A B.C. Supreme Court justice has ruled the mayor of the Township of Langley and two councillors taken to court by a group of 10 voters did not violate conflict of interest rules and will be able to stay in office.
Mayor Jack Froese and councillors Blair Whitmarsh and Bob Long, along with former councillor Angie Quaale, denied any conflicts of interest after accepting donations from executives at multiple development companies while those firms had business before the city.
CTV News first broke the story in the fall of 2019 after learning the mayor and councillors had accepted tens of thousands of dollars in donations from executives in the run up to the 2018 civic election.
Prior to that election, the province changed finance laws to prevent corporations and unions from making donations to candidates.
CTV News learned that several executives at firms including the Beedie Group, the Mitchell Group and Vesta Properties had made maximum $1,200 contributions to some or all of the candidates involved in the court case.
“Candidates accept donations from a variety of people, but that in no way means they are going to vote on their interests just because of the money,” Mayor Froese said in a Zoom call Friday afternoon.
In 2016, the township sought a legal opinion from Vancouver lawyer Don Lidstone in regards to another possible conflict of interest situation.
Lidstone determined donations themselves don’t necessary establish a conflict of interest but the timing of those donations had the potential to be problematic.
“The exception,” wrote Lidstone, “is where the contribution is made while the matter is before council.”
As noted, the donations in question that resulted in Froese, Whitmarsh and Long winding up in court were all made while the firms had business before council.
Justice Paul Walker determined there was no evidence of pecuniary interest because the mayor and councillors involved received no financial benefit in exchange for their votes.
“A candidate who receives campaign contributions from supporters of their positions and then carries out their promises when elected does not, without more, breach the conflict of interest provisions of the Community Charter,” Walker wrote in his decision.
If they had lost in court, Froese, Whitmarsh and Long faced the possibility of being expelled from office and being barred from running in the next municipal election.
Former councillor Quaale, who did not win re-election in 2018, would have been banned from running in the next election.