Michael Rowe has resigned as a village councillor in Fort Simpson, accused by his colleagues of running afoul of the rules governing elected officials in the territory.
Earlier this month, council accepted a legal opinion that said they should take Rowe to territorial court over the alleged contravention of the NWT Conflict of Interest Act.
Rowe submitted a letter of resignation to the village SAO April 22, according to Mayor Sean Whelly. He said the letter indicated Rowe’s resignation was “effective immediately.”
It all began at a regular council meeting held Feb. 10. Rowe’s day job is operations manager with PR Contracting Ltd., the PR standing for Pat Rowe, his father.
At the meeting, Rowe pushed his wheeled office chair around the table from its usual position during council meetings until he was next to father, who as the owner of the construction company is also his boss, and was at the meeting to ask for an exclusive contract to maintain all of the village’s heavy equipment and vehicles.
Michael Rowe also addressed council as a member of the PR Contracting delegation.
Council voted against that proposal in March. The village alleges that Rowe contravened the NWT Conflict of Interest Act when he joined his father’s delegation at the Feb. 10 meeting.
Whelly said Rowe should have declared a pecuniary interest and left the room.
“If you look at the Conflict of Interest Act, which shows how you could possibly get yourself into conflict, … if you work for a company that has a financial interest in an issue that you’re discussing you can’t as a councillor try to influence the rest of council in any way to help make the decision,” Whelly said.
Whelly said that the content of Rowe’s very brief resignation letter did not directly refer to the conflict of interest issue.
Rowe said in an interview Thursday that he was disappointed to have to quit, but felt that he generally didn’t like the direction the local government was going in numerous matters.
“I think there were a lot of reasons that went into my resignation and I think that the path that the Village of Fort Simpson and council were taking was just not something I wanted my name to be a part of,” Rowe said in an interview Thursday. I didn’t feel comfortable with the decisions they were making and I didn’t feel their decisions encompassed the best interest of the village.”
Rowe declined comment about the conflict of interest situation when asked, stating that it is a legal matter.
Whelly stated he was unsure if the resignation would “negate” the action to take the councillor to NWT Supreme Court court, but that the NWT Conflict of Interest Act states if a resignation takes place before a motion is filed, the case is declared null.
The potential punishment for a conviction under the Conflict of Interest Act is a fine of up to $5,000 fine, plus being barred for five years from sitting on any board agency or council, Whelly said.
The resignation now leaves a hole in village council during a state of emergency in the Northwest Territories due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Whelly said council will discuss the issue next week, but it appears the options based on the CTVA are to either have the village council appoint the person who received the next largest number of votes in the election or hold a fresh by-election.
“I think the option to have an election might be tricky because of the fact that we are in this Covid-19 situation right now,” The mayor said. “Public gatherings including polling booths might be an issue.”
Whelly said he may be in favour of asking Caroline Cochrane, Minister of MACA, if she would be willing to leave the seat vacant due to the state of emergency, even if that would contravene the legislation.