Thursday, June 11, 2009


Oldtown News
Vancouver, BC


When Park Commissioner Constance Barnes announced yesterday that she was taking a medical leave to deal with her criminal charges related to driving while impaired, I wondered what the process was regarding going on leave.

My understanding is that other Commissioners would need to approve such a leave and since Commissioners haven't met in session since this event unfolded, I contacted a couple of the longer serving elected Park Board officials for further clarification.

Commissioner Ian Robertson who has served as both Chair and Vice-Chair of the Park board states, " I don't know what the process is and I'll be asking for a full explanation regarding her actions". Commissioner Robertson also states that "elected officials should be held to a higher standard" and he is correct in that assessment.

Vice-Chair Loretta Woodcock, when asked by this blogger regarding Commissioner Robertson's assertion states, " Constance was not on official business and this needs to be treated as a personal issue and not political since she was not on official business ".

The public though are making their voices heard as they should regarding this very troubling issue and I suspect our elected officials will be watching closely since ultimately they will be asked to approve their colleague's request for leave.

Already coming from the public is that Commissioner Barnes should resign her position on Park Board.

Areas that need to be explored regarding the drunk driving of Ms Barnes include concerns that there is no public drinking allowed in Vancouver public parks or beaches and yet Commissioner Barnes readily admits that she was drinking at a public beach in Richmond. Here is a Park Commissioner telling the public they can't drink in public places yet she ignores this policy herself.

The public will no doubt pounce on Ms Barnes action of public drinking and they will rightfully say that she shouldn't get away with something that the public wouldn't be able to and they would assert that because she is a public official, she shouldn't be treated favorably. One would be hard pressed to dismiss the public's sentiment on this.

Another matter which readers of mine are sending emails concern the fact that Commissioner Barnes destroyed property while intoxicated and this is irresponsible behavior for a public official and her alcoholism aside, this issue can not just be overlooked or forgiven due to alcoholism. In fact Commissioner Barnes still faces repercussions from this criminal activity and the public is not sympathetic to drunk driving . Most likely the judge will consider this when sentencing Ms Barnes.

To the issue at hand which other Park Commissioners will be looking at in granting a leave for Ms Barnes is their own political capital.

If Commissioners decide to grant leave to Commissioner Barnes and the public believes Commissioner Barnes should resign, this will have the effect of or at least the public perception will be that Commissioners treated one of their own more favourably and this could create a political firestorm for the other six Commissioners.

There is no question that Commissioner Barnes should be treated with respect and accorded dignity during this really difficult time, moreover, there is no doubt the public is somewhat sympathetic to her announced alcoholism but the public are equally stating that a medical leave may not be suitable in these circumstances especially considering the harm that was created due to the reckless actions of Commissioner Barnes.

Already the public are on record saying resolve of this issue may not be as simple as Commissioner Barnes going on leave.

The Chair of the Park Board, Raj Hundal, unfortunately, hasn't yet spoken on this issue and the Vice-Chair, Loretta Woodcock further states, " Commissioner Barnes has fulfilled her obligation to be held to a higher standard because she made this information public".

While the Vice-Chair states that Commissioner Barnes has fulfilled her obligation as a Park Commissioner, ultimately the judge of Commissioner Barnes actions will be the judge of public opinion.

If the public determines that medical leave is not suitable given the severity of the three charges Ms Barnes is facing, the other Commissioners could very well risk their own political capital by agreeing on a course of action which the public finds extremely distasteful.

This story isn't going away and there will no doubt be other announcements regarding it in the days and weeks ahead.

Jamie Lee Hamilton