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Interesting conflictions

Jim McCrae takes centre stage with his band, the Jimmy Sweets, at the English pavilion, part of the Lieutenant Governor’s Winter Festival at the A.N.A.F. hall in 2010.

FILE PHOTO Enlarge Image

Jim McCrae takes centre stage with his band, the Jimmy Sweets, at the English pavilion, part of the Lieutenant Governor’s Winter Festival at the A.N.A.F. hall in 2010.

As the old saying goes, you can’t be "a little bit pregnant."

Coun. Jim McCrae (Meadows) admitting to a “pretty small” conflict of interest with the Lieutenant Governor’s Winter Festival as he makes a motion at Monday’s council meeting.

Enlarge Image

Coun. Jim McCrae (Meadows) admitting to a “pretty small” conflict of interest with the Lieutenant Governor’s Winter Festival as he makes a motion at Monday’s council meeting. (PHOTO COURTESY WCGTV)

But in the carnival of confusion that our city council has devolved into during the past year, I guess it should really come as no shock that a councillor who admits a direct business tie with one of the Lieutenant Governor’s Winter Festival’s pavilions is allowed to bring forward a motion that greatly helps promote the event.

At Monday’s regular meeting of council, Jim McCrae — once the province’s attorney general — revealed his conflict prior to introducing the motion to have the festival sanctioned as a community event.

"I would love to move this, your worship, but I’m struggling with this a little bit because of my own involvement with the festival," McCrae told Mayor Shari Decter Hirst toward the end of Monday’s night’s meeting.

But instead of stating he would have to recuse himself and leave the room, passing along the motion to an unconflicted rep, he just sat in his seat.

"I’m going to throw caution to the wind on this one I think anyway," the Meadows rep said with a grin.

The mayor asked city clerk Con Arvisais for an "official ruling."

He said he was unaware of the nature of the conflict. There were a few chuckles heard from around the council table.

"My daughters and I have performed at one of the pavilions and may well do it again and they actually give us a little bit of money," McCrae told the clerk.

However, before the clerk could respond, Decter Hirst interjected and told McCrae the motion was simply "housekeeping designed for liquor regulations, etc., so I think you’re good."

I suggest the mayor isn’t the best judge on conflicts of interest, as you’ll recall the allegations last spring about her 10th Street property, its proximity to The Strand Theatre and her connections to the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society.

Council later received a secret legal opinion and decided not to pursue conflict of interest charges — deciding the mayor made an "honest error in judgment" by participating in a Renaissance Brandon board meeting that gave money to the Strand.

The Sun as always held that the mayor did indeed make an error in judgment by participating in Renaissance Brandon meetings about the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society’s Strand Theatre redevelopment project.

And the punishment she received — a very firm slap on the wrist — is about what she deserved, as she wasn’t in a conflict. But then, the only person who could determine that for sure is a judge.

However, nobody has pursued the matter in court. Since the window for court action is open for six years under the law, it leaves a Sword of Damocles dangling above Decter Hirst’s head.

So perhaps the mayor should have let the city clerk — council’s parliamentarian — determine if a councillor is in a potential conflict.

And she just said as much a couple of weeks ago in a year-end interview with the Sun when the question of conflicts came up.

She said that people can "overthink things to the point of paralysis" and that "this is why we rely on the good judgment of our city clerk."

So why not Monday night, your worship?

With Decter Hirst’s blessing — or was it a curse? — McCrae again stated that he was going to "throw caution to the wind on this one" and proceeded to move that the Lieutenant Governor’s Winter Festival be sanctioned as a community event.

That’s a fairly routine procedure for major events. For the Winter Festival, it will allow pavilions to stay open longer and serve liquor as allowed under the Manitoba licensing regulations.

The motion helps the festival be a bigger draw and be more successful. Certainly something that someone who has direct and admitted financial ties to the event would be in favour of.

I remind readers that just last month, McCrae was accused of being in a conflict of interest by a fellow councillor over a motion he put forward regarding a controversial affordable housing bill that is detested by many powerful local developers.

The motion, as reported in the Brandon Sun, was to request the province withdraw Bill 7 and renew consultations with developers. It was supported 8-3 by council.

However, Coun. Garth Rice (South Centre) suggested McCrae may be in conflict, due to the fact that he is a real estate agent and past president of Brandon Real Estate Board.

At the time McCrae told the Sun the city clerk "told me that none of us councillors have a conflict of interest in discussing a bill of general application like this."

He was likely referring to other reps who are in the housing trades business.

McCrae continued: "There’s nothing there that I know of that would put me in a conflict of interest situation and I’m pretty sensitive to those things."

Well, councillor, you didn’t prove that Monday night.

And I hope that Decter Hirst’s "Get Out of Jail Free" card hasn’t perpetuated an anything goes attitude among councillors when it comes to real or perceived conflicts of interest. After all, when the public sees councillors blatantly flouting the fact they are in a conflict of interest —  even if it’s "pretty small" — they are going to lose any respect they might have for our civic government.

This year’s 10th annual Lieutenant Governor’s Winter Festival runs from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2 and features 13 pavilions featuring food and entertainment representing various countries.

The City of Brandon co-ordinates the event, which boasted 62,000 visits last year.

•••

• The city’s bid for the 2017 Canada Summer Games was rejected this week. Why did the city decide to even go ahead with a bid if it wasn’t willing to shell out additional cash — with help from other levels of government — to expand the Sportsplex pool by two lanes? It was known early on that the six-lane pool was going to be a huge problem with the bid. And for that matter, why did the Canada Games Council waste the city’s time and money by even allowing it to make a bid if an expanded pool wasn’t in the cards?

• With the Games and its $100 million in economic spinoffs now going to Winnipeg and area — a city that doesn’t even seem too thrilled with the prospect of hosting the event — perhaps the province will take some pity on this city. The Games represent some unexpected cake for the provincial capital. So perhaps some provincial money earmarked for Winnipeg in coming years could be diverted to Brandon. One important project that has to be completed with provincial cash is the complete move of Assiniboine Community College to the beautiful and historic North Hill campus.

• Decter Hirst has made some fairly bold attempts to make Brandon a better place — a casino, the Summer Games and regular commercial air service. Even achieving one of those would be seen as a huge victory and give her an armoured carload of political currency to spend in the 2014 election. But the first strike was the recent rejection by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs to consider Brandon for a casino, effectively shelving the project. (Until it fails at Spirit Sands, I say). The loss of the Games is the second strike. The third strike — and one that could start folks lining up for her job in the next election — is if WestJet doesn’t add the Wheat City to its list of communities to be served by a new regional air service.

Regular air service is crucial to the city’s plans for growth and economic expansion.

The airline is set to make the first of several expansion announcements on Jan. 21. Ironically, that’s also this year’s Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year.

Let’s hope we get some good news that day.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 12, 2013

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Wow - O'Connor actually writes a fairly balanced column.........

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As the old saying goes, you can’t be "a little bit pregnant."

But in the carnival of confusion that our city council has devolved into during the past year, I guess it should really come as no shock that a councillor who admits a direct business tie with one of the Lieutenant Governor’s Winter Festival’s pavilions is allowed to bring forward a motion that greatly helps promote the event.

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As the old saying goes, you can’t be "a little bit pregnant."

But in the carnival of confusion that our city council has devolved into during the past year, I guess it should really come as no shock that a councillor who admits a direct business tie with one of the Lieutenant Governor’s Winter Festival’s pavilions is allowed to bring forward a motion that greatly helps promote the event.

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