Employee elected to city council missed employer’s conflict of interest policy

TTC employee didn’t find out about policy until after municipal election; steps down from council to save old job
|employmentlawtoday.com|Last Updated: 12/14/2010

A Toronto bus driver who was elected as a councillor in a neighbouring city has stepped back from his new job because it would get him fired from his old one.

Mike Nicholson, 46, works for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) but lives in Oshawa, Ont. Though he works full time, he ran for city councillor in Oshawa’s October municipal election. At the time, he planned to do both jobs if he won a seat in the city council.

Nicholson’s campaign was successful and he was voted to Oshawa city council. However, a week later, the TTC told him if he took the oath of office, it would fire him. The TTC had a policy that stipulated employees must take a leave of absence when they run for public office but their employment would end if they win. Nicholson was given time off for his campaign but claimed he didn’t know about the policy.

After he was told of the TTC policy, Nicholson tried to find a way to get around it and work both jobs, but the TTC refused to budge, saying the policy was there to avoid any conflict of interest.

So, when Oshawa city council was sworn into office in December, Nicholson was not among them. He chose to keep his job with the TTC, which pays him $75,000 a year, more than double the $34,200 annual salary of an Oshawa city councillor.

Nicholson acknowledged the purpose of the policy but questioned its application to his situation, since he wasn’t elected to office in Toronto.

“What conflict can possibly exist? I could see that there would be a problem if I was in an office environment (at the TTC) but I am a bus driver, driving a bus on a public route,” Nicholson told The Oshawa Express.

However, the TTC remained firm in upholding its policy.

“It could become a labour issue, because he’s a member of a labour union, and if he was a councillor he could be making decisions that affect the City of Oshawa,” TTC spokesman Brad Ross told The National Post. “There could be a transit issue and Oshawa city council could make a decision on (regional transit authorities) GO transit or Metrolinx and it could have a ripple effect on the TTC.”

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