Sunday, 15 December 2013


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.

The CBC reported as follows: )

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 Robertson disagrees.

"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 the City.

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 holding office.

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.

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 Vancouver Charter.

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.


  1. One must assume that the Vancouver Charter contemplated conflicts of interest. But for me, we don't need the Charter to help us on this one. To spin that they are saving the taxpayers money, and I might add, for a laudable pursuit, is insulting to all taxpayers. This council has pushed its ideology for the past five years in this City, next year, it will move to the world stage. One can only hope that these spinsters are coming to the end of their preaching.

    1. Mike,

      You do need the Charter. If the payment is considered immoral but not illegal the Councilor remains on Council and has to answer to the voters. If it is illegal under the Charter, the Councilor can be removed from Council.

    2. Great research Mike! So what are the next steps? Does Tim have to formally accept a cheque from Rennie, or to leave for Sochi, or what is the trigger that must occur for action to be initiated against him? Is there legal action planned, or a petition Vancouverites need to sign requesting Tim's removal? Thanks again for the service you have done Vancouverites in unearthing the legislation that reveals the illegality of Tim's plans.

    3. Sorry, I meant to thank Jonathan, not Mike...

    4. And now for Vision Van's 2nd spin attempt - Taxpayers will pay for Stevenson, but the developers are paying for his entourage, wink, wink. Will that include the entourage buying the Councillor expensive dinners, etc.? Can the entourage be separated form the Councillor? No. No Councillor at Sochi, no entourage. They are a piece. The conflict remains.

      Bill McCreery

  2. You are amazing, Jonathan. Thank you so much for explaining it to us. Sometimes things passing by us are so confusing to say the least....