Vancouver councillor Christine Boyle has successfully defended a complaint lodged against her by Mayor Ken Sim who alleged she breached the city’s code of conduct for publicly stating she voted against council’s decision to scrap the living wage policy.
“I was very frustrated that the mayor launched this code of conduct complaint against me, which is a stressful, costly and acrimonious process,” Boyle said Tuesday.
“The process took six months and I spent $7,000 on legal fees out of my own pocket.”
Sim filed a complaint March 7 with the city’s integrity commissioner, Lisa Southern, after Boyle announced via a news release March 2 that she voted to keep the policy, which had been in place since 2017.
The vote was taken at an in-camera meeting in January 2023.
Boyle shared her vote publicly the same day that the City of Vancouver revealed in a separate March 2 news release that a decision was made by council to end the living wage policy. The release didn’t indicate how council voted.
Also on that day, Green Party Coun. Pete Fry posted on Twitter (now known as X) that he and Green colleague Adriane Carr supported the policy, although he didn’t explicitly say how they voted.
OneCity’s Boyle, Fry and Carr are considered the unofficial opposition to Sim’s ABC Vancouver party, which holds eight of 11 seats on council. Neither the mayor nor the seven ABC councillors have disclosed how they voted in the in-camera meeting.
However, there were enough votes registered to scrap the policy, which was brought in under the Vision Vancouver administration in 2017 to ensure anyone working for the city or contracted by the city earns at least a “living wage.”
All city staff are compensated above B.C.'s minimum wage — $15.65 in 2022 — and the vast majority are at or above the 2023 living wage rate of $24.08 per hour, as are the majority of the city's service providers.
Southern launched an investigation after Sim refused to agree to “an informal resolution” regarding his complaint against Boyle, according to the commissioner’s ruling, which was posted Sept. 29 to the city’s website.
“I find that [councillor] Boyle did not breach section 3.5 of the Code of Conduct when she disclosed publicly how she voted during an in-camera council meeting,” Southern wrote.
'Unclear and inconsistent'
At the same time, Southern said her investigation revealed the city has been "unclear and inconsistent" in its position about whether how a councillor votes in-camera can be disclosed by that councillor after the city makes the decision public.
“Thus, I recommend the city adopt a clear policy that clarifies expectations for council about how, if ever, a councillor can say how they voted in an in-camera meeting,” Southern said.
The commissioner’s ruling outlines the efforts Boyle took before publicly announcing she voted against scrapping the living wage policy.
The commissioner said Boyle contacted her office to ask what could and could not be said after the in-camera decision was released to the public. Boyle was told to consult the city’s legal department, which she did.
“[Councillor] Boyle repeatedly asked city staff whether she could say how she voted, and they never said she could not do this or the city considered the information about how she voted confidential information,” Southern said.
Boyle said the result clarifies that she did her “homework.”
“I asked everyone, and I didn't do anything wrong,” she said. “And I will continue talking about and fighting for the living wage.”
'We appreciate the diligence'
Glacier Media requested an interview Tuesday with Sim, but was instead emailed a statement from his communications director, Harrison Fleming, which read, in part:
“We appreciate the diligence undertaken by Integrity Commissioner Southern in resolving this matter. The purpose of the Integrity Commissioner’s office is to ensure complaints of this nature are fairly evaluated and adjudicated by a non-partisan third party.”
Fleming said the complaint was filed over a concern “a member of council may have inappropriately revealed sensitive in-camera information.”
“As a result of this investigation, Integrity Commissioner Southern has clarified that the City of Vancouver has been unclear and inconsistent regarding individual in-camera council voting disclosures,” Fleming said.
“The Office of the Mayor looks forward to working with council to develop a clear policy around in-camera meetings to ensure clarity.”
$5,000 for each council member
Boyle said it was unclear to her whether she could seek indemnification from the city for her $7,000 legal bill.
Earlier this year, council agreed that at least $5,000 per year should be available for each member of council to seek independent legal advice on such matters as conflict of interest.
The sum was a recommendation from Southern in an annual report, who said the money would help council “make informed decisions on complex matters” and reduce breaches of the city’s code of conduct bylaw.
The distinction, however, is that the $5,000 be used to seek advice on a matter, and not be used for a legal defence.
“I think that the mayor had many other approaches he could have taken that would have been less acrimonious and less costly than this,” said Boyle, noting she will seek to draft a motion in an effort to reinstate the city becoming a living wage employer.
But, she said, city policy states that she can’t introduce her motion until February 2024.
The living wage, as defined by Living Wage for Families BC, is the hourly wage that two adults working full-time must earn to support the basic expenses of a family of four. It is a bare-bones calculation that does not include debt repayment or savings for retirement.