“Volunteer” Firefighter Disqualified From Municipal Office

The recent BC Supreme Court decision in Baziuk v. Shelley may be causing some concern around the Province for elected officials who serve as “volunteer” firefighters on municipal councils and regional boards.

In the Baziuk v. Shelley decision, a council member elected for the Village of Harrison Hot Springs was found to be not qualified to hold office at the time he was elected and his position on Council was declared vacant. This was done on the basis that he was not, in fact, a “volunteer” firefighter within the meaning of the Volunteer Eligibility for Office Regulation, BC Reg 165/2011 (the “Regulation”).

Section 67(2) of the Local Government Act disqualifies municipal and regional district employees from being nominated for, being elected to or holding office.

The recently enacted Regulation provides for an exemption from section 67(2) for volunteers where the individual:

a) provides volunteer serves to a municipality or regional district; and

b) does not receive monetary compensation from a municipality or regional district for the voluntary services provided to the municipality or regional district.

The Regulation further stipulates that some payments do not constitute “monetary compensation”:

  • reimbursement of expenses;
  • provision of insurance coverage, workers compensation, personal clothing, equipment or training;
  • gifts in recognition of long or exemplary service.

The Village of Harrison Hot Springs had established its own Fire Department by way of a bylaw. The bylaw itself provided for remuneration to be established by Village policy upon recommendation of the Fire Chief and Administrator.

The amount of the compensation received in the previous year when the newly elected council member had been a firefighter was the relatively small amount of $1,772.00 paid by way of an hourly wage on a quarterly basis.

The Court found that at the time of his nomination the newly elected council member, as a firefighter, was in a position of receiving monetary compensation from the municipality.  Accordingly, the Court found that he could not bring himself within the exception for ‘volunteer’ firefighters established by the Regulation as meeting both of the requirements of providing volunteer service and not receiving monetary compensation.

The case demonstrates that while an exception has been made in the Regulation to enable volunteer firefighters to sit as elected officials, the Regulation does not allow for the payment of amounts that could be considered to be compensation or remuneration of any type to the elected official. Based on the decision in Baziuk v. Shelley the payment of an hourly amount or a regular “honorarium” is likely enough to constitute disqualification from holding elected office.