was hoping to make a positive impact on the Park Board by employing my experience with community development, but my work on BC’s Poverty Reduction Advisory Committee is my top priority right now,” Esmail said in the news release. “I appreciate the confidence of the Green Party of Vancouver’s membership and wish the other candidates all the best in the upcoming election.”

      Here's why this explanation fails to pass my political smell test.

      Normally, if a politician has a conflict of interest—which happens from time to time—they declare their conflict, leave the meeting, and absent themselves from participating in any discussion or vote.

      Why couldn't Zahra Esmail do this rather than choosing not to seek office?

      Moreover, not every single issue that comes before park board would conflict with her role chairing an independent advisory committee on poverty for the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction.

      For example, if she were to vote on most issues relating to parks or beaches or community centres or golf courses—the bread and butter of park-board business—it wouldn't be linked to her BC PRAC position.

      And if it did, all Esmail would have to do would be to declare a conflict and leave the room. 

      Moreover, the city's conflict-of-interest rules are rooted in an elected official having a "pecuniary interest" in an issue. That's not likely to happen if she were voting on motions of general interest to all low-income people in the city.

      I've asked the Vancouver Greens the following question:

      Did the Crown Agencies and Board Resourcing Office instruct Zahra Esmail not to run for park board?

      I have not yet received a response.

      The Crown Agencies and Board Resourcing Office is under the Ministry of Finance, which is headed by Selina Robinson. According to the B.C. government directory, the senior executive lead is Vanessa Geary and the executive director is Gilbert Neves.

      If the Crown Agencies and Board Resourcing Office believes that Esmail would be in a potential conflict of interest were she to become a park commissioner, which is a part-time job, what other political hopefuls in our province have been given similar advice?

      And if she was ordered not to run at the risk of losing her position on an advisory committee, it raises an important question: what business does the provincial government have in telling citizens who can run for municipal office?

      There are already conflict-of-interest rules in place to prevent those municipal politicians from crossing any lines.

      It's especially troubling given the lack of diversity in Vancouver politics, which is a product of the city's racist at-large voting system.

      Esmail is a former executive director of South Vancouver Neighbourhood House and Marpole Neighbourhood House, which serve diverse communities.

      She has a wealth of international experience, having worked on programs in Haiti, India, the Philippines, Colombia, Sierra Leone, and Ethiopia.

      Plus, she has a master's degree in globalization and international development.

      Esmail is extremely well-equipped for political office and is precisely the type of candidate that we should be trying to get elected in Vancouver to reach out to diverse communities.

      It's a real shame that the B.C. government didn't want her running with the Greens in the upcoming municipal election.

      Voters deserve a more fulsome explanation than what's been provided to date.