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Vancouver councillor resists calls to resign after report finds conflict of interest

Click to play video: 'Vancouver councillor resists calls for resignation among conflict of interest accusations' Vancouver councillor resists calls for resignation among conflict of interest accusations
Vancouver councillor Michael Wiebe is resisting calls for his resignation amid conflict of interest accusations over his vote on the city's temporary patio rules. Grace Ke reports. – Sep 21, 2020

A Vancouver city councillor is resisting calls for his resignation over conflict of interest.

An independent investigation found that Coun. Michael Wiebe was in conflict when he voted on the city’s temporary patio program for restaurants and bars.

The report prepared by Raymond Young for Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart called for Wiebe to resign from council.

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Young was tasked with investigating a complaint following a June 5 story in The Georgia Straight.

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According to the complaint, Wiebe did not recuse himself from council meetings on May 13 and May 27 involving the city’s temporary expedited patio program (TEPP).

The report notes Wiebe put forward an amendment for staff to work with restaurants on patio options.

In previous disclosure statements, Wiebe had said he was the owner/operator of Vancouver’s Eight 1/2 Restaurant Lounge and an investor in the Portside Pub.

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Eight 1/2 was among the first 14 businesses to receive temporary patio permits. The permit was issued on June 4, according to the report.

Wiebe later declared a conflict of interest during a June 11 special council meeting to discuss the patio program being extended to patios on private property, the report reads.

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Read more: Vancouver issues first sidewalk patio permits, expands program to breweries

Young said Wiebe should have recused himself from discussing or voting on the motion. Wiebe had recused himself in the past, according to the report, which suggests he had an understanding of what constitutes a conflict of interest.

“His proposed and passed amendment enabled Councillor Wiebe to wear two hats when dealing with city staff: that of council member and that of business owner,” Young wrote.

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“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.”

Former Vancouver Coun. George Affleck said Wiebe should have recused himself.

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“You represent the people, you want them to respect you and believe in you, and so you don’t want to make mistakes,” he said. “So that perception is a big, big thing to think about when you’re in office.”

In a statement issued Monday, Wiebe said he voted in May to direct staff to work with the business community to explore temporary patio seating options amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In advance of the votes, I asked for advice from City management and my understanding was that the patio policy would be broad and citywide, benefitting all of Vancouver’s restaurant sector, as well as breweries with tasting rooms and even common public spaces, and that the policy doesn’t specifically benefit me over other operators.

“I was also informed that it is up to me to determine whether I can participate with an open mind in the votes.

Read more: Vancouver council votes to ease up on patio restrictions amid COVID-19

“Based on this information, I decided to vote on the temporary patio policy with the good faith belief that I did not have a conflict and that I had made appropriate inquiries. I believed at the time that this vote was in the best interests of the business community and all of its employees and more broadly in the best interests of the City of Vancouver. I still believe this is the case.”

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Wiebe went on to say he acted in “good faith” throughout the process.

“That said, despite my best of intentions, if I inadvertently made an error in this matter, I am deeply sorry,” he said. “I always strive to look out for the public’s interests and conduct myself accordingly.”

Wiebe said the investigation ended before he was able to provide input and he has asked the investigator for a chance to provide evidence.

A court application can be made to remove Wiebe from office. It needs 10 or more electors or two-thirds of council approval.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart has said he can make recommendations to council about what action to take concerning Wiebe but won’t comment until he has fully reviewed the report.

— With files from Grace Ke

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