EXCLUSIVE: Why won't Vancouver's City Clerk act as Chief Election Officer?

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


Vancouver council bypasses City Clerk as Chief Election Officer

CityCaucus.com has learned that for the first time in living memory, Vancouver's City Clerk will not perform the duties of the Chief Election Officer. According to the Vancouver Charter (the legislation which governs the City of Vancouver), the City Clerk was supposed to assume that position:

Appointment of election officials

14. (1) For the purposes of conducting an election, the City Clerk is to be the chief election officer unless the Council appoints another person to be the chief election officer.

Marg Coulson became City Clerk after long-serving Syd Baxter retired from that post a number of years ago. Without a doubt, Coulson has the most experience of anyone on city staff when it comes to managing civic elections. Which begs the question...why is the City Clerk not going to oversee the upcoming civic election?

On April 21st Vancouver Council went behind closed doors and appointed Janice Mackenzie as the Acting Chief Election Officer. City Manager Penny Ballem positioned this as a "temporary measure" which would be in effect during the brief leave of absence Coulson took from her post earlier this year.

Coulson returned to work full-time as City Clerk a while ago, but Council has since decided not to reinstate her as the Chief Election Officer. This was done so at the advice of the City Manager. It's a move that has begun to raise quite a few eyebrows over at 12th and Cambie.

As part of a bigger election readiness story I'm working on, I placed a call into the City's communications department. It was then I was able to confirm that Coulson won't be in charge of the election.

Communications staffer Wendy Stewart cited the Vancouver Charter to advise me that Council has the power to appoint anyone they see fit to the post of Chief Election Officer.

I then asked Stewart if she thought it was out of the norm for Council to appoint someone else other than the City Clerk to this top post. She dismissed my concerns and said the citizens will be well served with the election team Ballem has assembled over the last few weeks. She did point out that Coulson will be acting in a "supportive role" to assist Mackenzie in her duties.

All of this is just a tad bizarre.

When it comes to how the Province chooses the Chief Electoral Officer, it is normally done through committee and the decision is unanimous. They follow this procedure to ensure that all the elected officials and parties have confidence that the person running the election will do so in a non-partisan manner.

Although I'm not privy to any backroom in-camera discussions, I'm left wondering if the decision to permanently appoint Mackenzie was a unanimous vote of council? Did anyone from COPE or the NPA raise concerns or oppose Coulson's replacement?

If the decision was in fact not unanimous, this should be considered a very serious issue. Council isn't just appointing a new city engineer, they're deciding who is responsible to maintain a free and democratic election in Vancouver.

In recent days Vision Vancouver have been heavily criticized for the manner in which they have appointed their friends and insiders into the public service. Making headlines this week was news that Kurt Heinrich, a former Vision Vancouver staffer, was appointed to a $72K per year gig at the Vancouver School Board.

Here is a copy of the editorial from today's Province newspaper which captures what a lot of us are thinking:

It’s extremely disappointing to see Vision Vancouver politicians promoting the same disdain for democracy and an independent civil service that we tend to associate with totalitarianism.

The latest upset involves the hiring of Kurt Heinrich, a former Vision Vancouver party operative, by the Vancouver school board. Heinrich, who describes himself on his website as a “professional storyteller,” is getting $72,604 plus benefits as a public-relations person, a board job that should be non-partisan. He was hired through a process that included board chairwoman Patti Bacchus, a Vision politician.

That prompted longtime Non-Partisan Association trustee Ken Denike yesterday to call on the education minister to investigate whether Bacchus put herself in a conflict of interest. Further, Denike wonders how Heinrich can work with trustees of all political views when until recently he’s been slamming Vision’s opponents on social-networking sites.

Denike should not be alone in asking this question.

Vision, whose intrusive, multi-decade eco-plans for Vancouver suggest a disturbing level of megalomania, have made a habit of politicizing the civil service. We’re reminded of the no-competition hiring of city manager Penny Ballem and the recruitment of deputy manager Sadhu Johnston, who was previously the partisan deputy chief of staff to the mayor of Chicago. Politicizing the civil service — which means alternative views are not heard or considered — must stop.

In light of the recent criticism, I certainly hope that Mayor Gregor and his caucus haven't bungled yet another high profile appointment.

However, regarding this one it's easy for the Mayor to put this potential controversy to bed. All he has to do is confirm that the decision to appoint a new Chief Election Officer was in fact unanimous. Is he willing to doing that?

I'm going to continue researching this story over the coming weeks and will report back as soon as I hear more.

UPDATE @ July 21st 7:00 am: The City has now posted on its website that Mackenzie was chosen behind closed doors as the new Chief Election Officer. It's all official folks. But was the vote unanimous? And why was this just slipped into the minutes of this meeting? So many questions.

- Post by Daniel. You can follow us on Twitter @CityCaucus. Or you can "like" us on Facebook at Facebook.com/citycaucus.


This is very concerning. I thought if something is decided in camera that the decision must be reported out in public meeting. This issue is one that involves public trust and the public must have have complete confidence in the electoral system. Appointing someone behind closed doors when that position was already filled by the City Clerk who is well respected does not foster trust or confidence. There appears to be something amiss here.

Just checked the City's website and didn't find any news releases about the fact Vancouver has a new chief election officer. What the hell?

How can Gregor and company get away with this? At what point was he going to tell us that the acting appointment had become permanent? Or was he? Did he not think nobody would notice.

Minutes after council decided to hire a new permanent chief election officer they should have notified the public. The mayor should have also been proud to say it was a unanimous decsion. But somehow I don't think it was.

I agree that this is a super sensitive job and shouldn't be screwed around with. If Coulson has been taken off that job, the mayor has a lot of explaining to do.

This is a very big decision and us voters deserve some answers. NOW

"...It’s extremely disappointing to see Vision Vancouver politicians promoting the same disdain for democracy and an independent civil service that we tend to associate with totalitarianism."
This is the mainsteam media speaking folks. As outcast as they are becoming, Vision doesn't seem to be able to change their approach. Here comes November 19th. Experienced scrutineers essential!

Something smells rotten with this...

What experience does this new election person have? Have they led an election before? If not, the powers that be have some explaining to do. It seems to me that someone who has the most experience in elections should be in charge. If this new person has less experience than Coulson, we need to hear why they were selected. Another handpicked choice?

The Thought of The Midnight

"IF ONLY Robertson had someone to read to him this Open Poem... before meeting with Solomon for the first time."

All this Vancouver Vision charade is getting stale, all right, it is crystal clear to me,and many others, that one cannot make a Vancouver Prince from a Cortes Frog.
Vancouver Vision learned nothing from previous mistakes... because they listen to no one. It's like chain smoking out of necessity now, they lost the matches long time ago so they have no choice but to lit one joint after another to keep it going, at this point in time they cannot stop, their roller-coaster wagon is speeding down...

For what is worth let them read this, they might even learn something from it...IF for nothing else but to impress the girls...


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my Son!

Rudyard Kipling, 1895

Can anyone believe this? One hundred and sixteen years, and we as people are yet to learn anything from past mistakes.

And now Mr. Mayor consider yourself ...served!

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

And no, RUDYARD Kipling did not say 'We live in Vancouver and this keep us busy'
no...I did :-)
(Danieeeeel, EDIT/ PREVIEW window)

This appointment doesn't pass the sniff test. It stinks. But Vision seems to get away with this time and time again. Nobody seems prepared to take them on. Not even the media.

Sadly, Gregor will easily get re elected in November and we'll be facing the prospect of 3 more years of this. Sigh...this used to be a great place to work.

PS Marg is a fantastic person and employee! Anyone who has met her knows that. Too bad she's been treated like $h*t by the city manager.

Let's face it, The Vancouver Charter that has been abided by with all other administrations is just another piece of paper for Vision Vancouver.

This is the 3rd breach of the Charter since this admin got in.

If what is laid out in the Charter does not suit their needs, then it is out the door and the myriad of excuses come as to the why.

Laws are for the 'little people' and not for Robertson and VV. After all, Robertson flaunted the law before he got in, and agin since then.

It would be interesting to do an FOI to obtain a copy of Manager Ballem's employment contract with the City. There might be a clause in that contract that specifies the terms and conditions for her future termination. I doubt she could be terminated for cause because she is simply doing what Mayor Robertson wants done.

First Heinrich now this? Where the hell are we living? In sub-Saharan Africa? Vision should not be monkeying around with the election like this. It's simply wrong. We all deserve answers as to what is going on here. If I were the NPA I would be screaming off the rooftops!!!!

Perhaps the Charter need to be redone in power point format, then Ballem et al may understand it better.

Word inside is that Marg was put under severe morale questioning pressure by Ballem. This sucks!

Off topic:

I was just reading through the city's plan for affordable housing.

This past week, a Chinese Real Estate TV Network was in Vancouver filming. They were profiling Vancouver as a 'great' investment opportunity for their Chinese clientele, as real estate here is cheaper by comparison.

Foreign 'investment' in real estate is part in parcel the problem in Vancouver, when it comes to affordable housing and affordable rental stock.

So building more units does not guarantee those that need it will get it - it means those with the fatest wallets will dictate the course.

It is extremely sad that Marg, after years of quality service should have to go through this...

Just as Charlene Robbins, Ark TSISSEREV ...and the list goes on of good people being tossed out, by an crew of ill equipped individuals now governing Vancouver..

Sadly when Vancouver tanks..good luck finding qualified people to come back to bail us out..

how sad for all of us..

Marg, I'm so sorry you are going through this, you do not deserve it, especially after all the years of service you've given us...

This is the 3rd breach of the Charter since this admin got in.

Max, may be more times than that. Shortly before the end of June 30th council session, Gregor called for council to go in-camera but it wasn't on the agenda for the day and neither did he indicate the basis why.

Only until the minutes following the council meeting was the reference to an in-camera meeting and the basis indicated.

The NPA has to make sure they get their supporters out in full force in November as well as in the advance poll.

Parties like Vision and COPE have found a way to win civic elections handily thanks to the usual low voter turnout in civic election.

Next thing you know organizations like the Tides Foundation will get ACORN in New Westminster to do some "civic campaigning" in Vancouver like they did in the US election in 2008.

Marg you deserve better than this. All of us at city hall are cheering you on in the sidelines. You're better than them, and they know it. That's why they want you gone.

Keep a stiff upper lip and soldier on. They won't get away with this.

It is my imagination or is VV out in full force making 'new' promises. I've been following the twitter feed and Geoff Meggs has been a busy boy.

He has also mentioned the viaducts twice with in 24 hours which means, they are well on the chopping block.

His development buddies will be happy!

And I don't know if any of you picked up on the article in the Straight on 'bike lanes'...again.

I was out for a walk the other night at Arbutus @ 4th, the roadway is a disaster, waiting for someone to step into one of the crack or potholes and break something...as is 3rd @ Burrard by the car dealership.

Trafalgar, between 4th and 5th, had won an award for 'Best Street' (or something like that) yet 1 block up, it is another 'meadow look'

We can't find money for the basics but can dish money out to every tom dick and harry with a green scheme and bike lanes.

This is a very, very serious development. It goes to the heart of the integrity of our democratic institutions. Vision could potentially rig this election.

Vancouver voters cannot assume their intentions are honourable and above board. They certainly haven't been above board so far on this, as well as other matters of governance. They have been demonstrating from the big things like this, to daily irritants that they do not play fair.

In the normal course of events with respect to the public's business, if one replaces someone in an important position, especially as important as this one, the need to do so would be put forward publicly and there would be opportunity for scrutiny as well as debate before such a measure is implemented.

Why the back rood coverup? THIS SMELLS!

The VV MO would be by tearing down the viaduct they will make traffic in the downtown area even more of a freak show and then demand improvements by putting in bike lanes so that more people can ride safely into the downtown core (yeah right).

Now making streets in Kitsilano a disaster area will help them sell their argument that traffic in Vancouver is in dire straits and something has to be done with alternate forms of transportation when really they have allowed it to deteriorate (maybe on purpose).

To Glissando Remmy:

Dear Sir,
You are by a mile long, the most mysterious writer that Vancouver had come across in...decades. I don't know how you do it. I've just discovered you few months back, to my chagrin, but I went back looking for past musings... and I was not disappointed.
The poem IF, was one of my favorites. growing up in Hungary, seven decades ago, my son. What a beautiful poem, and what a story it tells. Thank you so much, you almost made me cry ...
To say that you are by far one of the most versatile writers alive, would be an understatement.
Your shrewd analysis of local politics, your witty remarks and the way you convey your message through anecdotes, poems and fables is simply ASTOUNDING. (Don't ever go into politics, as they are worthless whores)
I have one wish, before I turn 75 (and hopefully still here)... to have met with you.
I could be perceived as a nostalgic, traveling back in time (and what times), but for what it
Thank you, Sir. You've touched me. Thank you.

Dr. Richard Unger MD(ret)

This is so much bigger than just the mayor and his minions,and until people wake up they wont know who the true enemy is.I believe Cadman and his position at the I.C.L.E.I. is the key.

Glissando, your wish is our command. Our comment form now has the preview function restored.

- your humble editor

Beautiful message you left for Glissy, Dr. Unger! Couldn't write it better myself. He made reading about politics in Vancouver actually fun to read. His 'open poem' comment should have been part of a CC posting...
The poem in itself with Glissando's last statement "And now Mr. Mayor consider yourself ... served!" is such a powerful message. OMG!
Is Vision listening? The million dollars question. The only one they apparently understand.
"IF" poem, was and still is so true today. Rudyard was a true genius.
As for Vision and our problems, hmmm...
Fat chance for Robertson to read it. He only reads street signs and writes tweets for LOL.
Thanks, Dr. Unger.
Thanks, Glissy.

love the new preview buttons!!!

Thank you ...

Daniel, great news!
As for Remmy... Hail Glissando!
As far as Vision and their new adventures in the paranormal... 'Up them!'
What's interesting, there are people in the City Hall that are actually manifesting signs of post-hypnosis and brain washing. Doesn't bother them one bit!
Vision Council is a Hollyhock Cult similar to David Koresh's Davidian Branch. Happy ending!

Dear Dr. Unger,
I am humbled by your candid musing and I am glad you found my words worthy of mentioning and helpful. However, it was Rudyard Kipling that made it sound so beautiful. Not me. But as it happens, he cannot be with us today,... I will accept your thoughtful message for ...both of us.
Thank you.

Also thanks to Heather, and WestEndGirl for their words and last but not least to Daniel (I owe you a drink) the ever so 'humble editor' who starting today, has made our life here... a bit easier. No excuses from now on! we cannot blame CC anymore
(now can I have a real Happy Face!)

It's more than the third breach - many more. The problem is how to get them to abide by the law?

Gliss, "IF" was on my bedroom wall when I was a teenager. It's going back up. Thanks.

"It's more than the third breach - many more. The problem is how to get them to abide by the law?"

Phone-write-email-fax Ida Chong. Ask her to investigate such an important breach of the Charter.


Just for good measure, buzz the Premier too.


Then take the link to this article and post, email, tweet, phone, fax, and cajole every friend, neighbour and moving object you can think of with it.


The time for swift, decisive, effective action is now.

More hacks then a curling rink! The term gerrymandering comes to mind. I think the VV crew is getting nervous. The Cortez Mafia is alive and flourishing at 12th & Cambie.

Would someone be so kind, and list some of the breaches of the Charter, by this administration..

The New Westminster City Clerk also called pulled from election duty for very different reasons. This too needs to be investigated.

Here's a silly question: did anyone ask Coulson if she wanted that part of the job, given she just came back from medical leave?

Here's another silly question could it be that certain city officials are upset with New Westminster City Clerk Rick Page for suggesting a review of election procedures to better follow the local government act (Chief election officer duties and powers
c) Take all reasonable precautions to ensure that a person does not vote more than once in an election)

Is this why New Westminster brought in a private contractor to run the 2011 elections?

I would caution our readers to refrain from commenting on Coulson's ability to perform the duties of City Clerk/Chief Election Officer. There is absolutely no evidence the City Clerk is incapable, unwilling or uninterested in performing all of her duties. She did take a brief leave from her post, but is now back at work full-time.


Daniel the bigger question is why did she take a leave of absense from her post? Answer that and you will have something!

Wayne, her reason for Leave is none of our business. If it is stress/job related it will have to be her decision if she wants to go public and you can be pretty sure she would be unemployed by the end of it.

Julia, you are wrong this time it is in the voters best interest to know why she was on leave for so long. Put an FOI in like everyone else is and you will be suprised!

I would say that Ida Chong needs to investigate both New Westminster and Vancouver on these election issues for democracy!

This is nonsense, the 2008 Chief election officer for New Westminster was removed for the 2011 election because he has been seen at too many political functions and that does not sit well with certain New Westminster officials?

Let's step back for a minute. Just because someone works as a civil servant does not mean their health problems or whatever else may have prompted a leave of absence should be open to public review.

The only way the story will come out is if Ms. Coulson feels that she has been wronged and files a grievance.

If I were working at the hall and my personal records were available for the world to see... I would not be working there. I think we will be waiting a very long time for access to her files.

Check out BCWineLover.com!

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