Conflict of interest guidelines at issue

Questions arise from Lake Cowichan mayor’s position

I am entirely in support of the letter from Rob Patterson expressing consternation over the failure of the Mayor of Lake Cowichan to declare a conflict of interest when he clearly has an interest in one of the projects brought before council for consideration.

However, I do not agree with the statement in the letter that “any individual or business wanting to build in Lake Cowichan that follows the official town plan will be greeted with enthusiasm.”

On the surface this appears to be a motherhood issue and how could anyone disagree with such a statement?

In practice, the town plan attempts to express the vision for the community and provide insight and guidance on development going forward. This is supported by zoning set out for specific areas.

As much of the fabric of the community already exists, many of the changes of use and other issues need to be addressed as businesses come and go and should be a matter of routine. I work primarily in the City of Vancouver but as well, in the Cowichan Valley and Victoria where frequently issues arise where what is set out in regulations does not align fully with the model or regulations.

In these situations, professionals often get involved to assist in resolving matters to the satisfaction of the authority. We had a recent case in Lake Cowichan where some illegal construction had occurred and we assessed the conditions of the property and put forward a formal proposal to the town to resolve matters.

The occupancy involved good rental accommodation. The proposal offered substantial improvements in the property to mitigate the conditions and see a way forward for the benefit of both the owner and the authority. This was a proposal that would have been viable in other jurisdictions, including Victoria and Vancouver. A similar case in North Cowichan involving illegal zoning was eventually resolved.

The owner had purchased the property on the understanding that the occupancy could continue which is often the case when non-conforming conditions occur in existing construction.

On submission of a comprehensive report setting out the strategy for the building, the result was an immediate rebuttal from the Chief Administration Officer and the building inspector. The result is that all the suites were vacated and valuable rental accommodation lost.

In such circumstances I would have expected at least a meeting to discuss matters. Subsequently there has been an ongoing campaign to discredit the owner and put roadblocks in the way of any and all possible solutions to the problem.

Fortunately, this is not the typical case in the Cowichan Valley. We have excellent planners and building inspectors to consult in such matters and rectify conditions to the satisfaction of all parties.

Lake Cowichan benefits from a unique location on a pristine lake and one would expect that, with an emerging tourist market in the area, there would be signs the town is recovering and adapting to meet the needs of the tourist economy. Unfortunately, this is not the case. It seems mired in vested interests and dogma and allows no light in from those who are effectively the eyes and ears of the community and able to assist in finding a way forward.

It may be no coincidence that along with this kind of treatment of respectable business owners, the council itself is beset by this kind of conflict of interest.

The test of conflict relies on a level of discomfort that any proponent feels should he or she place themselves in a conflict position. The fact no such level of discomfort was felt by the mayor suggests either he is blatantly violating the conflict of interest rules – and feels a sense of immunity from the repercussions – or is entirely ignorant of what a conflict is and has no sense of when or if a conflict is occurring.

John Ivison,

Maple Bay

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