Robertson reclines while Magee drives Vision's agenda

Post by Mike Klassen in


bob penner
The elusive Bob Penner of Strategic Communications, advisor to Gregor Robertson

Doled out as a freebie to homes on the tony west side, Vancouver magazine may have our city's name but its unfailingly glamorous version of our town seems to end at Granville Street. It wasn't always so, as writer Sean Rossiter once provided a much edgier view of the city and its halls of power. Vancouver's latest incarnation is at one with the Vision version of city hall, regularly enlisting writer Frances Bula to profile the likes of Hollyhock's Joel Solomon, Sadhu Johnston, Gregor Robertson and now chief of staff Mike Magee.

Editor Gary Stephen Ross sets the tone by opening his September edition with a reverent nod to Mayor Gregor's recent oil tanker dog and pony show. I'm led to believe that Ross' 2009 Power 50 list was created with Magee's help, despite the fact that the Mayor's right hand only finds himself at No. 17. Up close though, it's clear that the one-time political protester is now running the show at 12th & Cambie.

A wise lieutenant, it's said, will humbly shun the limelight. Not so for Gregor Robertson's top advisor, bodyguard and drill instructor. Mike Magee, by allowing Frances Bula the closest access of any media and endorsing a feature report on how he handles the affairs of his office, has perhaps made a Citizen Sam-esque miscalculation. Why bother pulling back the curtain unless you're absolutely certain the story will reflect well upon you?

Bula's story about Magee hardly paints an entirely flattering picture. First, there is the unusual image of a reclining Gregor Robertson in a rowboat powered by Magee – it simply makes the Mayor look bad. Then, the opening paragraphs reveal a coarseness you might expect from a class warrior who's recently acquired power.

Mike Magee leans back in his chair and speaks in a voice appropriate to the cool-down segment of a yoga class. Even when he refers to one problem person as an “idiot” and “complete motherfucker,” his tone is gentle, reflective. Things seem under control—for the moment.

Vision Vancouver's reign has been marked by its secretiveness and contempt for those who don't "get" what the party is trying to do for (or to) the City. Bula's characterization of the Mayor's man suggests that the tone has been set from the top.

Many of Magee’s contacts were developed through Joel Solomon, the wealthy and influential patron of social-enterprise investment in Vancouver, who has developed enormous faith in Magee’s ability to carry out complex, politically challenging ideas. “He’s always shown this quality of strategic astuteness,” says Solomon. “He has very strong instincts about how to get things done.” Solomon adds, in his tactful way: “And he’s unafraid to express himself”—an understatement to anyone who’s received one of his blistering emails. Not everyone is enchanted. Some describe Magee as prone to unnecessary cry-wolf crisis generation, information hoarding, and believing that a considerable proportion of the world’s population is not all that smart.

But no one is willing to cross him.

Another eye-popping example of how the traditional non-partisan public service has become servile to the whims of the political class are these lines revealing the interplay between Magee and the city manager:

...Penny Ballem steps in for a two-minute conference on the tactics for getting a particular motion to council before the summer break. Such strategizing happens dozens of times a month, and it always involves the man whose job it is to make sure the mayor looks good...

“My thing is to try to empower Penny [Ballem] as much as possible,” says Magee. “But we’re very insistent that the bureaucracy take direction from the politicians.”There’s an endgame to all of this.

Repeatedly Bula reminds readers of Gregor Robertson's apparent shortcomings for the job of Mayor. Magee, even just last month, still seems to be perpetually micro-managing Robertson.

He quietly figures out when the mayor should avoid reporters with career-ending questions and when he should apologize. He castigates those who’ve blundered (including Robertson) and talks tough with other levels of government.

As raw material for politics, Magee's original instincts told him that Robertson was all wrong:

When Robertson first talked about going into politics, Magee wasn’t bowled over. He admired Robertson’s values, his connections to social-venture businesses, his lack of rigid ideology. “But I thought he was the most unlikely guy. So earnest. And he had no political experience.”

In the face of growing criticism from traditional Vision supporters and nearly 9000 signatures opposing Vision's West End iniative, Magee tells his colleagues to batten down the hatches:

When the mayor’s “fucking NPA hacks” comment exploded during the dog days of summer, it was Magee who was directing strategy (stay calm, remember the West End renters support us, let’s figure out a better way to talk to this group) while giving developers advice about how to deal with rough waters ahead. But he’s taken the role to another level because he’s so tight with the mayor and hypnotic in his ability to paint detailed, compelling visions of a progressive new nirvana.

"Progressive new nirvana" is a tongue-in-cheek way to describe the systemic social change sought after by Roberton's biggest bankroller Joel Solomon. Bula describes the circle around the Mayor – Magee, Solomon and Bob Penner (seen above) – as they mold Robertson.

A lifetime of deep belief in the inherent problems of militarization, resource extraction, and global energy consumption doesn’t simply end. Instead, it blooms in the presence of the perfect mate and political vehicle—a man like Gregor Robertson, whose values are essentially Green but who is willing to do whatever it takes to change the world a little. Magee—networker, bargainer, cajoler, and, when necessary, enforcer—is at the heart of a group committed to transforming an idealistic young organic farmer and businessman into a winning political brand.

Turning the farmboy into the image of a Mayor after three years of flatlining as an MLA is no mean feat. Magee is Henry Higgins to Gregor's Eliza Doolittle, and you know they practice how to say The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain. None of this would be happening if not for Solomon's ambitions for Robertson, as indicated by these passages in Bula's piece:

Magee met Joel Solomon, who had already built his wealth and connections into a major force, investing in new-style social-purpose businesses and giving grants to old-style environmental and social-justice groups...

Solomon lacked the skills to navigate the rough world of campaign politics, but he saw that here was a new kind of politician, one he wanted to support: “There’s a need for leaders,” he says, “who are deeply rooted in values and competent enough to do something about them.”

Solomon also provided money, contributing heavily to Robertson’s campaign as MLA for Vancouver-Fairview in 2005, which Magee ended up running. The effect of all that cash startled traditional NDP organizers, who were used to working with dedicated volunteers, not campaigns flush enough to hire door-knockers and phone banks...

We're not so sure what "heavy" contributing Joel Solomon supposedly did for Robertson (who was a US citizen at the time). According to Elections BC records he barely has given a few hundred bucks to the NDP. However, Magee's consultancy managed to cough up nearly $25,000 for the party. This is in addition to roughly $40,000 that Magee's company gave to Vision Vancouver.

It's astonishing really that we're witnessing such a completely different style of governance here in Vancouver. A former political agitator now runs the biggest bully pulpit in this country west of Toronto – Vancouver city hall – watching over a billion dollar budget, and the political ops are bankrolled by a rich guy from a remote island. Meanwhile the Mayor looks more and more like a marionette. But who cares, right?

Bula wraps up by reminding us where this is all headed...

And beyond City Hall? Provincial leader? Premier? A cabinet post? The team all agree that Robertson has further to go. From Magee’s office, the future looks bright. It’s his job to make it stay that way.

- post by Mike


The photo of Gregor reclining in the boat reminds me of the picture of Barbara Amiel sitting at the feet of Conrad Black.

Mike, loved this insightful observation: "[Vanmag’s] unfailingly glamorous version of our town seems to end at Granville Street.”

Ryan Knighton (Top Stories) lives off Commercial Drive. Jennifer Allen Simons (Q & A) works out of the Wosk Centre. The five conversions featured in “Home at Last” are on Hawks, Earles, Hawks, E. Georgia, and 217 W. 21st. Phil Nuytten works out of the Esplanade in North Van. Oppenheimer Park (Urban Planning) is at Cordova and Dunlevy. Half the desserts in ”Gimme Some Sugar” are from places east of Granville.

Otherwise, though, you're bang on.

Thanks, Gary. Given the price of housing in Vancouver today I'm half expecting to have a free copy dropped off out here on Fraser Street. In time it might happen.

Is Magee the one responsible for the biking improvements? If so, thanks Mike! CBC reported today that active transit through biking is one of the best things to do to keep populations healthy and fit. The top recommendation of the study is to build safer cycling and pedestrian facilities. It will more than pay for itself through saved medical costs. see:

Vanmag would just love Gregor's good looks. They are just catering to Vancouver's west siders who only a couple of years ago thought electing a new age hippie pushing a green agenda was cool and hip. Boy how they got that one wrong.

As for Magee, Bula's article makes him look like a self promoting backroom operative hellbent on making a name for himself. You can bet that once he's out of the mayor's office he'll be back at the consulting business and selling his gregor green credentials.

He makes the mayor look like a mere puppet and a fool. Not a good thing if he wants long term job security in politics. Never show up your boss and make him look like an idiot. Scolding the mayor and admitting it to the media (even if it was vision-friendly Bula) was dumb. What was he thinking?

Odd that the article on Vancouver Magazine's website says "PUBLISHED SEP 1, 2010."

I thought this was a very strange comment from Gregor, as told by Jeff Lee in the Vancouver Sun:

I ran into Robertson this morning at the Grow2010 conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre, and ribbed him about the image. What did it say that his chief of staff is the guy with the power behind the mayor?

Without batting an eye, Robertson quipped: "He can row, but I steer."

"[Magee] quietly figures out when the mayor should avoid reporters with career-ending questions"

LOL - That's all of the time. No wonder Mayor Moonbeam seems to hide in his bunker.

The most heavily protected Vancouver mayor of all time. He proverbially needs his own Secret Service detail to protect him from the media.

Philip Owen? Larry Campbell? Sam Sullivan? Nope. These guys enjoyed speaking freely with the media.

No wonder Mayor Moonbeam is such a dufus! :D

The Meggs, Robertson, MaGee tag team reminds me of another similar trio of recent years: Cheney, Bush & can't remember the backroom puppet-master. There are some definite parallels with the exception, I suppose, since I can't remember #3, he might be having a shelf life in some other movie. Wonder what's next for Mr. MaGee? Which brings up a couple of other questions.

McGee makes Robertson look like a mindless goof. If it were any other politician (one with a spine), he would be handing McGee his walking papers for participating in this puff piece interview.

How must the mayor feel knowing his senior staffer told the media he regularly gets scolded by McGee for stupid behaviour. I'm amazed McGee never told the media he gives Robertson a time out for cussing in public.

If McGee is such a brilliant strategist, why did he not possess the political acumen to see Bula's article would result in his boss looking like a dufus in Vancouver's tony vote rich westside? Isn't it bad enough that everyone is already laughing at the mayor behind his back at the Vancouver Club. Now this article is even more fuel for the fire.

I think McGee should have checked his ego at the door and waited until he was out of office before agreeing to this tell all interview. I guess the allure of seeing his name in lights was just a bit too much to pass up. Hard to tell what really motivated him.

PS ever wonder why we read more about McGee in the media than 3/4 the vision caucus. Hmmmm. Interesting.

What's so odd about the article is that Robertson's advisors are clearly positioning themselves as having far more influence, power and smarts than the Mayor himself. Not exactly the "brilliant strategy" Bula references in her article...

Suzie you hit the nail on the head. Magee is clearly trying to look like he's the guy in charge and making the mayor look like his puppet. What kind of strategy is that? Maggee makes himself look good, while Robertson looks like a joke. You never heard or read about the three previous chiefs of staff for a reason. Staff are there to support the big guy, not upstage him.

I think Mr. Magoo should shun the headlines and getting on top 50 lists and stick to filling potholes and making sure our sewers work. This isn't Washington DC, this is Vancouver. The mayor's staff should keep that in mind when they think their working in the west wing.

Maybe Magee wants the top job in 2011?

You'd have to ask why he'd want to run for office when he can be the mayor now and not have to face the public scrutiny or run for election. But a good theory nonetheless.

The Thought of The Day

" I have something you want, you have something I want - the very Vodka essence of communism."

As far as Vision Vancouver's agenda is concerned, there is only one Commandment for them lot - The Eleventh...'Thou shall not get caught.'

In whatever they are conspiring to do, that is.

Penner, Magee, Solomon, Reiner, Berman, Meggs, Robertson... Hollyhock operatives of the First International degree.

If they don't fashion a Motto yet I'll propose one for the future "RECTUM DEFENDERE"

And Mike, you did an excellent job. EXCELLENTE!

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

Wow, these comments make tea partiers look smart. Vision, communists? Do you really think that? There might be some university somewhere that teaches that but it meets in trailers and isn't accredited.

And the Vision power trust is like Bush, Cheney and I believe you mean Rove? Um, No. Not really. For one, they haven't started a war. And I don't think there's a waterboarding facility in the basement of the Hall.

Look, here's the deal. You old white guys who run the NPA haven't noticed the city's changed. There are more yoga studios than NPA followers. People like bikes - it's the only dammed place in Canada you can ride them more than four months a year. A green city with way less homelessness is a pretty appealing vision - note small letters - to most Vancouverites.

But actually I'm okay with all of this. As a Vision supporter I'd love it if you go off all crankypants about Hollyhock and Joel Solomon and Magee right up to your defeat in November '11.

"old white guys"? We run more than the NPA, kid. Guess who loaned those yoga studios their startup money?

Joel Solomon : old white guy. Jim Green : old white guy. Mike Magee : white guy not getting any younger.

You young pink guys haven't noticed that nothing changes. Money still talks and BS still walks. Believers in "social change" are just a niche market, like cyclists or environmentalists or lesbians. Their "beliefs" don't matter, their buying patterns do.

Now run (or bike) along and save up enough money for a $350,000 shoebox in a high-rise. Get ready for really impressive down-payments and interest rates. Us old white guys will be happy to loan you the money and deposit your mortgage payments when we get back from Bali. That's the nice thing about being old. We have all the money and the young ones do all the work.

So work hard. My pension is generous and indexed. I'll probably need a couple of artificial hips in a couple years and I'm damned if I'm going to pay for it.

Oh, you mistake me Landlord. Can't write much more; have to book my ticket to our winter home down south.

Yo Ian. I'm pushing the 15th anniversary of my 18th b-day. :D

BTW, I love your quote "There are more yoga studios than NPA followers."

Hmmmmm.... ain't that a bit Hollyhockish? :D

I'll up ya one. As previously posted heein, good ol' Harvey Oberfeld, at his "Keeping It Real" blogspot, made this very curious/interesting observation:
"A friend tells me that at his morning coffeeshop discussion recently, three people said they had voted Vision last election, but would not next time around. He made four.

All of them, by the way, live on the city’s East side. Are they just hacks too?:

As a self-pronounced Visionista how do ya square that circle? I'm all ears. ;)

@ Ian. Boy do you need a reality check!

"You old white guys who run the NPA haven't noticed the city's changed."

Sorry Ian [assume by your name you are not only white but of British parentage & old, so....], the NPA Board consists of 14 people, 4 of chinese origin, 1 East Indian, 2 women; I could go on.... I think these colleagues might well take exception to your uninformed opinion.

"People like bikes....."

Well let's see who built the majority of hundreds of kilometers of bike lanes, trails, paths in Vancouver over the past 25 years? Perhaps you are not aware, it was the NPA.

"A green city with way less homelessness is a pretty appealing vision".

Mr. Solomon has said publicly that the reason he selected Vancouver as his guinea pig to start his 500 year plan was because the City was already well on its way to be a green, environmentally responsible city, etc. It didn't get there by accident & Vision wasn't even a gleam in Senator Campbell's eye when much of this was done.

Community gardens, recycling composting garbage were not done by Vision.

Real meaningful progress on the difficult issue of 'Homelessness' was done under the last NPA Council, thank you very much. The significant number of units currently under construction & in process are real progress. The temporary shelters of last winter were Vision's one & only botched attempt in this area. And, Mayor Owen's 4 pillars strategy is still the enlightened benchmark

I would appreciate your rewriting your comment incorporating this accurate information. I look forward to reading it.

"...more yoga studios than NPA followers"? That's a stretch.


That's standard industry talk for the PRINT edition of the magazine. It's like a notice online, and the mag will be distributed fairly close to that date.

Wonder who Ian really is?

"Vision Fluffer"!!!

I love it!

Check out!

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