An unhappy public service won't help Vision in 2011

Post by Mike Klassen in


City staff's choice: the blue pill or the red pill?

I've asked myself several times, if Vision Vancouver were methodically dismantling that which makes our City's public service great, would the voters care? Does the broader public even appreciate that it has been our system of governance coupled with the traditional non-partisan public service which supports it which has made Vancouver one of the world's most successful juridictions?

We've heard through other City Hall reporters that Penny Ballem considers that the real struggle within City Hall is resistance to "change". Those I speak to, however, disagree with the City Manager's conclusion that City staff are either: 1) not nimble enough to work differently, or 2) beholden to their past political masters, or 3) simply too lazy or stubborn to adapt to new challenges. Great city-making simply doesn't happen if you have that much deadwood in your ranks.

Statements from pro-Vision blog commenters – such as on this post on Frances Bula's blog – saying "the party's over" for non-complying bureaucrats only pours salt in the wounds during these challenging times. It wasn't hard to predict that there would be friction between Vancouver's rank and file public servants when the top bureaucrat's public comment on their concerns is, "Tough, eh."

If I was a City Hall staffer I think my choice would be simple: do I take the blue pill, or the red pill? Those who know the analogy from the sci-fi classic The Matrix understand that the blue pill stood for acceptance and submission. The red pill symbolized doubt and questioning. Either path has its risks and benefits, and it would be a very difficult choice indeed.

The atmosphere within the public service caused by Vision Vancouver and their hand-picked city manager is having long-term consequences that some think it will be hard for the City to recover from. For example, to work in upper management at the City of Vancouver was once considered the culmination of your professional public service career. Now we hear that headhunters struggle to find the best candidates who actually want one of Vancouver's top jobs.

Naturally, others think it's just a-okay. Commentators such as Allen Garr approve of Vision's reshaping of the public service in their own image.

There was a time when staff felt comfortable enough to challenge council's direction, but no longer. It's said that a decision like the Hornby separated bike lane would have never come about the way it has if not for the Mayor's decree overpowering staff's professional advice.

The environment is reportedly so toxic now at Vancouver city hall that Ballem has contracted its first-ever "change manager" to, as Bula writes:

[make] less-visible but significant changes internally to create an organization more like a provincial ministry – attentive to what the political leaders want, centralized and more top down, quick to react and focused on efficient communication

[and Ballem] has frequently reminded staff that it’s their job as civil servants to carry out the agenda of their political bosses

It was the internal memo leaked to that brought this discussion out into the open, and by doing so it created front page news. The survey of hundreds of City staff was a very representative sampling of the discontent we continually hear about from both non-union and unionized staff. Bringing in an outside consultant – the blue pill, as it were – to cajole those who are uneasy with Dr. Ballem's prescription for change, may or may not address the scale of the matter.

Other than the best and brightest taking a pass at the chance to work for Vancouver, what are the other possible consequences of making civil servants choose politics over policy? Certainly, those who are politically connected to the party in power will eventually get the most favours – quicker response from staff on permits over competitors, and other obvious favortism. Developers, noting the new groundrules, will likely respond by one-upping each other for the biggest political donations.

Could this could become an issue in the 2011 election? It's said that Vancouver's civil service, thanks to its sheer size compared to how many actually vote, has considerable influence on the outcomes of elections. So could promising to restore the independence of the traditional non-partisan public service be a winning election strategy for the NPA? Could making a shambles of staff morale wreak havoc on Vision's re-election chances?

We've heard the NPA's Coun. Anton raise concerns about politicization of City staff, and we've even heard that veteran COPE politico Tim Louis is getting support for his party from unhappy staff. It will be very interesting to see if this issue resonates with the broader voting public to the advantage of Vision's opponents.

- post by Mike


"It's said that a decision like the Hornby separated bike lane would have never come about the way it has if not for the Mayor's decree overpowering staff's professional advice."

I'd like to know more about the underpinnings of this statement. Is there any evidence that staff recommended against the Hornby separated bike lane or the process? What was their professional advice in this regard?

I remember working for a company that hired a 'change management' consultant. The CEO was busy replacing long term committed management personnel with his cronies including his mistress being promoted from sales rep to Senior VP International. The change manager interviewed the employees and seemed concerned about pulling together a comprehensive and effective report. In the end that report was used to fire anyone who spoke up including some very high ranking VP's.
Now Comrade Penny has hired the same service for City Hall and I have to ask if this isn't really just a way to use taxpayer money to root out and constructively dismiss employees who don't support Vision's antics - oh sorry I mean Vision's 'policies' I always get those two confused.

And a new poll result is out - in a blind taste test the majority of Vancouver residents prefer Vision over Dictatorship or found no difference.

It will be interesting to see how hard the Vancouver tax-payers get hit in the 2011 CUPE contract negotiations.

I means o far - we've have had the bribery of subsidized housing at the Olympic Village under the guise of 'what if there was a 'catastrophe'.

What will it be next?

are those contracts due to come up before of after the election in 2011?


I believe it is before.

Summer 2011.

The bike lane changes are undoubtedly being driven by staff who have finally had the good fortune to have a council that acts as cheerleaders rather than buffers/evaluators of their long cherished advances against the hated automobile.
Just check Jerry Dobrovolny's analysis of how cyclists are subsidizing motorists for the costs of Vancouver streets!!! (Vancouver Sun, Sat Sept 25, 2010 p.D1)
(I'm saving my rebuttal of his ludicrous logic for the next transportation meeting).


You're suggesting the exact opposite of what Mike's column intimates to be the truth. Which one of you is wrong?

Everyone knows Jerry has no option but to become a cheerleader for this stuff. Anything less and he will face the wrath of Ballem. That's why we now all produce reports the elected officials want to hear, not what they should hear. In many ways it has simplified our lives. We no longer have to search far and wide for best practices. It's now as simple as asking "what does Magee want us to say". No fuss no muss.

I understand the intent of this blog is to get the NPA back to power asap. I now understand that your attempts to rankle the some of us proponents of change at City Hall is an attempt to drive a wedge into the workforce. It is all about politicing and you now realize you need a split workforce to have success. Create workforce chaos and hopefully we will not organize as we did in the last election.
Some of us have had decades of NPA rule and to claim that the workforce was not policital is a lie. Vancouver was renowned to have the worst management style in the region, in all industries. Why would we want to go back to that?
I am going to take Garr's advice. Adios

how many here are posting under someone else's Handle?

Politically correct......look at the citys posters for the hay report, peter judds meeting with only women staffers @ manitoba yard...should we go on....the feeble atempt @ peter trying to copy the tv reality show "the boss". Stop insulting us working along side of us for 1 hour and knowing what we do............ if the vast majority of upper management were to be working out in the real world you would all be fired

He may be correct generally and I specifically.

@CHI, I think your statements are probably *more* political than ours. First of all, yours is a minority view that comes across as vengeful. Clearly you have a problem with how Vancouver's public service works, and you think you know what's best for the rest of us.

Vancouver City Hall was consistently regarded as one of Canada's best workplaces. Judy Rogers may have not been perfect, but she had a reputation for hiring the best and the brightest. The same cannot be said of this administration, who have gutted the ranks of senior management.

The lack of any real leadership at Vancouver City Hall is a big problem. The paranoia we're hearing about in the ranks is troubling. The fact is that this administration – with its figurehead mayor, its bullying social agenda, and its lack of trust of internal advice – was not elected to gut Vancouver's public service. It's time that the public understands this is what is happening and what the real consequences for them will be in the long term.

Don't look at me.

Check out!

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