Robertson's spinmeisters make valiant attempts to portray him as a fiscal conservative
A lot has been written in the mainstream media over the last two years regarding how "the previous city council" supposedly left the problem of the Olympic Village for Vision Vancouver to fix. When it was recently revealed that Robertson was holding backroom meetings regarding the Village, several MSM columnists commented how Mayor Gregor Robertson was “handed a tough hand” when he took office in 2008. Just how accurate are those claims which have now become part of the Olympic Village narrative?
CityCaucus.com has requested through freedom of information a copy of a letter sent to Vancouver city council by then MLA Gregor Robertson in January 2006 whereby the NDP MLA urges council not to make any cuts to the project. More about the letter in a moment.
There are several things that seem more than a tad disingenuous with the current characterization that the Olympic Village problem was "handed" to Vision. Firstly, as we’ve already written about, it was the previous COPE/Vision administration that set the current costly form of development in place during their 2002-2005 administration. Like it or not, it was Mayor Larry Campbell’s Vision/COPE government that was prepared to roll the dice with the incredibly high green standards some Olympic Village residents are now openly complaining about. Come hell or high water, this was going to be Vision’s social and environmental showcase.
Secondly, with only rare exceptions during Sullivan’s administration, Vision’s elected caucus raised their hands in support of every major decision regarding the Village. In fact, it’s a matter of public record that if they had their way, tens of millions more of public amenities would have been piled on to this already costly development. Not even Vision will deny that when the NPA tried to trim costs for this ballooning project, they opposed it all the way.
But the most important fact the MSM have missed is the fact that back in December 2005, MLA Gregor Robertson lobbied council hard to support policies which would have made the project even less financially stable. The letter Gregor Robertson submitted to the NPA majority council shows Robertson pleading with them not to cut $50 million dollar worth of costs related to the Olympic Village. That’s right, the Mayor who has been positioned by his spin doctors as a sound fiscal manager, was actually asking for more costs to be piled on to the Olympic Village project. A fact that has yet to be reported in the MSM.
Faced with significant public amenity creep, one of the first decision’s of Sullivan’s NPA administration was to demand financial stability for the Olympic Village project. The former Mayor requested City staff look at cutting up to $50 million dollars from the project through reduced public amenities. The previous Vision administration had been planning to raid the City’s Property Endowment Fund and turn this billion dollar project into 66% non-market housing. This was a policy Sullivan vehemently campaigned against and he moved quickly to act on this once he became Mayor. Given the tight timelines surrounding the 2010 Games, every week counted.
A number of community activists stormed council and opposed such a move. Critics said no matter what the cost, the project should move ahead as previously promised by the Vision administration. Cheering them on behind the scenes was then MLA Gregor Robertson. His letter to council was very clear regarding why cutting $50M out of the project was unacceptable to him:
I fully respect the Mayor and Council’s commitment to fiscal responsibility with regard to the Property Endowment Fund. At the same time, the Fund should be prudently invested in assets that return maximum value to the people of Vancouver. The question then is about value. As a government of the people, value must ultimately be measured by quality of life.
Robertson goes on to say:
Ultimately the people’s assets must benefit the people and not be managed solely for a single bottom line of monetary appreciation.
Despite the fact when Robertson became Mayor he eventually cut the City’s commitment to social and affordable housing at the Olympic Village, here is what he told council back in December '05:
I hear concerns every day about homelessness and the lack of housing options from my constituents. I am very concerned that a shift to dramatically reduce the non-market and affordable housing in SEFC will be yet another lost opportunity to address the growing crisis in our city.
A recent statement from housing advocates indicates that they are prepared to take action against Robertson’s broken promises when it comes to social housing at the Olympic Village. They are currently planning to set up a tent city there in February 2011. I’m sure they will be trotting out Robertson’s letter to council as proof that he broke his word regarding a major commitment to affordable and social housing.
In closing, Robertson looked into his “fiscal” ball and predicted what he thought would be the future of the Olympic Village:
Fifteen years is a big chunk of time and predicting markets is difficult. It could well be that surpluses flow from the project over the years to come, and if so the quality of life and affordable housing investments should be prioritized. I encourage you to leave these options from the extensive planning and public process open.
So as you can see, when afforded the opportunity to reduce costs and trim the amount of costly amenities being ploughed into this project, Robertson and Vision said no. So the next time you read about how Robertson was “handed a bad hand”, be sure to go back and actually read what he was lobbying council for when he was the MLA for Vancouver Fairview. It may well change your perspective.
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