Conflicts of interest

cash
Just because there’s no cash exchanged doesn’t mean it’s not a conflict of interest.

If you’re following national politics, you’ll know why Finance Minister Bill Morneau and the Trudeau Liberals are being accused of ethics breaches. There’s a perception out there that Morneau’s family firm will benefit from proposed changes to how Canadians are taxed.

It’s the latest twist to a Canadian cliché: a principled businessman is ensnared in an ethics trap of his own making because he trusted those around him to advise him on what the Big Book of Rules says.

It’s no different in Quebec politics. Liberal MNA Guy Ouellette and his associate Annie Trudel, arrested by Quebec’s crime-busting UPAC, are claiming it’s because they were closing in on a conspiracy between UPAC’s top brass and the Autorité des marchés financiers to shake down corporations hoping to bid on government contracts. If UPAC wins this one it’s because they have the rules on their side.

We come to local municipal politics. Hudson has a reputation for playing fast and loose with the rules that has earned the town unfavourable audits year after year. Last year’s Quebec Municipal Commission hearings exonerated the mayor and elected officials — but hammered the former DG for not explaining the rules to a naive council with no prior experience in municipal governance.

We don’t want to pass that way again.

Politics is all about perception. One of the candidates for mayor in the last municipal election did business with the town. He was rejected by the voters regardless of his other qualities.

This election, ask yourself this: does this candidate have any financial ties to the town? Does that candidate stand to gain as the result of his or her position?

Quebec’s rules governing fiduciary interests are strict and straightforward. The mayor and councillors must declare their holdings and allegiances, including contracts with the town. When the caucus begins a discussion involving a file in which the mayor or councillor has a real or potential conflict of interest, he or she has to leave the room and it must be so noted in the caucus minutes.

If the file generates a resolution, the mayor or councillor must abstain from the vote at the public council meeting and explain to the assembly he or she is in a potential conflict of interest.

What constitutes a conflict of interest? It could be as innocent as the desire to see a municipal building converted from one use to another to benefit one’s colleagues. It could be lobbying fellow council members to approve a project of benefit to one’s clients.

One of the first things awaiting Hudson’s next council is an intensive seminar in the role of elected officials and the rules governing every discussion, deliberation and decision. Anyone who hasn’t attended council meetings regularly will be at an automatic disadvantage.

Words don’t count, especially fatuous generalizations and vague promises uttered in the course of an election campaign.  Actions — and conflicts of interest — do.

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3 thoughts on “Conflicts of interest

  1. Does the MRC not give the seminar to all newly elected members of council? I believe each and every one of the former council members attended this seminar, or perhaps I am mistaken. I was under the impression is was mandatory.

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  2. I have no way of knowing if everyone signs in when they attend. Does the DG just send notice to MAMOT that all elected officials have attended? What happens if they don’t attend? Do they get rapped on the knuckles by MAMOT? I doubt it. When I was on council, I was never made aware that there was such a seminar offered. Maybe in 2009 there wasn’t. A course on “conflict of interest” did come up but not in the first year of our mandate, maybe in 2011 or 2012? and everyone had to take it. My having taken a 2 day intensive Municipal Governance course given through the Université Laval exempted me as that course dealt with conflicts of interest and breach of trust. Learned a lot at that course, especially about breach of trust. I would suspect that all newly elected councillors will be looking forward to any courses/seminars that could help them make more informed decisions.

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