Nina Bifolchi

News – When is it appropriate for a Council Member to declare a Confict of Interest?

During the months leading up to an election there are always conversations that speak to the potential of candidates to find themselves in a conflict of interest if elected to council. Some people imply that if you declare a conflict you are unable to represent the town’s interest to the fullest. These types of comments are based on uninformed personal opinions and are far from the truth.

What is a Conflict of Interest or a Pecuniary Interest?

A Conflict of Interest is when an individual has a direct personal or pecuniary (monetary) interest, or perceived interest, in the item before them. The reality is that council members who declare conflicts are being open and transparent. Any councillor can find themselves in a conflict of interest at some time or another such as:

-A councillor’s neighbour is looking for approvals to build an oversized shed or looking for variances for a house they would like to build that could affect the value of the councillor’s own home or sale of their property.

-A councillor who is in business in town could find themselves in conflict if one of their clients were proposing something that required council approval. The town may also purchase services or a product from a councillor’s business however, there are purchasing policies in place that staff follow. A council member in this position would be expected to have no discussion or influence with any staff regarding such a purchase.

-A councillor who also sits as a member of a community service group could find themselves in a conflict if that group were to make a request of council.

-A pecuniary interest is usually fairly straight forward to recognize. However there are times that council members may lean more on their morals to decide if they should vote on an item or not. There are times that a council member could be considered for a specific position or a new authority or role, whereby morally they themselves would see it as a conflict of interest and choose not to vote on the item.

Examples of where I have declared conflicts during my time on council are as follows:

My parents have been Business Owners in the Town of Wasaga Beach since moving here in 1987 which was years before I made the move to Wasaga Beach in 2003 and long before I was on council. My parents have a contracting and topsoil business and there are times that the town uses their services/product as per the town’s purchasing policy. There are times that I will declare a conflict of interest in the accounts “due to a family member.” The Accounts are cheques which have already been paid. I am not aware of business dealings between the town and my parent’s business until I see it in the accounts. I have no financial ownership in my parents business, but I choose to declare as there could be a perceived conflict.

In 2003 when I moved to Wasaga Beach with my husband and boys, we purchased some land. We built a home on the property in 2004 as well as went through an extensive process to sever and rezone a portion of the property for the purpose of having an outdoor storage business that we operate ourselves.

There are times that I will declare a conflict of interest regarding a development proposal or a town policy “due to a family business.” I will declare when the discussion is regarding outdoor storage of items during policy reviews or when a new business proposal is put forward for the same type of a business.

In these cases I do not comment on these issues, nor do I speak to staff and I excuse myself from the council table when the issue is discussed.

Again, declaring a conflict of interest is a councillor’s way of being open and above board. It in no way prevents the councillor from representing the town.