Coun. Geoff Meggs (not shown) blew a gasket on CKNW this morning
Normally I have a lot of time for Vision Vancouver city councillor Geoff Meggs. By a country mile, he's the brightest member of his caucus. He also usually demonstrates a good sense of political acumen when it comes to handling various files. Unfortunately for Meggs (and his caucus), his recent handling of the Olympic Village social housing units has been an unmitigated disaster.
Last Friday morning he went head-to-head against popular political columnist Michael Smyth, who is currently guest hosting the Bill Good Show on CKNW. His appearance with Smyth was – to put it kindly – dreadful. Smyth had Meggs on the ropes regarding his caucus' decision to provide preferential access to Olympic Village rental units for public sector workers including teachers and police officers. As Smyth rightfully points out, if this council is so concerned about the bottom line, what on Earth are they doing spending over $120M to secure 126 units of social housing on the waterfront? It was a question to which Meggs never really provided an answer.
This morning Meggs thought he'd go for Round Two of this mixed martial arts match-up. Unfortunately for the good councillor, he was left battered on the floor yet again. Smyth hammered away at Meggs, asking him why he introduced a motion that only provides special access to the Olympic Village units for public sector teachers and not those working in private sector schools. In response, Meggs said he "regrets" ever putting forward the public sector teacher amendment as it has only served to provide fodder for political commentators and his opponents.
After days of bad press, the normally cool, calm and collected Meggs seemed to blow a gasket on the air this morning. Which leads me to believe there is pressure mounting from within his own caucus on this very divisive issue. What else could explain why Meggs could be heard shouting into the radio while he compared Smyth to right wing American talk show host Glenn Beck. I guess he thought a good offense is a good defence? Attack the show's host and that should surely score you some points with the public – right?
Meggs was also provided a half page in The Province newspaper today to help explain why council plans to sink millions more into the Olympic Village social housing units. In summary, Meggs' defense of his decision is that former mayor Sam Sullivan made him do it. Yup...he had no option but to pour more money into the project and this was the "best deal under the circumstances."
What is both laughable and misleading about Meggs' opinion piece is that it is nothing more than reVisionist history. Meggs states:
But the possibility that the 252 affordable housing units could really seem "affordable" to taxpayers, as opposed to their residents, died on Dec. 13, 2007, in a closed-door council meeting chaired by then-mayor Sam Sullivan.
Upon review of the minutes of that meeting, we can confirm that council agreed to invest up to $95 million dollars to build the 252 social housing units. We can also confirm that Sullivan did indeed chair the meeting (the mayor always does). We can confirm that councillors Raymond Louie and Tim Stevenson didn't bother to show up for the vote (allowing Louie to crow about having a "clear conscience" regarding Village decisions at last Thursday's council meeting; Stevenson wasn't even at last Thursday's meeting at all).
Interestingly, we can also confirm that Meggs' Vision colleague Heather Deal actually moved the motion to approve the additional expenditure. The vote to invest the $95 million bucks was also a unanimous decision of council. That's right, despite Meggs' desperate spin that this was all the NPA's fault, the record will show it was actually a Vision Vancouver politician that moved and supported the motion. Funny how Meggs forgot to include that bit of information in his opinion piece.
He also failed to mention that BC Housing was apparently intimately involved and aware of the escalating costs of the Olympic Village social housing units.
The interim financing recommended does not change the expectation that BC Housing will agree to finance the costs above the City’s current equity contribution ($45 million for land and $32 million for construction). However, in order for construction to continue, the City must provide interim financing. This does present some risk in that the City is proceeding without a final commitment from BC Housing, however, BC Housing has been involved in all of the design and costing discussions to date and has not indicated concerns with proceeding in this fashion. Should that arrangement not be completed as contemplated, the City will have a number of options for City Council to consider, from providing additional equity to converting some or all of the units to market units.
When confronted by Smyth about the fact his Vision team had supported this project all along, Meggs sheepishly said they were fighting it from behind the scenes. But you don't get any more "behind the scenes" than an in-camera meeting. However, the record shows Vision supported the additional expenditure when it came time for a vote.
The Vision Vancouver blame game is wearing very thin with voters who are looking for leadership at City Hall, not more partisan politics. To somehow claim the current decision to invest tens of millions of new tax dollars is the best option council had is simply untrue, and Meggs knows it. I would encourage everyone to read a good piece by Michael Geller to see what other options could have been considered if this council were truly interested in exploring them.
Both his radio appearances and opinion piece are starting to demonstrate Meggs' desperation when it comes to resolving the issues around Southeast False Creek. As I stated last week, Vision may soon find that the Olympic Village helped to propel them into office, and it may well be the same issue that ends the career of a whole other set of councillors on election night.
- post by Daniel