Exclusive: Report for Vancouver mayor's office recommends Coun. Michael Wiebe resign his seat

A conflict-of-interest probe was launched following a citizen's complaint in response to a Georgia Straight story in June

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      An independent investigator has declared that Coun. Michael Wiebe is disqualified from holding local office until the next election, due to a conflict of interest. 

      Raymond Young, who taught municipal law at UBC for a decade, also recommended in his 14-page report that it would be "appropriate" for Wiebe to resign his seat on council.

      Young's investigation was triggered by a complaint from a nonpractising lawyer, Michael Redmond, based on a story on Straight.com.

      On June 5, the Straight reported that Wiebe did not absent himself from discussions or voting on motions on May 13 and May 27 dealing with the city's temporary expansion of patio spaces.

      On his financial disclosure statement earlier this year, Wiebe identified himself as the owner/operator of Eight 1/2 Restaurant Lounge.

      This establishment was among the first group of businesses that city staff approved for temporary patio permits.

      According to Young's report, email correspondence in connection with the Eight 1/2 Restaurant Lounge application came from an email account with Wiebe's surname.

      "From this time line and the email string, it is clear that Councillor Wiebe's actions on May 13th and 27th were made with the knowledge that he was personally involved in facilitating his restaurant, Eight 1/2 Restaurant, submitting its application on June 2nd, one day after the program came into effect." Young wrote.

      On June 11, six days after the Straight article appeared, Wiebe declared a conflict of interest when this issue came back before council.

      In his report, Young concluded that this declaration "does not validate a conflict of interest relating to his businesses on May 13th and 27th, 2020".

      "In failing to disclose his interest in the restaurant Eight 1/2 Restaurant and The Portside Pub at the Standing Committee meeting on May 13th and the Special Council meeting on May 27th, then remaining at the meeting, voting on temporary patio matters on May 13th and on May 27th and by participating in the matter on May 27th by seconding two motions related to temporary patios, Councillor Wiebe violated S. 145.2 (2) [of the Vancouver Charter] in its entirety and violated S. 145.3 (2) (a) (b) and (c)," Young wrote.

      Moreover, the report stated: "His conflict of interest actions cannot be viewed as an error in judgement made in good faith."

      Wiebe declined to comment to the Straight, saying he hasn't seen Young's report.

      Wiebe defended his actions in an email

      The city's code of conduct defines a conflict as when an elected official could be influenced or appear to be influenced by a personal interest, financial or otherwise, when carrying out their public duty.

      Under section 145.2 of the Vancouver Charter, a politician is required to declare a conflict when it exists. Then under section 145.3, the elected official must not attend any part of the meeting in which this matter is under consideration.

      In an appendix to Young's report, Wiebe defended his actions.

      "For context, I had legal advice in the council chambers on the votes in question and did on multiple occasions declare a conflict of interest on patio and related votes because of my restaurant and related businesses," Wiebe wrote in a July 13 email to Young.

      Young followed up on August 16 by asking Wiebe who provided that advice in the council chambers and on what date or dates this occurred. According to Young's report, Wiebe failed to respond.

      Young also reviewed the meeting minutes from May 13 and 27.

      "There is nothing on the official records to show that Councillor Wiebe sought and/or received legal or other advice during these meetings or that he made his personal pecuniary conflict known to the public," the investigator wrote. "To date, Councillor Wiebe has not provided additional information."

      In addition, Young compiled a list of all the times that Wiebe had declared himself to be in a conflict of interest—twice in 2018, three times in 2019, and twice prior to the May 13 meeting.

      "Despite apparently being knowledgeable about conflicts of interest, on May 13th, Councillor Wiebe put forward the amendment [for] 'staff to work directly with business operators to identify immediate patio seating options.' Councillor Wiebe had to know that he was a business operator," Young wrote. "His proposed and passed amendment enabled Councillor Wiebe to wear two hats when dealing with city staff: that of the Council member and that of the business owner.

      "This was a clear conflict of interest situation that he deliberately set in motion. This conflict of interest cannot be viewed as an inadvertent action."

      10 percent of restaurants obtained temporary patio permits

      Young acknowledged in his report that Wiebe had correctly maintained that temporary patio permits are offered citywide. Plus, there were more than 3,000 business licences issued to restaurants and bars in 2019.

      But Young concluded that only 10 percent of restaurants and bars had benefited from the program by July 24. And only food-service operators who can function within the city and provincial guidelines may apply.

      "Therefore," Young wrote. "this pecuniary interest cannot be considered a pecuniary interest in common with the electors of the city in general."

      Young also noted in his report that if Wiebe does not "voluntarily remove himself from office", the Vancouver Charter provides a remedy.

      Either the City of Vancouver or 10 or more electors in Vancouver may apply for a court order forcing his resignation. If the City of Vancouver files the application, it must be supported by at least two-thirds of council.

      The current council is comprised of nine members, including Michael Wiebe, who were elected to this chamber for the first time in 2018.

      No motions filed after Straight scoop

      Wiebe is one of three Green members of council, along with Adriane Carr and Pete Fry. 

      There are four NPA councillors (Colleen Hardwick, Melissa De Genova, Sarah Kirby-Young, and Lisa Dominato), one independent (Rebecca Bligh), one OneCity councillor (Christine Boyle), one COPE councillor (Jean Swanson). Mayor Kennedy Stewart is an independent.

      Carr and De Genova are the only two who served on council in the previous term.

      After the Straight reported on this issue on June 5, no member of council brought forward a motion seeking an investigation into Wiebe's conduct.

      That was despite former NPA councillor George Affleck's demand over Twitter for an immediate third-party investigation.

      The probe only occured after Redmond complained to the offices of the mayor and city manager on June 29—more than three weeks after the Straight's story appeared.

      Young's report was submitted to Stewart's office on September 12, marked "confidential".

      On September 15, city manager Sadhu Johnston announced that he will resign in January to spend more time with his family.

      There's no indication that his departure is linked in any way to Young's report.

      In the 2004 federal election, Redmond ran for the Conservatives in Burnaby–New Westminster, losing to the NDP's Peter Julian.

      Redmond told the Straight that after he moved to Vancouver, he volunteered for a while with the NPA, but he doesn't consider himself to be a party insider.

      He also acknowledged that this conflict of interest involving Wiebe may not appear to be the biggest scandal in the world. 

      "It's not envelopes with cash being stuffed in them being passed around, but it's still wrong," Redmond said. "And people should follow the rules."