The Town of Banff is looking at a policy on accepting gifts for its mayor and councillors in a bid to avoid any allegations of ethical conflict or poor political judgement.
The proposed policy comes fresh on the heels of last month’s scandal involving Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who allowed an architecture firm to pay for his airfare to Toronto.
At a meeting Monday (March 28), Banff’s finance committee, made up of council, unanimously agreed to pursue a policy surrounding acceptance of gifts. It still needs final approval.
The mayor and council want to make sure that no one can be accused of showing “favouritism or bias” when doing business with anyone in Town.
Politicians must be on guard for any appearance of conflict of interest, and to that end, Mayor Karen Sorensen said council discussed a policy after last October’s municipal election.
“I think when we first met about how we wanted to operate as a council, this came up as something to look at,” she said. “Recent controversy perhaps supports our decision to set some specific policy, but it was not the reason for doing so.”
The proposed policy states mayor and council will not accept any gift in exchange for special consideration of influence, or when it may be perceived to be for special treatment.
It is recognized, however, that genuine hospitality is an accepted courtesy of business relationships, and so there are circumstances in which gifts can be accepted.
For example, a written declaration would be required for any gift valued at more than $25, while any gift worth more than $250 must be returned.
In addition, any gift valued between $100 and $250 would require a declaration, but would also become property of the municipality, not the individual councillor.
Within those limits, councillors could accept token gifts like souvenirs and mementoes for service on a committee, for speaking at an event or for representing the municipality.
Gifts would also be allowed as an incident of protocol or social obligation that “normally and reasonably” accompany the council’s responsibility, as long as they don’t exceed $250.
As well, food and beverages at banquets, receptions, ceremonies or similar events would be allowed under the draft policy.
During the meeting, council had some frank discussion on some examples, citing golf and lunch at the Fairmont Banff Springs, or a concert or a ski pass at a local ski hill when promoting Banff.
Councillor Leslie Taylor was vocal in her support for a policy.
“If something is given to you for your personal use and has nothing to do with your duty, then it’s a gift,” she said.
“But if you have to have something to carry out our duty, then it’s an expense.”
Coun. Grant Canning said the draft policy is well written.
“We could sit here for an hour and talk about every possible scenario, but at the end of the day it comes down to personal choice,” he said.
“If it’s proven at the end of the day that maybe it wasn’t a wise idea to accept something, well, you have to live with your choice.”
The controversial incident involving Calgary’s mayor has led that municipality to hire an outside consultant to examine the issue.
By allowing a private company to pick up the mayor’s air ticket, critics argued that just the perception of an ethical conflict should have been enough for Nenshi to decline the airfare offer.
The econmy class return airfare between Toronto and Calgary cost $721.50. It was paid for by Kasian, an architecture firm that invited Nenshi to Toronto to speak at a symposium.
Nenshi argued he’d been open about the arrangement, noting it also saved taxpayer money as he spent his week promoting Calgary’s interests in Canada’s biggest city.