Council budget meeting brings out hundreds, and high emotions

Post by Mike Klassen in


signs of the meeting
Signs of Thursday's meeting – not a lot of talk of compromise

Call us gluttons for punishment, but Daniel and I decided to attend a good portion of Thursday night's public hearing on the Vancouver budget, and as we predicted it was quite a show. Both of us were typing away on our handheld devices to our Twitter last night, giving a bit of a blow by blow of some of the best exchanges. Overall, there were few surprises, and everyone remained in character.

It was a time for the public to speak their mind, so most of the councillors (with a couple of exceptions) and the Mayor kept their remarks to a minimum. Watching Gregor Robertson chair the meeting is an odd spectacle. Gregor steers the meeting like he's Chewbacca in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. He's constantly geeking out on the lights and buttons in his control, and is only paying attention to the speakers a fraction of the time.

At one point Coun. Tim Stevenson seemed to be having computer problems, and stood up to ask Gregor for help. The Mayor walked over to Stevenson's desk like someone dispatched from the computer department at BestBuy, and appeared to fix Tim's problem. From my angle I'm not sure if he resorted to Ctrl-Alt-Del.

The COPE councillors were playing to a receptive crowd, as there appeared to be little appetite for tax cuts or tax shifting (business to residential) among those present. Gregor appears to have come up with the idea of having the children and seniors speak first. While it was a nice gesture, it has the effect of prolonging the list of speakers in the end. When we left there were 88 names on the speakers list, and only just over a dozen spoke.

Perhaps the most interesting exchange of the evening took place between Stu Mackinnon, the lone Green Park Commissioner who was the first to publicly oppose the Vision plan, and has been the most vocal of the three non-Vision commissioners about the recent record cuts to the park budget.

Mackinnon speaks well, and because he didn't have to say anything more than he opposes the cuts, he was well-received by the crowd. The two councillors who held the most sour expressions during Mackinnon's talk were Coun. Reimer and Coun. Raymond Louie, also the chair of the budget committee. Both of them began to, in essence, grill Mackinnon with questions about what kind of tax increase he would tolerate, or which program he would fund assuming the answer couldn't be all of the above?

Reimer suggested that Mackinnon was asking for an "eleven percent" increase in residential taxes. When referring back to staff, Reimer was corrected and told that the increase Mackinnon proposed was nowhere near that high.

Then Raymond Louie, who sat stonefaced through most of the meeting, decided to really go after Mackinnon. Instead of the usual line of questioning councillors ask at these meetings, Louie challenged Mackinnon as if to say, hey, you think you can do better, punk?! Stu, who looked quite comfortable to this point, was a bit taken aback by Louie's aggressive line of questioning.

The rest of Louie's fellow Vision councillors all started to squirm at that point, too. Everyone there, except Louie, knew that the room was supportive of Mackinnon, who took pains not to deliver a political message. He started off by saying he was there more as a home owner and taxpayer than a park commissioner.

Eventually the room turned on Louie, and several began to shout at the councillor. Raymond, it's well-known, has a mean streak that he hides well but eventually it always comes back. Like Reimer, Raymond appears to have a sizable chip on his shoulder. Mackinnon, for a few minutes at least, appeared to knock the chip off.

We stuck around long enough to listen to CUPE 15 president Paul Faoro. It's long been rumoured that Paul is trying to take Barry O'Neill's job someday. Paul pontificates using the language of a class warrior, speaking of exempt staff and management like they are poison. In the eyes of Faoro and his ilk of course they are bad.

When you have leadership like Faoro and his CUPE 1004 comrade Mike Jackson, you will be locked in a perpetual battle with The Man. Collective agreements are not meant to be mere downtime between inevitable strikes that – set your watch – should begin anew for Vancouver's civil service in the summer of 2012. Maybe the Mayan calendar was correct after all.

Vancouver is a great city with a great civil service. But it could be so much better, and the way we build our city could be a helluva lot more efficient. Part of the problem is the culture that deliberately divides management and union staff. There's a lot of blame to go around on both sides for this predicament, but the most blatant demonstration of it is Faoro's rhetoric.

There will be at least 2 more nights where council hears from the public, and it's unlikely to result in much change. Vision are sticking to their 2% budget (or 4% for residential) tax increase, and coveted park facilities like the Bloedel Conservatory and Children's Animal Farm will most likely be put on ice.

Gregor Robertson is committed to having Vancouver take on provincial social services like homelessness and provincial/federal bailiwicks like regional policing and IHIT. They're trying to save face with the arts community after their 10% cut to arts grants last winter, by giving some of that money back in this budget. Anything beyond these priorities, you can kiss goodbye for now.


The best line of the night went to Mackinnon when Louie was grilling him about what he'd do if he gave him $100,000. In his usual gruff manner, Louie kept grilling the commissioner asking what his priorities would be if he gave him the money. After a few stumbles...Mackinnon finally responded by saying (I'm paraphrasing here) "Give me the $100K cheque, and I'll answer your question." His response got a huge round of applause from the crowd.

On a side note, the Mayor's blogoshere spinmeisters are trying to say there were only 90 people in attendance. Who are they kidding?

The whole bottom gallery was standing room only. The upper gallery was packed. And the whole third floor foyer outside the chamber was packed to the rafters. I don't recall ever seeing that many people there for any protest during my tenure at City Hall. Although some protests were certainly more vocal than the polite affair last Thursday.

Perhaps if Robertson's spinmeisters actually took the time to make their way down to 12th and Cambie and see for themselves, they wouldn't be so reliant on the Mayor's staff for their information. Those kind of statements simply make them look silly.

Overall, I applaud the citizens of Vancouver for showing up in force this close to Xmas. Given Vision wants to pass this budget just in advance of Santa and his reindeer will be interesting to see if public opposition can be sustained during the upcoming holidays. I'm sure Vision is hoping it won't and that after the holidays, everyone will forget what just happened.

Still waiting for Mayor Robertson's promise at a 4 Pillar meeting to support recreation as a means to keep children and youth away from gangs and it's associated violence.

Seems they must claim to be homeless artists to get any help from this council.

i work for the city of vancouver and trust me,if city hall needs to save money it should start by showing the door to the army of deadbeat managers it has amassed over the last few years.hired primarily to cross picket lines during strikes by the previous council,taxpayers would be astounded if they were to follow most of them around during their work day and see how little they do for 90,000 to 100,000 dollars a year.hopefully council was told this during their internal audit,but it's probably being hidden.

Al, you manage to encapsulate one of my points with your angry words. The atmosphere between you and management is unnecessarily toxic. The reason they probably keep hiring managers is to keep the city running during the recurring labour disputes. And the labour stoppages keep happening because of the mistrust between the management and the union. It's a vicious cycle, and no one is addressing it.

Last night's brief to Council by Bill McCreery, former Vancouver Parks Commissioner.

The current Council and Board are developing a pattern which indicates they don’t know what they’re doing. They fire the City Manager in the middle of a world financial crisis; then hire a provincial bureaucrat and, tell her to undertake a comprehensive management and financial review when they should have been in damage control, as the other 17 Metro cities have been. Why does Surrey, with the same population, not have a $61 million debt but, Vancouver does?
Damage control. What’s that? Hey, we’ll proceed with a few hundred thousand dollar sprucing up of the Mayor and Council Chambers and more cash for new digs for the new City Manager. Let’s hire a new Assistant for the new Manager so we have an inexperienced Mayor and Council and two ‘green’horns in charge of the cooky jar. The Assistant’s claim to fame is he did the same ‘green’ things in Chicago that we’ve done years ago.
The Mayor, with deft abilities at reversing his stance and ribbon cuttings, looks out his office window and decides a grocery garden is a green thing to do. So, he spends $30,000 to show ‘green’ and, Vancouver citizens are the proud owners of an instant garden and, the most expensive carrots and cabbages in history. Apparently he doesn’t know Vancouver has had community gardens for more than 35 years. This is nothing new and certainly not worth spending $30,000 on, especially in a recession. Looking further out his window, he would notice the vagabond boats and others in marinas dumping raw sewage into False Creek. Requiring sewage pump-out would be a real ‘green cleanup’ initiative and, the vagabonds should at least be an income source. Looking still further, he would see the ‘suddenly’ wonderful, green showpiece Olympic Village but, for ideological reasons Council will not sell all or some of the social housing units at market prices, paying off the project’s deficit and, have money to replace the lost housing affordablely.
Further afield, what has this Council done for the Downtown East Side, other than their botched Shelter Program or, Metro garbage? But, these things don’t make pretty, greeny media clips do they? Also, we can’t raise taxes, so we’ll haphazardly see what damage we can do to Vancouver’s world famous iconic infrastructure and make off the top decisions to destroy important services and landmarks owned by the citizens of Vancouver.
Further thoughts and questions for one of the proposed deficit cutbacks follow. I am requesting written answers to these questions from Council and Park Board and, I encourage the media to make sure real answers are provided.
THE BLOEDEL CONSERVATORY -- a heritage building, so the Park Board Chair found after deciding to tear it down!
• Obviously, no plan has been thought through.
-- What’s the cost of demolition on top of and adjacent to the concrete deck over the Vancouver Reservoir? It will be expensive, probably as much as the roof repair.
-- What’s going to replace it? It’s the highest point of land in Vancouver in the middle of one of our most important parks
-- What’s the replacement cost? What revenue, if any, results?
-- What’s the tourism impact?
• Revenues are down recently. Why? Short term reasons are:
-- Canada Line construction; tour bus access, civic strike and recession reduced tourism; what’s the revenue history?
-- How can bus access be improved? What’s the cost?
-- In addition to reroofing, the facility needs to be more visually open and accessible from the exterior. Is this in the $2 million repair cost? What’s the upgrade revenue impact?
These questions must be formally answered by staff and Commissioners before informed decisions can be made on this and other proposed cuts.
• It’s called the Bloedel Conservatory because Mr. Bloedel donated a big chunk of his money to build it. Tearing it down sends a message to future donors:
Tax payers dollars will then have to fund all such projects 100%, resulting in higher taxes or, we go from a have city, the envy of the world, to a have not city.
The current Council and Board are, by their hiccup and knee jerk proceedings, squandering Vancouver’s rich legacy built over generations by carefully planned and executed cooperative public/private efforts.
Your free ride is over. It’s time for the media and Vancouver Citizens to look critically at what their elected representatives are up to.

Come on Mike are you for real? To suggest that the City is NOT top heavy with managers is ludicrous....I guarantee you that if every other manager was let one would notice a thing (service wise) in that City...and to suggest that you can have dozens of mgrs to run the city only fuels the attitude that leads to people (like judy rogers) purposely not creating a harmonious relationship with (her own [former]) city workers...
Al is 100% correct - cause I too see it ....there is tons of inefficiency with the top...Even look at the human resources has ballooned into this huge entity that is costing millions of $$/year....It was only a few years ago that you didn't need an HR dept....(Oh yea that is also when the labour relations were "good") THis new leadership has stepped out huge and talked and met with employees at the grass roots and also at the union levels....that is far more than can be said for the past city leadership.....These guys seem to understand that it is about building relationships of mutual respect; some of the office layoffs have started...There are too many ppl that think the city wont "run" without them...and I am sad to say that it will run just fine....and no I am not a cupe worker

..actually he would see the village first than the boats !! I agree with many of your points - but I do like this mayor and feel I should "stick up for him" to clear some facts....(Do you now work in CityCaucus Tower 1 or 2...cause you've grasped the spinnormma beautifully - good stuff!!!
On the East Side the city has a business model providing funds for enhancing business frontages to encourage new business to move into and set up in the is working and already a few businesses have utilized this ...(It takes more than 1 year to clean up the worst hell-hole of any city in N.America - the Eastside) The management review was already in place...and re the firing of Judy (city manager) she was costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands in her sending of grievances to arbritrators and not having the knowledge to interpret these issues and save the taxpayer these huge costs...(In arbritration she was wrong (or lost) 94 or 97% of all her cases....but then how do you quantify the other costs associated with this totalitarian attitude which negatively affects workplace morale...and ultimately productivity....The new council has taken great strides to re-build these relationships and I dont recall Penny making any of the same mistakes in her 1st year?? Do You?? Infact this new council that is so lovey is actually making the hard choices and laying off many workers...which in these economic times is likely only issue is that there still are too many managers avoiding this "axe"...I am curious about your debt figures and how they correlate to tax rates / incoming tax amounts from residence and business - but also if part of those debt numbers include any part of the olym village - which is supposed to (hopefully) break even or profit...we'll see...but again that is a problem form previous that this council inherited and did the best they could to ensure its completion intime for the games....there has been risk but what was the unfinished athletes village?? I agree to save the Bloedel and the goats...CHina just got its tourist "go" to Canada card, and I firmly believe that the conservatory can be a huge success...with its location and that it is a stop (lilmtn) on a city tour....thats a no brainer to make it work....all this council needs to do now is generate some more "income" without screwing the taxpayer (home and business) and layoff some managers - there are too many...everywhere.....

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