Whitehorse Daily Star

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Coun. Laura Cabott and Mayor Dan Curtis

Mayor floats concept of councillor’s potential conflict

It was a testy Mayor Dan Curtis who threw down the gauntlet at the feet of Coun. Laura Cabott during Monday night’s council meeting – out of the blue.

By Chuck Tobin on November 24, 2020

It was a testy Mayor Dan Curtis who threw down the gauntlet at the feet of Coun. Laura Cabott during Monday night’s council meeting – out of the blue.

Curtis suggested Cabott may be in a conflict of interest with her participation in discussions about the city’s strategy to reduce the risk of wildfires to the city.

Any recommendation coming out of the strategy will ultimately have to go before the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, of which Cabott is the chair, Curtis pointed out.

The mayor said he has heard concerns about it, “people whispering in my ear.”

Coun. Dan Boyd, however, quickly intervened on a point of order.

It was unfair to Cabott – a lawyer by profession – to blindside her with a discussion about the appropriateness of the councillor’s participation, said Boyd, who was chairing that segment of the meeting.

Boyd suggested if the mayor had an accusation or wanted to challenge Cabott’s involvement in the discussion, there are methods to do that, but to bring it up without notice in an open council meeting was not one of them.

“Tonight, I do not want to go that far down the rabbit hole,” said Boyd. “If we have a concern if a councillor has a conflict, there are ways to do that.”

Curtis said he was not making an accusation.

But he said he may be bringing forward a motion or point of order to examine if Cabott is in a conflict, or to seek a legal opinion.

In her response, Cabott quickly stated she would not be commenting on any suggestion she was in a conflict of interest.

She did say her concern is getting on with implementation of the Wildfire Risk Reduction Strategy and Action plan.

The city has had three reports over three years all indicating Whitehorse is vulnerable to wildfires, she pointed out.

Cabott said a team of consultants with 100 years of combined experience in forest management has told the city it is very vulnerable.

“This is an urgent matter,” she said.

The discussion at Monday’s meeting centred around the administrative recommendation that council adopt recommendation number eight as an action item.

Administration further recommended that council adopt the remainder of the strategy as a guiding document.

Recommendation number eight calls upon the city to engage with the Yukon government and local First Nations to determine roles and responsibilities in the implementation of the strategy.

Sorting out roles and responsibilities as a first step will smooth out further discussions regarding the implementation of the other 11 action items laid out in the strategy, says the administrative report presented to council last week.

“Ultimately, management of forests and wildfires in the Yukon is the responsibility of the Yukon government, with First Nations also having a role to play in respect of their settlement lands,” says the report.

“The part to be played by the city needs to be clarified with the other levels of government as a priority action item.”

Coun. Steve Roddick indicated he would prefer adopting all 12 action items and then provide specific direction to administration regarding number eight.

There are, said Roddick, action items that fall squarely under the responsibility of the city.

Councillors Jan Stick and Jocelyn Curteanu said there’s nothing stopping council from adopting other action items as a priority in the future.

Dealing with number eight is a fundamental step, Curteanu told her colleagues.

“I would like to give our administration the mandate to go forward with this,” she said.

Curteanu said the other action items are not going to disappear; rather, they’ll continue to serve as a guiding document.

City administration, she said, is taking this matter very seriously.

Following a friendly amendment to the recommendation, council did adopt number eight as an action item and the remainder of the action items as a guiding document.

The friendly amendment put forward by Boyd calls upon administration to provide council with an update on the risk reduction strategy in three months, with estimated timelines for the implementation of all 12 action items.

The city’s risk reduction strategy was developed after the city commissioned a team of consultants in June 2019 to provide an assessment regarding the city’s vulnerability to wildfire.

The assessment was provided to council last April.

Comments (7)

Up 16 Down 17

Somanyofthem on Nov 25, 2020 at 8:41 pm

I am with the mayor on this one. Now if only the premier would clean his house....

Up 19 Down 3

Wilf Carter on Nov 24, 2020 at 10:08 pm

What I find interesting is our mayor was so upbeat when city passed the Climate IMG for our city. Part of that program is supposed to be dangerous of wild fires in the Yukon and to all residents in Whitehorse.
So why is our mayor so against these reports that address the wild fire danger to residents of Whitehorse?

Up 18 Down 3

Peoples Court on Nov 24, 2020 at 6:30 pm

Anie - I could not agree more - Conflict of interest in the Yukon is a matter of routine. However, the procedural remedies are so well controlled so as to restrain the possibility of addressing any real concern that might provide some relief to the complainant. If you can make it through and interpret it as you go gamut of procedural blocks you will most certainly have to have your matter decided by a member of the in-group.

This is a well known concern inside and outside the Yukon. HR even addresses these scenarios in their hiring practices to see how a given applicant should be screened. Forget being hired if you suggest that MLAs family member should be treated like everyone else...

Up 11 Down 7

DMZ on Nov 24, 2020 at 5:49 pm

While the issue may not have been raised in the appropriate place, saying you want to get on with implementation and it's an urgent matter isn't exactly clearing yourself of a conflict of interest, if your day job actually intersects with the process that's supposed to evaluate a project, and not just rubber stamp it. We don't need to elect technocrats, or elect people to speak for technocrats. We have lots of those.

It gets so freaking cozy up here. You expect it from the older generations, but it's not getting any better, because everything is so "urgent".

Up 6 Down 12

Nathan Living on Nov 24, 2020 at 4:06 pm

The potential conflict of interest could have been tabled a little more diplomatically but it's good to hear councillor Boyd's response.

We continually hear people rant about an architectural design firm being awarded city contracts and the KSA getting preferential use of city non motorized trails- it's a little ironic to learn skidoos are not motorized in Whitehorse. Maybe no conflict of interest in these cases but COI is often well hidden.

And of course many people think mayor and council have other conflicts of interest which are ignored.
If Mayor Curtis had campaign donations in any election before his run for mayor they should be public. Nothing is likely there but it's nice to clear the air.
It would be nice if taxpayers could table Conflict of Interest Concerns and have an independent body review them. Expensive, yes, but sometimes it's nice to clear the air.

Up 68 Down 3

Anie on Nov 24, 2020 at 2:18 pm

It would be so much simpler if people stopped thinking of conflict of interest as an accusation. It isn't. People in decision making positions should avoid any POTENTIAL for any appearance of bias. If someone is made aware of a potential appearance of bias, but insists on not stepping down, I would question their motive.

Up 42 Down 18

Wilf Carter on Nov 24, 2020 at 12:50 pm

Councilors great work on a very important subject safety of Whitehorse residents is number one.
Councilor Cabott is supporting the safety of the city.
Councilor Boyd good recommendation in three months report back with estimates.
Mayor Curtis you stated 4 years ago everything is under control but three reports later on wild fires and you are totally wrong on this and many other subjects important to our city.

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