Publisher’s Column: Conflict of Interest is Complicated

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By John Francis

A letter in this newspaper asks why MNBP Councillor Smokey Golden does not recuse herself when the dispute between Parks Canada and Bruce Anchor Cruises is discussed at Council. The letter points out that Griffin Salen recused himself when his helicopter charter business was discussed as did former Deputy Mayor Ted Hayes when his various businesses were mentioned.
I looked it up. You can too — it’s in the MNBP Meeting Agenda for April 23, 2019 in the presentation by MNBP’s Integrity Commissioner, Harold Elston. He explained that all municipalities are governed by Ontario’s Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.
Members of Council should not vote nor participate in the debate on issues “where a member, either on his or her own behalf or while acting for, by, with or through another, has any pecuniary interest, direct or indirect, in any matter and is present at a meeting of the council or local board at which the matter is the subject of consideration, the member,”
Elston’s report went on to explain how deemed pecuniary interests work:
“• The pecuniary interest, direct or indirect, of a parent or the spouse or any child of the member shall be deemed to be also the pecuniary interest of the Member.
• Siblings not included in the list”.
Thus Councillor Golden is explicitly permitted to speak and vote on issues pertaining to businesses owned by her brothers (Brent Robins and Mike Robins) in which she has no pecuniary interest.
In fact, Councillor Golden was one of the organizers of People Opposed to the Park Proposal (POPP) 35 years ago. Her determination to prevent over-reach by Parks Canada predates her brother’s boat tour business by more than 20 years.
But the Conflict of Interest rules have had an impact on our new Council. Councillor Megan Myles, who owns Fitz Hostel in Lion’s Head, does not participate in, nor vote on, the Short-Term Accommodation issue. This is legally correct, but quite unfortunate. Councillor Myles campaigned on the need to incorporate the idea of sustainable tourism into our economic development plans. It is a shame to have Council deprived of her voice and insights.
Earlier in the year, Council had to deal with an issue pertaining to Bass Road Beach (Lindsay Road 20). The only two people in the room who understood the issue — Mayor Milt McIver and Deputy Mayor Debbie Myles — both had to recuse themselves. Mayor McIver’s father once owned the property and developed Bass Road Beach; as one of his heirs, Mayor McIver may have some residual rights to the property. Deputy Mayor Myles lives across the road from the beach and has researched its status extensively; she believes it is a public beach. It was unfortunate (but legally unavoidable) to have Council deprived of their understanding when a decision was needed.