The way issues of public importance are under-reported by the press can be disappointing. When the teachers threatened strike action, there was a shortage of hard facts regarding class sizes and prevailing wages. Without those facts how could we know whether the teachers’ demands were reasonable?
Lots of ink was devoted to the allegedly outrageous incomes earned by ophthalmologists, but how much did a small town family doctor earn, and under what working conditions? Without those facts how could we determine whether the doctor’s demands were reasonable? In both cases the hard facts were apparently too grisly to report.
The same holds true with Coun. Jayson Faulkner’s recent attempt to deal with the fact that he found himself serving two masters, commonly known as a “conflict.” The local press covered what Coun. Faulkner did, what he said and what the mayor said. Without placing the conduct and comments in the context of an analysis of the facts, how is the reader to decide whether his conduct was proper?
Conflicts arise in two ways, and both involve the sometimes-impossible task of serving two masters equally well.
A person might owe a duty to two organizations having potentially different interests. For example, where somebody serves as a director of an organization guiding ski tours into the backcountry while serving as a director of a heli-ski operation disturbing those same backcountry skiers, can that person serve both companies without finding themselves between the inevitable rock and hard spot, forced to make a decision which helps one company, while hurting the other company?
Alternatively, a person might have a personal interest in the outcome of an issue. Can a councillor properly discharge his duty to the electors and taxpayers of Whistler regarding an issue before council if that councillor has a personal interest in the outcome of the vote? That is the conflict Coun. Faulkner faced.
The question to be addressed was not whether Faulkner was in a conflict, which clearly he was, but whether he was in a disqualifying conflict.
Coun. Faulkner said he voted in good faith, he owed a duty to the Forest and Wildlands Advisory Committee to vote as FWAC had voted on the issue, his interest in the Whistler Alpine Guides Bureau was well known and the manner in which he voted was in fact contrary to the interests of Whistler Alpine Guides Bureau.
Mayor Wilhelm-Morden said she did not think that Coun. Faulkner was in a conflict, but if he was, then the conflict was inadvertent.
To answer that question one must ask whether Coun. Faulkner had a pecuniary interest in the outcome of the vote. A pecuniary interest arises where a councillor has a personal interest in the outcome of a vote, perhaps as a result of a duty the councillor owes to another organization, and the decision involves money. A pecuniary interest also arises where a councillor has a personal interest in a non-monetary decision, which might benefit the councillor financially.
The decision before council did not involve money, so he did not have a pecuniary interest in that sense. The more difficult question is whether Coun. Faulkner’s interest in Whistler Alpine Guides Bureau gave him a disqualifying financial interest in the outcome of the vote. How does one make that determination? When does a financial interest create a disqualifying conflict?
The test is not whether Coun. Faulkner voted in good faith, whether his conflict was well known, or whether his conflict was inadvertent. The test is whether a reasonably well-informed elector in Whistler would conclude that his interest in Whistler Alpine Guides Bureau would influence the way he voted. My guess is it would not. While Coun. Faulkner was in a conflict, he was not in a disqualifying conflict.
The way I see it, the real issue is whether council is taking sufficient advice from staff on conflict issues.