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.
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.
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.