Greater Victoria residents disappointed in local councillors who travelled internationally despite a provincial advisory against non-essential journeys have no formal recourse to demand a resignation or punishment, says a Royal Roads political scientist.
While there is a recall process for registered voters to try to remove a provincial politician, no such process exists for municipal politicians, leaving only informal options to pressure a councillor or mayor, such as petitions, social-media campaigns and speaking at council meetings, said David Black, an associate professor in the university’s school of communication and culture.
“The secondary problem that follows from that is that councils themselves … are also quite limited in what they can do. And that’s the case where a councillor has done something truly bad, like a serious criminal conviction, or where the offence is more a matter of bad judgment, as might be the case with the three Island councillors who have travelled against the advisory,” he said.
Victoria Coun. Sharmarke Dubow apologized for his “poor choice” to visit family in Somalia and Kenya over the holidays, while Metchosin Coun. Kyara Kahakauwila defended her December trip to Mexico for a friend’s wedding, saying she told Metchosin’s mayor, council and the district’s chief administrative officer before she left for the holiday.
North Saanich Coun. Heather Gartshore admitted to travelling to Seattle to see her daughter since mid-March. The land border between Canada and the U.S. is closed to non-essential traffic, but Canadians can still enter the U.S. by air.
Because B.C. has a weak mayor system, in which mayors just represent one vote on council and have no veto power, they can’t force a councillor to vacate their seat, Black said.
Local government officials can only be removed from office if they have been convicted of an indictable offence and are incarcerated, fail to take their oath of office, are absent for four consecutive council days, or violate conflict-of-interest rules, according to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.
There is more recourse at the provincial and federal government levels, Black said, as has been demonstrated by the high-profile resignations from provincial cabinet or committee positions that followed revelations of international travel.
Rod Phillips resigned as Ontario’s finance minister for his trip to St. Barts last month, but will stay on as a member of provincial parliament, while Tracy Allard resigned as Alberta’s minister of municipal affairs after travelling to Hawaii.
Frustrated by Dubow’s travel, Victoria resident Janice Williams started a petition demanding a recall process to remove municipal politicians. About 200 people have signed the petition, with some saying they would like Dubow to resign.
Williams said she’s frustrated that residents and councils have no power to force the councillor’s resignation.
“I think it’s really frustrating to know that even the mayor has no power to do anything about it. And to have her say it’s up to the public to pass judgment, and knowing that even if the public does pass judgment, there’s nothing we can do to compel a resignation, we’re left waiting until the next election to do anything about it,” she said.
A statement from Together Victoria, the political slate to which Dubow and Coun. Sarah Potts belong, said the group learned of Dubow’s trip through his public comments on Tuesday and is “deeply disappointed in his choice.”
“We expect Councillor Dubow to have frank conversations with Together Victoria members and residents of the city about his actions.”
-with a file from Katie DeRosa and The Canadian Press