Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ruling sets bad precedent: critics

Critics slam court ruling as setting bad precedent

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A court ruling that provincial conflict-of-interest rules do not apply to a taxpayer-funded Christmas party has rankled some members of city council who say the decision sets a bad precedent.

On Friday, Justice Brenda Keyser ruled provincial conflict-of-interest rules do not apply to a taxpayer-funded Christmas party Mayor Sam Katz's office held at Hu's Asian Bistro in December 2010. Katz owned the restaurant at the time and the bill for the event came to $3,084.35.

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The ruling riled critics who raised concerns it sends a message that elected officials don't have to follow the rules.

Chan supporter Coun. Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) said no one will want to challenge the mayor in court again and spending tax dollars at a restaurant he owns was a "pure and simple" conflict.

"Here's a citizen who's coming forward to hold the mayor accountable and it's being thrown out the window," Smith said. "This discredits the court and it discredits the legislation."

Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie said it was clear the judge did not want to be the person to oust the mayor from office and the ruling set a bad precedent. He said he might as well use his discretionary office budget to hire his son to clean up Selkirk Avenue since the decision sends the message that it's OK to violate conflict rules.

"I don't know why any of us have to follow the rules anymore," Eadie said. "That's not a good way to run a democracy."

University of Manitoba ethicist Arthur Schafer said it appears the conflict-of-interest legislation has been so poorly written, public officials can get away with bad behaviour. He said the mayor is supposed to provide political and moral leadership to the city's public servants and instead has sent a signal that ethics don't matter.

Coun. Grant Nordman (St. Charles) said the provincial legislation is meant to prevent conflicts in rural municipalities so reeves don't get a side contract to remove snow, for example. Nordman said the legislation is not about Christmas parties. "It was frivolous and poorly thought out and totally politically driven," he said, of the case against Katz.

-- Jen Skerritt

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 6, 2013 A4

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