After casting the lone dissenting vote to the RMOW’s response to BC Parks’ Draft Garibaldi Park Management Plan last month, Coun. Jayson Faulkner responded to concerns last Tuesday (Feb. 5) that he was acting in a conflict of interest based on his position as co-owner of Whistler Alpine Guides Bureau.
Council supported their response to the management plan, which was generally aligned with BC Parks’ vision and recommended measures to retain heli-skiing operations, was in favour of the installation of a backcountry Spearhead Hut network and asked the province to consider expanded mountain biking access in the park.
Faulkner, who has been heavily involved in the Spearhead Hut project over the years and also serves as council’s representative on the Forestry and Wildlands Advisory Committee (FWAC), voted against the RMOW motion, citing concerns over Whistler Heli-Skiing’s continued operations in Garibaldi. He felt that the plan would entrench “a perpetuity for heli-skiing in the park” and that the operation’s proximity to several Spearhead Huts would create conflict with other user groups. The Whistler Blackcomb-owned ski tour operator’s tenure in Garibaldi expires in 2016.
After receiving a pair of private letters citing a potential conflict of interest, Faulkner responded at the council meeting.
“I certainly do not believe there’s any conflict of interest,” he said. “My vote was in good faith based upon my principles to support the Forestry (and) Wildlands Advisory Committee motion … I thought I was duty bound to support that committee’s position and resolution. My interest as an owner in the Whistler Alpine Guides Bureau is very well known in the pubic and has been for 20 years.”
Faulkner’s share in Whistler Alpine Guides Bureau, a company he founded in 1990, is 12.5 per cent.
“I felt the voting for the FWAC position in fact would or could possibly damage the interests of that business by potentially creating a serious loss of goodwill with Whistler Blackcomb company, whose cooperation is very important for the Whistler Alpines Guide Bureau to function. That includes a website listing, lift tickets and other considerations,” said Faulkner. “In addition, there are other competitive guiding operations and Whistler Blackcomb itself has a competitive guiding operation, so my thought was that in that case it would potentially exacerbate potential for the damage of goodwill, and therefore any conflict of interest would be impertinent.”
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who was not present for the council meeting, said Tuesday (Feb. 12) she had a conversation with Faulkner about the letters and didn’t agree with the assertion that the councillor was in a conflict of interest.
“He voted in good faith, and if there was a conflict of interest it certainly was inadvertent, so I hope with his comments on the record last week, that that’s the end of it,” she said.
Avoiding potential conflicts of interest could become a bigger problem for Whistler’s council in the future, with a Jan. 13 B.C. Court of Appeal decision finding that elected municipal officials who also sit as directors of a non-profit society are in a conflict of interest when voting or participating in matters related to that society.
Wilhelm-Morden, a trial lawyer, said the court decision could pose problems for B.C. municipalities in the future, calling it “a more restrictive interpretation in my opinion of what a conflict of interest is.”
A letter from Squamish-Lillooet Regional District officials was recently sent to Union of British Columbia Municipalities president Mary Sjorstrom urging her to sit down with the province to recommend passing legislation that would address their concerns with the decision.
Chief among them for the SLRD and Wilhelm-Morden is the fact that elected officials in small towns like Whistler “are very often members of board of directors of various not-for-profits, so it does make it a little more restrictive,” she said.
Locally, RMOW officials sit on Whistler Animals Galore, Whistler Arts Council, Whistler Museum and Archives Society and Whistler Community Services Society boards — all organizations that receive funds from the municipality.
BC Parks is currently reviewing the RMOW’s input into the Garibaldi management plan before sending it to the federal Ministry of Environment for approval, expected in April.