Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Oldtown News
Vancouver, BC


When is conflict-of-interest not a conflict-of-interest? According to Vancouver Park Board Vice-Chair, Ian Robertson, who had to take over chairing last night's Park board meeting, after charges brought against current NPA Chair, Korina Houghton, by COPE park Commissioners, Loretta Woodcock and Spencer Herbert, conflict only arises if the person who conflict charges are brought against, states there is a conflict.

In the case of Ms Houghton, she states she wasn't in a conflict and had sought legal advice and the opinion that she received was there wasn't a conflict. She wouldn't name where the opinion came from.

So what brought about this conflict-of-interest charge to begin with?

Well according to Commissioners Woodcock and Herbert, Chairperson Houghton had presented last month at City Hall and spoke in favour of NPA Mayor Sam Sullivan's Eco-density initiative. It was alleged that she was introduced as Park board Chair at the Council meeting and therefore there was a perception that Ms Houghton was bringing forth official park board support. The Park board hadn't voted on this matter and therefore Ms Woodcock, who doesn't support Eco-density, Mr. Herbert and Vision Commissioner, Allan De Genova raised their displeasure over this.

Further the conflict charge arose after Ms Houghton had officially announced plans to seek a Council seat and would be supporting Mayor Sam Sullivan. There was therefore, it is alleged, a perception created that Ms Houghton would receive favor from Mr. Sullivan and his supporters for speaking in support of the Eco-Density plan.

This in turn caused fireworks with a number of barbs traded across the Commissioner's board table. Ms Woodcock was accused of using cheap political stunts to further her aims.

I asked former NPA park board Chair, Laura McDiarmid, if there was a perception of conflict due to Ms Houghton's support of Mayor Sullivan and whether there is a perception that Ms Houghton may gain benefit securing a Council nomination in return for her support of Eco-Density. Ms McDiarmid replied, "there certainly is and why Ms Houghton chose to speak at Council on Eco-Density and as the Chair, this is wrong. In an election year, there is closer scrutiny of politicians as there should be. I think Chair Houghton made a critical mistake".

Whether this conflict-of-interest motion brought forward by Commissioner Woodcock, which Ms Houghton summarized as political mischief making is uncertain. What is certain though is how Mayor Sullivan and his plan to Eco-density the City has created a huge divide in the City.

Chair Houghton states, she wasn't willing to be bullied by the two COPE Commissioners and in her opinion that is what the Woodcock motion was doing.

The problem, or at least the public perception of the problem, is that the dominant municipal parties are continuously at war with one another. Whether this provides good governance for the citizens of the City is in doubt. Consequently, what's in the public interest continues to be eroded.

Jamie Lee Hamilton


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