Vancouver's mayor focused heavily on the media opportunities while in Ottawa – but no drumming
When I went worked for former Mayor Sam Sullivan, there were many occasions when I was required to pack up my bags, leave the family and head to Ottawa with briefing binders in tow. The trips were often grueling with our first meetings starting as early as 7:30 EST (that's 4:30 in the morning West Coast time!). When you consider it would take the quadriplegic Sullivan about two hours to get ready for work, you start to get the picture. We didn't go to Ottawa for the social scene, we went there to get support for a number of various files important to Vancouver.
I advised my scheduling staff to pack our Ottawa trips with as many meetings as possible in order that we could maximize the time we had out there. Our days were spent meeting with key ministers, MPs (from all political stripes), Senators and key public service staff. The days were long and grueling, but you knew they would eventually pay off for Vancouver.
After we got wind that Mayor Gregor Robertson was heading to Ottawa and hoped to "bump into MPs" when he was out there, we thought it was worth placing an FOI to review his calendar of events while in the nation's capital. Did we discover countless meetings with Treasury Board officials? How about jammed lunch sessions with Finance Committee representatives? Perhaps early morning coffee sessions with cabinet ministers? Well not quite...
Unless Gary Mason (Globe and Mail), Evan Solomon (Power and Politics) and Tom Clark (CTV's PowerPlay) are secret members of the Federal Cabinet, it would appear that Mayor Robertson had few, if any meetings with government officials.
Here are the "highlights" of the Mayor's schedule for March 3:
- Dinner at Hy's restaurant with Liberal Senator Larry Campbell and Liberal MP Martha Hall Findley
- Spent three hours attending various photo ops for the 2010 Paralympic torch relay
- Did an interview with CKNW radio in Vancouver at 12:30 pm
- Attended the Speech from the Throne and a reception that followed. A great photo of him attending that reception was published in Maclean's magazine.
- At 6 pm he spent half an hour with Evan Solomon of Power and Politics on CBC TV.
As for any formal meetings with government officials to get money for Vancouver...well there were none.
On the second day of his schedule, things didn't appear to get any more productive:
- He got up early to do an interview with "Rita" over at CBC Ottawa. This was over by 8:30 am.
- His next scheduled event was at 11 am whereby he did an interview with CBC's Early Edition in Vancouver (It was the astute host Rick Cluff that grilled Robertson over who he was and was not actually meeting with...it was here he famously said he was "bumping into MPs").
- Over lunch he spent a half hour doing another interview with APTN (Aboriginal People's Television Network).
- Then he had a power lunch with the President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. These are the folks hired to lobby the MPs. Do you get the feeling he might have been getting some tips?
- At 4 pm he then set aside half an hour to "review the Federal budget".
- At 4:45 he then did another TV interview with Tom Clark over at CTV's Power Play
- At 5:20 pm he did another TV interview with CPAC - Canada's Public Affairs Channel
- At 5:30 pm he did another interview with Canadian Press
- Shortly thereafter he did another interview with the Globe and Mail
- At 8 pm he packed up his bags and briefing binders and got back on a plane for Toronto.
- At 10 pm had his last interview with Gary Mason.
- At 10:45 pm he caught his flight to Vancouver
As you can see, this whole taxpayer funded trip could be characterized more as "bumping into media" vs. "bumping into MPs". I must admit, after I reviewed Robertson's schedule, I couldn't believe my eyes. There we virtually no official meetings scheduled with government officials. How could this be when Vancouver so desperately needs more money for social housing, drug treatment, immigrant settlement, infrastructure renewal etc...?
During the last term of Council Robertson's colleagues regularly mocked Sullivan for his frequent trips to Ottawa. Reporter Mike Howell over at the Vancouver Courier frequently FOI'd Sullivan's calendar and published the details of who he met with and when (Mike, I've saved you the work if you're still interested in this subject item). As for Robertson, he seems to have been given yet another pass when it comes to the lack of substance in his most recent Ottawa junket. I can safely predict he won't be grilled by his Vision colleagues nor will they ask him to produce a report on the outcomes of his trip.
I want to go on the record as supporting Mayor Robertson going to Ottawa as often as possible to help advance Vancouver's agenda. Because of the distance between the two cities, I firmly believe it is important for Robertson to regularly be in the nation's capital. However, my support is conditional upon his trips not being glorified public relations exercises with little substance. I'll leave it up to our readers to decide which category you think this trip fell into.