The issue of how large a gift may appropriately be given to a politician by a developer periodically makes the news.
Small gifts can be as politically damaging as large ones. Mayor Jack Volrich
accepted a Seiko watch from Japanese officials while he and other councilors
were visiting Japan. It was a ceremonial visit and gift. There was nothing wrong with it.
Besides, Mayor Volrich did more than any local politician to bring
Expo 86 to Vancouver.
Did they call him "Expo Jack" after that?
No. He was remembered as Seiko Jack. He and the NPA lost the next
election to Mike Harcourt.
Relieving taxpayers of their burdens
Councilor Tim Stevenson has performed a splendid service by his willingness to
test how far one can go in accepting gifts, even for the good cause of taking on
homophobia in Russia. According to the CBC, a recent Council motion includes a mandate for
Stevenson to travel to Russia and lobby the IOC to include gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender
rights in the Olympic charter and ensure host cities have a pride house.
Funding for the trip is expected to come from private donations, including
$50,000 that has already been donated by condo marketer Bob Rennie and hotelier
Peter Wall, two major players in Vancouver. Critics have raised concerns the
donations could influence future development decisions at city hall, but Mayor
"The key thing [is] if people are willing to put money forward for
initiatives, that's fantastic," said Robertson. "If it takes the
burden away from taxpayers then that's good for all of us."
The initiative in this case - sending a councilor to the Olympics, is different from giving money for the Orpheum Theatre or for a park. The difference is recognized by the law.
The Vancouver Charter
Under Section 196 of the Vancouver Charter, the duties of office include travel by a Councilor to represent the City abroad. He is
entitled to claim expenses. Council has implemented this power under the Mayor
and Council Members' Expenses Bylaw No. 8904.
Vancouver Charter s. 141 sets out the grounds upon which a councilor
can be removed from office. One of the grounds is a violation of Vancouver
Charter s. 145.7. That section states
“(1) a Council member must not, directly or indirectly, accept a fee, gift
or personal benefit that is connected with the member's performance of the
duties of office.
(2) Subsection 1 does not apply to (a) a gift or personal benefit that is
received as an incident of the protocol or social obligations that normally
accompany the responsibilities of office,
(3) A person who contravenes this section is disqualified from holding an
office described in, and for the period established by, section 141 (2)
[disqualification], unless the contravention was done inadvertently or because
of an error in judgment made in good faith.
Thus, travelling to the Olympics would be connected to Councilor Stevenson’s
performance of his duties of office. He would not be on a frolic of his own. As
a result, he could fall victim to another current trend: To sue councilors and
But there is more to it. A separate section, s 145.8 requires disclosure of the
receipt of gifts that are incidents of protocol. If the gift is connected with the member’s performance of his duties, the section would not apply and would not be a defence.
The Petitioner would argue that interpreting sections 145.7 and 145.8 together,
if a councilor, even indirectly, accepts a gift of an expense paid
trip to Sochi; he has contravened the section and would be disqualified from
Councilor Stevenson has not concealed anything. In fact he indicated that if the Russians sent him to some gulag or
other, he hoped his friends would send him Purdy’s chocolates. "I like the
dark ones," he added. http://www.vancourier.com/gay-councillor-to-take-vancouver-mayor-s-place-in-sochi-1.757259 The process for removing a councilor from office under these circumstances is
by a simple application to a court for a declaration of disqualification. It
must be brought within 45 days by 10 electors under s. 142 of the
Regardless of the law, can it ever be right for a councilor to accept a substantial gift from a developer, whether or not the gift relates to the performance of his or her duties? A councilor's duties, in addition to visiting Russia and
correcting that country's moral shortcomings, also include regulating developers. Even
if the councilor agreed not to vote on any project that directly or indirectly
affected the most well intentioned developer, the Councilor's job is to
vote on development regulations- not to abstain on the grounds of conflict of interest or perceived bias.