Pitt Meadows council will try again to have laws changed so local politicians convicted of crimes can be removed from their positions.
A resolution from Pitt Meadows was brought to the Lower Mainland Local Government Association annual conference, but was lost in tie vote on May 10.
As it stands, local politicians, such as former Pitt Meadows councillor David Murray, who has been convicted of sexual assault, can stay on council as long as they are able to attend a minimal number of meetings.
There is no legal mechanism to remove them from office, but the city wants to lobby Victoria for legislative changes.
The next step is for council to bring the issue to the Union of B.C. Municipalities 2018 convention in Whistler, Sept. 10-14.
The resolution, which was before council on Tuesday, asks that the UBCM lobby the provincial government to make legislative changes to require elected officials to be put on paid leave immediately upon conviction of a serious criminal offence. They would be on paid leave until the expiration of the time to file an appeal, or once the results of an appeal had been determined.
They would also ask that a local government official be disqualified from holding office upon conviction of a serious criminal offence, after the results of an appeal had been determined or the time to file an appeal expired.
Murray is appealing both his conviction and his sentence, which included nine months in jail.
Coun. Janis Elkerton believes the UBCM will support the resolution. She attended the Lower Mainland conference with Mayor John Becker and said the vote was split 30-30, but about 40 people who were eligible to vote chose to abstain.
However, northern municipalities passed a similar motion, so Elkerton expects there will be enough support to tip the vote in favour of those who want convicted councillors removed from office.
The North Central Local Government Association approved a resolution that would required elected officials to be disqualified upon conviction of a serious offence, and further that they take a paid leave of absence upon Crown approval of charges, until the court process is completed.
Elkerton said there was a 40-minute discussion at LMLGA on the Pitt Meadows resolution, and some people argued councillors could be removed from office for civil disobedience, or marijuana convictions that could soon be stricken from the Criminal Code.
She was not in favour of forcing people from office when they are charged, saying it infringes on their right to presumption of innocence.
Coun. Bill Dingwall, who has announced his intention to run for mayor in the local elections in October 2018, agrees councillors who have been charged should be on leave – either paid or unpaid, and that the Pitt Meadows resolution does not go far enough. He said it is an issue of maintaining public trust and confidence in elected officials.
Dingwall said a charge such as sex assault of a minor, as Murray faced, is “serious and troubling” and “should disqualify him from sitting in council chambers.”
He noted that Murray was representing the city on committees and made a trip to Ottawa representing Pitt Meadows while this charge was hanging over him.
He was charged in November 2016, and convicted in October 2017.
Dingwall said for more than a year he and Coun. Tracy Miyashita tried to discuss his legal issues, but there was no will from the rest of council.
“I’m troubled by what took place over the whole year,” said Dingwall, adding that it denigrated public trust and confidence in council.
Elkerton was critical of Dingwall, saying he and Coun. Miyashita both talked about the need for legislative changes, then missed the LMLGA meeting.
“Neither he nor Coun. Miyashita bothered to show up at the conference,” she said. “The were MIA.”
Dingwall noted that Couns. Bruce Bell and Mike Stark were also missing, and could have been the swing votes.
“This conference didn’t work out for me, and I didn’t attend,” he said. “Don’t put this blame on me.”
He said he was surprised it didn’t go through.
The City of Quesnel, in 1996, and the City of Merritt, in 2003, both submitted similar resolutions to the UBCM about disqualification of elected officials, but no changes resulted.