The endgame: axe police chief, damage Premier in one fell swoop (CP photo)
Has Gregor Robertson bitten off more than he can "Chu"? It's only a matter of time before whether we'll see if the Mayor gets what he wants – for Vancouver Chief of Police Jim Chu to take the fall for Robertson's mistakes. But Chu's respectibility within the force, and the sense in the general public that the Chief is a good leader dealt a lousy hand by his boss, makes it a risky proposition.
Since the dying moments of Game 7 when things took a serious turn for the worse, Robertson and his aides have been trying to turn a negative into a positive for the Mayor. So how could that happen?
Answer: by having all the blame focus on someone else – i.e. the Chief of Police, and secondarily the B.C. provincial government.
The first 24 hours after the conflict were classic emergency spin doctoring. Robertson, who sat comfortably in his $550 seat at Rogers Arena during Game 7, was whisked away to prep for the onslaught of media questions which would naturally arise as burned out cars smouldered and shattered glass was strewn around dozens of shops.
It was the work of a few 'anarchists,' was the Mayor's initial claim. It was convincing at first; who can forget the black-hooded goons from the Olympics? But, alas, it was not true. That it was a gigantic fib didn't prevent VPD Chief Jim Chu and Premier Christy Clark from repeating it for the next 48 hours. Clark, whose government had nothing at all to do with Gregor's playoff fan zones, was drawn in by the Mayor's handlers after the riot. As a result, the Premier and Solicitor General Shirley Bond unwittingly became a part of the narrative, and helped, at least temporarily, to defuse blame from Robertson himself.
The decision to hold outdoor parties in Vancouver during the Stanley Cup finals was hatched by Gregor Robertson. Staff at CityCaucus.com think it was a counter-response to my call for a Canucks celebration at Rogers Arena back on May 11th. Not a chance that the mayor would be upstaged by a call by his most vocal critic, right? If the CityCaucus boys want to fill an indoor venue with 15,000 Canucks fans, surely Mayor Gregor can top that by moving it outdoors and increasing the crowds ten-fold!
With no gathering place large enough to hold a large street party (Robson Square and David Lam Park – both sites used during the 2010 Games – are currently under construction), CBC Vancouver's offer of their Hamilton Street plaza and big outdoor video screen seemed like a good choice. So on a cool May 15th evening while Gregor Robertson sat watching Game One of the Western Conference final seated beside CBC host George Stroumboulopoulos at Rogers Arena, about three to four dozen young hockey fans sat in the rain on folded chairs in front of the broadcast studio.
What started innocently as a gathering of a few dozen folks would become a veritable war zone attended by tens of thousands only a month later.
So the outdoor venues didn't work. A bunch of stuff got broken and stolen. Why can't the Mayor take his lumps and why get rid of Chief Chu? To understand the answers requires a little understanding of how Vision has governed the city since December 2008.
Why throw Jim Chu under the bus?
In the two and a half years since they've taken office, Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver have left an indelible stamp on the City of Vancouver's bureaucracy. Dozens of respected senior managers in the prime of their careers have either left or have been fired thanks to Gregor Robertson's pogrom. The pressure to leave has been so overwhelming that it has forced at least one top senior manager to take extended stress leave. Another is suing the city for wrongful dismissal. Most have left without a fight.
In my opinion, it was that loss of hundreds of years of corporate memory that caught Vancouver flat-footed during the 2011 riot. No one in charge today either knew about the lessons of 1994 – documented by staff in detail – or apparently bothered to bring them up. All the more reason to heed NPA Mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton's recent call for an updated internal review.
I suspect the biggest problem Gregor Robertson has with Chief Jim Chu has nothing to do with the results of last week's Stanley Cup riot. Rather, it's the fact that Chu was hired by his predecessor, former Mayor Sam Sullivan. Chu is one of the few remaining senior managers (the other being Director of Planning Brent Toderian) who was appointed prior to the November 2008 election.
Not having the Vision Vancouver stamp of approval immediately puts a target on your back at Vision City Hall. In the atmosphere of paranoia created in that workplace, even saying you've ever talked to Sullivan could be a career-killer under Robertson's administration. If any of Chu's competitors have spent even a day up at Hollyhock, the Chief is as good as gone.
It's been well over a week since the 2011 Stanley Cup riot. The shelf life for this story should have long since expired in the media. However, thanks to great work by reporters at the Globe and Mail, CTV, Vancouver Sun, The Province, CKNW and the Vancouver Courier over recent days, how the 2011 riot really happened is becoming clearer.
If there is a simple explanation for why downtown Vancouver was turned upside down after Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, it was a failure of leadership and an eagerness to score political points by Mayor Gregor Robertson. Full stop. The Mayor wanted to have his big party pinned to his lapel going into the November election. The evidence for this is now overwhelming.
The Sun's Jeff Lee has a great analysis of the May 31st council meeting in his Saturday report Council weighed costs, spirit over security, manager says. Penny Ballem, seen in this video clip, talks about the imperative to "rachet down" security costs. Lee's report goes further to find the link between "fan zones" and becoming "the greenest city."
...it is clear the genesis of the street party idea came from a plan the newly elected Vision Vancouver council adopted back in 2009 to find new ways to encourage public use of streets and open spaces. That policy, devised by the new Greenest City Action Team, has led to periodic summer "carfree" days, more bike lanes and more street festivals.
But it has also presented the city with new and constant financial challenges as staff have to absorb costs within existing budgets. In the May 31 council meeting, Ballem said she had instructed all departments to find the money within existing budgets to pay for the Stanley Cup fan zones.
"My message to both police and to all the different parts of the city is we need to absorb as much as we can in our regular budgets," she said.
What Jeff Lee writes confirms what I stated in my post from last week "It's Robertson's Riot": the political goals for the fan zones were all Vision's. Vancouver under Vision had to be a city that is "fun," car free, and minus those blasted viaducts.
What happened next – the riot – has been documented by dozens. Globe and Mail B.C. reporter Wendy Stueck provides this short compelling video account of what she saw on the evening of the Stanley Cup riot at Hamilton & Georgia. Bad boys rolling over a car minutes after the NHL championship ended, firing off CO2 fire extinguishers like it was a backyard rock concert.
Then there is the work of Webster Award-winning commentator Gary Mason, whose 60-minute interview with Gregor Robertson on Thursday made the front page of the Globe and Mail weekend edition. The resulting article – ‘I didn’t know any details,’ Vancouver mayor says of police plan – generated hundreds of caustic comments within hours of being posted online.
Mr. Robertson’s extraordinary disclosures are not likely to make his post-riot life any easier. Not knowing the particulars of the police plan is one thing; not being able to control his police chief is another. Who’s running the city anyway?
It's a good question. Robertson's response to Mason – that he's been kept out of the loop by his police chief – strains credulity. Gregor is either utterly out of touch with one of the few staff who reports directly to him, or he is not telling the truth. It's as simple as that.
Mason's interview was described to me as a "game changer," or a milestone of Robertson's plummeting political brand. To me it's too soon to reach that conclusion, but I do feel something significant has changed on Vancouver's political landscape since the riot.
According to Mason's story, "[Robertson] had many conversations with [Chief Chu] in the days leading up to the Game 7 riot about police preparations." While Gregor had "many conversations" he admits having no details of any plan to deal with or prevent a riot. That simply doesn't make sense.
As a close observer of the political career of Gregor Robertson I've come to the conclusion that our mayor is incapable of accepting responsibility for his own actions. It may be a result of Robertson's privileged upbringing, but that's too convenient to explain it all. Whether it's his poor judgment around his Skytrain fare evasion, his hiding from view after the Pandora Street fire, or his finger-pointing related to the riot, Gregor Robertson continually acts as though he walks on water.
From where I come from on the east side, you break it you buy it. No so with Mr. Ohana Partners.
During his interview with Mason, Gregor attempts to make himself sound like the model of openness, while contrasting his chief of police as the opposite:
"It’s always helpful to be front and centre and responding … I’m hopeful [Chu is] more available in the days ahead"
No one I know would hold Gregor Robertson as an example of openness and accountabilty. Rather, he's the poster child for government stealth. On Saturday he was the honoured guest at a Musqueam citizenship ceremony, and supposed to give a speech to the assembled crowd. Gregor, however, Gregor was a no-show. Media standing by waiting for him to arrive were disappointed. His old habit of hiding from scrutiny exhibiting itself once again.
The City's role
What we know now is that the road map existed on holding big events and avoiding another Stanley Cup riot. One only had to ask the right questions beforehand. We also know that the Vancouver police department were only one piece in overall structure of an event run by the city which should have involved other departments such as social planning, communications and engineering.
With no leadership and no plan to string all the pieces together an inquiry needs to ask the following:
- How many communications people on site during the Fan Zone events? What was their role and what were they doing to make sure public safety was a top priority?
- How many social planning people on site? What was their plan before, during and after the celebrations?
- How many engineering staff were deployed? What was their role in making sure that crowds and property were safe?
- Were volunteers deployed by the in any significant capacity? What were their roles in coordinating the needs of the site? When I visited the Georgia Street site during game three it was obvious to me that there were too few toilet and garbage facilities and I tweeted it out. Why wasn't someone else taking note of these details?
- What was the plan after the Games ended? You've got thousands of kids standing around. Do you tell them just to go home or give them something to do?
Gregor can dissemble and deflect blame to others all he wants. But in the end he's the boss of this multi-faceted operation and therefore the buck stops with the Mayor.
Why didn't we all see it coming?
On June 14th, the day before the riot I wrote "Which Vancouver will show up after Game 7?" Of course, no one wants to write in advance that there's going to be a riot, but it doesn't hurt to suggest you should be prepared for one. Looking back at my words then, I can see that I too was nervous about what might happen...
The question on the minds of many is what happens when the final buzzer sounds at Rogers Arena. Are we elated, or are we disappointed? Are we screaming with joy, or are we raging against fate?
Either way the dynamics could be very volatile, but I pray that Thursday's morning after emotions do not include disappointment at what we've done to our city and its reputation. To date, I like most others have been very proud of the way we've all conducted ourselves during this incredible celebration of sport, and of Vancouver's forty-one year connection to the NHL. I am confident that whatever happens on Wednesday, that good sense and civic pride will prevail.
In the end we got both the disappointment of the damage the riot caused, and an example of our civic pride when hundreds of volunteers showed up to pick up the pieces. If there had only been a real plan by the Mayor, he'd be sailing back into office on the winds of Canucks pride rather than heading into the rough seas he now faces.
- Post by Mike Klassen. Mike is a city council candidate for the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association (NPA). If you're an elected official or candidate seeking a nomination and want to write about urban issues, please send your 450-500 word submission to CityCaucus@gmail.com.