What is the role of municipal employees in 2015 Metro Vancouver Transportation & Transit Plebiscite? Ethical, legal, policy questions…

Mayors' Council logo for plebiscite

Mayors’ Council logo for plebiscite

A reader has asked MetroVanWatch some important questions. We do not know the answer, but share them here. Stand back from the content of the plebiscite. Ignore for a moment that it’s about transit funding. Look at the systems and patterns at play — Enormous public resources are being used to influence the outcome of a voting process that will affect billions of dollars of public and private investment. What precedents are we setting? See also a response from Elections BC further below.

Comments are welcome.

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I spoke City staff working booths downtown Vancouver, advocating for a YES vote. They said that they were not being paid overtime, because in exchange for working the booth on the weekend they would get regular time off. I wonder about four aspects:

  1.  Is it legal/acceptable/ethical for a municipal government to donate staff time in-kind without the municipal government itself being listed as a campaign donor on some sort of campaign donor disclosure? Isn’t that a type of in-kind campaign contribution, funded by taxpayer’s own money?  What City work is NOT being done by these employees (or being delayed), since their time has been allocated to this plebiscite campaign, and they are not being paid overtime?
  2.  Is it legal/acceptable/ethical for a municipal government to advocate for a particular direction on a vote using taxpayers’ money to both provide staff and advertising for one side of the vote?
  3.  If a city employee didn’t feel comfortable advocating for a YES vote would they somehow be disadvantaged at work? What if their opinion differs from the City’s position?
  4.  How can a mayor do his or her regularly required tasks while spending so much time advocating for a position in this vote? Has this increased the amount of time staff and the deputy mayor need to allocate to cover the missed work?

 I do not know the answer to these questions, and regardless of how one is going to vote, I think the public has the right to know the answers to these important procedural election questions. They affect how city resources, funded by the taxpayer, are being spent.

An extra question. What is the funding source for the Mayor’s Council? They seem to be buying a lot of ads on buses, direct mail pieces, etc. Exactly how is all of this funded, and  if it is public money, are detailed financial reports available for public scrutiny?

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QUESTIONS to Elections BC (16-March-2015):

Dear Elections BC: Are municipal employees in the Metro Vancouver region allowed to be paid to campaign as part of their regular duties during the transit plebiscite? Is that legal under the Elections Act? Are there any policies or guidelines on this?

RESPONSE FROM ELECTIONS BC:

Elections BC is required to administer the Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite according to the Regulation issued by the Lieutenant-Governor-In-Council . There is nothing in the Regulation that prescribes who may or may not campaign during the Plebiscite. A copy of the Regulation is available here: http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/oic/oic_cur/0054_2015

METROVANWATCH OBSERVATIONS ON RESPONSE:

The specific Regulation provided does not mention who may or may not campaign.But that is a separate question. Any citizen may campaign — that seems logical. The issue at hand from is on the city / municipal government side of things. They are spending public resources to campaign in a specific way on an important public voting process. That is potentially the crux of the matter.

Even if legislation does not provide a clear answer, other principles might apply — as in the Code of Conduct in Vancouver, which states that Council and staff must put the public interest first. There are municipal level guidelines and bylaws. Plus the Community Charter for all municipalities but Vancouver (which has its own Vancouver Charter). Also, for public employees who are also members of professional associations, their codes of conduct may also apply. Here is a short list: www.cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/city-hall/codes-of-conduct/

There is a lot of grey area. But it is good to put this stuff under a spotlight. Maybe some city staff themselves will chime in….

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Comments can be typed below. Or e-mail us at citizenYVR@gmail.com. We also encourage you to ask the Mayors’ Council for a response. Please share your findings with us. The official page for contacting the Mayor’s Council is http://mayorscouncil.ca/have-your-say/.

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