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Dehcho
Politics

‘No ill will’ over Fort Simpson conflict of interest saga


Mike Rowe, who resigned from Fort Simpson’s village council last week, says he did so for personal reasons unrelated to an argument over conflict of interest.

Rowe was more than a year into his second term on council when he announced he would step down. Council colleagues had accused him of being in conflict when he appeared alongside his father in February, presenting to his own council on the family company’s behalf.

February’s meeting was not the first at which perceived conflicts of interest involving Rowe had led to debate among councillors.

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In May 2019, a similar situation arose. Video of that day’s meeting shows Rowe entering into a debate with the mayor, Sean Whelly, about what would constitute a conflict of interest. An agenda item that day involved a contract at the time held by the family company, PR Contracting.

Whelly and Councillor Kirby Groat declared conflicts on two other items before Rowe refused to follow suit when prompted.

“I do take offence to this,” Rowe told the mayor. “I seem to be the only one who is singled out on conflict of interest, over and over again.”

Whelly said he was offering a “helpful warning.”

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This past weekend, Rowe acknowledged there had been several arguments over conflict of interest during his time on council, but said his decision to step down was for personal reasons.

“This was something that me and my partner have been talking about for some time,” he said. “With a new baby coming, my involvement with the fire department … I found I spent more time after meetings angry at the outcome.

“If I had to let something go, I would let the thing go that makes me angry.

“When this whole [conflict] happened, that was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

‘I wish him no ill will’

Mayor Whelly told Cabin Radio conflicts aren’t new to village council.

In his four years on council and eight years as mayor, he said there had been a number of times he or other councillors had recused themselves. 

“I would not want to be any part of that discussion,” he said of issues that might trigger perception of a conflict.

“As far as I’m concerned. It’s just the public’s perception of that. I would not want to stay in that room.”

Whelly thinks the most recent discussion is an opportunity for everyone to learn.

“I wish the councillor no ill will,” he said. “I know he’s a younger guy, and I’m sure he’ll take some lessons away from this.

“What council here has to learn? The tolerance level for that kind of stuff just has to go down. We have to be more assertive.”

By-election to be discussed

Rowe hopes the village calls a by-election to fill his spot on council, though that may prove difficult under current pandemic restrictions with the need for physical distancing.

Council has the option to turn to the results of the most recent election to find a candidate. Rowe isn’t sure that would be in the community’s best interests.

“[Council] said they want to appoint somebody,” said Rowe. “There are new people who are interested. You can’t just take a guy from a year and a half ago and throw them in the seat.

“They might not have the best interest for the community as a whole any more.”

Whelly said a by-election will be raised with council to decide on the best course of action.

Meanwhile, he is looking to see if council bylaws can be revised to ensure businesses cannot lobby council for contracts. He hopes that will also be brought to council in the near future.

“I see a lot of communities in Canada, in their council procedures bylaw, it just says no [lobbying] unless the business is addressing an agenda item,” he said.

“[Other councils] just do not allow individual businesses to come to lobby or market themselves to councils.”

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