Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Trial of Sam Katz

The Free Press picture featuring Harvey Smith's banner regarding the trial of Sam Katz and Joe Chan probably speaks volumes about the relationship between the councillor and the mayor.

The trial involves allegations of conflict of interest by the mayor regarding a taxpayer funded Christmas dinner in December of 2010 that was held in Hu's on Ellice, a restaurant owned by Sam Katz.

Joe Chan, a restauranteur who owns Cathay House, inquired how the contract was won since he was not aware of a tender. As it turns, there was no tender and a decision was made somewhere within the mayor's office.

The laws on conflict of interest law detailed in Manitoba's Municipal Conflict of Interest Act are where potential problems may lie for Sam Katz. If the law has been in fact broken, the mayor may be told to vacate his elected office.

We have seen in Toronto an example of conflict being brought to court in terms of Mayor Rob Ford and his charity. It was decided there that the mayor was indeed in conflict and told to vacate his office. Ford appealed and won in Superior Court and retained his seat as mayor.

The circumstances of the case in Winnipeg as well the legislation could differ in enough ways that anything could happen. One suspects though that if a decision is made that conflict did happen and a vacate order was issued that an appeal would occur.

The mayor's lawyer Robert Tapper has come out hitting hard against Joe Chan accusing him of breaching confidentiality from a settlement and suggests they will go after him for money. The mayor called the claims made by Chan baseless.

It seems likely that Sam Katz could have avoided all this mess if it was possible to separate his business from city affairs. The first promise the mayor broke was putting his private business into a blind trust so as to not run into conflict. This action and others would have ensured the mayor didn't run into accusations of mixing the two areas.

The mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, put his business in a blind trust to avoid any hint of conflict of interest and it appears to have worked for him. In Canada, the example was set by Paul Martin Jr. when he was prime minister. His substantial business interests were in a blind trust as well.

There is nothing wrong with a politician being a business owner. Politics does not last forever. However, it is no joke that conflict between city business and personal business needs be dealt with.

Sam Katz could lose his job over this. Sadly, he doesn't seem to be ensuring that it is not possible for it to happen again. The maxim of "trust me" has been thoroughly undermined by some eyebrow raising activities that make people wonder aloud if there needs to be more solid dividing lines between business and city.

Ultimately, the mayor has only himself to blame for landing in court this Tuesday. It is not an easy thing to let the law have to decide this. Even if a decision goes the mayor's way, the feeling amongst the public might be that Katz might have too much going on to fully focus on his good office.

There are 3 or 4 city councillors itching to run for mayor. If Katz is told by the judge to step down, expect the most competitive race in years for the job.

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