Thursday, December 19, 2013

A fine line to tread for North Coast LNG travellers?

The Vancouver Sun's Gordon Hoekstra has raised some interesting observations regarding the recent travel arrangements of municipal politicians on the North Coast and elsewhere in BC, particularly when it comes to the surge of interest in major projects in many parts of the province.

The Vancouver Sun journalist reviewed the recent trips of elected representatives of both Prince Rupert and Port Edward to overseas LNG destinations, using those trips as background to the larger issue of potential conflict of interest situations.

Using Mayor Mussallem's trip to Trinidad and Tobago and the journey to Malaysia of Port Edward Mayor Dave MacDonald as examples, the Vancouver based journalist offered up some thoughts on the optics of such journeys.

Reviewing the theme of conflict of interest and the lines that can be crossed and how these types of trips raise some alarm bells for political scientists.

For background for his piece Hoekstra, consulted two Political scientists, Max Cameron at UBC and Patrick Smith at SFU.

And from their review of the twin files, the consensus would seem to be that municipalities need to be cautious when accepting these research trips.

Perhaps going so far as to request the opportunity to choose which project they would like to see. As well as to ask to meet critics of the projects, in addition to meeting with company officials when they go on the whirlwind tours.

The article provides a number of points for all communities to consider when it comes to travel paid for by third parties, particularly as the major project euphoria continues to wash ashore in British Columbia.

For their part, both Mayor Mussallem and Ron Bedard, Port Edward's Chief Administration Officer were quoted in the story, offering their thoughts on the topic and outlining, how in their opinion and after legal review, neither trip was considered to be in conflict.

You can review the full article from the Vancouver Sun here.

While the Vancouver Sun journalist and a collection of political scientists may have some concerns over the travel arrangements of municipal politicians, they are seemingly not concerns that have crossed the mind of anyone on Prince Rupert City Council.

As you'll see when you review the Mayor's presentation of October, few if any of the city's councillors had much of anything to say about the Mayor's trip, or the surprise nature of it.

Our review of the Mayor's LNG primer can be found here, the City Council Video Archive offers up the Mayor's review for Council from the October 15th session (it runs from the 36 minute mark through to the 45 minute mark)

At that session, only Councillor Thorkelson had a question for the Mayor and it wasn't about the trip, as much as it was  a review of her frustrations on the lack of information available to council on LNG development.

The provincial law that provides the guidelines on conflict of interest is through the British Columbia Community Charter, Division Six, which outlines a number of items of note on the theme.

A B. C. government official contacted by the Vancouver Sun for the Hoekstra article advised, that "ultimately it is the courts that would decide whether a council member had breached either of the provisions (conflict or gifts)."

Perhaps the theme of out of town travel ( particularly that which is paid by third parties) may be a topic that Council will wish to explore in the new year.

Seeking to clarify for the city's residents, just what the parameters on these types of trips may be.

And for good measure, offer up a guideline as to where the line between research and conflict may be found.

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