I referred in Bits and Pieces to a Councillor in Vaughan having declared a conflict of interest and the report that it may cost the municipality insurance coverage if they lose a court action. A reader seeks more detail.
Conflict of Interest is not a difficult concept to understand. But it has been made so by the anxiety of politicians, due to dire warnings by lawyers, to declare a conflict even when they have none. 'Better to be safe than sorry' is the conventional wisdom.
The principle is that no elected or appointed officer can exploit their position of trust and influence to gain a financial advantage. A separate school trustee in Toronto has just been thrown out of office because of a conflict of interest. The only thing obvious in the news story was that he had been found guilty. Ten charges had been filed against him by a citizen.
The story in Munimail was that a Vaughan councillor declared a conflict of interest two months after he attended a closed door meeting during which a law suit between the municipality and a close friend of his was discussed. It was a news story because his declaration might cost Vaughan their insurance coverage if they lose the case.
The story was not about a councillor being in conflict. Unless he shared confidential information about the town's case with his friend and stood to gain financially from doing so, he was not. Nor did he make that admission. But by declaring a conflict and thereby suggesting the possibility of information being provided to a litigant against the town, the Vaughan councillor may have, in the eyes of the town's insurerers, jeopardized the municipality's ability to defend or prosecute the case. In the event the case was lost there may have been a denial of liability. That's the sense I take from the story.
Municipalities must carry liability insurance. Councillors are advised in the strongest terms at the slightest hint of possibility of litigation, it is imperative they keep their lips shut as tight as a clam. Councillors are regularly accused of keeping secret information the public are entitled to know by observing the rules. It may well be the hardest thing I ever had to do.
There is no option. Putting the municipality in a position of financial jeopardy is not a conflict of interest, it is a breach of trust. It is a betrayal of the Oath of Office. It is an offence under the Criminal Code.
Sending a document to a lawyer for litigants against the town, with a hand-written note suggesting it might be of interest, and said document becoming part of the public record in the courts is at least problematic.