FOI reveals Robertson and Ballem co-authored Olympic Village "storyline"

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


Vancouver's City Manager and Mayor worked together to develop Olympic Village "storyline"

Our crack research team on the 20th floor of's downtown headquarters have been working like mad ever since we received 400 pages worth of emails from the City Clerk's Office last week. The FOI cost us a little over $100 bucks, and thanks again to everyone who contributed to our special FOI fund to help cover the bill. If you are still interested making a donation, you can do so by clicking on the Paypal button on our homepage.

The team has located another interesting email sent from Laurie Best, Director of Communications to Kevin "Vancouver Kid" Quinlan, the Mayor's communications guy. It pertains to the Olympic Village spin machine that was working overtime to ensure the Mayor got the best media coverage possible regarding his "rescue" of the project. If you recall, broke the story of two untendered contracts valued at $60,000 that were issued to public relations firm Hoggan and Associates by the City of Vancouver.

In her email, Best refers to an Olympic Village "storyline" being produced to presumably help the Mayor get the right message out to the public on this issue. What's interesting to note is how closely  Vancouver's top bureaucrat and its top politician were working together last December. In fact, if the Best email is accurate, they're now actually spending time co-authoring documents.

Here is a copy of Best's email to Quinlan:

From: Best, Laurie

Sent: Sunday, December 21, 2008, 1:14 PM

To: Quinlan, Kevin

Subject: Re: Olympic village pr materials

Hi kevin, sorry I missed this. Assuming PB [Penny Ballem] got the "story line" [sic] ntoes [sic] to the Mayor as planned -- know they worked on them together.

I'm at Hoggan now working onmaterials [sic] and wll [sic] see you at 4pm.


-------Original Message------

From: Quinlan, Kevin

To: Best, Laurie

Sent: Sun Dec 21 11:43:58 2008

Subject: Olympic village pr materials

Hi laurie, did you ever get word from penny about circulating the comms notes? Gregor wants to see them before 1230 meeting Kevin Quinlan

If anyone was under the misguided impression the spin surrounding Vancouver's Olympic Village project was not being politically orchestrated by the Mayor's Office, think again. Like any good "story," this fairytale is bound to have nice ending.

On a related note...a motion introduced by Councillor Suzanne Anton was passed at Council a while ago requesting that all the in-camera minutes related to the Olympic Village be made available to the public.

Release of all In-Camera Materials and Minutes Regarding Athlete’s Village

(a) the financing and building of the Southeast False Creek community/Athlete’s
Village are of great concern to the citizens of Vancouver;
(b) the in-camera decisions of the Council have been the focus of much discussion
and interest; and
(c) this Council has committed to transparency;
THAT Council authorize the release of all the In-Camera reports and minutes relating
to the Southeast False Creek community/Athlete’s Village site, subject to the advice
of our legal counsel and except for any reports relating to current financing

We're still trying to determine what is taking so long for them to get posted on the City's website. Stay tuned for more on this...


The Mayor and the City Manager communicate now ?!? How dare they! And even to the point of making notes together! Notes!!

These aren't exactly the Pentagon Papers.

Phillips is missing the point: City communications staff, up until the Gregor administration, communicated city issues and left political issues to the Mayor's staff. Now they are all mushed together. Same with the city manager: used to be top of the civil service--a resource for all of council and meticulously non-political. Ballem is the Mayor's lady--totally, and the rest of council can go hang. Not the way to attract--or retain--good professional staff. No checks and ballances. Everyone is the mayor's yes-man. Not good for the city.

Love to see the communications plans around the Burrard Bridge/lane closure bicycle issue. Should make interesting reading, now and going forward. What a great case history this will be for students of issues management.

If the entirety of city hall is to be oriented toward the democratic representation of public interests, then all civic business becomes political because only the politics of City Hall are ultimately democratic.

Any talk of a non-political bureaucracy being the natural order of things is fantasy because the only legitimate manifestation of public will at City Hall is the Mayor and Council. They are responsible to us and staff become responsible to us by working for and with them. I expect and hope that this principle is as well-realized and enforced the next time the NPA wins an election as it's finally becoming now.

That doesn't mean that you can expect the Head of Engineering to rail against opposition councillors and tow a party line etc, but the bureaucracy and council need to be on the same page and that means internal communication, cooperation and even, in the communications department, a significant degree of shared messaging. This isn't anything sinister. If the bureaucracy doesn't perform then who cares who's nominally in power?

When media and blogs like this correctly criticized the fact that Corporate Communications didn't release a snow update for 9 days in January aka. CC's dreaded "Nine Dark Days of Silence" and blamed guess who...Gregor...then all city communications becomes political communications. There are no "City issues", every issue of consequence to the public is a political issue.

The public is tired of the rudderlessness of consecutive Mayors and Councils which have had all the motive force of a Rotary Club. Politicization is not a dirty word, it's how the public makes a gargantuan bureaucracy like Government get its butt in gear.

In any case, the emails mentionned above allude to such a middling level of cooperation between the City Manager and the Mayor (working on communications notes!) and the Mayor's office and Corporate Communications (tracking down these notes!) that the negative attention put on even this tells more about the radicalism of the "Non-Partisan" City Halls of the past than it does of any radicalism in the new administration.

There is a big difference between politics and partisan. City Hall may be where the city's politics is conducted, but City Hall belongs to all of us, not one political party. This is the people's hall Mr. Robertson is trying to turn into a political operation ...

Those employees do not belong to the Vision or COPE party, they work for all of the citizens of Vancouver and should do so no matter what their political stripe and without any reference to the political affiliation of the citizen asking for services.

I like some of the individual Councillors, but the way this administration has politicized the Olympics and the Athlete's Village is disappointing to say the least, and endangers not just the Olympic legacy but their own.

Check out!

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