Election 2014: Leonard responds to ‘conflict of interest’ claims in CRD sewage dealings

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard says connection to sewage engineering firm has always been public knowledge

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins is raising concerns about what she claims is a “previously undisclosed conflict of interest” by Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard in relation to the region’s sewage treatment project.

“It has come to my attention that at the Saanich all-candidates meeting held last night at the Prospect Lake [and District] Hall, Mayor Frank Leonard declared a previously undisclosed conflict of interest with regards to his participation in the sewage treatment discussions and planning process undertaken by the CRD Sewage Treatment Committee,” Desjardins said in a statement.

Desjardins was referring to comments made by Leonard when asked why he doesn’t regularly sit on the CRD’s core area wastewater management committee.

“I don’t go on the sewage committee because I never want to be in a conflict of interest,” Leonard told the crowd Wednesday night.

The committee and CRD board must approve any budget increases to the sewage treatment project, while an appointed board known as the Seaterra commission awards procurement contracts for the project.

When reached by phone, Leonard said he was referring to his connection to multi-national engineering firm WorleyParsons, which employs his son. WorleyParsons conducted marine monitoring for the CRD and completed an environmental impact study off McLoughlin Point, where construction of a wastewater treatment plant and marine outfalls was scheduled to begin earlier this year before the project was put on hold.

(UPDATE: Minutes from a Sept. 11, 2013 CRD board meeting show Leonard did excuse himself from discussion of the environmental impact study “citing a conflict of interest with this item because his son is a manager for the consultants, WorleyParsons.”)

“In an abundance of caution, I chose not to go on the committee to avoid a perception of conflict of interest,” Leonard said. “I’ve restricted myself to CRD board discussions and public policy discussions. Never have I voted on anything to do with which firm getting what.”

“Six years ago … I appointed an alternate to the [core area] liquid waste management committee rather than take the seat myself. I was open about it,” he said.

Leonard said he avoided taking a seat on the liquid waste committee at that time because of his involvement with the B.C. Municipal Pension Board, which owns shares in another sewage bidding firm, Corix.

“I was concerned about my involvement in BC Public Pensions, who have a significant investment in Corix, and I declared that at CRD as well,” Leonard said.

Desjardins said she has no memory of Leonard declaring a conflict of interest at the CRD board table.

“Each time it comes up, it [declaring a conflict of interest] is probably something he should do again and again. Why was he at a core area meeting in November,” Desjardins said. “I’m hopeful he’ll let us all know … so this can get cleared up.”

Atwell released footage Thursday of Leonard attending a Nov. 28, 2013 core area liquid waste management committee meeting. Neither WorleyParsons or Corix were included on the agenda, though the committee did vote on a sub-marine pipeline contract in the amount of $412,940, awarded to a company called Mud Bay Drilling.

“I remember [committee member] Vicki Sanders couldn’t get to that meeting so she asked me to fill in. There was nothing on the agenda for me to worry about,” Leonard said.

Leonard said it’s “unfortunate” Desjardins chose to weigh in on the accusation.

“It’s not true. … I’m being abundantly cautious,” Leonard said. “I really believe in integrity. My dad said the only thing I can leave office with is my last name, and that’s your reputation.”

Look for updates to this story and other issues at saanichnews.com/municipalelection during the all-candidates meeting tonight at Gordon Head United Church (4201 Tyndall Ave.). The meeting begins at 7 p.m.

editor@saanichnews.com