By Troy DeSouza, Dominion GovLaw LLP
Local government legislation provides a bright line for conflicts of interest involving elected officials.
Not really. Some conflicts of interest are clear; most are not. Legislation is a starting point to identifying a conflict. However, answering the question requires looking at the statutory and common law, facts, perception of conflict and pecuniary interest (Schlenker v. Torgrimson [Saltspring Island Local Trust Area] 2013 BCCA).
As an elected official, am I in conflict on issues I ran on as a candidate?
No. Political opponents often allege conflict for a political advantage. Having a political platform and acting to advance those issues is unlikely to constitute a conflict of interest. A political accusation is not a legal conflict of interest.
My spouse works for a company that provides services to my city. There should be no conflict as that was disclosed during the election.
A conflict may still exist. However, for some municipalities, it may be a hardship to cease such a relationship. A municipal lawyer can advise on how best to mitigate this situation and remove the potential for conflicts, i.e., decision-making, without ceasing the relationship entirely.
The city’s legal counsel advised that there may be a potential for a conflict of interest, so I must declare one.
Not always. Opinions obtained by the municipal corporation are legal advice for the corporation. Elected officials are strongly advised to obtain their own independent legal advice that directly answers the municipal concern in a confidential manner, and which is protected by solicitor-client privilege. Such an opinion accounts for an elected official’s objectives, public policy goals, risk and ultimately identifies ways in which a conflict may be mitigated.
As an elected official, I cannot afford to pay for independent legal advice.