Ethical Standards for Locally Elected Officials
The Community Charter provides rules for:
- Conflicts of interest
- Inside and outside influence
- Exceptions from conflict restrictions
- Use of insider information
The Vancouver Charter has parallel rules for City of Vancouver council members.
Conflicts of Interest
The Community Charter conflict of interest rules provide that locally elected officials who have a financial (pecuniary) interest in a matter that will be discussed or voted on at their municipal council or regional district board meetings must declare that interest in the matter. Following their declaration, they may not participate in discussions, vote or exercise influence on the matter.
A locally elected official who declares a conflict of interest and then obtains legal advice and determines that they are not in a conflict position, may withdraw the original declaration and participate in subsequent discussions and vote on the matter being considered.
Common law establishes whether or not a particular set of circumstances gives rise to an interest that would be considered to be a prohibited pecuniary or other interest–-in other words, the legislation does not set out the substance of what is or is not a conflict, given that conflicts of interest are complex and dependent on the particular facts in every situation. Whether or not there is a conflict of interest can only be decided by the courts. The courts can only make a judgement if a locally elected official with an alleged conflict of interest is challenged in court.
The Community Charter prohibits a locally elected official from using their office to attempt to influence a decision of the local government if that elected official has a direct or indirect pecuniary (financial) interest in the matter.
The Community Charter prohibits a locally elected official who has a direct or indirect pecuniary (financial) interest in a matter from using their office to attempt to influence a decision of any other person or body.
Exceptions from Conflict Restrictions
Community Charter provides some exceptions to the restrictions on conflict of interest and inside and outside influence, such as:
- An elected official’s pecuniary interest is an interest in common with the electors of the jurisdiction
- An elected official’s pecuniary interest, related to a local service, is in common with other persons who are or would be liable for the local service tax
- A matter under consideration relates to the remuneration, expenses or benefits payable to elected officials in their capacity as members of that elected body
- The pecuniary interest is so remote or insignificant that it cannot reasonably be viewed as likely to influence the elected official
- An elected official has a legal right to be heard in respect of a matter or to make representations to the elected body, in which case the official may appoint a representative to exercise that right
- The pecuniary interest or conflict is allowed through a regulation
Conflict of Interest Exceptions Regulations
The Conflict of Interest Exceptions Regulation (and the accompanying regulation that applies specifically to the City of Vancouver) allows elected local government officials to be appointed by their local government to serve on certain society or corporate boards, without risk of disqualification based on financial conflict of interest simply because of their appointment.
Appointments to society and corporate boards must be made by the governing body (a municipal council, a regional district board or the Islands Trust council). When those representatives are officially appointed by their local governments, they will not be in a pecuniary conflict of interest simply because of their appointment when discussing and voting on matters concerning the society or corporation at meetings of the local government.
- Conflict of Interest Exceptions Regulations
- Conflict of Interest Exceptions (City of Vancouver) Regulation
The Community Charter prohibits an elected official from directly or indirectly accepting a gift, fee or personal benefit that is connected in some way to their performance as an elected official, unless it is one of the following:
- A gift or benefit that is received as an incident of the protocol or social obligations that normally accompany the responsibilities of office
- Compensation authorized by law
- A lawful campaign contribution
The Community Charter requires elected officials to disclose any permitted gift or benefit that is worth more than $250. This does not include gifts which are personal and not connected to the official's performance as an elected official. If the combined value of lesser gifts from one source over any 12-month period exceeds $250, those gifts must also be disclosed.
Disclosure must be made by filing the following information with the local government's corporate officer as soon as reasonably practicable: a description of the gift, when it was received, the circumstances under which it was given and received and the name of the giver.
The Community Charter requires public disclosure of any contract in which an elected official, or a person who was an elected official within the previous six months, has a direct or indirect pecuniary interest.
- Community Charter, Section 107 - Disclosure of contracts with council members and former council members
Current or former elected officials are required to advise the local government's corporate officer as soon as reasonably practicable of any such contracts.This requirement applies to contracts between the local government or Islands Trust and a current or former elected official, as well as to contracts between the local government or Islands Trust and persons or companies with whom the elected official is connected. It could also include contracts where the elected official's spouse or other close relative is the party that contracts with the local government or Islands Trust.
Use of Insider Information
The Community Charter restricts existing or former elected officials from using information that was obtained during the official's time in office, which is not available to the general public, to gain or further a direct or indirect pecuniary interest. As the legislation does not specify a time limit for this restriction, the restriction applies indefinitely, or until the information is available to the general public.
A locally elected official who has a direct or indirect pecuniary interest in a matter and contravenes the ethical standards provisions in the Community Charter may be disqualified from holding public office. The exceptions are if the contravention was done inadvertently or because of an error in judgement made in good faith. Section 108 of the Charter sets out that an elected official who is disqualified cannot run until the next general local election if the Supreme Court of B.C. finds them in contravention of these rules setting ethical standards.
The Community Charter sets out the procedure for applying to the Supreme Court of B.C. to have an elected official declared disqualified.
In addition, section 109 introduces the ability of the local government, the Islands Trust or an elector to apply to the Supreme Court of B.C. for an order requiring a member, or former elected official, to pay to the local government or organization all or part of the elected official's financial gain obtained as a result of contravening the rules setting ethical standards.
As conflict of interest and other ethical standards often raise complex issues involving both facts and perception, there are some additional considerations for locally elected officials when reviewing the rules on ethical behaviour, including non-pecuniary conflicts of interest, obtaining legal advice, and disclosing gifts and contracts.