Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Could CUPE Outsource Councillor Brister

The Councillor formerly known as Councillor Budget really knows how to win friends, especially City employees. The Star reported that

  • "Brister said earlier this week he held his nose and supported the strike-ending deal."

Mere days after the CUPE strike ended, the Councillor stated:

  • "In a closed meeting about a month before municipal workers began a 101-day strike, city council unanimously rejected outsourcing garbage collection after a report concluded it would lead to minimal savings.

    But Coun. Dave Brister, who was accused Tuesday of "grandstanding" in the wake of the bitter municipal strike, says it's time to revisit the possibility of contracting out garbage pickup.

    He said it's not only garbage collection he wants administrators to study for outsourcing, but other municipal services they might determine should be looked at.

    "I've got a responsibility to people that put me into office and they raised concerns during the strike," he said. "It would be irresponsible to delay. If you wait two or three months to raise the issue, what would that serve?"

Sure, nothing like trying to wait until after wounds heal. Nope, better to rub salt in them.

Of course, outsourcing will be a big deal with the new budget deliberations. No point wasting all of those anti-CUPE feelings:

  • "Francis said the issue of possible outsourcing can’t be avoided. Provincial offences, parking enforcement and garbage collection are just some of the areas council will be evaluating to see whether the same services can be more affordably offered by outside agencies."

Life has a way of balancing things out though. Perhaps it is now CUPE's turn to decide whether the Councillor ought to be outsourced, and Councillor Valentinis as well.

Take a look at Chris Schnurr's BLOG "Family Matters: The Town and Gown Debate"

After running through a history of the matter, Schnurr asks:

  • "How can Councillors Brister and Valentinis declare an interest and yet vote for the membership of the committee in striking committee – let alone participate in the discussion?"

It is a question that deserves an answer immediately.

I do not know what the answer is since I do not have all of the relevant facts. The two Councillors clearly need to give an explanation why they acted as they did in the circumstances in my opinion.

If they erred inadvertantly, then they should say so and move to clarify the record at the next Council meeting. If there is no conflict, then that should be stated as well and the explanation given so there will be no doubts outstanding.

However, what if they choose not to say a thing or more significantly there is a conflict? What happens next?

The answer is nothing UNLESS a citizen under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act decides to take action. Forget about the City's Integrity Commissioner doing anything---he is still chasing down the leak during the strike.

And that is the problem. The citizen has to put his/her funds at risk since this is a court case and if he/she loses then that person has to pay not only the party's legal fees but a good chunk of the Councillor's fees as well. And that can be substantial, in the $50k range or more.

I did notice one interesting fact though. The City's insurance seems to include "coverage for Municipal Conflict of Interest" so the money to fight a lawsuit would not appear to come out of a Councillor's pocketbook.

What is a possible answer then? Would CUPE members if they felt strongly enough, get together and collect the cash to take this matter further if the Councillors choose not to respond and explain their position and if, after as full an investigation as possible, there appears to be a good legal argument that there might be a conflict?

I would expect such an action to be unprecedented. But it might also be a way to even out the war between Management and Labour, whose members are still reeling over their Strike pay losses, over the upcoming City Budget!

I did point out in a recent BLOG what the Council in Mississauga did over their Mayor's possible conflict issue:

  • "After getting a legal opinion from an outside law firm, fellow councillors voted 6-4 on Wednesday to have a judge review the matter."
The consequences can be severe to a Member of Council too:
  • "Power of judge to declare seat vacant, disqualify member

    10. (1) Subject to subsection (2), where the judge determines that a member or a former member while he or she was a member has contravened subsection 5 (1), (2) or (3), the judge,

    (a) shall, in the case of a member, declare the seat of the member vacant; and

    (b) may disqualify the member or former member from being a member during a period thereafter of not more than seven years"

Now that is a punch in the nose!