VANCOUVER Councillor Michael Wiebe of the Green Party of Vancouver issued a statement on Monday on the code of conduct report issued against him, stating that “despite my best of intentions, if I inadvertently made an error in this matter, I am deeply sorry.”
(In a conflict-of-interest investigation, attorney Raymond E. Young, found that Wiebe’s “conflict of interest actions cannot be viewed as an error in judgment made in good faith.” Wiebe owns Eight ½ Restaurant and is an investor in the Portside Pub. He did not declare a conflict of interest and amended motions and voted in favour of amendments for motions on the temporary expedited patio program at a Council meeting, and seconded and voted in favour of two motions that would benefit his businesses at another meeting. The investigation recommended Wiebe resign and be disqualified from holding office, according to a CBC report.)
FOR the past two years, I have proudly served as a Vancouver City Councillor representing the interests of Vancouver residents, businesses owners, and everyone else striving to make our city an even better place than it is today. Like many of my Council colleagues, I came into my elected role with other career responsibilities and obligations. Those were fully disclosed and I have worked hard to ensure that I am not in a position where my personal business interests could receive any sort of advantage due to my Vancouver City Council activities.
Back in the spring, when the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact Vancouver, I was working collaboratively with Mayor, Council and the business community to try to help restaurants, breweries and cafes safely re-open, while keeping their staff and the people that want to dine out safe and at a physical distance from each other.
As part of that effort, I voted on May 12 and 13 to direct staff to work with business operators to identify temporary patio seating options that would move indoor seating capacity outdoors to improve physical distancing during the COVID-19 emergency.
In advance of the votes, I asked for advice from City management and my understanding was that the patio policy would be broad and citywide, benefitting all of Vancouver’s restaurant sector, as well as breweries with tasting rooms and even common public spaces, and that the policy doesn’t specifically benefit me over other operators. I was also informed that it is up to me to determine whether I can participate with an open mind in the votes.
Based on this information, I decided to vote on the temporary patio policy with the good faith belief that I did not have a conflict and that I had made appropriate inquiries. I believed at the time that this vote was in the best interests of the business community and all of its employees and more broadly in the best interests of the City of Vancouver. I still believe this is the case.
Once staff put the policy in place, the citywide program was available to over 2,600 restaurants and other businesses. On June 2, my restaurant applied for a temporary patio extension through the Temporary Extended Patio Program (TEPP) available online. My restaurants application, I believe, was one of the first 14 to receive the temporary patio extension because I already have City approved patio drawings from my frequent participation in street festivals, and my spot did not have any complications, like a loading zone, taxi stand, passenger zone or utility cover. Later that month, on June 30, a bar that I have an interest in got approval for a temporary patio extension – it took longer to go through the application process because the spot had more complications. Now there are more than 300 restaurants, breweries, and cafes across the city, which have patio extensions because of this program.
While I did vote on this city-wide temporary emergency measure, I should note that because of my business interests, I have recused myself from other votes, including on June 11, involving patio extension fees and permanent patio and liquor extension policies.
I acted in good faith at all times throughout this process. There is nothing more important than the people of Vancouver being able to have confidence in their elected officials and the decisions we make.
To that end, I am deeply distressed to learn that the Investigation into the Code of Conduct complaint had concluded without my knowledge and without allowing me to provide fulsome information. I have requested that the Investigator provide me with an opportunity to give my input and evidence. I also hope this issue can prompt clearer rules for all elected officials to follow around avoiding conflicts or even the perception of conflicts.
That said, despite my best of intentions, if I inadvertently made an error in this matter, I am deeply sorry. I always strive to look out for the public’s interests and conduct myself accordingly. We are at a pivotal time for our city and I hope that this matter will not distract from the critical issues that we are facing during these challenging and unprecedented times.