Dan Fumano: Lawyer says new role with NPA unrelated to lawsuit against Green councillor

Lawyer behind suit against Vancouver Green city councillor says effort is apolitical, despite his recent addition to NPA board.

CORRECTION: PERSON TO LEFT IS JOHN COUPAR OF THE PARK BOARD, NOT STEWART. VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 30, 2018 - Mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart (left) and Michael Wiebe at the Renfrew Ravine Park in Vancouver, BC, Oct. 30, 2018. (Arlen Redekop / PNG staff photo) (story by Kevin Griffin) [PNG Merlin Archive]

The lawyer behind the lawsuit against Vancouver Green Coun. Michael Wiebe says the effort isn’t political, despite his recent addition to the rival Non-Partisan Association’s board.

Wes Mussio, the Vancouver lawyer who filed an October petition in B.C. Supreme Court seeking Wiebe’s removal from office, rejected the description of observers who called it a politically motivated action driven by people associated with the NPA, insisting it’s “about the integrity of the system.”

Mussio did, however, confirm Wednesday to Postmedia News that he was added last month to the NPA’s board of directors. His new position had previously been discussed among some party insiders, but wasn’t public before Postmedia asked Mussio about it: As of Wednesday afternoon, no board changes had been announced to NPA members and Mussio wasn’t listed alongside other directors on the party’s website.

However, Mussio said, his filing of the litigation in October seeking the Green councillor’s ouster is unrelated to his addition to the NPA board the following month.

“The NPA board have nothing to do with the Wiebe thing … It’s a separate issue,” said Mussio, who said his new position with the NPA actually stemmed from his initially unsuccessful run at the party’s annual general meeting (AGM) last year. The timing, he said, was “a huge coincidence.”

Mussio filed the petition in October on behalf of 15 Vancouver voters seeking a court declaration that Wiebe breached conflict-of-interest rules and should be ordered to vacate his council seat. The court action followed a June complaint from retired Vancouver lawyer Michael Redmond about Wiebe voting on a city-wide patio expansion program despite his business interests in a restaurant and bar that both eventually received temporary patios.

Redmond’s complaint led to an independent investigation by lawyer Raymond Young, who issued a report in September finding Wiebe breached conflict rules and should resign. Young subsequently suggested to Postmedia that he believed the NPA was behind the effort to remove Wiebe. The NPA was also the only major local party to issue a statement publicly calling for Wiebe’s resignation, a move criticized by some longtime party members as bad optics.

After Wiebe declined to resign voluntarily, Redmond, an NPA member, decided to seek the first-term councillor’s removal through the courts. NPA president David Mawhinney is also listed among the other 14 Vancouver voters alongside Redmond on the petition, although others are unaffiliated with the party.

In recent weeks, new documents related to the matter have been filed in B.C. Supreme Court, including a response and a 144-page affidavit from Wiebe. The response filed by Wiebe’s lawyer says any interest the councillor had “in the subject matter of the votes in issue in the petition was in common with other electors generally or else was so remote it was unlikely to influence him,” and that the lawsuit “advances irrelevant and/or inadmissible opinion and speculation.”

Mussio said his addition last month to the NPA board came about after he ran for the board at the party’s last AGM in November 2019. After failing to win a spot last year, Mussio said, “it was leaked to me by a certain somebody that I should have won, and that there might be some funny business going on with the people that were running the NPA at the time, because they probably didn’t want me on the board for various reasons.”

Mussio then asked the NPA for a recount of the vote from last year’s meeting, he said this week, and while that recount was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it eventually proved he should have actually been elected last year to the 15-member board.

“It has nothing to do with me getting on the board because of doing something that the NPA might like, in terms of going after a Green council member,” Mussio said. “It’s not an NPA lawsuit.”

Mussio said he believed the board had also appointed another new director recently, but didn’t know his name. Postmedia emailed the party and Mawhinney on Wednesday asking about the board, and although there was no response, the party’s website was updated later that afternoon to include Mussio’s name, alongside another new director, Angelo Isidorou.

Isidorou has been in the news over the years as a director of the Free Speech Club, after his group faced a backlash and a series of cancelled events, often featuring right-wing speakers espousing controversial and, in some cases, racist views.

“That’s sort of my claim to fame, that controversy,” Isidorou said Wednesday, adding he was appointed to the NPA board last week to fill vacancies left by directors who publicly resigned earlier this year.

Mussio previously served as an NPA board member in 2018, before quitting the party to join upstart Coalition Vancouver, where his wife, Penny, was running as a council candidate. In the previous civic election in 2014, Mussio had been announced as a council candidate for another upstart group, the Cedar Party, although he ended up withdrawing.

Even if Wiebe were to lose his seat and was replaced by an NPA candidate in a byelection, it wouldn’t change a party majority on council. The NPA currently makes up council’s largest bloc with four members, followed by the Greens with three, including Wiebe.

Reached by phone Wednesday, Wiebe said he expects the case will go to a multi-day court hearing in February.

“It’s up to the legal system to figure it out,” said Wiebe, who is covering his own legal expenses. “My goal is to focus on the work I do, and do it as best I can.”

A lawyer for the City of Vancouver, meanwhile, filed a response last week saying the city is taking no position in the legal dispute.

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