VANCOUVER -- A group of Langley Township voters calling for the ousting of Mayor Jack Froese and councillors Blair Whitmarsh and Bob Long had their first day in court Monday, with their lawyer arguing the politicians are guilty of a perceived conflict of interest.

CTV News first broke the story late last year after confirming executives at a number of major development firms had made thousands of dollars in contributions to the 2018 re-election campaigns of Froese, Whitmarsh and Long, along with Coun. Angie Quaale who did not win her race.

Prior to that election, the provincial government changed campaign finance laws to outlaw donations from corporations and unions. 

The contributions from the development firm executives respected the letter of the law, if not the spirit of it, but it’s the timing of those donations in question in this case.

In 2016, the township sought a legal opinion from the law firm Lidstone and Company related to another potential conflict of interest scenario.

In a report prepared for council, lawyer Don Lidstone found donations themselves don’t establish a financial conflict of interest.

“The exception,” wrote Lidstone, “is where the contribution is made while the matter is before council.”

The contributions in question in this case were made by executives who had business before Township of Langley Council and, in some cases, the money was received just days before or after key votes on neighbourhood plans and rezoning applications. 

If Supreme Court Justice Paul Walker determines the three sitting politicians and Quaale were in undisclosed conflicts of interest, or even perceived conflicts, during the relevant votes, he could force them out of office and bar them from running in by-elections to fill their seats.

Froese, Long and Whitmarsh would be entitled to appeal the decision but would be forced to vacate their positions while that process plays out.

Monday was the first of four scheduled days for the hearing.