Kamloops City Hall is a very intriguing place these days

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
December 10, 2016 - 5:00am

KAMLOOPS — And people say local politics is dull.

I say, Pshaw. (Now there’s a word that should come back in style.)

At any rate, City Hall is a busy place. Mayor Peter Milobar has removed himself from the Industrial Tax Base Task Force, one of whose jobs is to negotiate the community compensation agreement with Ajax.

It was easy enough to do — he simply named Ken Christian to the group instead of himself when he rejigged the committee list for the coming year. Shuffles among committees are commonplace from year to year. No muss, no fuss.

The mayor’s stated reason was to ensure continuity should he be elected MLA next May, not because of the conflict of interest issue. It does, though, have the advantage of taking some of the wind out of the sails of those who believe he should recuse himself from any involvement in the Ajax file.

Surely a compensation agreement will be signed off before next May anyway, but the committee change removes one irritant from the “perceived conflict of interest” discussion.

This matter of perception versus reality is interesting when it comes to conflicts of interest. John McNamer, who filed a complaint with the B.C. Ombudsman over the Milobar-Ajax situation, has consistently attached the word “perceived” to his statements about the alleged conflict.

A true conflict of interest is a matter of legal interpretation. Contrary to what Coun. Arjun Singh told McNamer in reply to one of his emails, politicians don’t really have the right to make a decision for themselves whether they have a conflict.

When a politician has a conflict of interest, he or she must do something about it lest he or she be tossed out of office.

A ”perceived” conflict, on the other hand, is simply that — an appearance or impression someone has that one exists, but might not. I’m thinking the Ombudsman’s office will want clarity on the exact nature of the complaint.

If a politician believes there’s even a possibility of a perception of conflict even when there’s not, taking the precaution of removing oneself from votes on the matter at hand is often the preferred course of action.

A little too preferred, in my books. There’s a well-worn path on council chambers carpet from members of council trotting in and out of the room because of self-proclaimed perceived conflicts.

Milobar has so far chosen not to go that route. As time goes on he’ll have to keep an eye on whether a perception of conflict goes beyond a handful of Ajax opponents and becomes more widespread.

Post-Milobar, I see a shift coming in the conversation on the Ajax question. Currently, the vote on Ajax sits at four against and five not saying. Among the five, Singh is regarded as the biggest hope for moving towards opposition.

But with Milobar gone, and Ken Christian’s council seat vacated if he takes over from Milobar, and that seat filled by Kevin Krueger (who, this week, referred on Facebook to “silly socialist mayors” who oppose pipelines) things could get more strident even if the arithmetic doesn’t change.

Of course, if there’s no by-election, council numbers will temporarily drop to eight, half of which are against Ajax, still not enough for the majority needed to create a formal anti-Ajax position by council. But if Singh joins them, it would be at least 5-3, a good number for the No side.

Then there’s the timing of the approval process, completion of the independent study and all that, which are bound to come into play and could change a lot of things.

Palace intrigue is such fun stuff.