B.C. municipal politician resigns after taking paid leave to work in the Caribbean

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

As civic political scandals go, it's hardly on the level of the corruption-tinged mayors in Montreal and Laval, Que., or London, Ont.'s Joe Fontana, forced to quit over allegations from his past as a federal MP.

It's doesn't even approach Toronto Mayor (for now) Rob Ford's conflict-of-interest misadventures.

[ Related: Rob Ford tops a long list of Canadian mayors in turmoil ]

But a suburban Victoria municipal councillor's resignation over apparent double-dipping has caused a frisson of excitement in the B.C. capital's otherwise sleepy municipal body politic.

It seems Terry Siklenka applied back in September for a year's paid leave from his elected post as a councillor in Central Saanich, a job he's held since 2008, according to the Peninsula News Review. He was granted six months' leave with pay, worth about $6,000.

The professional air conditioning contractor didn't specify why he wanted to take time off from helping run the bucolic Victoria suburb, with its acreages, little farms and groves of fir trees.

Council voted Nov. 5 to give him six months off.

But reporters started digging around amid rumours he'd taken a job out of the country.

The Victoria Times Colonist reported blogger Ryan Windsor had stumbled on a web site for Polar Bear Air Conditioning, which is headquartered in the Cayman Islands, the balmy Caribbean paradise known for its luxury resorts, enclaves of the rich and famous and, of course, discrete banking services.

Windsor, who ran unsuccessfully for council last year, blew the whistle on Siklenka on the Saanich Voice Online blog after calling Polar Bear to confirm the councillor worked there. Siklenka is listed by the company as its service coordinator.

Central Saanich Mayor Alastair Bryson instructed municipal staff to follow up in advance of a scheduled in-camera council meeting next week, the Times Colonist reported.

Siklenka reportedly was unavailable to speak to the media but the Times Colonist said someone claiming to be him posted on a local Facebook page on Nov. 20 that a friend had asked him to come and work there as Polar Bear was helping repair damage in the region caused by Hurricane Sandy and the 2010 earthquake.

"Polar Bear is helping rebuild a boys orphanage (they need tables and chairs) in Haiti and a church and living quarters in the Dominican Republic," Siklenka said.

"I guess these type of things aren't as important to Ryan Windsor or Sue Stroud (another blogger) or they would quit wasting their time and energy chasing me down and maybe get out there and help the world a little. I'm very proud to work for a company who supports this in a major way and I sleep very well at night."

But by Monday evening, Siklenka had tendered his resignation from council, effective immediately, Bryson told the Times Colonist. A byelection will be held to fill the seat for the two remaining years of his term.

In a post Monday night on the same Facebook group page, Siklenka changed his story a little. He said he'd quit his Victoria air conditioning job "under stress" and took a week in the Caymans to visit his friend, then go to California to help his wife's family, which was preparing a move from Britain.

"I offered to resign and Council asked me not to resign due to the fact it would trigger a byelection (cost in excess of $30,000)  ... and because I intended to potentially return," he said.

But later he was asked to request formal leave, he said, adding he had not requested to be paid. Siklenka said he took the offer to work for Polar Bear because he was jobless and it offered good "life experience."

In hindsight, he said, perhaps he should have done things differently.

[ Related: Indebted Caribbean tax havens look to tax foreign investors ]

"But at no time was I or anyone else trying to hurt anyone and always the community's best interests were in the fore front," Siklenka said.

"Rough finish to often thankless service on Central Saanich Council," tweeted Frank Leonard, mayor of neighbouring Saanich.

But resident Christine Ash was less sympathetic: "Wow — municipal politicians have an overwhelming sense of entitlement ... Rob Ford, Joe Fontana & Central Saanich councillor Terry Siklenka."