News Nanaimo Editorial
ANALYSIS

The News Nanaimo view on censure hearings

The council majority's new fascination with censure is putting taxpayers in significant financial jeopardy
Nanaimo’s city councillors, a majority of them at least, seem naively fixated on censure hearings like children who have discovered a new way to taunt their siblings. In the past six weeks, censure has come up no less than three times. Each instance is fraught with danger and financial risk for the city’s taxpayers.

In the most recent case, the city council issued a statement this week saying that after having failed to prosecute a ream of allegations against mayor Bill McKay through BC’s civil courts, the criminal justice system, and the court of public opinion, they will now try him themselves in a censure hearing early in the New Year.

“Far too easily, this could turn into an abuse of process for cheap political gain” — Justice Crawford

On their face, the allegations against Mr. McKay are bogus or without substance. In fact, an 11-month probe into them by an independent team of RCMP investigators and a special prosecutor ended in October without finding anything worth reporting to Crown counsel. The city’s own lawsuit collapsed when its hired lawyers failed to give action to it within the 12-month time limit. Similarly, a related citizens’ petition expired without service, due largely to the lack of supporting evidence received from the city.

Censure hearings are not meant to be kangaroo courts. They are required to follow formal quasi-judicial procedures and democratic legal principles. Chief among them is having valid grounds to propose censure. Personal vendettas, political differences or merely wanting to get one up in a power struggle should never be the reason to pursue such proceedings.

As B.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Crawford put it in 2011 when he laid down the law of censure for BC councils, it “is a power to be exercised with great care and great discretion. Far too easily, this could turn into an abuse of process for cheap political gain, and any council that sets out in this direction must be careful in what it is doing.”

Having open and unbiased minds is another prerequisite for councillors to stand in judgment of their peers. There can be no doubt in this case that the mayor’s council enemies long ago made up their minds about his guilt. They wouldn’t have wasted taxpayers’ money and the justice system’s time with police complaints and lawsuits if they were convinced of his innocence.

Councillor Gord Fuller has defended the proposed censure hearing against Mr. McKay on the grounds that it is cheaper than going to court. That’s a simplistic view as it ignores the costs of the likely judicial review and potential civil suit that the mayor would surely seek once the council renders its biased judgment.

Mr. Fuller and his cohorts likely also haven’t realized the grave financial danger they are putting taxpayers in through their prior two censure hearings. Over a nice meal paid for by taxpayers, they met in secret on Nov. 21 to decide whether to censure Mr. McKay and councillor Diane Brennan based on a secret report by labour lawyer Roslyn Goldner into a respectful workplace complaint lodged against them by city manager Tracy Samra.

Food table at the Nov. 21 censure hearings
The desert table awaits the Nov. 21 city council censure hearings to commence

According to one account of Ms. Goldner’s findings, they do not help Ms. Samra since they stopped short of ruling that she was a victim. In fact, Ms. Goldner seems to suggest that Ms. Samra was a protagonist in her own grievance by engaging in “a classic power struggle.”

However, if her supporters on council were to reach their own findings and convict Mr. McKay and Ms. Brennan, Ms. Samra might have grounds to increase the already substantial payout she has reportedly been seeking from council. This would be over and above the costs to the city for Ms. Brennan and Mr. McKay’s likely appeals. The financial costs could be staggering.

Over the past three years, this council has driven our city to the brink with wanton spending and bad behaviour. They risk doing so again in their blind zeal to extract a political pound of flesh from their council adversaries.

As the taxpayers await the censure judgments in the new year, we understand that at least one of the city’s several law firms has been counselling caution. We hope councillors will finally listen.

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  • The biggest cause for concern in my humble opinion is that the City be sued for the wrongful and malicious termination of the administrative assistant to the mayor after over 40 years of diligent service. Mayor McKay it is said, provided information to her, so she could make her case against the City. Anyone who knew the lady in question would have done the same. It was the right thing to do, if in fact he did it.

    The leader of the “Fab Five”, who should perhaps be renamed “The Hounds from Hell” has a personal vendetta against Mayor McKay. Bluntly put, Bill Bestwick and Kim Kipp and Gord Fuller have no place on a governing body of any kind. Their crusade is costing the taxpayers real money and it is a distraction from the lack of vision these people have.

    As a bystander, I humbly suggest that Nanaimo taxpayers occupy council chambers until at least three councilors resign. Bestwick should be investigated for conflict of interest in the matter of the proposed hockey arena. If it were not so close to home, this drama would be funny. They say we get the government we deserve, in which case, someone in Nanaimo was very, very bad in their younger days.

    • Well said Charles. I too beleive there has been conflict of interest as well as the intention of personal gain with the event centre.

      Why else would council push forward with a referendum costing more than 800K when the inital survey only proved 10% support?

      The support was not “of the people” yet council pushed through and not a doubt in my mind that a big piece was because of the personal gains that could be attained from the council majority.

      It is disgusting and embarrassing that these are “our leaders”.

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