2010's Top Five political newsmakers for Metro Vancouver

Post by Mike Klassen in

21 comments

olyvillage-ghost-town
A certain "ghost town" loomed large on the political landscape in 2010

Here’s my holiday shopping list of the Top Five stories that defined politics in Metro Vancouver during 2010 in ascending order. This column ran in 24 Hours newspaper last Thursday.

Number Five: Dianne Watts gets T-boned in Surrey after a reception.
Until her car accident, the political trajectory of Surrey’s mayor was all up. Last spring she gave a rousing presentation on her city’s downtown to the Chamber of Commerce, and scored big on the Celebration Site during the 2010 Games. After totaling her Escalade SUV in May, Watts spent weeks recovering and then rejected requests to run for Premier.

Number Four: “Done deals” coming to Vancouver city council.
Recall last August when Mayor Gregor skipped off on summer vacation and “consultations” began on the Hornby Street bike lane trial? Then council approved the project, and work crews began digging up streets mere hours after the vote. Coun. Suzanne Anton withdrew her support for a “kangaroo council” decision.

Number Three: The public turns the 2010 Games into a huge success.
While VANOC and the City of Vancouver did their level best to frighten everyone from venturing downtown, when word got out that there was plenty to do for “free” Vancouver 2010 became “The People’s Games.” Hundreds of thousands poured onto the streets, and with the exception of the anti-Games thugs on day one, everyone had a grand time.

Number Two: Mayor Gregor Robertson’s “F****** NPA Hacks” comment caught on tape.
In the span of two sentences, the arrogance of Vision Vancouver’s style of governance was exposed. The media and the general public realized that Robertson’s boy next-door shtick masked a very antagonistic view toward those who disagree with Vision’s agenda for social change. It effectively ended Gregor’s media honeymoon. (As commenter City Observer states, this remark by Gregor was as a result of his frustration with West End residents who weren't appreciating his brilliant STIR plan to create rental on the backs of local residents seeking new amenities.)

And now, drum roll please for Number One...

Number One: The “ghost town” at the Olympic Village. 
No one topic has resulted in more finger-pointing than the Olympic Village. Vision Vancouver swept into office promising openness and transparency when it came to all transactions around the project.

Then Robertson hired a PR firm to help sell his message around the new financing of the Village, and labeled the whole project a “train wreck”. International media reported his comments, and interest in condo sales went ice cold. Observers estimate that the Mayor’s remark might have cost Vancouver taxpayers up to $200 million!

What should have been the city’s hottest property post-Olympics sat empty because Vision refused to occupy the waterfront subsidized housing units unless they could figure out how to get unionized teachers, firefighters and cops in there first.

The end result is Robertson’s poll numbers have plummeted from nearly 80% approval last winter, to a recent poll showing only 32% of Vancouver voters saying he deserves another term in office.

What a year! But 2011 is when “silly season” begins.

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These are my "top five," but what are yours? Post a comment with what are the topics that stuck with you in 2010.

Runners up for 2010 might be...

  1. The Vision "paid blogger" controversy, where preferred Mayor Robertson publicists FD Element were caught red-handed with invoices which showed that they were paying both the blogger and the bills for the blog while taking healthy contracts for a $27,500 "About" page for Mayor Gregor.
  2. Vancouver staff morale goes into the dumper. Our breaking news story on the staff survey which showed a high level of unhappiness within the exempt staff working for the City of Vancouver. A subsequent city-wide staff survey also showed deep dissatisfaction among workers.
  3. Questions about Vision Vancouver's political campaign funding. Researcher Vivian Krause focuses on the "mother ship" of all left wing activist cash in B.C. Tides Canada, then looks at how consultants working for the charity are in turn rolling large donations into Vision Vancouver. All questions by Krause to Joel Solomon, Gregor Robertson and Martha Burton are rebuffed, and Tides lawyers start threatening legal action. Vivian goes to Ottawa to tell the story to a Parliamentary Committee and the story about this money trail goes coast to coast in a National Post cover story.
  4. Vancouver's new "gag law" strangles transparency at Vancouver City Hall. Respected lawyer in charge of Freedom of Information Paul Hancock quits, and all requests for information are now channeled through PR flacks.
  5. Plummeting budgets for Parks and more flip flops from Vision's Park Board. The dollars kept going down, with even bathrooms looking to be shut over winter in our parks. In a last minute play Aaron "flip flop" Jasper convinces city council to keep the toilets running all winter long.
  6. Vancouver school board sham closure process scares the bejeezuz out of eastside parents. The Vision/COPE school board never, ever planned to close a single school under their watch, but they were prepared to work with the NDP to cause fear and rally anger among parents and children. In the end they killed any idea on dealing with the issue of their surplus of student seats until after the 2012 election, when a majority NPA board will have to make the decision instead.
  7. Gregor Robertson's collapsing poll numbers. Last spring former Vancouver Sun columnist cum lobbyist Miro Cernetig released numbers from Strategic Communications, a "partner" of Renewal Partners, the Mayor's biggest campaign donor, which showed that Gregor was tracking at 78% support in the city. Then a pair of follow-up polls showed Robertson dropping to 49% (August) and 43% (November), with only 32% of respondents in the most recent poll saying that Robertson's team deserved a second term in office. When put up against a theoretical opponent – NPA's Coun. Anton – Vision & the NPA were in a statistical dead heat.
  8. Vision Vancouver's reputed media "hit list." It was all a good laugh and it caused no end of panic in newsrooms as to its veracity, but in the end a real "printed" list was probably bullsh*t. As to whether disliked me (#1) or several other media was not in question though.
  9. HST protests come to City Hall. In a slap against the Provincial government, Vision unanimously supported a COPE motion to install a political anti-HST petition station in City Hall.
  10. The "costs" of being green. Gregor Robertson's $10,000 trip to New York was supposedly going to benefit Vancouver with prospects for "green" business, but instead Mayor Gregor met with a bunch of his money connections at the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, the Natural Resources Defense Committee, as well as a taxpayer funded dinner where his chief of staff refused to say who dined with them. Then we found out through FOI that a website and ad campaign geared toward Gregor's "greenest city" campaign cost $60,000, with much more money spent on the campaign since. Being green don't come cheap.

Well, there certainly is a lot to discuss. Which issues stick out for you?

- post by Mike

21 Comments

Nice round-up, Michael.

I think I'd add the West End STIR fiasco to Vision Vancouver's anti-democratic, "we don't listen to the public, we know what's best for you" political orientation ... when the West End Residents' Association (a Vision Vancouver front that 'like totally supported' STIR) found its sham association derailed by the folks at the West End Neighbours, all of which acitivity led to the outrageous attack by Gregor Robertson on the democratic process, referred to in Number 4 of VV's 'claim to shame' listed above.

Thank you to you and Daniel for your continued good work.

My biggest disappointments with this Council...

The City's Community Vision Plans: We all worked so hard from the late nineties until our Vision Plan was approved by Council in 2005. At first, our Community Committee (ARKS) met with Planners once a month and spent countless hours working out the issues in our community. Then the funding was cut, and the Planner could not join us, for budget reasons, and the spot-rezoning under the label of "Ecodensity" escalated - not just in our neighbourhood but all around the City: West End, Marpole, Norquay, Dunbar, Shaughnessy, Arbutus Ridge, Kerrisdale, Downtown East End, Hastings-Sunrise - just to name a few unhappy neighbourhoods. We line up for hours to have our 5 minutes before Council - but they have their minds made up! Except for the Cope Councillors, the rest side with Planning (often subsidized by the developer).

Although Gregor's F@#$ing NPA hacks comments get most of the attention, the captured comments of the other Vision councillors are even worse in my opinion. Tim Stevenson's venomous contempt for "owners" lays bare the tired old NDP-class warfare ideology underlying much of Vision. Seriously Tim, if you're not an "owner" at your age, you've done something wrong. And the there's the equally contemptuous "democracy cubed" comment, which no female Vision councillor will fess up to. It speaks volumes about Visions' disdain for the views of the electorate.

Mike, Daniel, you missed the most important "political newsmaker" for 2010 -- City Caucus and the other political / civic blogs.

You and your colleagues are changing the political dynamic in Metro Vancouver. You are offering a different range of information and commentary and getting into greater depth, especially with respect to enabling a multi-way dialogue. You are not just presenting the story, you are the story in that context. I, and I'm sure others, look forward to your continued committed and talented efforts.

Positive

1. The wonderful Olympics, made a convert of a cynic. Thanks to all involved and to all the people of Vancouver who contributed so much.

2. Finally some real attempts to make Vancouver a more human city with some safety for cyclists and pedestrians. Cars have gotten the bulk of government subsidies for too many decades at a high cost in life and health.

3. A much more open process at City Hall where social media are used to reach out to an engage people. I am not connected politically and rely on social mesia. Vision is doing a great job in this area. I hear there may even be an unConference next year. Fantastic.

4. Transition at the provincial level with new leadership for both parties to emerge next year - what can I say, I am an optimist. Wish this would happen federally too.

Negative

1. No discussion of the Edgewater Casino, which looks like a major scandal in the making.

2. The conversation on climate change degraded to partisan nonsense on both sides.

3. Discussions of Vancouver politics seem to be slumping into mean-spirited sniping with no discussion of what the real issues are or what alternatives exist. Hopefully this will improve in 2011 as the NPA comes up with a canddidate and a platform.

4. The Vancouver investment system (angels, VCs, other private equity, etc.) is struggling and new models and players are needed to help drive innovation.

I agree with Bill on this, the emergence of blogs and other social media as a key part of the Vancouver polity is a wonderful thing. This blog, Vancouver Observer, The Tyee, Policy Note ... there is a lot happening and it will change the political dynamic.

The risk is that people only read what they agree with and don't make the effort to seek out information from multiple perspectives. None of us has a monopoly on the truth and the best policy is not obvious.

I enjoy City Caucus though I dislike its narrow mindedness and wilfull blindness on some issues (like the Casino). I learn a lot here.

More negatives ---

Two key issues for the next election need to be homelessness and affordable housing. I have not seem any convincing thoughts from either side of the debate on how to address these issues. This will play a big part in my own decision on who to vote for.

In regards to afforable housing, like most people lucky enough to own a house in Vancouver I am pretty happy about the way this asset has appreciated. I would not be happy if it dropped by say, 50%, though in the overall scheme of things that might make sense. But as an investor in start-ups the high cost of housing makes it difficult to get talent to relocate to Vancouver. And as a parent of three adult children, I am concerned as to how they will be able to afford housing in my neighbourhood (I would like to be near my grandshildren).

All three of my kids use transit or their bicylces to get to work, and the Hornby bike lane appears to make their commutes safer. I am deeply tahnkful for that.

Steven, I don't disagree with your list. They are good contributions, although I've yet to see how the City's adoption of social media has truly made things more "open" than just provided another vehicle to spin the message.

At this stage I'm not convinced that the BC Place casino constitutes anything in the way of a "scandal" other than in the eyes of a few who want to make it into an overblown political issue. There are concerns about how it will impact amenity funding in the neighbourhood, and we're watching that issue. While it might be great if we didn't have legalized gambling at all, the fact is our whole region is surrounded by casino's that are draining money and resources away from Vancouver. It will be an interesting debate and we'll have more time to look at this in the New Year.

Thanks, Bill, for your kind words. It's not for us to say, but we'll leave it to the MSM to comment on whether their own adoption of social media (blogs, Twitter, etc.) and the relationships they keep with blogs like ours constitutes a "top" story for the year. Given that The Social Network is looking like a lock for the Oscar's Best Picture next year, perhaps we can admit these tools are having a big influence.

Certainly news operations like News 1130, GlobalTV and the Vancouver Sun & The Province are all stepping up and using social media in a substantial way that they were not a year ago.

Thanks Mike

You know more about this than I do so I will follow your lead on this. I would like to see government out of business, especially out of any business that is not core infrastructure. Alcohol distribution and gambling are obvious candidates. But as you say, these are not municipal issues. If we have to have a casino (and I doubt there is any compelling economic arguement) then it should not be on prime real estate.

I am confident that the independent blogs of all stripes will continue to outperform the mainstream media in 2011, at least at the municipal level.

@Steven:

The Edgewater Casino already exists - it is just a change in venue and yes, an expansion of its operations.

But, we already have casinos operating in various forms through out the Lower Mainland.

I was at my parents this past weekend and my little mother mentioned Maple Ridge is getting a new casino.

Government, regardless of whether it is municipal or provincial looks at the overall revenue they produce.

Even the NDP has done a turn about on their stance against the BCLC's on-line gaming - as they see the monies that can be put to support various social programs.

Personally, I could care less if we have a casino or not. It comes down to personal responsibility and personal choice as to whether you gamble or not.

It is not the 'government's' job to govern or monitori our personal choices - especially if we have a legal right to those choices.

"8. Vision Vancouver's reputed media "hit list." It was all a good laugh and it caused no end of panic in newsrooms as to its veracity, but in the end a real "printed" list was bullsh*t. As to whether disliked me (#1) or several other media was not in question though."

The only good laugh is you, Mike. One of your 24 hours colleagues, Bob Mackin, PERSONALLY SPOKE to the source of the 'hit list" and independently verified the veracity of the story. He did two columns confirming same until Mike Magee intimidated your former editor Dean Broughton on this same matter into withdrawing one column.

You then made two phone calls to me, which I should release, when you were plaintive of the manner with which Broughton handled this affair.

After the interview I did with the source, wherein he committed to future releases and proved the story was real, you called me to congratulate me on the story and how (and again, let me quote your words verbatim): "This is gold! Those fuckers are so low that I can't believe how they could do this. And now you've got the guy on tape, oh this is gold, great stuff..."

Maybe I should release that too.

On another note, how are those cheques coming from the BC Liberals for a little PR bump here and there? It stopped you from writing on provincial matters at the paper, but then again, this isn't the first time you've managed to prove the other side of Ross.

Once paid, you'll say anything.

But to discredit a colleague, just so you can take a shot at me, is typical of the whoring I expect from your dwindling universe of Suzanne sycophants and Sam suckers.

Doing all this out of your garage hey Mike? Sure thing.

More like from a lamp post on the low tracks...

Ouch! To think it was Christmas just a couple of days ago. Sounds like someone got a bunch of coal in his stocking. What an angry man you are Alex.

PS Taping conversations with acquaintances then threatening to release the tapes. Are you for real? Do you let everyone know you tape all your conversations?

wow... waaaaay over the line Alex. Just confirms that no matter how good the scoop, I am not prepared to waste my time sifting through your snipes and anger.

Julia you took the words out of my mouth. I used to be a regular reader, but stopped a while ago. Now I remember why.

To Jim, Julia and Trent
re. Alex G Tsakumis comment.

Guys, what a bunch of pussies you all are! When you have a mayor whose ' fucking NPA hacks' was all over the place not long ago, when you have 'American' financiers laundering monies through registered charities so they could get their 'people' elected and then take over key positions inside City Hall...something is not right.
And you pick on Alex's language? You're a laugh, that' what you are.

Ike,
I agree, this article and response had me confused.
After researching the archives I must admit AGT might have every reason to be upset...
It does appear that there is now a different view of events since September when this original post came out.
I'm still confused about why this story seems to have shifted in importance by CC, but I can certainly understand the response.
As for the recording issue, wouldn't that be a normal occurrence for reporters to avoid a situation of defamation/or memory lapse, especially in a story as sensitive as this one was?

I categorically hate the bravado and the holier than thou posture - regardless of the author, issue, or outcome.

You guys should settle this with a bmx bike race across the Burrard bridge.

Should probably discuss the casino on a different thread, so I hope CC will take this up in the new year.

Briefly, I have no problem with casinos, etc. I don't think the government should be in the business though. If they want the revenues, then tax them.

The problem with Edgewater is the planning process that ends up dumping a casino on this land. Why is this a good use for waterfront property on False Creek? How did this decision get made?

That the BC NDP and BC Liberals support something is hardly a ringing endorsement. I would also like to see an Alberta-style reform on the distribution and retail of alchohol. The government's role in gambiling, alchool, etc. is value destroying for BC.

But not a municipal issue.

I echo the opinion of Doreen regarding the council throwing community visions out the window all over the city.
In our area near the King Edward station most residents feel that we have spoken loud and clear against the new Cambie corridor plan and are not being heard. There is a guise of
consultation but only lip service is being paid to the input of residents.
This proposal by Vancouver City Planners to take 4 prime blocks along King Edward and give it to developers, would wipe out years of community planning.

Eight, six and four story buildings built between the 300 and 600 blocks of King Ed. makes a mockery of the Official Community Plan that was developed over the past five years for Riley Park / South Cambie (RPSC Community Vision) that very clearly DID NOT support 4-8 story buildings. This plan also goes against many of
the Cambie Corridor ‘Planning Principles’ adopted by city council on Jan 22, 2010. One key principle is the use of sensitive transitions to existing residential neighbourhoods. Clearly, backing 4-8 story buildings up against 1-2 story houses DOES NOT fit with these principles.

It is an absolute betrayal by Brent Toderian and the City Planning Department, who are given their marching orders by city council. It minimizes the concept of community involvement in creating official community plans. This plan is a bad idea that hasn’t looked at, or has ignored, many other good alternatives to achieve increased density that fits the character of this area. Other areas have achieved increased density and still kept their neighbourhood feel. This kind of “spot zoning” is
an assault on our neighbourhood that will primarily benefit the developer
friends of the Vision dominated city council. It has very little to do with
"eco-density" or supporting ridership on the Canada Line.

Area residents are calling for a more comprehensive and integrated plan that
spreads out the density within the entire 500 meter “walking zone” around the station instead of targeting just a few prime blocks. If they truly want to be "green" and not just help the big developers, THIS is what is needed.

Most of my neighbours and I are not against an increase in density, just
against Mid-rise forms that don’t fit with the existing neighbourhood, don’t
respect the current residents and don’t achieve the more sociable, neighbourly, "complete community" goals the city says it is trying to accomplish. Some increase in density should and will happen along the corridor but it doesn’t have to happen overnight, it must happen more organically when it is truly needed. With 500 unsold condos in the Olympic Village not exactly flying off the shelf what is the rush to push through a new land use policy for every inch of the Cambie corridor. The council should go back to the RPSC Community Vision and implement the new housing forms that were approved by this process (and possibly revisit the “almost approved” forms) before “short-cutting” past proper public consultation and forcing 4-8 story apartment buildings on King Edward Avenue.

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