At the mayoral candidates meeting held at the Municipal Centre on October 8, two allegations of conflict of interest were raised which were not adequately dealt with at the time. After a little research, the Times has clarified the two situations and this is what we have found.
The first allegation was made by mayoral candidate, Colleen Lynas, who named Councillor Deb Wilson as being in a conflict because she retained her seat on the Board of the Kemptville and District Community Association [KDCA] after being appointed to council. The conflict, she suggested, was because council sometimes votes funds to the Association for events, or debates issues relating to the KDCA.
However, it transpires that the Municipality and the KDCA discussed the possible conflict at the time Deb Wilson joined the council, and an agreement was reached that she would recuse herself from any discussion or vote of council with reference to the Association. Wendy Embleton, Chair of the KDCA Board stated the position, that at Council meetings, “There is always a conflict of interest acknowledgment, and in the case of the KDCA, Debbie Wilson recuses herself from all financial decisions and at times any other decisions where there is a conflict”.
This procedure is common in all areas of municipal governance, especially in a small community like North Grenville, where so many residents are involved in more than one local association, service club, or committee. It would be almost inevitable that a member of council would have a past or current affiliation with such a body, and, therefore, recusing oneself as a member of council from any discussion or vote relating to that affiliation would be essential.
Having raised the issue of Deb Wilson’s potential conflict, it has no doubt occurred to Colleen Lynas that, should she be successful in her bid to become Mayor of North Grenville, she would likewise have to recuse herself from any discussion or vote relating to any past affiliation she may have. This may mean that, as Mayor, she would not be able to take part in any discussion or vote relating to the proposed prison, as she is a founding member and spokesperson for an anti-jail group, CAPP. Likewise, the Province may not be willing to negotiate with her as Mayor on the future use of lands not required for the prison.
It has been stated by sources close to the campaigns that an appearance of conflict can be just as damaging as an actual conflict, and so all steps need to be taken to avoid even such an appearance. As Ms. Lynas herself put it: “Even the perception of a conflict of interest can erode the public’s trust in their elected officials”.
The second allegation of conflict of interest was made by a member of the public in a question to Nancy Peckford, followed up by a few press releases from the Colleen Lynas campaign. They pointed out that Ms. Peckford has taken up contract work for government departments, and suggested that one of her projects involved an agency representing prison officers or other similar officials, the Union of Safety and Justice Employees (USJE). There was no real answer to that from Ms. Peckford on the night, and so the Times has looked into the allegation. It did not take long to clarify the situation.
Ms. Peckford told the Times that her contract work was with the federal, not the provincial government, and so there was no conflict regarding the prison, which is a provincial jurisdiction. “I have worked from time to time with federal public service associations as a way to supplement my wages – while with Equal Voice and subsequently as Mayor. There is absolutely no conflict of interest, pecuniary or otherwise, with respect to the part time consulting work I do with federal public service associations – under the umbrella of the Public Service Alliance of Canada – serving employees with 18 federal departments and agencies, with a major emphasis on occupational stress injuries…However, the reality is that the focus of my part time public service contract work has and will remain overwhelmingly federal.”
In order to make the situation as clear as possible, Ms. Peckford referred the matter to the Integrity Commissioner, who has issued a written report. Ms. Peckford stated: “I have consulted the Municipality of North Grenville’s integrity Commissioner Tony Fleming who has confirmed that there is no conflict.”
The Integrity Commissioner’s report was very clear. It reads, in part:
“There is no financial interest, however remote, with your professional relationship with the entities you work for and the proposed Provincial prison. As such, there is no pecuniary interest under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. There is also no actual or perceived conflict under your Code of Conduct. The test for a perceived conflict of interest is whether a reasonable person, apprised of all of the facts, would consider that you could not make impartial decisions related to the prosed prison (to the extent that there are any decisions for the Municipality to make). A reasonable person who was advised that you have no professional relationship with the Provincial prison system would not consider any decision you are involved in (or were involved in) on Council as a potential conflict of interest.”
The Lynas campaign issued a press release raising the matter, but it also raised some questions. To quote Ms. Peckford’s statement: “This allegation has been made by Colleen Lynas on her Colleen Lynas for Mayor Facebook Page where she states “I only learned about this connection on the day of the debate.” Colleen Lynas, a former volunteer for my Mayoral campaign in 2018, has been aware of the details of my federal public service contract work for years.”
These allegations of conflict of interest were quite easily clarified, and found to be without foundation in both cases. The timing and nature of the accusations, coming at the end of an election campaign, raised serious questions about both the accused and accusers, and it was important that the allegations were addressed before voting had advanced too far. The matters have been resolved.