Documents obtained by the Cambie Report today show that Vancouver Green Party Councillor Michael Wiebe never consulted with the City’s legal department prior to several votes that allegedly breached conflict of interest laws in May 2020.
In an email on June 10, 2020 from Iain Dixon of the City’s Law Department to then City Manager Sadhu Johnston, Dixon wrote that:
The Law Department has not been consulted with respect to whether [Cllr Wiebe] is in a conflict or not but we do have some concerns that he may be.Iain Dixon, City of Vancouver Law Department
Johnston forwarded the email to Cllr Wiebe on June 11th and Wiebe declared a conflict on a vote relating to patio permits at that day’s Council meeting.
Johnston again forwarded the email from legal to Cllr Wiebe on September 21st, following the release of a statement where Wiebe claimed:
“In advance of the votes, I asked for advice from City management and my understanding was that the patio policy would be broad and citywide, benefitting all of Vancouver’s restaurant sector, as well as breweries with tasting rooms and even common public spaces, and that the policy doesn’t specifically benefit me over other operators. I was also informed that it is up to me to determine whether I can participate with an open mind in the votes.”Councillor Michael Wiebe, The Georgia Straight, September 21, 2020
The votes in question occurred at Council meetings on May 12 and 27 and a Committee meeting on May 13. Each related to a motion from NPA Councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung that resulted in the Temporary Expedited Patio Permit (TEPP) Program that was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. TEPP allowed qualifying restaurants and bars to expand their patio to facilitate physical distancing.
Cllr Wiebe is the owner/operator Eight 1/2 Restaurant and The Portside Pub, which both were ultimately granted permits under the program.
At the May 13 committee meeting, Cllr Wiebe moved an amendment that was ultimately adopted to change the wording of Cllr Kirby-Yung’s motion from “direct staff to prepare options and report back as soon as possible…” to “direct staff to work directly with business operators to identify immediate patio seating options…”. One June 2, one day after the program launched, Eight 1/2, along with 87 other businesses, applied for a permit and on June 4 was one of the first 14 restaurants to be granted a license.
NPA member Michael Redmond initiated a complaint over Cllr Wiebe’s votes in late June 2020 and in July Mayor Kennedy Stewart commissioned lawyer Raymond Young, QC, to investigate and report on the alleged conflict of interest. In September 2020, it was reported that that independent investigation had determined that “it would be appropriate for Councillor Michael Wiebe to resign his seat on Council.”
Today, following our freedom of information request to the City of Vancouver, Cambie Report is releasing that report to the public.
In his report, Young concludes:
Despite apparently being knowledgeable about conflicts of interest, on May 13th Councillor Wiebe put forward the amendment “staff work directly with business operators to identify immediate patio seating options.” Councillor Wiebe had to know that he was a business operator. His proposed and passed amendment enabled Councillor Wiebe to wear two hats when dealing with city staff: that of the Council member and that of the business owner. This was a clear conflict of interest situation that he deliberately set in motion. This conflict of interest cannot be viewed as an inadvertent action.Raymond Young, QC
Young continues on to note that Michael Wiebe corresponded with city staff using his personal email address on preparing the application for Eight 1/2 Restaurant.
Young argues that Wiebe is not saved by an exemption from conflict of interest rules where “an interest is held in common with the electors of the city in general” as “the TEPP benefited less than 10% of restaurants and bars in the city.”
In his September 21 statement in the Georgia Straight, Cllr Wiebe said
I am deeply distressed to learn that the Investigation into the Code of Conduct complaint had concluded without my knowledge and without allowing me to provide fulsome information. I have requested that the Investigator provide me with an opportunity to give my input and evidence.Councillor Michael Wiebe, The Georgia Straight, September 21, 2020
However, Young notes in the report that Wiebe was notified about the complaint by the Mayor on July 7. Young then emailed Wiebe on July 23 to ask for a meeting to discuss the complaint, saying in part:
I would be happy to discuss the issues with you and would be curious to know WHY you did not disclose your specific pecuniary interests in your seconding and voting on the patio restaurant issues. Please feel free to bring your lawyer along.Raymond Young, QC to Councillor Michael Wiebe by email, July 23, 2020
To which, Wiebe replied:
I would be happy to meet in person to explain my votes, yet I am a little concerned with the tone of your email. For context, I had legal advice in the council chambers on the votes in question and did on multiple occasions declare a conflict of interest on patio and related votes because of my restaurant and related businesses.Cllr Wiebe to Mr Young by email, July 23, 2020
Young didn’t follow up until August 16 when he asked for clarification and proof of that advice and those declarations; however, he received no reply from Wiebe and instead proceeded to seek the list of conflict of interest declarations made by Cllr Wiebe from the City Clerk.
There is nothing on the official records to show that Councillor Wiebe sought and/or received legal and or other advice during these meetings or that he made his personal pecuniary conflict known to the public. To date, Councillor Wiebe has not provided additional information.Raymond Young, QC
Ultimately, Councillor Wiebe rejected the findings of the report and has maintained the votes were in good faith. Council did not vote to remove him and Mr Redmond has now proceeded with several fellow electors to launch a challenge in the Supreme Court of BC to remove Wiebe from office. That trial is ongoing, though Justice Steeves has already ruled that this report is inadmissible as evidence.
You can hear more of our analysis on this report, including a deeper look at Young’s analysis of whether Wiebe was saved by holding a common interest with electors, in the latest episode of the Cambie Report.