Does Vancouver need a cabinet-style executive committee?

Post by Daniel Fontaine in ,

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A new executive committee in Vancouver would have extraordinary powers

Since taking office, Vancouver’s Mayor appears to have lifted a page out of previous Mayor Sullivan’s handbook when it comes to Council appointments. Although he was criticized heavily by the likes of Courier columnist Allen Garr, Sullivan chose to publicly “appoint” his NPA Caucus colleagues to five different “cabinet” portfolios.

Each of the Councillors was responsible for a particular portfolio and reported back on a weekly basis to the Caucus regarding their progress or challenges. Those five portfolios roughly broke down into the following categories:

  • EcoDensity/environment
  • Project Civil City
  • 311 and citizen engagement
  • Economy, finance and budgets
  • Arts and culture

The Mayor took on the overall responsibility of managing the government as well as the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic file. There was a lot of crossover between each of the portfolios to be sure, but by and large the Mayor’s system worked well for the better part of three years.

Assigning councillors to particular portfolios had the benefit of ensuring each of the caucus were encouraged to work together to get initiatives completed. It also provided for a new level of accountability.

Mayor Robertson appears to have continued on with this initiative by assigning his caucus members to various portfolios. The only notable exception is Councillor Geoff ‘Mayor’ Meggs who seems to have his fingers in almost every other councillor’s pie lately. That said, none of his Vision colleagues seem to really mind the fact he ventures into their territory. After all, we are talking about politician who fancies himself as Vancouver’s future Mayor, so best not to get on his bad side.

Should these informal appointments continue? Or does Vancouver need to move more toward a more formalized executive committee model like Montreal?

For example, under an executive committee model, there is a lot more direct political accountability of the City Manager and senior bureacrats. Unlike Vancouver where the Mayor doesn’t even sign off on the expense account for the City’s top bureaucrat (the CFO does that), other cities ensure that a higher level of scrutiny is put in place.

In the case of the recent hiring of the City’s new CFO, details of her contract would have likely been made available to the executive committee for vetting and ratification prior to it becoming a fait accompli.

Had an executive committee already been in place, perhaps one of the civic politicians might have questioned the need to have a new employee start at year 20 in her benefits package? I assume they would likely have just said let’s pay her what she’s worth, and be more open and transparent about her compensation package. In the case of Mayor Robertson and his council colleagues, I’m told the current City Manager never gave Council that option. This is despite the fact the CFO is only one of four employees who report directly to Council.

Of course there are a lot of downsides to implementing a new executive committee. Firstly, it would give the mayor and the members of the committee a lot more power than other elected officials on Council. It would also provide for a parallel governing process to the one that currently provides for a significant amount of openness and transparency.

I think Mayor Robertson got it right when he assigned his new councillors to specific portfolios, and he should consider revoking that priviledge if they don’t meet his expectations. The real question is whether the whole process needs to be formalized, or whether we should leave good enough alone. What do you think?

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