You want a 4-day work week at City Hall? Tough, eh.

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


Marg Simpson

Penny Ballem, Vancouver's hand-picked City Manager, is back in the media – again. This time she sits down with Linda Solomon (sister of Gregor Robertson Funder-in-Chief Joel Solomon) for a wide ranging interview about her life as Vancouver's top paid public servant. She also did an interview with the internal City of Vancouver "City Spirit" newsletter which was sent out to staff last week. The interview was conducted by Steve Salsman, storekeeper for the Fleet Maintenance Division Fire and Rescue Services and the Chief Shop Steward City Sector CUPE 15.

If employees at City Hall thought that their new Vision government (backed heavily by the Canadian Union of Public Employees) would consider reintroducing the 4-day work week eliminated by a previous NPA administration, they should think again.

Here is an excerpt:

Steve: Compressed, four-day work week is an excellent, environmentally sound retention tool. How come we are not using it anymore?

Penny: I don't have the entire history of the four-day work week that was with Vancouver a long time but I know there was a history.

The public doesn't appreciate it to be honest. It's all fine and good for us to enjoy working four days but populating that last day as you know is a bit of a problem and I think their perception is, 'Look, we pay our taxes and it is bad enough not being able to access City Hall on Saturday and Sunday.'

We believe five days a week is pretty normal. There may be ways in the future we can think about flex time but at this time I am more focused on how we optimize the services we deliver to the public five days a week, especially given that we have 11 EDOs (earned days off). That's a lot of time - a lot of normal business time that gets taken out of the schedule of City Hall Services.

It's clear that Ballem isn't aware the new 311 service in Vancouver will actually keep City Hall open 24/7. Simply talking about guaranteeing service Monday-Friday is so yesterday. As for whether Vancouverites should expect tax increases in the next budget, Ballem makes it clear that 0% tax increases are what Council have told her is the goal.

Council has given us a very clear signal that they don't want to be raising taxes.

Interesting that Ballem says she has received a "clear signal" from Council, despite the fact it has not passed a motion asking for a 0% target this fiscal year. Perhaps there is a motion that the public is not aware of? Or when Ballem says Council gave her a "clear signal," does she mean that opposition councillors Suzanne Anton, David Cadman and Ellen Woodsworth told her to keep tax increases at 0%?

In a more lighthearted moment, Ballem tells Salsman:

Honestly, I am a straight shooter. I can set my hair on fire some days but I get over it and I never hold a grudge and I really try and back everything up with facts and figures.'s good to know that the staff at are still going to be invited to the annual Ballem Christmas party! This is especially true if you believe what Ballem told Solomon at the Vancouver Observer.

VO: What advice would you give to women on how to be better leaders?

BALLEM: Build relationships with people who may not agree with you. 

Ballem also takes the opportunity to provider her take on what is quickly becoming one of Vision's most controversial decisions over the last year.

VO: David Eby of the Civil Liberties Association has taken issue with the City’s Olympic by-laws and is concerned about the erosion of our Charter rights.

BALLEM: We absolutely need David Eby. It’s the polarities that allow us to be more thoughtful. He raises issues that need to be thought through. Being the host city of the Olympics, we walk a line. We absolutely believe in free speech and we know everyone doesn’t agree with the Olympics.

We also have legal obligations as a host city for the Olympics, particularly to sponsors. People don’t understand, but the Olympic sponsors are paying for the vast majority of the operating budget, which is over a billion dollars. The vast majority of that money is private money as well. We have responsibilities on that side to protect their commercial interests and to support the value they’ve paid for.

Our commitment to the Olympics is very strong as a city. We’re going to walk that line and not everybody is going to be completely happy. My hope is that David understands that we’re being very thoughtful and not using this as an opportunity to stomp on people’s rights to free speech. If we have people out there in our community that think the balance isn’t right, we want to hear that. We won’t always agree with them, but we’re very open to hearing about that.


A clear signal can be given in committee or in a briefing or in small group discussions. It doesn't have to be in the form of a motion. Sometimes you make a fool of yourself by trying to be too critical. Stick to the real issues--there are enough of them.

The three options you provide could be conducted in back rooms. Wasn't this council supposed to be the most open and transparent ever? Wasn't that the commitment Vision made to City staff?

So now you are being silly. If every conversation had to be done in open council meetings, no one would get any work done and no one would sleep. The fact that the city manager has stated publicly and several councilors have stated publicly and other staff in other departments have stated publicly, that the goal is zero tax increases, makes it public. Again, stick to the things that are genuinely troubling and keep the partisan flack to a minimum.

I'm not sure if you understand how city government works, but individual councillors are NOT cabinet ministers. The Mayor is NOT the Premier (despite what his supporters would like to think). The Chief of Staff does not have statutory authority to compel the City Manager to do anything relating to city budgets. According to the Vancouver Charter, all of that power rests with Council as a whole.

Decisions such as how high (or low) tax hikes should be are decisions that are normally voted upon in council chambers, in full public view. That allows COPE and NPA reps to have their say and provide their opinion.

Rather than simply act as yet another Vision apologist, why don't you provide some constructive feedback.

And that decision will be made by Council. Preliminary budgeting is done ahead of time--but you know this too. Staff are given an idea of what would be ideal. Plans are made based on this and then adjustments made based on what can and cannot be done. No one believes that we will have a zero tax increase, but that is a good starting place for discussion of what is core and what is not. You want constructive criticism? Stop being partisan whiners and do what you can do best. Expose and critique. Don't just stand on the outside and cry.

Now that, folks, is what you call intellectual commentary at its finest.

Ya know, many staff STILL whine about the 4-day work week!! Hello! How many years has it been?? While I myself would love the idea of it, it's just not realistic! Many people have too much work to cut down to 4 days.

Isnt this article about a 4 day work week...boy did we get sidetracked....
For Environmental reasons we should adopt this system if it saves on commutes / fuel etc...(its also all the other spin off savings and environmental benefits - less oil changes, less fuel fill ups, (which on a large scale would mean less semis delivering the fuel...)
less tire wear, all these things that have a negative environmental impact.. the argument about the mon-fri is very yesterday, Iagree ....divide the current group of staff into separate blocks, one is mon-Thur, the other block Tue-Fri - There is your 4 day work week (each group doing 4 10hr days) lots would get done, morale would increase and it is a net positive for the environment - and in our city of granola eating tree hugger planet lovers (which isnt bad) I am surprised this hasnt already been done,.

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