Fort McMurray councillor files for bankruptcy while his companies rack up $3M debt

A Fort McMurray municipal councillor playing a key role in the region's wildfire recovery has filed for bankruptcy and his companies owe more than $3 million, court documents show.

‘It does speak to a person's ability to manage finances,' says political scientist Jim Lightbody

Coun. Allan Vinni serves on Fort McMurray’s key wildfire recovery committee. His companies owe creditors more than $3 milllion. (RMWB/ Greg Halinda)

A Fort McMurray municipal councillor playing a key role in the region's wildfire recovery has filed for personal bankruptcy and his companies owe more than $3 million, court documents show.

ATB Financial is selling an office suite and parking spaces owned by Allan Vinni after taking legal action against his companies. A judge approved the sales in December 2016.

Court documents state Vinni's two companies defaulted on loans totalling $3,261,711.52. Neither Vinni, nor his companies have filed a statement of defence. Vinni filed for personal bankruptcy on Dec. 31, 2016 registering $6,836,226.00 in liabilities and $1,770,157.09 in assets.

Vinni is one of three councillors leading the municipality's critical wildfire recovery committee. He helps make policy and decide how millions of taxpayer dollars are spent on rebuilding Fort McMurray. The fire destroyed about 2,400 homes and is considered Canada's costliest insured disaster.

Vinni hasn't responded to multiple attempts by CBC News to contact him by telephone, email and in-person at his office over the past three weeks.

ATB Financial has placed Allan Vinni's law office up for sale to recoup $3.2 million in debt. Vinni has relocated to a new office in downtown Fort McMurray. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Vinni first moved to Fort McMurray in 2001, the same year he was called to the Alberta bar. He opened his law office a year later.

    In the public's interest to know

    University of Alberta political scientist Jim Lightbody is raising concerns about Vinni's financial issues. A councillor's personal or corporate finances, Lightbody said, are open to public scrutiny.

    The longtime political commentator said when a councillor's finances end up before the courts, it's no longer a private matter. 

    "It does speak to a person's ability to manage finances," Lightbody said. "The way someone runs their business is the way you would like to see someone run the business of city hall."

    The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo spans 10 communities and is Canada's second largest municipality. (David Thurton/ CBC News)

    Voters, he said, often rely on how a person conducts his or her personal affairs to determine how they perform because there are no political parties at the local government level and candidates platforms are often short on detailed policy.

    "People do make judgements on that," Lightbody said.

    But Vinni's fellow politicians aren't concerned.

    CBC News contacted Wood Buffalo's mayor and councillors for comment. All, except one councillor who didn't return calls, declined a formal interview.

    The mayor and other councillors called it a personal matter that had nothing to do with the business of running the municipality.

    Vinni's financial issues will not disqualify him as a councillor or from running in the next municipal election in October, according to Jim Lighbody.

    Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitter or contact him via email.