It’s been another bizarre week at Vancouver Silly Hall. After days of denying leaked reports from a secret backroom meeting held to map out the future of the Olympic Village, Mayor Gregor Robertson emerged from the smoke to declare he’s found fire. Standing in front of four nicely pressed City of Vancouver flags and sporting his most recent Alfred Sung designer glasses, his Worship did everything possible to save what remains of his crumbling credibility as a sound fiscal manager.
As I wrote about last week, watching council bumble around after news broke regarding a story of their secret backroom meeting on the Village development was both amusing and sad. Clearly the Mayor and City Manager Penny Ballem were hoping they could keep everything regarding the deteriorating financial situation of the Village behind closed doors and under wraps. I have no doubt several more in-camera meetings were being scheduled to map out a clean, politically tidy conclusion to what is rapidly becoming a mess of Olympic proportions. Unfortunately, the revelations got in the way of the Robertson’s plans.
Despite the Mayor’s campaign promise to bring decisions regarding the Village into the public domain, it is now clear he has broken that commitment. Within a week of the first story leaking out on GlobalTV, and the subsequent denials to the media that anything was wrong, we now learn the Mayor has moved this Village project to DEFCON 4. Mr. Mayor, at what point were you going to let us all in on your little secret? I’ve been told their original plan was to let this all pan out, sole-source another purchaser, then announce everything as having been “saved” once again in early 2011.
The Mayor’s tough talk (see The Province front page today) or his blathering on about openness and transparency makes him look rather silly and out-of-touch. He may have gotten away with this if he were the one actually breaking the news to the public, but he’s not. Rather, it was the timely leak of information regarding his four-part in-camera motion which forced him to act. So please Mr. Mayor, enough already of the “I want all the money back or else” threats. Or the “I’m letting you know all this because of my government’s commitment to openness.” That time has passed and the cheesy theatrics will end up getting you nowhere politically.
It didn’t take me long to go back into the media archives of the last week to find dozens of contradictory statements emanating from City Hall. Once the secret backroom meeting information had leaked out, City Manager Penny Ballem denied anything was wrong and she even told some media the developer was not in default. Mayor Robertson chimed in and said all was okay and we needed to take things slow and not make any rash decisions. After barely acknowledging a meeting took place, Vision’s Geoff Meggs said its purpose was to simply to “confirm” the City Manager’s authority. Meanwhile, Councillor Jang told the Sun that all was happy in Olympicville. It’s amazing how a week in politics, and a bit of time to regroup can have an effect on your perspective.
Media reports now indicate the Mayor believes we need to move quickly and decisively to sell these luxury condos. City Manager Penny Ballem then provided another one of her trademark "P3" Penny PowerPoint Presentations (detailed staff reports are so yesterday) whereby she declared her outrage that the developer was in default effective August 31st. Huh? Did anyone in the mainstream media actually ask either one of them about their apparent about face? Did they ask why they can speak now, but couldn’t right after the in-camera information had been leaked to the media?
I suspect the only thing that changed was the Mayor’s dark suit and the fact they had a few days to plan a news conference and create key talking points. You see, their whole backroom plan has been derailed, and yesterday’s news conference was all about righting the ship. Nothing more, nothing less.
As for the news conference itself, I have it under good authority that the press conference goals were:
- Look in control.
- Whip the developer and make them look like the bad guys as a means of deflecting attention away from the fact council is holding backroom meetings regarding the project.
- Put so much information into the news conference that it becomes hard for any one issue to stick. Hence the confirmation regarding the “default” mixed in with the fact the City is going it alone regarding the empty 252 units of social housing.
Anticipate Meggs and company to be out in full force laughably arguing they have been open and transparent regarding this project, and their news conference proves it. Once again we ask, where is the Mayor and why has he gone into hiding while letting Penny Ballem and Geoff Meggs do interviews?
The Mayor may have been able to charm his way out of a single news conference yesterday, but when the dust settles, there will be a lot of tough questions being asked. The first one is why did it take the leak of in-camera information to force the Mayor and his cronies to come clean on the deteriorating state of finances for the Olympic Village? We’re all waiting for that answer.
This Village development and the politicians that touch it appear cursed. It’s already served to wipe out two civic administrations and by all accounts, a third is in its sights.
On a side note, I had a chance to see the NPA's lone opposition councillor on GlobalTV last night in response to this fiasco. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Suzanne, you have to realize you are no longer in government any longer. It's time you hold this government to account, or someone else will decide to do it for you.
For further background on the facts of how we got into this mess, read our previous feature reports on the history of the Olympic Village:
- Which way out of the Vancouver Olympic Village mess?
- Olympic Village decisions defined political differences
- post by Daniel