Gregor "Fan Zone" Robertson: getting free ride or "Giuliani-esque"?
You’ve got to give Mayor Gregor Robertson some credit. With the smoke clearing from the aftermath of Wednesday’s riots which started in his “fan zone,” Mr. Teflon appears to be coming out of this whole affair unscathed – at least for now.
I watched about a dozen interviews Robertson conducted with the media over the last 24 hours and it’s pretty clear most of them are prepared to give him a pass when it comes to his role in providing Vancouver with another black eye. As frustrating as it is to watch, I must say that I’m impressed with the Mayor’s ability to deflect any of the criticism that’s begun to emerge.
From my perspective, there are two levels of accountability when it comes to the chaos that occurred on our streets this week. One is criminal, while the other is political.
When it comes to the thugs (and I’m speaking about our sons and daughters here, folks) and the bystanders who cheered them on snapping photos, I’m hoping for a high level of criminal accountability. That said, I’m hard pressed to believe that any of these individuals will get more than a slap on the wrist from our judicial system.
In many ways, the criminal accountability is easier to manage. That’s because there are countless photos, videos and eye witnesses who can help our police prosecute the idiots that acted out on our streets.
The more difficult issue is one of political accountability. Who will ultimately be held responsible for the poor planning that led to the City inviting over 100,000 (mainly under 25 and intoxicated) fans downtown for a party? Will it be our Chief of Police Jim Chu, or the guy he actually reports to – Mayor Robertson? If the first 24 hours of media analysis is any indication, we know who Robertson would like to throw under the bus – besides the “hooligans and anarchists” of course.
Although I have been critical of the Vancouver Police Department in the past, I must admit I feel sorry for the position they were put in on Wednesday evening. Our police were simply out-numbered at an event that was obviously ill-thought out and executed.
Unlike the 2010 Olympics, which had a one-billion dollar security budget and seven years of planning, Robertson’s hockey “fun zone” was a ticking time bomb. That’s because both the Mayor and senior City officials had foolishly convinced themselves that the Olympics were a turning point for the city. In hindsight, they were deluding themselves.
An interview with City Manager Penny Ballem conducted just hours before the riot by Mike Howell at the Vancouver Courier helps to illustrate my point. Here is what Ballem had to say:
Are you concerned the 1994 Stanley Cup riot will repeat itself?
“This city has matured so much since then,” Ballem said of the riot that occurred after the Canucks lost to the New York Rangers in another Game 7. “We’ve really learned a lot and I think there’s a very different sense of how important it is not to do that. This is a big crowd and there’re a lot of people downtown. We’re being very careful but I don’t think anyone thinks there’s going to be anything like that.”
Added Ballem: “Already you see people are not thrilled that we’re losing but they’re not all losing it themselves.”
In addition, the Courier reports:
Before the game started, fire and police officials turned back hundreds of people from entering into the fan zones for safety reasons. The mood of the largely young crowd, some fueled by alcohol, was unsettling for the Davidson family of North Vancouver.
“It’s not safe, so we’re going home,” said Tamara Davidson, who briefly lost her 11-year-old son in the crowd. “There’s not enough crowd control. It’s not like the Olympics.”
City manager Penny Ballem agreed the crowd wasn’t like previous nights, where families were able to sit on the streets and watch the game on the screens.
“We know that we’ve done everything possible to make this a place for families to feel comfortable,” Ballem said. “Tonight, there’s not a lot we can do to prevent the numbers of people that want to come… Would I bring my little kids down here tonight? No, but the other night everyone was sitting. I mean it was remarkable.”
I’m told by City Hall insiders that not a single person on the City’s senior management team was even aware of the Whitelaw report outlining over 100 recommendations on how to prevent future riots. Bob Whitelaw was the fellow hired to review the circumstances that led up to the ’94 Stanley Cup riots to determine if anything could have been done differently. He’s been all over the media in the last day or so saying the City and its police force goofed up.
Had City management actually been familiar with Whitelaw’s report, they might have thought twice about inviting so many people into a confined space. This is especially true for game seven of the Stanley Cup final where the team had a 50/50 chance of losing. Let’s hope the Premier considers hiring Whitelaw again in order that we can benefit from his corporate memory on this topic.
As for our Teflon Mayor, I’m increasingly convinced that despite everything that transpired, he will come out of this whole affair unscathed. He’s clearly been provided with a good set of talking points by his handlers and he’s delivering them masterfully.
But the reality is Robertson has a lot of explaining to do in regards to the role the City of Vancouver played in facilitating the carnage we saw on our streets. That’s the component of political accountability that so far has been lacking in our coverage of this story.
I think it’s far too convenient for the Mayor to blame what happened “on a small group of hooligans.” Oh, they were there alright, but there were clearly no plans to deal with them if they did show up – and you’d have to be an idiot to think they wouldn’t.
Here are some of the questions Vancouverites and our media should be asking the Mayor if they were interested in some political accountability:
- As the Chair of the Police Board and Mayor of the city, does the buck not stop with him? History will show this is never the case with Robertson.
- Did the City Manager put any pressure on the Chief of Police to keep his budget under control when it came to patrolling this event?
- Did City staff use Whitelaw’s report as the basis for planning the Mayor’s Fan Zone? If not, why not?
- When the VPD requested liquor sales stop at 4 pm on the day of Game 6, was this not telling you that something was changing with the makeup of the crowd?
- Did the City’s effort to shed its “no fun city” moniker play any role in how it managed the Game 7 Fan Zone?
- Why is Robertson stating he is “surprised” by what happened when this type of a riot occurred during game seven of the 1994 Stanley Cup playoffs?
- Why were your top city officials telling the media only hours before the riot that there was nothing to be concerned about?
There are so many other questions that could, and should be posed to the political leadership of this city, but I’m not holding out much hope. The Mayor’s office is in full spin mode and making every attempt to make their boss look as "Giuliani-like" as possible.
With an election only a few months away, and local citizens & shopkeepers feeling battered and bruised, the stakes are high for Vision Vancouver. One wrong move by Robertson, and he could be providing enough reason to fire an incumbent mayor for the first time in over a generation.
- Post by Daniel. Follow us on Twitter @CityCaucus