Budget cutting nothing more than slick PR spectacle

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


Vision's budget cuts and layoffs PR performance is worthy of a Broadway musical

Let me be the first to make this bold prediction about Vancouver’s budget cutting exercise which claims to be slashing jobs at City Hall. There will not be a single forced layoff of any unionized workers at 12th and Cambie.

In what now resembles a never-ending budget PR exercise, Vancouver’s City Manager returned from her brief holiday to hit the airwaves yesterday in support of Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision crew. This morning on local radio she was bemoaning the fact Vancouver will have to “lay off” city workers as part of a grande $60 million dollar budget trimming effort. The fact the City's budget shortfall is actually in the $20 million+ range seems to have been forgotten by Vancouver's top public servant.

As we reported here earlier, Vision’s Operation Out-NPA the NPA is now in full swing. They are using every PR trick in the book to convince the media and voters they are true fiscal conservatives and are in no way related to their spendthrift COPE cousins. If Vision pulls it off, they deserve full marks.

The most laughable image so far in this PR blitz has to be a dour looking Paul Faoro, CUPE local 15’s fearless leader, posing for a photo in today's Vancouver Sun. If you haven't seen it, he is standing in front of City Hall with his arms crossed  professing to be concerned about all the pending “lay offs”. In order to make Vision’s image makeover a success, the communications recipe must include a pillow fight between Robertson and the unions. If you recall, these are the same unions that essentially bankrolled Vision's election campaign in 2008. It's hard to take their anger seriously when only 12 months ago they put Vision into office.

So why do I think that not a single CUPE worker will be forcibly laid off? Well your honour, let me present my first bit of evidence in the case known as Robertson vs. Spin. Take a look at slide 15 in Penny Ballem's PowerPoint presentation she delivered on September 29th. She reveals the normal attrition rate for the City of Vancouver is about 5% of the overall workforce. Ballem's own numbers indicate there will be at least 300 people voluntarily leaving the City in 2009, with a further 300 more departing in 2010.

When you juxtapose the fact 600 people are voluntarily leaving the City while only 158 are supposed to be laid off, what you’re left with are not mass layoffs, rather, one big spin job. I don't deny there will be people who will be shifting jobs and moving to other departments, but I can assure the countless city workers who read this blog that no one is getting pushed out the door.

Your honour, I also present my second piece of evidence. In an interview with the Library Worker’s Union, they state:

Dr. Ballem does not believe [cost] savings are achieved through layoffs.

They also state:

The city manager did take several questions on the hiring freeze and acknowledged that it was a coarse instrument that is only designed as a bridge. She sees it being as temporary as possible.

While Ballem is quietly giving the civic unions a "don't worry, be happy" message, she wants the rest of us to think they are leaving no stone unturned in order to balance the budget.

What this whole budget PR exercise conveniently helps to mask is the fact that Robertson and company are actually not willing to debate any of the real opportunities that could help to re-shape City Hall operations into the future. That’s why Robertson will not stand for any talk about contracting out services such as garbage pickup, printing or janitorial. This has been taken off the table due to ideological reasons.

Unlike the civic leaders in Oak Bay who are taking a pay cut to help balance the budget, Vancouver's Mayor and Council have also made no mention of making any personal sacrifices to their own budgets. In fact, despite all the so-called budget angst, elected officials continue to routinely request funding for out-of-country junkets to places like Europe and San Francisco.

The reason they likely feel comfortable doing so is they know Robertson’s budget cutting is more about PR and rebranding, than it is about actually having to make tough decisions.

I realize that Vision is trying to outflank the NPA by becoming the NPA itself, thus assuring it will stay in power for the next 60 years.  What I’m not sure of is whether they’ll actually be able to convince voters of it. We now have less than 24 months to go before we find out.


Your theory appears to be coming true with the VPD. Note their latest press release statement:

"Recognizing the extraordinary budget situation faced by the City of Vancouver, the Vancouver Police Department has agreed to a temporary decrease of 35 sworn members. This will be achieved not through layoffs, but solely through attrition and by increasing our participation with integrated policing units. These 35 vacancies are in addition to 20 civilian vacancies we are already holding."


What else can I say...the news release speaks for itself. More smoke and mirrors.

Talk about PR efforts, if Mayor and Council took a 1% cut like Oak Bay, that would only be around $7,000 dollars. I guess it would be real PR bargain but would not make a difference at all in the budget. Given all the city has to do and other ways of cutting the budget, even the council and staff time to make the cut probably means other opportunities are lost.

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