Ballem will be backing Vision during election period

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


During election time a partisan public service will watch Vision's back

As we quickly barrel toward the November civic election in Vancouver, the various political parties are busily preparing their election machinery for the road ahead. The NPA has announced it will be holding its nominations in June to elect a full slate of candidates. Over at Vision, they’ve declared the Mayor won’t have to face any challengers while his caucus colleagues are selling memberships in earnest in order to hold onto their jobs. And yet again the hapless COPE party won’t nominate a mayoral candidate, but it will choose a few sacrificial lambs to run for council, school and park board.

With a fixed election date, everyone pretty much knows what to expect in the months to come. Or do they?

To this point, the “non-partisan” public service at Vancouver City Hall has understood and respected the need to stay out of the politicking during the silly season. Similar to their provincial and federal counterparts, the civil servants traditionally kept their heads down when the politicians began the campaigning. However, in Vancouver’s newly politicized civil service, I don’t believe the 2011 election will be business as usual.

In fact, I think we're about to see Vancouver's first taxpayer funded civic election campaign.

It’s almost universally accepted by now that Vancouver has developed one of the most partisan senior management teams anywhere in Canada. Led by City Manager Penny Ballem, key people within the senior ranks are regularly reminded who their political masters are at City Hall. Vision’s scorched earth approach to human resources has resulted in many senior managers feeling that they owe their jobs directly to Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Chief of Staff Mike Magee.

It’s an unprecedented level of party loyalty that is sure to have an impact on the upcoming election.

I fully anticipate that rather than fading into the woodwork during the civic election, Penny Ballem will be steering the activities surrounding city business as it affects Vision's election chances, right up to E-Day. Short of "hands on" work as a scrutineer or working in Vision's phone banks, this City Manager will be intricately linked to the Vision war room. All the while, she’ll continue her practice of communicating “offline” with the Mayor’s political staff to ensure they are no permanent records of the dialogue.

Ballem is no political neophyte. She knows if there is a regime change, her days as a generously compensated City Manager are numbered. That’s why it’s not a stretch to suggest that she and her management team will throw everything but the kitchen sink at the NPA to ensure Vision has the best chance of getting re-elected.

Furthermore, our sources within City Hall are telling us that Ballem is already mapping out which “good news” announcements they can release in time for this fall. Lots of bulletins regarding social housing sites, food carts, cutting red tape, pedestrian task forces are all being worked on as we speak.

In my opinion, Ballem has been Vancouver's most politically partisan City Manager in living memory. Perhaps it was the manner in which she was hired back in 2008 – she was "hand-picked" by Gregor and Magee – but Ballem has a loyalty to Robertson and the Vision party that few civil servants would allow themselves to display.

We’ll have to contrast what we're seeing at Vancouver City Hall with how the provincial and federal public service typically conducts itself within the context of an election. Orders of government have clear guidelines which state public servants must keep “good news” announcements to a minimum, and are restricted from openly favouring the political leaders they serve. Obviously there are times when these rules are pushed to the edge, but for the most part they are adhered to.

There are no rules in Vancouver, however, governing how or when civil servants must step back and let their political masters take over the show.

As we near the November election, Vision Vancouver not only have the advantage of incumbency and hundreds of thousands of dollars in developer dosh, they now have senior public servants who have their back.

But the real question remains how will mid-level and front line staff react if Ballem’s clearly supports the governing party? Given the poor level of morale at City Hall these days, it wouldn’t surprise me if many staff quietly worked to thwart the City Manager's efforts to get Robertson & co. re-elected.

Will there be timely leaks from staff about a scandal or two that’s been kept in the closet? Will even more brown envelopes make their way into the hands of pesky bloggers over at Only time will tell.

The once-mighty NPA is truly facing a David vs Goliath scenario this fall. Not only are they fighting what the Vancouver Courier’s Allen Garr describes as the most well-funded civic political party Vancouver's history, but they are also battling against top management looking to secure their jobs.

Penny Ballem won't be the only one who will be watching the results of the election very closely. Rest assured people like Deputy City Manager Sadhu Johnson and CFO Patrice Impey understand that if Vision loses, they better get on the phone to their favourite headhunter.

One of the costly by-products of Vision’s politicization of the civil service is we are now going to see wholesale changes at the top every time a government falls. There simply won’t be any way to avoid it as a future NPA government will be highly skeptical of the advice it receives from a public service whose allegiance lies elsewhere. Gone are the days when one City Manager would remain through several administrations, as Judy Rogers did with Mayors Philip Owen, Larry Campbell and Sam Sullivan.

As it stands now, the Vision Goliath looks poised to get enough people elected to win the day. But a week alone is an eternity in politics. Who knows what little David has up his sleeve?

- Post by Daniel


There is nothing beloved regarding Carlene Robbins sudden exit from the City. She treated staff poorly over her entire 38 year tenure with the City.

Too Bad, So Sad, sucks to be you!!! You had it coming. Karma does it's work yet again.

As for the rest of the Sr. Managers whom have not been held accountable by the City Managers of the past for misleading the Public and Council and for workplace bullying of staff....Your next!!!!!

Working under agressive or poor management or administration is like being in an abusive relationship.

You don't realize how bad it is until you leave.

Up until then, you stay and hope the next day will be better.

A form of brainwashing.

Do you feel like having big hands? What's the currency they are paying you, CAN$, US$ or something in between? Vision and the current administration under Ballem are a bunch of fraudulent implants. Easy in, easy out. I'll see to it!

You nailed it. This is exactly what we're all afraid of at city hall. Nobody I know will be voting for Vision but we may be forced to prop them up to keep our jobs.

I'm shocked senior management haven't already sent a memo around asking us all to join the party. Who knows, maybe some senior mgrs will begin publicly endorsing some of Vision's candidates. Or maybe they will take some time off this fall to work on the campaign. Strange world we live in.

I don't think that many sr managers feel that way. I think a number of people are just tired of it being "Penny's City". She has her hand in absolutely everything. While good for the short-term, it's bad for the long-term. No organization should be run like this. "We have a new decision that needs to be made? We must run it by Penny for sign off!"

On the other hand, democracies only work when you can vote the rascals out and very few governments deserve more than two terms. So I hope the NPA is working on a credible long-term strategy that looks beyond this election. Don't see any sign of that yet, but I am ever hopeful. I wonder who will be running.

I'm banking that "finally" these frauds, were actually in place before Penny's campaign, are exposed for who they are.

Lazy, deceitful, liers, bullies, cold hearted, self interested, phsycopathic.

Interesting though the Sr. Manager prior to Carlene and occupied the same office she had was fired for sending pictures of forbidden content.

Might want to warn the next occupant the office on the 2nd floor Annex is cursed.

@ Rachel:

On Van.Act's website, they have a pic posted of a sign on a freeway that states:

'Gregor's City of Vancouver'

It gave me a giggle.

Scroll to the bottom.

I hear Vision supporters constantly railing against the "elite" and wealthy people of the city, who they feel are handed everything with very little work or effort.

Yet these same people support and prop up a Mayor who is wealthy, is backed by American financiers, who's home is owned by an American corporation, who's not even from Vancouver, and who quit his last job as MLA (triggering an expensive by-election) all so he could give his friends lucrative contracts and jobs at City Hall and further his own personal career.

Yet somehow Sam Sullivan, a paraplegic from East Vancouver who grew up poor and disadvantaged and worked his way up the hard way to eventually become Mayor, is reviled and sneered at by these same people who idolize Gregor.

The hypocrisy is astounding and revolting.

I fear that Vancouver has been marred forever by this gang of moralistic thugs who only care about one thing: getting re-elected and smearing the names and reputations of anyone who gets in their way.

Interesting side note to this discussion.

If you go over and check out Bula's blog the attack dogs are out in force on Rob MacDonald and his article on bike lanes.

Seems the cycling **** take exception to the fact he has an opposite opinion and makes some challening comments.

Funny how they call for not allowing his article to be allowed to be read or seen on her blog but it's fair game to savage him with their comments.

The old .. all pigs are created equal just some pigs are more equal than others.

The hypocrisy is outstanding!

Hear, Hear. What ITK says!
...and Dave, right after.

@ Dave:

I was surprised how how many felt it unffair that his op piece be reprinted and or reprinted in it's entirety.

I guess the idea of keeping them blind and dumb is what the cycling advocates hope for.

cycling nazis?

"I was surprised how how many felt it unffair that his op piece be reprinted and or reprinted in it's entirety."

Two is many? In fact, some of the people voicing support for the bike lanes also supported Bula's decision to post whatever the heck she wants.

Actually most of the criticisms of the op-ed are based on factual errors in the article (claiming the downtown bike lanes cost $25 million for instance) and failing to provide any data supporting the claims made by the author.

@boo. Thanks for bringing attention to that derogatory expression, which I don't like at all. Will ask commenters to refrain from calling anyone names. While I don't track every comment left here, I will edit/remove personal remarks when I come across them.

Let's keep the debate civil, folks. Thx

I also notice that a lot of the conversation is based around a study that looked at the risk of riding in a cycle track compared to riding in traffic.

Yet another example of the level of blindness pro-cycle trackers have. Clearly some form of separation from automobile traffic is important to improve safety for cyclists. However the argument on Hornby Street (in particular) wasn't that cyclists don't need a safe facility. The argument was (and still is) that separated bike lanes offer no more protection than a painted bike lane. In fact they lead to HIGHER car/bike collisions.

This view-point is shared by civil engineers in City Hall (even the ones who haven't quit yet) and is based on sound scientific evidence. However they were told by their political masters that the studies don't matter, they want a separated bike lane and that's the end of that.

The Montreal Survey is fundamentally flawed because it did not even consider painted bike lanes as an option. Because of that, the findings are impossibly skewed.

Well Chris, when I read that pro-cycling advocates complaining that Frances re-posted this op piece yet the same are calling for democracy I find it laughable,(and about as laughable as how many could not separate an op piece from editorial content and further went on to bash the Van Sun for originally posting it....)oh, and I lost track of the number of comments you posted and still at are posting in that thread. (I don't have that many fingers and toes......)

As for 'factual facts' you fault Macdonald yet those 'facts' seem to be on a sliding scale with both the cycling advocates and the city.

And we are spending $25 M on bike lanes, are we not????

But then again Chris, these are only this 'idiot's' opinions. And I take ownership of them.

@Steven Forth - Do you really expect us now to believe that you sincerely "hope the NPA is working on a credible long-term strategy that looks beyond this election"?

Mike, hasn't that term entered the popular lexicon, as per Seinfeld's "soup n@zi"? Please lets not have political correctness run amok here.

At Max:

If you're interested in the facts regarding funding for bike lanes it's all here. I can't find a reference to spending $25M on bike lanes. Please take a look and let me know what page I need to take a second look at.

From CBC, May 6, 2010

'Vancouver city council has voted unanimously to spend $25 million over the next two years to build 55 kilometres of new bike lanes as part of a 10-year plan.'

Read more:

oooohhh...math. My favorite....
thanks max and chris keam. Let's do a quickie exercise.

City of Vancouver Standing Committee says on May 06 (page 14): Cost per kilometre (for permanent measures):

Looking at the standing report, this would be considered 'moderate' cost / km ofr bike lanes (falling within the $250 000- $750 000 range /km)

CBC says $25 million for 55 km

55km of bike lanes at $25 million = $138.54 /linear foot, or $454, 527.57 / km.

Wood frame townhouse costs currently in the guestimate range of $225/ sf,, and concrete condos $250/ sf . My take is that, while I cannot see where the CBC got $25million per se, the total meshes with the standing report costs/km estimates.

However, thats a pretty hefty per sf construction price for a bike lane nevertheless. Anyone know what a regular road costs in order to compare?


I am also curious what other monies will be put forward.

This article states $25M over the 2 years as part of a 10 year plan.

Which, in my take, means there are 8 years that no $$ have been allotted to at this point....


The $25 million total includes a planning component and maintenance to existing bike lanes. The total isn't just for bike lane construction.

Nice one CK - glad to know planning and maintenance were included that makes it better because I was beginning to think it was a waste of money.
And I was thinking of how much that is per rider I saw today in the Hornby lanes when ---wait - I coulda had a CONDO in Millenium Waters....we ALL coulda had a condo...

Omishiroi- I don't qualify for the Condo. Alas I am not a homeless teacher .....

Check out!

Paid Advertisement

Paid Advertisement