Ethics, Accountability Huge Challenges for Local Liberal Pynenburg
Mary Pynenburg, the Burnaby-New Westminster Liberal candidate, is under attack. Earlier this week, Pynenburg came out with her local accountability plan, which she reemphasized at a press conference. Now, Pynenburg is being challenged by a local, one-time Liberal supporter who has issued the following, lengthy essay which speaks directly to Pynenburg's personal accountability:
LIBERALS FAIL TO HEED ADSCAM LESSON IN BURNABY-NEW WESTMINSTER PICK
Paul Martin has tried hard to distance himself from "Adscam" and sees himself vindicated by the conclusions of Mr. Justice Gomery. Somehow Paul Martin would have you believe that he and his team are not capable of the kind of corruption that has been abundantly demonstrated in the scandal whereby Quebec advertising firms were awarded millions in fees and commissions for little or no tangible work, money was allegedly kicked-back to the federal Liberal Party in Quebec and there was evidence of political involvement in the awarding of sponsorship contracts.
And yet the Paul Martin Liberals have once again given their blessings to the now former New Westminster city planner Mary Pynenburg in Burnaby-New Westminster who has amply demonstrated by her past actions that she doesn't have the slightest regard for any boundaries of proper, ethical conduct as a senior civil servant. What does this say about the Martin Liberals' commitment to clean government?
A little background: Mary Pynenburg was the director of planning for the City of New Westminster when she unsuccessfully sought the federal Liberal nomination the former riding of New-Westminster-Coquitlam-Burnaby in 2000. She was still in her position when she announced in 2003 that she would seek the Liberal nod in the new riding of Burnaby-New Westminster. This time she was successful in her nomination but lost the election to NDP newcomer Peter Julian.
Prior to the nomination meeting in February 2004, rumors about Ms. Pynenburg's fundraising and campaigning tactics became public when the Royal City Record exposed in their February 11th edition that Mary had been soliciting donations and support from New Westminster architects and developers as well as soliciting funds from city employees via e-mail. The paper also reported that a resident who went to Mary's city hall office to talk about city business heard the bureaucrat wax on about her desire to become a member of parliament.
While some developers, residents and employees were prepared to state that they were distressed and uncomfortable with the city bureaucrat's politically-motivated arm-twisting, the Record, careful not to offend the New Westminster political establishment -- including the Mayor Wayne Wright and one councilor Bob Osterman -- who were foolish enough to endorse their erstwhile planner, titled their detailed expose of Mary's antics -- "Conflict or Not."
Ms. Pynenburg's response to the growing scandal was initially to stonewall - The Record reported on February 11 that 17 telephone and personal messages and an urgent e-mail to Pynenburg when unacknowledged before the paper broke the story. Pynenburg later sent a statement to the paper in which she claimed that she would take every step to ensure that there is "no real or perceived" conflict of interest in seeking a Liberal nomination while on the city of New Westminster's management payroll.
The paper reported in their Feb. 18, 2004 edition that her statement, Pynenburg did not respond to several issues arising from their special report including the ethics of sending her campaign support requests to city hall employees via their e-mail at city hall; why she had waited so long to take a leave of absence when she had been campaigning for many months while working in city hall; why, if she felt it was appropriate to take a leave during the 2003/2004 campaign, she did not take a leave during her 2000 campaign, and whether she was prepared to disclose her campaign contributors so the public could evaluate whether she was in a conflict of interest.
Incredibly, Pynenburg justified her actions by stating that since she was an "architect" and a planner, and she was friends with many of them, it should surprise no one that she would ask architects and planners to support her election campaign. Apparently it did come as a surprise to the architects and developers who felt improper pressure from the city planning director to fund her campaign.
(As an aside, it is interesting to note that the Architectural Institute of B.C. later wrote to the Record to advise that Mary Pynenburg was not an architect licensed to practice architecture in B.C. The institute noted that it was an offence under the Architects Act for an individual to misrepresent themselves as an architect. Pynenburg's defense was to claim that she had inadvertently omitted to say that she had been "trained" as an architect.)
In its main article on the scandal, the Record noted on Feb. 11, 2004 that "...in urban cities, the director of planning holds an influential position, affecting millions of dollars of developments. Although major developments generally require the approval of politicians, projects can get the green or red light depending on how a city planner presents them." The article then quoted a source that indicated that a number of architects he knew had received e-mails from Pynenburg asking for support and donations for her campaign and that this brazen form of solicitation from the person with the power to recommend or reject development projects made them extremely uncomfortable.
The article confirms the obvious: senior city planners, and in particular, planning department directors, enjoy considerable power and influence within the city bureaucracy, often reporting only to the city manager. They are exceedingly well-paid, usually receiving compensation packages that well exceed those received by mayors and councilors in most cities.
City bureaucracies in Canada operate for the most part in a similar fashion as provincial and federal bureaucracies - modeled on the advise and consent form of civil service. In other words, the civil servants do the work and provide their advice to the politicians who provide input and ultimately accept or reject the recommendations of their staff. Civic politicians, many of whom are part-time politicians, rely strongly on the professional advice and expertise given by their staff and expect that advice to be professional and diffident.
Well, this will be self-evident for most, except for the federal Liberals, Mary Pynenburg, and her supporters, most governments have codes of conduct that address appropriate standards for conduct for senior civil servants. For example, Ontario Crown restricted employees, including deputy ministers and senior managers are specifically enjoined from running for public office. If they do so, they must immediately resign from their positions to seek nomination, to be a candidate, hold a federally elected office or engage in any other political activity. (They are entitled, however, to vote in federal elections, contribute money to parties and candidates, join political parties and attend all-candidate meetings).
The principle that requires senior civil servants from foregoing political candidacy should be self-evident to all but the most obtuse. Senior civil servants who have important positions within public bureaucracies and ministries must be seen by the public they serve to act with fairness and impartiality to all. The public which includes people from all political stripes should expect that its highly-ranked civil service will perform their duties and implement policy with the utmost of objectivity and diffidence. Wading into the political arena could cause those of different political leanings to mistrust the machinery of government to act fairly and objectively.
What happens to a city planner who accepts donations from her friendly architects and developer? What happens the next time a hotly contested development application is brought before the city and the planner has to decide whether to recommend zoning changes, density bonuses or parking relaxation. What happens when Joe Citizen gets up at the public hearing, hopping mad about the proposed development, and tells council that he thinks the rezoning is going ahead because such-and-such developer gave money to the city planner during her election campaign?
Civic politicians are routinely accused of supporting developments because the applicant just happened to donate money to the council member's political campaign but there's a big difference when the accusation is leveled at the city planner. The politician who seems to be too much in favor of development by his campaign supporters (who must be disclosed) can be defeated at the next civic election. A city planner cannot be defeated.
For the 2004 election, candidates seeking nomination were required to report expenses and donations for nomination battles as well as the election campaign itself. But there was no requirements to report contributions to nomination battles in 2000, and to date, Pynenburg has never made public her nomination campaign contributors from 2000, despite telling the Record in their Feb. 24, 2004 that she was "seeking legal advice as to whether the release of the names of the donors and the amounts they contributed would breach any privacy legislation." In other words, she has hidden behind privacy legislation to not reveal her campaign contributors. The Record noted that she had not even take a leave of absence during her 2000 bid for nomination, and had not taken a leave of absence in the 2004 campaign until after the scandal broke in February, months and months after she had been campaign while wearing her city planner's hat full-time.
What this means is the people of New Westminster had no information between 2000 and 2004 about anyone who had funded her 2000 campaign, whether she recommended development projects advanced by her campaign contributors and supporters. In other words, she was allowed to carry on politics without disclosing anything about her 2000 fundraising and support. By contrast, her masters-the elected mayor and council-are required to report their financial contributions in detail after every civic election.
The only inkling of what she was really up to came when New Westminster resident Neil Gaudreault pointed out in a Feb. 14, 2004 letter published in the Record that a local architect Eric Pattison, who had helped Pynenburg out in her 2000 campaign and was on her Liberal riding association executive, was involved in a development proposal in the Queen's park area of New Westminster.
Mr. Gaudreault asked whether Pynenburg had ever declared this to be a potential conflict of interest and excuse herself from involvement in the project and any other projects involving Pattison. Incredibly, in a letter published in the Feb. 18, 2004 Record, Pynenburg claimed that the Queen's Park proposal referred to by Gaudreault was the responsibility of the assistant director of planning and that since she was on a leave of absence, she had no more knowledge of the project than most other Queen's Park residents. Perhaps New Westminster is uniquely structured, but in most cities, the assistant director of planning reports to the director of planner who reports to the city manager. According to Pynenburg, her friend and Liberal executive member Pattison did not receive preferential treatment from the city of New Westminster. And the tooth fairy really exists, we suppose.
Gaudreault's letter underscores the essential reason why ethical senior civil servants, including city planners are careful to avoid any and all political activism including seeking public office. Recommendations by senior civil servants carry weight and can have profound impact on communities. Recommendations acted on by civic politicians can and are often controversial, pitting neighbor against neighbor, or neighborhood against developer. While professional staff understands that individuals or groups may be unhappy about policy recommendations, no ethical civil servants would want it to be said that their recommendations were influenced by any private or personal consideration whatsoever. Senior civil servants recognize they occupy positions of great trust and take great care to ensure that their reputation for professional objectivity and fairness to all parties can never be called into question.
Sadly, these lessons are lost on the Pynenburgs of the world, and by the federal Liberal party who now has twice allowed her candidacy for parliament. In the aftermath of Gomery which exposed the Liberals penchant for subverting and corrupting the civil service in the interest of their own goals, Canadians might have hoped that the party would acknowledge in some small way the need to ensure their candidates adhere to some reasonable standards of propriety and ethical conduct. To put the seal of approval of Pynenburg sends a signal to all that breaking accepted standards of decent, ethical conduct as a senior civil servant is no barrier at all to acceptance by the Martin Liberals.