There is something fishy about the recent decision of a Green candidate to withdraw from the Vancouver municipal elections.
Zahra Esmail will not run for the park’s board – after being nominated – because of her work on the BC Poverty Reduction Advisory Committee.
According to a press release from the Vancouver Green Party, “The Provincial Crown Agencies and Councils Resourcing Office has advised the Department of Social Development and Poverty Reduction that potential conflicts have been identified if it concurrently served as commissioner of the Vancouver Park Board and chair of the BC PRAC. .”
“I was hoping to have a positive impact on the park board by using my experience in community development, but my work on the BC Poverty Reduction Advisory Committee is my top priority right now” , Esmail said in the press release. “I appreciate the confidence of Vancouver Green Party members and wish the other candidates good luck in the upcoming election.
Here’s why this explanation fails my political smell test.
Normally, if a politician has a conflict of interest, which happens from time to time, he declares his conflict, leaves the meeting and refrains from participating in any discussion or vote.
Why couldn’t Zahra Esmail do this rather than choose not to run for office?
In addition, all matters submitted to the park board do not conflict with its role chair an independent advisory committee on poverty for the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction.
For example, if she were to vote on most issues relating to parks, beaches, community centers or golf courses – the bread and butter of parks business – it would not be related to her position on the BC PRAC.
And if that was the case, all Esmail would have to do was declare a conflict and leave the room.
Additionally, the city’s conflict of interest rules are rooted in the fact that an elected official has a “pecuniary interest” in an issue. That probably won’t happen if she were voting in the general interest for all low-income people in the city.
I asked the BC Greens the following question:
Did crown agencies and the board’s resourcing office order Zahra Esmail not to run for the park board?
I haven’t received a response yet.
The Crown Agencies and Board Resourcing Office falls under the Department of Finance, headed by Selina Robinson. According to the BC government directory, the senior leader is Vanessa Geary and the executive director is Gilbert Neves.
If the Office of Crown Agencies and Counsel Resourcing believes that Esmail would be in a potential conflict of interest if she becomes a park commissioner, which is a part-time job, what other political hopefuls in our province have received counseling similar?
And if she’s been ordered not to run or risk losing her position on an advisory board, it raises an important question: what does the provincial government have to say to citizens who may run for municipal elections?
Conflict of interest rules are already in place to prevent these municipal politicians from crossing boundaries.
This is particularly troubling given the lack of diversity in Vancouver politics, which is a product of the city’s racist electoral system.
Esmail is a former Executive Director of South Vancouver Neighborhood House and Marpole Neighborhood House, which serve diverse communities.
She has extensive international experience, having worked on programs in Haiti, India, the Philippines, Colombia, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia.
In addition, she holds a master’s degree in globalization and international development.
Esmail is extremely well equipped for political office and is precisely the type of candidate we should be trying to get elected in Vancouver to reach out to diverse communities.
It’s too bad the BC government doesn’t want her to run with the Greens in the next municipal election.
Voters deserve a fuller explanation than has been provided to date.