Ontario Superior Court of Justice rules in favour of municipal councillor in conflict of interest application

December 9, 2020

2020 ONSC 7361

In a December 9, 2020 decision, the Honourable Justice C.D. Braid of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice dismissed an application commenced by Michael Yorke, Joel Neville and James Andres (the “Applicants”), on their own behalf and on behalf of all other members of the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (the “Carpenters Union”), which alleged that Michael Harris (the “Respondent”), Councillor for the Regional Municipality of Waterloo (the “Region”), acted contrary to the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (the “MCIA”).

In 2019, the Respondent introduced a resolution to Regional Council (the “Resolution”) that would support and encourage the provincial government to pass proposed amendments to the Labour Relations Act, 1995. The amendments would result in the termination of the Carpenters Union’s exclusive bargaining rights with the Region in respect of construction carpenters and carpenters’ apprentices employed by the Region and would thus allow members of other organizations to bid on the Region’s construction projects, including the Christian Labour Association of Canada (the “CLAC”), a trade union that employed the Respondent’s wife. Because of his wife’s employment, the Applicants claimed that the Respondent failed to declare his pecuniary interest in the Resolution, and that he did not refrain from voting nor encouraging others to support the Resolution, thereby breaching the MCIA.

While the Court recognized that the Applicants had standing to represent the Carpenters Union as plaintiffs, it found that the Applicants ultimately submitted their claim more than six weeks after they became aware of the alleged contraventions, contrary to s. 8(2) of the MCIA, which imposes a strict time limit, the purpose of which is to protect elected officials by ensuring that applications are brought on a timely basis. Given that the Applicants were unable to lead evidence as to when they became aware of the alleged contraventions, they were unable to meet their initial onus of demonstrating that their application was timely and brought within the required six weeks. The Court thus agreed with the Respondent that the Applicants had failed to satisfy the condition precedent in the MCIA.

The Court nevertheless went on to consider whether Councillor Harris could be deemed to have an indirect pecuniary interest in the Resolution. The MCIA provides, at sections 2 and 3, that the indirect pecuniary interest of the Respondent’s wife is deemed to be the Respondent’s pecuniary interest as well. The Respondent’s wife would have an indirect pecuniary interest in any matter if she is employed by a body that has a pecuniary interest. In reviewing the facts, the Court found that the CLAC did not have a pecuniary interest in the Resolution. This was because, inter alia, since the Respondent had no control with respect to whether the Bill would pass, the Resolution itself could not create a pecuniary interest. The Court further found that the pecuniary interest, had there been any, was contingent on other things occurring, and that CLAC’s interest in the Resolution was ultimately too hypothetical and remote to be considered a real and definable interest.

The Court consequently ruled that the Respondent’s interests were not conflicted, and dismissed the application.

Eric Davis and Trenton Johnson (Municipal Law; Civil Litigation) of Miller Thomson represented the successful Respondent in the proceedings.