District of Squamish officials sidestepped a muddy legal arena now hitting communities province-wide.
Last month, the province's Court of Appeal overturned an earlier Supreme Court ruling dealing with elected officials' participation on non-profit boards. The appeals court ruled that elected officials who also hold directors' titles with non-profit societies are in a conflict of interest when voting on matters related to that society. The conflict is considered to be pecuniary in nature, found the court, and therefore disqualifies them when the local government matter relates to monetary issues.
The District of Squamish had been wary of the legal wrangling on the issue for some time, Coun. Patricia Heintzman said on Monday (Feb. 11). As such, council and municipal staff had not been appointing councillors to non-municipal boards, she said. Over the past few years councillors have received approximately 30 requests to sit on the boards of various organizations, the most recent being the Squamish Arts Council (SAC), Heintzman said. On previous councils, Heintzman noted she was a board member with the Squamish Helping Hands Society. At the time, she would have had to excuse herself from council whenever a issue involving the society arose. This presented personal conflicts, Heintzman said, noting it was difficult not to be involved with decisions regarding homelessness as it was one of her areas of passion.
To overcome the legality and maintain ties with organizations, district officials appoint municipal staff to such boards, she said.
The ruling places a heavy burden on many smaller communities, Heintzman said. Many rural towns don't have the staffing to place employees on boards, she noted, adding that small-town politicians volunteer with numerous organizations.
The ruling will have a significant effect on rural B.C., said Al Richmond, third vice president of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM).
“I think it is going to be profound on councillors, directors and chairs of boards and councils, particularly in small communities where community leaders are quite often appointed to community groups to provide local government perspective and who are appointed sometimes because of funding to help them do their tasks,” Richmond said.
The issue came up at last month's Squamish-Lillooet Regional District board meeting. “There are very serious implications involved here… in terms of our own appointments to various boards and societies,” said Peter DeJong, the SLRD's director of administrative services.
He suggested the board take a cautious approach toward committee appointments as a result because the interpretation of the appeals court ruling will be tricky. For the SLRD, committees identified as affected by the court decision are: the Bridge River Valley Economic Development Society, Fraser Basin Council and the Southern Interior Beetle Action Coalition.
The Lillooet Library Board, Pemberton Library Board and the Lillooet Community Partners Resource Group remain unaffected. The board made a motion to forward its concerns to the UBCM, as it felt the issue affects literally every local government in B.C.
— With files from Tanya Foubert, Whistler Question