Bula: "This is unprecedented and a sad day for everyone who covers the hall"

Post by Mike Klassen in


frances bula
Globe & Mail reporter Frances Bula is a veteran City Hall reporter

Frances Bula would appear to have had enough of Vision's controlling system of spin control. In an almost Bill Bennett-esque blasting of Vancouver City Hall, our fellow civic affairs blogger and Globe & Mail journalist calls out the new policy of controlling every syllable coming out of 12th & Cambie in her latest post. Titled "New Vancouver city hall rule: Staff should be seen but not heard" Frances describes what is happening as a "sad day" for coverage of the affairs in our city.

This is unprecedented and a sad day for everyone who covers the hall. I’m also not totally surprised at this rather blunt statement. I’ve noticed over the past while that staff sound more nervous and cautious when I call to have them explain something to me. I’ve heard through various channels that staff have been told bluntly not to say anything about particular high-profile issues, like the casino.

Bula describes how FOI is turning into a snarled mess with the departure of Paul Hancock. She also explains that it is the influence of certain civic affairs blogs that have stirred up the culture of extreme secrecy:

I can understand the Vision team wanting to figure out new ways to deal with messaging. They’ve facing a new, energetic and unusual kind of opposition in Citycaucus.com, two former staffers in Sam Sullivan’s office who have used their insider knowledge of city hall to get information, through FOI and other means.

But in their struggle for control, they’ve gone too far. In the past, it’s been accepted practice that reporters wait until city reporters are posted online before calling councillors (even if we knew about them in advance), to give councillors a chance to read them before getting calls.

We often recommend stories by other media, and have done in the past with Frances. But this is a really good post by her, and we heartily recommend it to our readers.

As for the promise of increased openness & transparency at Vancouver City Hall by Gregor Robertson, I guess we can finally put that notion to bed now, eh?

UPDATE: Jeff Lee of the Vancouver Sun also weighs in on this new paradign of silence at City Hall. Kudos to Jeff, Frances and others such as 24 Hours' Bob Mackin who have kicked up a fuss about the increasingly opaque and closed way of doing business at the City of Vancouver.

- post by Mike


But I thought she was just a vision hack spinning anything she can to support vision?

boohoo. Vision will back off this positin very quickly. They can't afford to have Bula offside. Not good for future election chances.

That said, her post comes as a big shock. But it got a collective cheer at 12th and Cambie from all of us staff. Way to go Frances!

Frances, welcome to the new world of Ballem's nano-management style. City staff have been living with this for almost two years, and its why so many of us have bailed.

Ballem and Robertson have lost control of the agenda, and this is their response.

Really now. Is citycaucus that powerful that it deserves this kind of blunt response? I somehow think the citycaucus boys will be getting even more brown envelopes now. So conditions are only bound to disintegrate for Vision.

Yeah right after bulls***ting around the fences for more than two years she 'disapproves' of what her team does. Nice try!

Complete agreement.

Mike, I cannot agree with Francis that this draconian measure is deemed necessary by the Vision Council because "She also explains that it is the influence of certain civic affairs blogs that have stirred up the culture of extreme secrecy". While you lot have had a role in disseminating and fomenting, IMHO that is not the primary cause of this fiasco. Here is my comment as posted on Francis' blog:

"You’ve struck the key chord Mary with “the politicization of the reports and recommendations themselves”. The reason that the Vision Council and political staff need to instigate these draconian 1984 measures is precisely because of the disconnect which is occurring when professional and technical staff reports are massaged by the political staff under the direction of the Vision Council. By the time these reports are rewritten to reflect the particular Vision philosophical perspective or objective, the staff background work becomes disconnected with the published report. So, it’s not surprising there are also disconnects when staff and Councillors talk to the media.

Practices such as these are necessary in a totalitarian state, they are foreign to a democracy."

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