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Vancouver city councillor takes leave of absence to deal with court case

Michael Wiebe faces legal action from citizens who want him removed from office
A conflict-of-interest case against Vancouver Green Party Coun. Michael Wiebe is expected to go ahead next week and be heard in Victoria. File photo Jennifer Gauthier
Vancouver city councillor Michael Wiebe will take a leave of absence from his council duties next week to be on standby for an anticipated court hearing related to a conflict-of-interest allegation launched against him by a group of citizens.

The allegation concerns Wiebe’s vote in May 2020 in favour of a temporary patio program for restaurants, bars and breweries. Wiebe owns Eight ½ restaurant in Mount Pleasant and is an investor in Portside Pub in Gastown, both of which received patio licences.

One month after Wiebe’s vote, retired Vancouver lawyer Michael Redmond filed a complaint with the offices of Mayor Kennedy Stewart and then-city manager Sadhu Johnston concerning Wiebe’s participation in the vote.

The mayor then appointed lawyer Raymond Young to conduct a review of the complaint.

Young concluded in his report that Wiebe “is disqualified from holding office until the next election” in October 2022 and that “it would be appropriate for councillor Wiebe to resign his seat on council.”

Wiebe chose not to resign, which triggered Redmond and 14 other residents to file a petition in B.C. Supreme Court against the councillor in an attempt to get him removed from office. That petition is expected to be heard next week, although no firm dates had been set as of Friday.

If the hearing goes ahead, it will be conducted virtually and be heard by a judge in Victoria, where lawyers on both sides agreed to move the case for fear of not getting a court date in Vancouver until June, or later.

No witnesses, including Wiebe, are expected to testify, with lawyers instead making arguments before the judge based on affidavit evidence. Wiebe will be connected to the hearing from Vancouver via the Microsoft Teams meeting platform.

'Acted in good faith'

Lawyer Aurora Faulkner-Killam, acting on behalf of Wiebe and based in Victoria, said in an email Thursday that her main argument will be that the councillor “acted in good faith and was not in a disqualifying conflict of interest in relation to the votes in issue.”

Faulkner-Killam, whose firm is well known for its work in municipal law, has filed an application with the court requesting all of the affidavits by Redmond and the 14 other petitioners be “struck in their entirety” from the case.

“The affidavit of Michael Redmond in particular consists of information which is not relevant or necessary to the petition and is prejudicial,” the application reads.

Asked if she was confident in winning the case, Faulkner-Killam said: “As a lawyer, I am confident that the court will hear the evidence and weigh the argument fairly.” 

Lawyer Wes Mussio, acting on behalf of Redmond and the petitioners, will be in Florida and connected virtually to the hearing, if it goes ahead next week. Mussio said Friday in an email he was “optimistic that the case will be successful.”

“Mr. Wiebe had a direct pecuniary interest in the subject matter of the motions [brought before council on the temporary patio permit program] because both of his businesses were able to access outdoor patio licensing very shortly after the motions passed,” Mussio said.

“He fully participated in bringing the motions to city council and getting them passed.”

Wiebe, meanwhile, said in an interview Thursday that he has had Faulkner-Killam on retainer since last year to consult on matters related to council duties, including his vote on the city’s climate action plan and his role as a director of the Easy Park board.

Council’s recent decision to put an ethics commissioner in place should eventually replace such a costly relationship, said Wiebe, who is paying his own legal fees. He said he was hopeful the case would go ahead next week.

“It doesn’t mean that there’s going to be a verdict, it could take a long time after that,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot through this process. I think it’s made me a better politician and person.”

Wiebe has previously told Glacier Media that he acted in good faith in casting his vote for the temporary patios, and that it was aimed at benefiting hundreds of small businesses hit financially hard by the pandemic.

His vote, either way, would not have killed the patio policy, with council unanimous in its support of the program, with the application process resuming March 1 for interested businesses.

NPA president among petitioners

Whether politics is at play in the case is open to interpretation, with Mussio announced as an NPA board member shortly after filing the court petition. NPA president David Mawhinney, who publicly called for Wiebe to resign, is one of the 15 petitioners.

The main plaintiff, Redmond, also has ties to the party and bought a five-year membership in 2018 when he volunteered with the NPA election campaign.

Wiebe is a member of the Green Party, which holds three of the seats on the 11-member council. The NPA has four seats on council, but none of the councillors has spoken publicly about the allegation that Wiebe allegedly breached the city’s Code of Conduct.

If Wiebe were ordered to leave office, such a move would trigger a byelection.

Vancouver last held a municipal byelection October 2017 after former city councillor Geoff Meggs resigned to take a job as Premier John Horgan’s chief of staff. Hector Bremner won the vacant seat, only to be defeated in the 2018 general city election.

That byelection, which also included a contest for vacant school board seats, cost $1.2 million.

The next municipal election is in October 2022.