Councillors can't speak simply as individuals

Two & Out
By James Peters
August 19, 2016 - 5:09pm

KAMLOOPS — When is an elected official not an elected official?

It's a trick question.

The answer is 'never.'

Let's not get too deep here.

When Barack Obama secretly calls out to order his favorite pizza at three in the morning, he's still the President of the United States, as much as in that moment he'd love to be just another guy.

It's the same with other elected politicians.

Denis Walsh says his letter to the province asking for the suspension of the Ajax environmental assessment process was written under the premise of Walsh as individual councillor, not as a representative of Kamloops council.

Some of his colleagues pointed out that when you lobby another body using your title as a Councillor, you are seen to represent the entire council, whether or not that was the intent.

It's similar to comments made by Councillor Donovan Cavers to the federally-convened panel looking into the proposed Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline expansion earlier this summer.

Cavers qualified his comments by saying he was speaking as a private citizen, not in his capacity as a city councillor.

That separation is not so easily made.

Elected officials' private lives become automatically intertwined with their political positions and decision-making power.

It's for exactly the same reason that one might have to declare a conflict of interest on certain votes, depending on factors in one's personal life.

Most of the time, this is a positive thing for politicians.

After all, their words carry added heft and gravity after they have been elected, no matter what those words are about.

And if politicians maintain and express a wide variety of opinions on a given topic, that's positive too.

But when they do that, they shouldn't expect that they can somehow separate themselves from their elected positions, and they should expect their comments will reflect on the institution in which they serve.