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“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” ~~ John G. Diefenbaker

FRANK LEONARD: From tires to sewage, I followed my Dad’s advice on conflict of interest - "the only thing you can take to the grave is your last name, your reputation"

Dad’s advice on conflicts of interest

I approached the civic election in the fall of 1986 with some purpose and determination.  I really had a sense that this was something I could do well so although a victory was not at all certain, I was thinking through the logistics that would flow from a win.  How would I manage family, work and a public life; what business and social organizations would I resign from; and how would we resolve the potential conflict of interest.  While my focus was to be elected Alderman, I needed to address the fact that Saanich was one of our family tire business’ biggest customers.

In 1986 the legislation was not as clear as it is now regarding how a Council member could be a supplier to the local government where they were elected – or even if they could.  Most relied on case law to define ‘the rules’ rather than legislation.  I approached our family lawyer who gave a verbal opinion which amounted to ‘don’t worry about it.’

This seemed too good to be true so I went to another firm and got a written opinion. It cited case law to conclude it was a conflict and that I would likely be challenged by some in attempt to have me disqualified from office.  So there I was – two opinions, exactly opposite - what to do?

So I presented a strategy my Dad: if I win, we can keep the business and I’ll excuse myself when the annual tender comes up; in addition, if I am challenged we fight the case by pointing out that I never voted on the awarding of the contract.  My Dad didn’t hesitate with his reply: if I win, we give up the business because the only thing you can take to the grave ‘is your last name.’  That was it.  No legal wrangling, no case law – just gut instinct.  My Dad said he never wanted our last name to be tainted by accusations so we would give up our largest customer if I won.   

In fact, after my first year led to other appointments, we ended up giving up not only the Saanich contract, but the regional district, the water board and transit.

I use the phrase ‘the only thing you can take to the grave is your last name, your reputation’ when I give advice to newly-elected council members.  When in doubt, get out’ is the other way to ensure you go beyond what is written in legislation and live up to a higher standard.

While adhering to this mantra had a financial cost at the start of my political career, it was ironic it had a political cost at the end.  Nothing was crazier than the sewage debate in Greater Victoria over the years ... but when we went from ‘if’ we should treat our sewage to ‘how’, I was in an awkward position.  I served in Board roles within BC’s public pension investment world and they owned a firm which was courting the project. In addition, my oldest son worked for an engineering firm that was a supplier to the regional district. 

For a while I took part in the meetings on the project when it was at a high conceptual level, and looked to excuse myself when it moved to procurement, but I was on edge and uncomfortable the whole time. Ultimately, I chose to send another member of Saanich Council in my place to these particular committee meetings rather than someday be accused of a conflict.

The irony was that I ended up being accused of neglecting this project by ‘missing’ so many meetings and thus there was a political price.  

In hindsight, I have no regrets.  You see if my Dad was willing to pay a financial price to ensure our good name goes with us to the grave then I don’t mind it having a political price as well.


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