Vancouver NPA member triggered Wiebe conflict-of-interest probe

Independent report says councillor Michael Wiebe should be disqualified from holding office

Green Party Coun. Michael Wiebe is under fire after an independent investigator concluded he should be disqualified from holding office until the next election in October 2022. File photo Jennifer Gauthier

The person who triggered a conflict-of-interest investigation against Green Party city councillor Michael Wiebe over the city’s temporary patio program is a retired lawyer who volunteered with the Non-Partisan Association in its 2018 municipal campaign.

But Michael Redmond, who bought a five-year NPA membership in 2018 and did some phone bank work at the party’s campaign headquarters, said his complaint was not driven by politics, but by the need for politicians to uphold the law.

“I have not spoken to anybody on the NPA board, none of them were advised I was doing this,” he told Glacier Media. “Given the current membership of the NPA board, I am not a great fan of the current organization of the NPA as it exists anyway. This [complaint] was not done on behalf of the NPA, or anyone else.”

The NPA is the only party represented on council that has publicly called for Wiebe to resign, with its president David Mawhinney issuing a news release Monday requesting the councillor “do the right thing.”

Redmond said he was alerted to Wiebe’s potential conflict-of-interest after reading a story in the Georgia Straight in June that pointed out the councillor voted in May in favour of a temporary patio program for restaurants, bars and breweries.

Wiebe, whose business interests are listed in his financial disclosure statement on the city’s website, owns Eight ½ restaurant in Mount Pleasant and is an investor in Portside Pub in Gastown. 

Both businesses received patio licences, with Wiebe among the first 14 business operators announced June 5 by the city. Redmond filed his complaint June 29 to the offices of Mayor Kennedy Stewart and city manager Sadhu Johnston.

Redmond, who was a lawyer for 30 years and has experience in administrative tribunal work, said he found the allegations against Wiebe serious, but was concerned council nor city staff wouldn’t investigate.

His complaint was registered under the city’s Code of Conduct policy, which governs the behaviour of council, staff and advisory board members. The policy sets out guidelines to follow if a person believes they could be in a conflict of interest. 

Upon receipt of the complaint, the mayor appointed veteran municipal law expert Raymond Young — upon agreement from Redmond and Wiebe — to conduct an investigation and produce a report with recommendations.

Redmond has shared the report with Glacier Media and other media because he was concerned the findings wouldn’t be made public. Those findings are particularly damning for Wiebe, a first-term city councillor whose party holds three seats on the 11-member council.

Young concluded that Wiebe “is disqualified from holding office until the next election in October 2022 and that “it would be appropriate for councillor Wiebe to resign his seat on council.”

He said if Wiebe chooses not to voluntarily resign, the Vancouver Charter allows 10 or more electors in the city to petition the court, or have the city apply for a court order to remove him. The city may only apply to the court, if council approves a resolution that has the support of two-thirds of councillors, who have not made any public comments about the case, with NPA Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung tweeting this week: 

“For those asking for comment or seeking to know why I’m not commenting, I have legal obligations as a sitting Vancouver councillor that need to be upheld and preclude all councillors from speaking on an open Code of Conduct conflict investigation.”

Young also addressed Redmond’s suggestion in his written complaint that any permits or other benefits granted to Wiebe related to his restaurant and pub be rescinded. Young said recovery of financial gain is beyond the scope of his investigation and could only be decided in B.C. Supreme Court.

The matter now largely rests with the mayor, who can make recommendations to council. Stewart issued a statement Monday saying he couldn’t comment further “to maintain the integrity of the process.”

For Wiebe, who defended his actions Sunday to Glacier Media and issued a statement Monday, his position is that he didn’t do anything wrong. He said he acted in good faith and the votes in May were to help the business community hit financially hard by the pandemic.

“I still believe this is the case,” he said in his statement, noting more than 300 restaurants, breweries and cafes across the city now have patio extensions because of the program.

Redmond said he doesn’t know Wiebe and reiterated that his motivation for the complaint was not political, or personal. As a former candidate for the Progress Conservatives in 2000 and the Conservatives in 2004 in New Westminster and Burnaby, Redmond said he knows the scrutiny that comes with the job. 

“It’s always a shame because I’ve put my name forward for politics, and I know lots of people who have served,” he said. “Very few people in politics go in rubbing their hands and looking to enrich themselves. It’s not Chicago here. But it’s important that you not sort of let the process slide into a situation in which everybody just overlooks behaviour which isn’t appropriate.”

Asked if he was satisfied with Young’s findings, Redmond said, “I’m happy with the process and that there is a process by which issues like that can be looked at dispassionately be people who know what they’re talking about.”

Added Redmond: “Given [Young’s] findings, I think people have to draw their own conclusions as to what should be done next. I think it’s a really powerful statement.”

mhowell@glaciermedia.ca

@Howellings