Vision Vancouver, a surprisingly small "c" civic government

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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Be prepared to feel the lash if you break ranks with Vision solidarity

If there is one thing that differentiates Vision Vancouver from its predecessor COPE, it’s the cohesion of their caucus. Gone are the days when COPE’s free minded, left-wing ideologues openly debated the merits of international space treaties and legalizing brothels.

What you have with Vision is a team of elected officials that for the better part of the last nine months has worked like a well-disciplined machine. Most votes are 10-1 with the Vision/COPE team voting against the NPA every chance they can get.

With the exception of a few hiccups (i.e. backyard chicken motions), Vision has introduced little other than bland “vanilla” policies that have garnered scant media interest. In fact, there are often weeks that go by without any councillor initiated motions of any real consequence. In other words, Vision claimed they were going to be an “activist” government, but in reality they have been one of the most small “c” conservative governments Vancouver has ever seen.

Say goodbye to a time when the left felt the need to question plumped-up police budgets or the merits of shifting taxes from business to residential taxpayers. Forget the days when the left at City Hall used to increase the arts budget rather than slash it. For heaven’s sake, through their Shared Services Review, this labour-backed Vision government is the first in modern times poised to actually lay off city workers.

Not only is their style of governing perplexing, it is in direct contravention to the campaign platform they ran on last year. Take for example their commitment to be more open and democratic than their NPA predecessors. In less than nine months that commitment has been thrown out the window.

Leave aside for a moment how they regularly abstract long-standing council procedures to silence the lone member of the NPA opposition, this Mayor has demonstrated little tolerance for free speech even from within his own caucus.

There are few, if any members of the Vision caucus prepared to publicly speak up and contradict their leader. This is despite campaigning on a platform of being a more open and democratic government, who welcome rather than reject feedback. They may not officially have a party “whip,” but clearly Vision’s elected officials are all told to vote in line with the mayor on every vote – or else. This is despite having a 10-1 majority on council where a few split votes would mean nothing in terms of the final outcome.

Critics argue that this type of political party solidarity is the reason why the Park Board remained silent as council slashed their budget last spring. For the life of me I can’t imagine a single Park Board in the last 20 years that would have stood idly by as council cut back their global budget. It certainly wouldn’t have happened with the NPA’s Ian Robertson at the helm. Nor would it have happened with any previous COPE or NPA-dominated Park Boards.

The recent kerfuffle between Vancouver’s new hand-picked City Manager, the Mayor’s office and the Park Board are the first small signs that Vision might actually have a few independent thinkers in their midst. That said, I don’t believe for a moment that Vision’s Raj Hundal will have any real say over who the next General Manager will be for the Vancouver Park Board.

If that’s the case, why has he has come out so strong proclaiming his autonomy? Is this truly a sign that Vision’s elected officials are starting to get their own wings? Or is it a lame attempt by an embattled Park Board chair to restore some of his public credibility? Sorry Raj, my guess is it’s the latter.

I think Hundal realizes that he is in no real position to question his leader or the City Manager regarding the hiring of a new General Manager. But in order to save face, he’s had to make some sort of public proclamation that he remains the man in charge.

During the time I worked for Mayor Sullivan, I can count on less than one finger the times when we consulted our legal department to get advice on jurisdictional issues. Asking the head of legal services to confirm your position that the Park Board has no authority to unilaterally hire the next General Manager is a huge slap in the face to Hundal and company.

It’s doubtful someone as shrewd as Ballem would be asking her legal department to clarify who has authority over the hiring process unless she planned to use that authority. The strategic release of her legal memo on civic affairs panellist Frances Bula’s blog is a real shot across to the bow to the Park Board.

So while I applaud Hundal’s lame attempt at appearing like he’s in charge, I’m still of the mind that Ballem/Robertson/Meggs are steering this happy planet ship. There is no sign that the Mayor, or his minions are about to loosen their grip on power anytime soon. So for those who elected Vision thinking they were getting a bunch of independent, middle-of-the-road governors, think again.

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