A conflict-of-interest investigation into Vancouver Coun. Michael Wiebe's motions and votes concerning the city's temporary patio program has recommended the first-term councillor resign and be disqualified from holding office.
In the independent investigation, attorney Raymond E. Young, who was appointed by the mayor following a complaint against Wiebe, found that Wiebe's "conflict of interest actions cannot be viewed as an error in judgment made in good faith."
Wiebe, who used to serve on the park board, is the owner of Vancouver's Eight ½ Restaurant, as well as an investor in the Portside Pub.
The complaint claimed — and Young agreed — that Wiebe, a Green Party member, failed to declare a conflict of interest and recuse himself from several council meetings, where he and his businesses would benefit from the votes.
The investigation, whose outcome was first reported by the Georgia Straight, focused on motions concerning the city's temporary expedited patio program (TEPP) and the expansion of liquor service areas at two council meetings on May 13 and May 27 where, in both instances, Wiebe failed to declare a conflict of interest.
After reviewing the minutes from the first meeting, Young found that Wiebe both amended motions and voted in favour of amendments for motions on TEPP.
On May 27, Wiebe both seconded and voted in favour of two motions that would benefit his businesses.
Wiebe's Eight ½ Restaurant was one of the first 14 businesses to receive temporary patio permits from the city.
Young determined that because of Wiebe's direct and indirect financial interest in the motion, he was obligated to declare his conflict and not permitted to participate in the discussion or vote, according to the Vancouver Charter, which he failed to do.
"His proposed and passed amendment enabled Councillor Wiebe to wear two hats when dealing with city staff: that of council member and that of business owner," Young wrote in his findings.
"This was a clear conflict of interest that he set in motion."
Wiebe said he was surprised to learn on Sept. 19 that the investigation had been concluded, saying he did not have an opportunity to give his input.
In a Monday statement, Wiebe said he did vote in May to direct city staff to work with businesses to identify temporary patio seating options that would move indoor seating capacity outdoors to improve physical distancing during the pandemic.
He said he did not step back on the two motions concerning patios because they did not affect one particular area of the city, or increase capacity allowances in restaurants or bars, so he did not believe he was in direct conflict.
"This is similar to voting for property tax decreases, when, if you're a property owner as a city councillor, you would directly benefit from that," said Wiebe on The Early Edition on Monday.
Wiebe said he spoke to the city manager ahead of time to ensure the motion would be applied citywide and would not benefit Wiebe more than any other restaurant or pub owner. He said he was informed that it is up to him to determine whether he can participate with an open mind in the votes.
"I went into it with good faith and I still believe that," said Wiebe.
"Despite my best intentions, I inadvertently made an error in this matter and I'm deeply sorry that I did."
In his statement, Wiebe said he believed at the time that he voted in the best interests of the business community and the city and he still believes this to be the case.
Wiebe later declared a conflict
At a council meeting on June 11, where council discussed an extension of TEPP to private properties, Wiebe declared a conflict of interest for the first time on an item related to patios.
He also declared conflicts at other meetings in 2018, 2019 and 2020, which Young says proves that Wiebe was knowledgeable about conflicts of interest.
Young also pointed to the fact that Eight ½ Restaurant was one of the first 87 businesses to apply for TEPP, a process that requires an application that includes measurements, drawings and photographs of the proposed space, plus a provincial COVID-19 temporary extension permit.
"There is significant planning and preparation involved in submitting an application," wrote Young, who found that Wiebe's actions at the council meetings occurred while he was personally involved in submitting an application to the program being discussed.
Recommendation of Wiebe's resignation
Young's report has recommended a number of consequences for contravening the city's charter.
- That Wiebe be disqualified from holding office on city council, the park board, other local government, or as a trustee under the Islands Trust Act until the next general election.
- That he resign his seat on council.
If Wiebe refuses to resign, Young provided a recommendation under the charter where either 10 or more electors or the city may apply to the court for an order.
However, for it to come from the city, at least two-thirds of all council members would need to vote in favour.
Young also wrote that the recovery of any financial gain by Wiebe is beyond the scope of his investigation and would need to be decided in the Supreme Court of B.C.
In a statement, Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he can make recommendations to council about what action to take concerning Wiebe after reviewing the investigation report and cannot comment further.
Wiebe said he has sent a letter to Stewart and Young telling them he would like to be more involved in the process.