The loser in the race for Peel Region chair is crying foul after the winner voted for himself, essentially breaking a tie.
“It is completely unfair,” said John Sanderson, who ran against Frank Dale for the region’s top job. “The vote was stacked against me. I could not cast a vote for myself, so why should he?”
In Peel Region, the new chair is selected by the 24 regional councillors. Anyone can run for the job but only councillors can vote. Sanderson couldn’t vote for himself because he is not a member of council. Now he argues Dale was in a conflict of interest because the Mississauga regional councillor voted to give himself the chair’s job which this year came with a salary of $184,898.
It’s an unusual occurrence, but the vote appears to be allowed by the provincial Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. The act requires politicians to withdraw from a vote if he or she stands to benefit financially from the outcome, but it also leaves room for exceptions. Dale was allowed to vote under one such exception.
Now the Peel vote has some observers calling for changes to the provincial law. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs is already working on a review of the act, following inquiries involving former mayors Hazel McCallion and Rob Ford that highlighted other flaws in the nearly 40-year-old legislation.
“The act is hard to understand,” says St. Catharines-based lawyer Monique Atherton, who specializes in municipal law. “It should be written in a way that’s easy to understand.”
For 23 years, until his retirement this year, Emil Kolb served as the regional chair in Peel, winning the post through a vote by regional councillors. But Kolb was never elected to council and so could never vote for himself.
Previous votes have used secret ballots, but this year a publicly recorded open vote was conducted.
Regional councillors met on Dec. 4 to decide on Kolb’s replacement, and Dale, who had just won his ninth term as a Mississauga city and regional councillor, was in the running for the job.
Through three rounds of balloting, Dale cast his vote for himself, with rivals eliminated after each round. In the fourth round, he tied with Sanderson — 12 votes each. If Dale had not voted for himself, he would have lost. Instead, he won in the fifth and final round, a tiebreaker, in which he again voted for himself.
Overall, the conflict of interest act denies a sitting politician the right to vote on an issue if the politician or a family member stands to benefit financially. But a clause within the act does allow council members to be eligible for election or appointment to fill positions in council, even if they have a pecuniary interest.
Despite what she calls a “clear pecuniary interest” in this case, Atherton believes it was OK for Dale to vote for himself: “I think there are arguments to be made on both sides, but as the act stands, I don’t see a violation.”
Curiously, before voting began, a conflict was declared by Mississauga Councillor Matt Mahoney, whose father Steve was seeking the chair’s position. Mahoney said he didn’t vote, on the advice of the region’s clerk.
“She said that I or the region could be open to backlash or recourse if I did not declare a conflict. So I declared a conflict, on her advice.”
Under the act, Mahoney would have been in a conflict because his father would benefit from his vote. There is no exception for this.
The region’s clerk, Kathryn Lockyer, stated through a spokesperson that information was provided to anyone who asked about possible conflicts relating to the vote for the regional chair.
Like Atherton, Lockyer said a clause in the conflict act allows council members to vote for themselves.
“She’s saying she told Mahoney not to vote because it was obvious there was a conflict,” Sanderson said of Lockyer. “Well, Frank had an even bigger conflict. I was dumbfounded when he voted for himself.”
In a statement emailed last Monday, Dale said the rules related to appointment of the regional chair are set by the province. “In regions where the appointment of the regional chair is made by members of the council, the practice has been, and continues to be one where members are permitted to cast a vote for any nominee including themselves.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said the act states that “members of council are required to disclose, with some exceptions, pecuniary (financial) interests that they may have in matters that come before council at a meeting.”
The ministry statement said it was up to Dale to determine if he had a financial interest and remove himself from the vote. Anyone who feels he should not have voted would need to go to court to press the point, the statement said.
“If there was an application, it would be up to the courts to decide whether Mr. Dale had a pecuniary interest and whether he violated the act in voting on it,” the ministry stated.
Dale will make considerably more money as the regional chair than simply as a Mississauga councillor. According to the 2014 pay scale he will earn $184,898, including $14,528 that the chair gets for sitting on the Peel Police Services Board. As a Mississauga councillor, his pay in 2013 was $133,039, which included $51,425 for sitting on Peel Region Council.
On retirement, part of Dale’s eventual pension payments will also be based on his highest five years of salary from the region.
Meanwhile, his decision to take the chair’s seat will cost Mississauga taxpayers as much as $500,000 for a byelection to fill the vacated Ward 4 seat he won in October. Dale could also be eligible for up to 12 months’ severance pay from the City of Mississauga for his time on council.
Sanderson doesn’t see the logic of Dale being allowed to vote for himself, and he is considering his options. He does not want go to court and says he may instead first approach the region and council about a possible re-vote.
“This has nothing to do with Frank; he’s a good guy. It’s about accountability. Peel is trying to bring in better accountability,” Sanderson said. “It has to start with the top. You can’t have questions about how the head of the region got his job.”