Ravens and Redblacks: More on a conflict of interest

On April 17, I raised the question of whether a conflict of interest existed for some Carleton Board of Governors members around the new and expensive parking structure approaching completion on the North end of campus. That parking structure, along with two more in the planning stages, is important to the ongoing development of nearby Lansdowne Park, a development to which at least two Governors have very close ties.

University conflict of interest policies vary in their strength.   Some are weak, some are strong; some are weak against one sort of conflict and strong against another sort. For example, Adrienne Shnier and her colleagues published a review of the conflict of interest policies in force at all Canadian medical schools.   Shnier at al. provide the following example (p.2):

… between 2002 and 2006, the pain management course for medical and other health science professional students held at University of Toronto was partly funded by grants from Purdue Pharma LP, the maker of OxyContin. As part of the course, a chronic pain management book that was funded and copyrighted by Purdue Pharma was distributed to the students by a lecturer who was external to University of Toronto and had financial ties to Purdue Pharma. Concerns were raised that some of the contents of the book were not consistent with the current best evidence for narcotic medication administration.

An inquiry found no actual conflict of interest, but recommended that the course curriculum be immediately revised to avoid the perception of a conflict that surrounded the situation.

Shnier et al. did a careful review of conflict-of-interest policies at all Canadian medical schools as they pertained to twelve different sorts of issues (e.g., consulting relationships, ghostwriting and samples) and rated each policy on a three-point scale, ranging from 0 to 2, according to the strength of the policy, with higher scores reflecting more restrictive policies. The authors then sent the results to the deans of each school, asking them to review the findings and to correct any inaccuracies. The scores evenly covered a wide range from a maximum of 19 out of 24 for Western University to 0 out of 24 for the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.

I know of no comparable study of the conflict-of-interest policies of the university Boards of Governors.

I ended my April 17 post by noting that I had sent an email, four weeks earlier, to the secretary of Carleton’s Board of Governors, asking whether any conflicts of interest had been declared in recent years. Later that afternoon, I received a message from the secretary, Anne Bauer, apologizing for not responding sooner and promising to look into the matter.

I later spoke to Ms Bauer who said that Board members must sign a Statement of General Duties, Fiduciary Responsibilities and Conflict of Interest that requires that “[b]oth prior to serving on the Board and during their term of office, Governors must openly disclose a potential, real or perceived conflict of interest as soon as the issue arises and before the Board or its Committees deal with the matter at issue.” The statement defines an “apparent/perceived conflict of interest” as “[a] reasonable apprehension which a reasonable person may have, that a conflict of interest exists, even if there is neither a potential nor a real conflict.” Should any disclosures be made by a Governor, “[t]he disclosure and decision as to whether a conflict exists shall be duly recorded in the minutes of the meeting, or in a not[e] to file in the Office of the University Secretary.”

Ms Bauer told me that some disclosures had been made in committees of the Board but the minutes of such committees are not publicly available. She did not know of any disclosures that had made in meetings of the full Board in the period from April 1, 2009 to the present.

Returning to the parking issue, the minutes of the Board meeting on March 25, 2013 record that: “[i]t was moved by Mr. Ruddy and seconded by Ms. Binks that the budget, funding, design and construction of the New Parking Facility be approved.”

You may recall from April 17 post that the $22.5 million dollar New Parking Facility — the cost of which has since risen to $34 million — is an integral part of the plan for the off-site parking required for the crowds that will attend the games of new CFL Redblacks franchise. And you will recall that John Ruddy is one of the principal figures in the Ontario Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) which owns the Redblacks and is driving forward the Lansdowne Revitalization.

Far be it for me to claim to be a reasonable person, so I will leave it to you, readers, to decide if there is a “reasonable apprehension … that a conflict of interest exists.”

The issue may be deeper than one vote on one issue. The 2010 Carleton Master Plan (p.30) envisions two more parking structures to be built alongside the one now approaching completion. The university’s commitment to environmental sustainability, however, asserts that there will be “no increase in parking spaces per capita” (p.3). The Board clearly has some work to do reconcile these seemingly competing goals. Might it be better to do that work without the shadow of a perceived conflict of interest?

 

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About Saul Schwartz

Professor School of Public Policy and Administration Carleton University Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6 Canada
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