By going it alone, will Vancouver's new green economic strategy simply get washed away?
I was out of town in Ottawa for the better part of this week on business only to discover upon my return that Mayor Gregor Robertson had unveiled his new “Green Capital” branding campaign for Vancouver. For those of you who haven’t read His Worship’s latest endeavour, he wants to brand Vancouver as the greenest city in the world and build his local economy around it. As much as I hate to say it, Robertson’s unilateral efforts to increase economic activity are destined to fail.
We at CityCaucus.com have been about the only folks in town consistently writing about how Metro Vancouver sorely lacks a coordinated and cohesive economic strategy. We’ve written several posts on how individual overseas junkets by Metro Vancouver’s 22 mayors are all but fruitless unless they are woven into a regional context. We’ve also written about the political challenges of signing a regional economic pact when some parochial mayors and councils can’t see beyond their borders.
When I heard Robertson was planning to develop a “green” economic strategy, I held out some hope that he might actually develop it conjunction with his colleagues in the region. You know, he could have called a few round tables and sought some input. Imagine how powerful the message to global investors would be if all 22 Metro Vancouver mayors signed on to a joint economic development pact endorsed by the Province and Feds.
Instead, what we’re left with is a mayor who unveils a bland logo and says he’s going to go on a few more overseas junkets himself to help promote his plan [and his political ambitions]. Robertson simply doesn’t get it. How on Earth can we sell this region as a great place to do green business, when there still remains so much red tape?
For example, if you want to operate a business throughout all of Metro Vancouver, you still need to apply for 22 separate business licenses. Why didn’t Robertson first make an attempt to eliminate some of these “trade” barriers that currently exist between Metro’s cities? I realize it’s not as sexy as a trip to LA or Copenhagen, but in the long run it will do much more to grow our local economy than any cheezie and costly “Green Capital” branding exercise.
During my time at the Mayor’s office, I had the opportunity to help develop Vancouver’s first ever set of guiding principles for economic development. I also worked closely with members of the City’s Economic Development Commission to secure significant new funding after years of neglect.
But we also made it very clear to the Commission that priority number one was finding ways to get Vancouver working in partnership with other Metro cities, rather than in competition with them. Some of that work was already bearing fruit, but has now likely been cast aside in favour of Robertson’s new green strategy.
The revelation this week that Robertson and VEDC are going it alone is extremely disappointing and a huge missed opportunity in advance of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Metro Vancouver Region had one shot at pulling it off, but it appears they’ve simply given up in favour of a branding and marketing exercise.
I do applaud the Mayor for seeking out new opportunities to cash in on the "green" economy, however, as Miro Cernetig from the Vancouver Sun pointed out, a number of cities are much further ahead than Vancouver when it comes to the green agenda. He also said Robertson needs to think outside the boundaries of his own city:
When Vancouver city council votes today on its e-car initiative, it might want to think even bigger. If Mayor Robertson could get all of Metro Vancouver behind his green dream he'd have a market of 2.3 million. With that, he just might have a market big enough to attract private investors and really kick-start Canada's electric car revolution.
There is still time for the Mayor to roll up his sleeps in the remaining two years of his mandate and get other cities on board with his green plan. However, having already announced his green game plan without so much as a single hour of consultation with other regional leaders, he might find his efforts a tad more challenging.