Minister in charge of B.C. municipalities calls on Port Moody mayor to 'do the right thing'

The controversy over Port Moody Mayor Rob Vagramov staying on as mayor despite his sexual assault charge has gone from a local issue to a provincial one. 

"It's tearing this community apart. I would hope that the mayor would listen to his community and do the right thing," said Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson in question period on Thursday.

Vagramov was originally charged with sexual assault in March — stemming from an incident in 2015 — and took a leave of absence.

But he returned to the job in September with the case still working its way through the court system, and Port Moody council voted Monday to ask him to take a leave of absence until the case was resolved.

Port Moody-Coquitlam MLA Rick Glumac, a supporter of Vagramov in the past, had declined to comment on the controversy but decided to weigh in on Thursday after Robinson's comments.

"Allegations of sexual assault must be treated seriously," said Glumac.

"It is my hope that the Mayor of Port Moody will do what's in the best interests of the people of Port Moody. While this investigation is still under way, he should reconsider his decision to return from leave."

Legislation coming?

Aside from certain situations around financial conflicts of interest, mayors and councillors in B.C. cannot be removed from office, even if convicted of a serious crime. 

But Robinson said she hoped to introduce legislation some time over the next two years, 13 months after the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) requested such a move at its 2018 convention. 

"It's a challenging balance," she said, adding that work was underway with a UBCM committee.

"We're going to continue to take a look at these sensitive issues and take a path forward."

The UBCM resolution called on the province to ensure legislation forces local politicians "to take a paid leave of absence from office upon Crown approval of charges until the court process is complete."

Robinson didn't specify what the legislation would look like, but B.C. Liberal critic for municipal affairs Todd Stone said he hoped they would do it. 

"There should be no question whatsoever that the requirement is for the individual to step aside," he said. 

"As times have have continued to evolve, so has the public expectation in terms of ... the kind of consequences that elected officials should be subject to while under criminal investigation."

Vagramov has said he will consider the motion passed in council — which he opposed, along with councillors Steve Milani and Hunter Madsen — but would not put a timeline on when he would make up his mind. 

His next court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 13.