While everyone tries to put the ducks in a row with respect to the financial boondoggle in Sooke, let me add a line or two.
The Community Charter the document currently in the limelight, is a statute. The Criminal Code of Canada at Section 126 (Disobeying a Statute) reads as follows:
“Everyone who without lawful excuse, contravenes an Act of Parliament by willfully doing anything that it forbids or by willfully omitting to do anything that it requires to be done is, unless a punishment is expressly provided by law, guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.”
In Sooke, Council members would fall under the initial statement “unless a punishment is expressly provided by law,” and Staff under the phrase ‘guilty of an indictable offense and liable to imprisonment…”.
There is no intent here to suggest that such should be the outcome. This is an attempt to show that these matters are serious and can result in serious consequences.
On November 14, 2016, during the Regular Council Meeting, Bylaw 658, Five Year Financial Plan Amendment Bylaw, was introduced and given 1st, 2nd and 3rd reading. The purpose of Bylaw 658 was to amend the Five Year Financial Plan to include expenditures that had been approved, but were not included in the original Bylaw. These monies had been spent and totaled at least $400,000.
(1) A municipality must not make an expenditure other than one authorized under subsection (2) or (3).
(2)A municipality may make an expenditure that is included for that year in its financial plan, so long as the expenditure is not expressly prohibited under this or another Act.
(3)A municipality may make an expenditure for an emergency ……..(This would not apply here as there must be an emergency and council must have established procedures for such expenditures.)
Section(2) applies here and renders the said expenditures illegal as they were not included in the Five-Year Plan.
Section 191 of the Charter states:
(1) A council member who votes for a bylaw or resolution authorizing the expenditure …is personally liable to the municipality for the amount….
(3) In addition to any other penalty to which the person may be liable, a council member who is liable to the municipality under subsection (1) is disqualified from holding office…. until 4 years from the date of the vote to which the disqualification relates.
Studying the above issues enticed me to look back to past expenditures. It became clear that the expenditure of $1,420,000 for the library property was also illegal. The purchase was voted on by all Council members except the Mayor who was on leave. At the time of the vote there were no funds in the five-year plan for the purchase, and there are various emails and other documents to prove that there was no definite plan as to the funding.
At this point the Charter is lacking in detail. While stating that there is a liability and a disqualification upon those who voted for the illegal expenditures, how these are dealt with is anything but definite. It is also not clear what happens in the event that some illegal expenditures were made by members of staff, which certainly was the case here. There is provision in the Charter for action to be taken by electors or taxpayers, which would require court action.
Bylaw 658 has been adopted even though it is clearly an illegal bylaw. Its only purpose is to cover up the illegal expenditures and make them pure. Staff have no wish to debate the issue. Sooke taxpayers will find these expenditures are real come tax time. The actions by Council and by Staff have gifted us with at least $2,000,000 of expenditures, which in reality belong to them.
In closing, the use of the word ‘illegal’ in this document is tied to the fact that errors have been made and in no way is meant to imply wrongdoing or criminal activity. Responsibility, however, should not rest with taxpayers.