Martin C. Barry
The leadership of a City of Laval commission – which is working to make sure conflicts of interest don’t come up involving subsidized community groups and elected officials – maintains they are getting the job done.
In an interview with the Laval News, the commission’s president, Laval city councillor Stéphane Boyer, noted that the Commission de la gouvernance (governance commission) first came into being two years ago with a mandate to encourage transparency in how the city disburses money to community groups.
Watching city’s money
“The commission has a mandate to ensure the proper administration of public funds, most notably with respect to certain non-profit organizations which are given subsidies or other kinds of support by the city in the form of loaned personnel or equipment,” said Lyne Burelle, a lawyer with the city who serves as a legal consultant for the commission.
In all, the Commission de la gouvernance oversees more than 500 community groups receiving some form of support from the city, with especially close oversight given to 15 groups receiving $100,000 or more in support from Laval.
Sprang from recommendation
The creation of the commission sprang from a recommendation made in a report produced by the Institute for Governance of Private and Public Organizations (IGOPP) on the City of Laval’s management practices. According to Burelle, other municipalities are looking at the example Laval is setting with this new kind of commission to see whether their own management can be improved with a similar policy.
“Since important sums are often handed over to these organizations, it is one of our duties as officials of the city for us to keep track of how these organizations are functioning while seeing that the money is well managed,” said Boyer.
The 15 major organizations receiving closer scrutiny include the municipal tourism promotion agency Tourisme Laval, the Orchestre symphonique de Laval, Éco-Nature which oversees the Parc de la Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, and the Cosmodôme.
Scandal led to change
As Boyer acknowledged, an important incentive that ended up motivating the newly-elected administration of Mayor Marc Demers into tightening up the city’s oversight on subsidized groups was the Laval-en-Fleurs scandal, which saw funding from the city being misappropriated.
“There were also other organizations in the past which were receiving large sums but they weren’t keeping records,” he said. “From problems like these we decided it was time to start keeping closer track of organizations when there was a question of a lot of money.”
One of the key guidelines introduced with the advent of the Commission de la gouvernance was that elected officials from Laval city council should no longer be able to sit on the boards of community groups receiving subsidies from the city.
Rules to avoid conflicts
As Burelle explained, this was to resolve the problem of potential “loyalty conflicts” arising when a city councillor might be tempted to use his or her influence to secure more funding for a specific group. All the same, she admitted that in certain isolated cases, some city councillors continue to sit on the boards of some groups.
Among these are Tourisme Laval. Another is the Cité de la culture et du sport de Laval (which is currently overseeing completion of construction of the Place Bell arena).
“With the work being completed on Place Bell, we didn’t want to remove administrators from the board of directors at such a crucial time in the existence of this organization,” said Boyer.
A report on the Commission de la Gouvernance’s work – including a list of the more than 500 groups it oversees with detailed information on their management – will be tabled at Laval city council’s next public meeting on Tuesday Sept. 5.