Mayor Robertson's Happy Planet Juice company leaves Vancouver

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


NPA says jobs are being squeezed out of Vancouver at an alarming rate

Less than a week after Mayor Gregor Robertson unveiled his economic strategy to attract new jobs to the city, it has been revealed the company he co-founded has moved their jobs out of Vancouver. This bit of news ends what has been nothing short of a disastrous week for the Vision Vancouver campaign.

Bob Mackin broke the story of Happy Planet Juice moving out of the city in a piece he wrote for the Vancouver Courier. Since then, the Mayor's political opponents within the NPA have pounced.derekcorrigan.jpg

In an ironic twist, the Mayor's juice company moved out of Vancouver and into the more tax friendly jurisdiction of Burnaby.

I can just see it now. Mayor Derek Corrigan publishes a photo in his campaign brochure of him cutting the ribbon at the Happy Planet Juice office opening. I'm sure the thought has already crossed his mind...given that both Robertson and Corrigan have never seen eye-to-eye on a number of issues.

According to Mackin:

Mayor Gregor Robertson declared the City of Vancouver a "fantastic place to do business" in a Vancouver Economic Commission promotional video. But the organic juice company he cofounded and owns shares in and whose product labels bear his signature migrated to the suburbs a year after the Winter Olympics.

Maheb Nathoo, chief executive of Happy Planet's majority shareholder Earth's Own Food Company, said Happy Planet's office in an East Vancouver warehouse at 950 Powell St. became "redundant," so it closed last February. Happy Planet is now headquartered with Earth's Own in an office building at 4190 Lougheed Highway in Burnaby.

He goes on to write:

Robertson introduced himself Tuesday at a Vision Vancouver fundraiser as a former small business owner. Robertson's nomination papers for the 2011 election indicate he has shares in Happy Planet Foods Ltd., Treedom Ventures Ltd., Ohana Partners Inc. and Glen Valley Organic Farm Cooperative.

One of Happy Planet's earliest investors was Renewal Partners, the venture capital fund run by Joel Solomon and Carol Newell. Solomon is a financial contributor to Vision Vancouver and an adviser to the mayor.

As you can imagine, Gregor is not likely to be trumpeting job creation in Burnaby as one of the key accomplishments of his term in office. That's why he threw a PR expert in front of Mackin to explain exactly what happened.

Requests to city hall and the Vision Vancouver campaign office for an interview with Robertson were not fulfilled. "In terms of his relationship with Happy Planet and Earth's Own, he has absolutely zero operational, administrative or any kind of decision-making power, authority or role," said Vision Vancouver campaign communications director Marcella Munro.

The NPA think they might have found yet another reason to go on the attack this week. Small business owners and council candidates George Affleck and Mike Klassen pointed out the irony of the Mayor's juice company leaving the city.

In a news release sent to the media, Affleck states:

Clearly Robertson and Happy Planet discovered that Vancouver is not open for business. They moved their head office to Burnaby. If our own mayor can't keep his own business in Vancouver, how does he expect small businesses like mine to stay in Vancouver?

The NPA points out that business in Vancouver hasn't been exactly thriving of late:

In the past few years, Surrey has had more than 5,000 new business licenses, Langley more than 4,000 and Vancouver had just 46....According to the Fair Tax Coalition, only ONE business bought land and opened up in Vancouver last year. Klassen and Affleck say that is an embarrassment.

It's been a long week for the Vision team. But they should think more positively. At least tomorrow is Saturday.

- Post by Daniel. You can follow us on on Twitter @CityCaucus or you can "like" us on Facebook at


Um.....this happened 18 months ago, Daniel. Maybe if you actually lived in Vancouver you would have noticed the Happy Planet office is gone. After all, it's right on the Adanac bike rou.....ah forget it.

Mr. Right, I believe it happened in February, only 8 months ago. And regardless of that, The Juice Man was mayor 8 AND 18 months ago. Hopefully he won't be a few weeks from now.

Fair Tax Coalition did not said "only ONE business bought land and opened up in Vancouver last year."

That is incorrect. This is the accurate statement:

City of Vancouver has indicated that between 2010 and 2011 only ONE new commercial property has been added to the Tax Roll. During the exact same period the residential tax roll increased by 2,335 properties.

Slightly different - but no less alarming.

I'll admit I can't say this for sure. But to my knowledge, Gregor is only a shareholder and has no role in the company. Meaning he has no more say or control over where the business operates than you or I Daniel.

Regardless if he owns the company or not, he still talks a lot about it. I was at the board of trade debate and he mentioned the fact he was a small business owner at least twice.

At the end of the day this provides for a very bad optic for someone claiming he wants new jobs in the city. Just admit it.

So Klassen and Affleck are claiming that they will do better than the "46 new business licenses in the past few years" are they?

They should read the whole quote.

From the Vancouver Sun:

"From 1998 to 2010, the city of Vancouver enjoyed a net increase of 83,267 new residents and 50,973 new homes — but added just 46 new businesses.

Indeed, Vancouver’s 50,666 business licence numbers in 1998 actually declined slowly and unsteadily until 2007 when they reached their nadir of 46,555. Then they crept back upwards to 50,712"

Now all they have to do is figure out who was in charge from 1998 up until 2007, and then after 2007. Shouldn't be too hard. One group oversaw a decline of 4,111 licenses. The other group oversaw an increase of 4,157 licenses.

Their reported embarrassment is understandable.

Looking at the license data in isolation is only half the story. We have recessions and Olympics to consider as well. The comparison between jurisdictions is key to the story.

According to the data sited in the Cayo article, (Metro Vancouver Key Facts) The only jurisdiction that has grown OVERALL at a smaller rate than Vancouver is Anmore. Surrey has grown to the tune of 43.85%, Langley 159.61% Vancouver .09%

The problem is collective - Vancouver has competition for business/job development and we are losing!

Incentives are being offered across the region - so what else are we going to do to make sure Vancouver residents are not forced into a reverse commute and we turn into a wealth based city instead of an income based city - if it is not already too late.

We need to stop looking backwards and pointing fingers and start looking forwards to find solutions.


The issue is Vancouver is pretty much out of land that is not developed so there is little or no room for new commercial properties. Right or wrong, the decision by previous NPA councils to convert industrial land to residential is the real issue here.

"Gregor is only a shareholder and has no role in the company"

You miss the point. How much credibility does the Mayor have trying to entice new business to the city if he can't even retain a business (and a green one at that) he is strongly connected to. Not very good optics.

Interesting how high paid media maiden Munro spins out that Gregor has nothing to do with Happy Planet. Good try.

Did she forget about all the shares he owns in the company? Or how about the fact his farken name is on the side of every juice bottle. Give me a break. Bad spin lady.

And even worse optics for a mayor who says he wants green jobs in Vancouver.

When oh when I wonder will this scandal get some leverage in the mainstream media I wonder? As usual the Vancouver Sun, CTV etc refuse to run any true storey that makes Greger robertson look anything less than a grate hero. TYPICAL!

Really: there was a Vision administration in the middle of those conversions too. Again, we now see we have a problem - who is proposing solutions and what are they?

We know that COPE is of the belief that it is a mistake to correct the tax imbalance - they want to tax business even more so... guess who I won't be voting for. Now, lets see Vision and NPA spell out how they intend to turn this ship around. First we need to retain and grow the job base we already have.

Great piece! Just one correction. You say there were only 46 new business licenses issued in Vancouver "in recent years"? More accurately, the correct number is 4,157 new business licenses since 2007. This was reported in the Vancouver Sun. The figure you are using includes the 5000 or so licenses lost in the years preceeding Robertson becoming mayor. Thanks.

Shareholders elect the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors directs the management.

In a small company like Gregor's Happy Planet, there are probably very few shareholders - and his wife and/or children are probably on the Board of Directors - so shareholders can easily influence how the company is managed.

Well, a start would be to ban retail like big box stores and car dealerships from industry land to leave room for companies that actually produce something. In Vancouver, both have proven they can be part of mixed use high density developments. Banning on industrial mini-storages would be a good ideal as well. They could be placed below high density too.

Unfortunately, the last NPA council approved the massive Canadian Tire and other big box stores on Marine Drive by Ontario. Fortunately, the last COPE/Vision council stopped the Wall Mart next door.

too late for that. How about help save the industrial land at Cambie and Marine and other places where it really looks great for commercial/residential.

In terms of big box, people are going there regardless of location so let's keep the money and jobs close to home. Telling them they can't go there because they are bad has simply not worked.

I guess I am a bit of a pragmatist.

You can download the list of licenses and business description here:

How many of the business licenses were new vs renewals.

As well, the Olympics would have played into the bump up starting in 2008.

Max, the data does not distinguish. We also do not see what happens post Olympics.

People want to tie this to administrations. Land use policy is tough to pin down, economics is tough to assign blame on a civic administration. That is why the data looks so long range - and compares jurisdictions.

Regardless of which party wins in November - WE HAVE A PROBLEM that needs aggressive solutions beyond simply recruitment strategies that may or may not work.

Yeah, but as I pointed out, there is no reason to have it on industrial land. It is not fair to other businesses around the city that have to build on more expensive lane. Why should these businesses be in a sense subsidized by allowing them to build on industrial land? Even the playing field by requiring all retail to be on land that is zoned specifically for that and not on industrial land.

It is not too late for the land on Marine where Wal Mart wants to build. I wouldn't be surprised if they try again on the off chance that the NPA regains control of council.

Really: how about retail that is currently sitting on residential land zoned highrise?

Valued at residential highrise and taxed at the commercial rate. INSANITY

Oh come on folks.

Not much to distinguish between VV (centre/centre-left) and the NPA (centre/centre-right) in terms of the economy and business licenses. The same situation would have been the case under either VV or the NPA.
Just not an issue.

The "optics" of Gregor's company moving from Van City to Burnaby under his tenure does not look great, however.

Even Global's NewsHour had a negative story on same tonight.

What it all boils down to is Gregor's credibility. In 2008, he was Van City's new "Obama" and thousands came out to vote and place their lawn signs.

No indication of that this year.

Since then, many centrist voters who voted VV back then have stated to me that Gregor's a "nice guy", a "handsome guy".... but that he's also a "flake".

Gregor is certainly not the sharpest knife in the drawer and neither are most VV councillors IMHO.

I will agree, however, that many people are beginning to get "ticked off" at the VAG campsite and its inhabitants.

It will certainly be interesting to see polling trendlines as E-day approaches.

Todd, you emphasis the point I am trying to make. The problem spans both political parties. Neither of them have had the guts to piss off an electorate to do what is necessary for the long term sustainability of the city. We absolutely have to stop planning in 3 year election cycles.

New jobs to the City. Highly unlikely, wasn't there a hiring a freeze at the City a few years ago. Isn't cash tight at all government levels...?

Personally I don't care where companies locate in the GYRD as long as we can create and grow them in the region. It is good to have companies located in Burnaby, Richmond, Surrey and I hope we see a lot more.

No Jason, it doesn't. It is economic activity in the region that matters, not some arbitrary political divide. I would like to see more companies with head offices in all of the different parts of Vancouver.

But we don't want to get into some sort of 'incentives' competition. We should not be offering incentives to businesses to make business decisions. Simplify process, have a balanced tax structure, provide good infrastructure - but no incentives.

Julia, agreed that we need long-term planning cycles, but concretely how can we do this?

Interesting read in the Sun this morning...

"We heard the mayor's 2020 target to make Vancouver one of the most green cities in the world," notes Robbie Zhang, managing director of Modern Green Development Canada, in citing one of the reasons why the developer opted to establish its first sustainably designed North American project in this city."

I know I sound like a broken record, but I am extremely passionate about this subject.

We want our city to thrive and we want a living/work/play environment where we can walk to work or take our bikes or hop a bus.

Affordable housing is one side of the coin, the other side is making sure jobs stay close to home. Yes, regional growth is important but that means we will still be getting into our cars because Vancouver has been historically ambivalent to the job creating sector of our city. Not just the politicians but city staff as well. Some how, business is evil.

The fastest way to attract jobs and retain businesses that employ is to make Vancouver a fair taxation district. Already lease rates are high because of location, location, location. Slap on parking taxes and out of proportion property tax rates and a sweet song and dance from a neighbouring jurisdiction and poof - the job is gone.

I am not suggesting business pay the same a residents - but if you adjust for the marginal tax rate, throw in a little good will as a subsidy and you still end up far below where we currently are and more in line with municipalities around us.

Unfortunately, that means residents will have to start paying a more realistic amount for the services they receive. It is political suicide unless done slowly - but it still has to be done.

Getting the politics out of economic sustainability would be a good start. VEDC is not independent with the mayor being chair and Penny being a director. We need an independent body that make recommendations to the city that lives beyond election cycles and staff constraints. We need to get past the notion that Vancouver is the centre of the universe. We need to look at the housing we create and the jobs that surround it to see if that is helping our transportation objectives. (Do we actually believe the people working at the base of Shangri La head upstairs every night at the end of their day? dream on.)

Like I said... I am a little passionate on this topic.

Footnote: perhaps it is time to ask why this report has been buried and why nobody seems to be heeding the recommendations. Perhaps we can lower taxes by simply changing how we spend money!


If Robertson was the Mayor of Metro Vancouver then your defense of him would make sense but he's not. Quite incredibly he made the same argument on Global last night and got away with it.

Uh Julia, just think about it. It is pretty obvious. Just imagine being an employee at the city, reading the report and realizing that your job might be gone. Or being a community member and realizing that a program you like might be on the chopping block. Much better to wait until the tough decisions have actually been made following consultation with affected parties.

And, if you bothered to actually read the article, it said some of the recommendations have already been implemented.

Realty: why is the report such a secret and why don't we know what remedies have been implemented?

You spend all this money for a report and if you don't like the answers you ignore it??????????????

In this economy value for dollars spent should be high priority. Elimination of waste should be an election promise. Responsible spending should be a given.

I am hearing that the city budget may or may not go up in 2012 but the engineering budget (read CORE SERVICES) has been slashed. Why? Will we ever know or do we have to wait like we did with the Parks Board to discover there is no money to cut the grass!

Has the engineering budget been slashed to absorb a new wage agreement with staff? Or is there other pet projects within the hall that seem more important.

Given that I pay the bill for all this stuff, I think I am entitled to answers.

Also kinda hard to attract new businesses if there is no office space for them. Fortunately, this council has been doing a great job in helping to create new office space. The previous NPA council, not so much.

From Log1988 in skyscraper page:

Not an exhaustive list, but still quite a contrast to back in '07.

Development Process

1. 960-982 Howe|15flr|268,908 sqft|Applied for Rezoning
2. Rogers Arena Development|800 Griffiths Way|18flr/7flr|187,530 sqft|Applied for Rezoning
3. Beatty Gate|564 Beatty|4flr addition|? sqft|Approved by UDP
4. MEC Head Office|1077 Great Nothern Way|5flr|? sqft|Applied for Rezoning
5. Broadway Commercial|984 W. Broadway|10flr|93,672 sqft|Approved by UDP
6. Containers|400 Terminal|6flr/5flr|220,000 sqft|Approved by UDP
7. 3657 W Broadway|10flr|~90,000 sqft|Approved by UDP
8. Broadway Tech Centre East Campus|3030 E. Broadway|5 buildings (5-6flr)|962,287 sqft|Applied for Rezoning
9. Marine Gateway Office|8440 Cambie|15flr|243,000 sqft|Approved by UDP
10. Credit Suisse Tower|801 W. Pender|30flr|400,000 sqft|Applied for Rezoning
11. Telus Gardens|555 Robson|20flr|448,195 sqft|Approved by UDP
Anticipated Construction Start: March 2012
12. 745 Thurlow|23flr|365,000 sqft|Approved by UDP
Possible Construction Start: Early 2012
13. Burrard Gateway Office|191,830 sqft (total)|Approved by UDP
14. Broadway Tech Centre 6|175,000 sqft|Pre-leasing

Under Construction

1. Central|1618 Quebec|7flr|90,000 sqft|Site Prep/Excavation?
2. 1021 W. Hastings|36flr|270,000 sqft|Demolition
3. Broadway Tech Centre 4|173,000 sqft|U/C

hypothetical math - take a million square feet of office space - divide it by 3,000 to represent the average size company. That's 333 potential businesses. Now, how many of those applications are to replace existing?

333 potential businesses that employ 20 staff - 6-7,000 jobs perhaps?

Sorry, that does not get me particularly excited.

I blame the City Planning department before I blame the various councils. They got sold a bill of goods under the guise of revitalization. Nobody ever bothered to do the economic analysis of redevelopment and we STILL do not do it.

Nonsense. There is plenty of vacant industrial land on Kent Ave adjacent to the river. But if your thesis were even true,how do you defend Visions' decision to take up industrial land with the residential Marine Gateway project (pleasingly located next to a smelly transfer station)?

Denscity over at skyscraperpage "Just did the math. Thats 4,178,422 square feet of office space on the way plus the two projects of unknown size on that chart."

By your calculations, that is 24,000 to 28,000 jobs.
Does that get you excited?

Maybe you better look at each application before you talk about new offices.

3657 W.Broadway is replacing already existing storefront with a 10 story residential complex (in other words, expensive condos on all floors) except for the street level.

A charming building is being replaced by a building that will look like every other condo complex in the City.

It's not adding new commercial space.

Really: not really. how many of those properties already have jobs that will be displaced by construction. Some of those buildings are 4-5 years away from completion.

We have gained 80,000 residents in the last 13 years. I expect we will gain another 20,000 in the next 5 - if not more by the time those buildings are built.

By your math and mine, we are still miles off in providing jobs for our population.

Stop splitting hairs. That one, at 90,000sf is only a small portion of the over 4 million sf.

Really: splitting hairs is significant. Fact is, in 2011, there was only 1 new commercial property added to the tax roll.

Since 2009, the increase has been 512 in total. In that same period, 9,281 residential properties were added to the roll.

2005-2006, the city saw a contraction of commercial properties by 421! (Yaletown anyone?)

Yes, a commercial property can be a high rise, but it can also be a stratified parking stall.

I respectfully ask you you to break down every application you mentioned in your posting.

What does it consist of?

And where do the existing storefront owners go in the meantime?

The comment 'splitting hairs' is weak, and lazy.

How could the average person in Vancouver know everything about every building permit you mentioned?

Don't have the time to run around the City and check out every permit being issued.

No, you do it if you are question them. It is pretty obvious that most of the large ones are office/commercial. The number is obviously large and if it is off by a few percent one way or the other what is the big deal. You are being pretty silly.

Really: would you like to adjust your comments based on the information below?

1. 960-982 Howe - additional commercial
2. Rogers Arena - 2 residential buildings /1 mixed use
3. 564 Beatty: mixed residential/commercial
4. 1077 Great Northern - Industrial to Office
5. 984 W Broadway- C-3A to CD1
6. 400 Terminal - additional commercial
7. 3657 W. Broadway - residential with commercial at street level
8. 3030 West Broadway - Industrial to CD1
9. 8440 Cambie - Industrial to residential/commercial
10. 801 West Pender - Commercial
11. 555 Robson - commercial to mixed use commercial/residential
12. 745 Thurlow - commercial
13. Broadway Gateway, commercial
14. Broadway Tech Centre - Industrial to commercial

Under Construction

1. 1618 Quebec - residential with commercial at street level
2. 1021 W. Hastings - commercial
3. Broadway Tech Centre - Industrial to commercial

I've been told by someone who works for Telus that many of their employees will be working from home rather than out of office.

He is a tech and works from home now.

Max, I think that is a sign of the times that is not exclusive to Vancouver but it does create some interesting considerations when we look at how cities have traditionally found tax revenue.

Under the current model of fixed share, the extrapolation of the story has the last business property standing in Vancouver paying 44% of the bills.

I have always failed to understand why all revenue properties are not created equal.

In the area where I work, we have revenue generating apartment buildings 30 feet away from revenue generating retail stores. This scenario repeats all over Vancouver. Both properties are subject to income tax and capital gains for the property owner, both sides of the alley can claim the property tax as an expense... but one side of the alley is taxed at 4.3 times the amount of the other.

Something is really wrong with this picture.

Just a quick stroll down Yew street here in Kits tells a part of the story. Three businesses sit empty, the former restaurants Karv and Rossini's and the old Rogers rental retail location. If I was looking to start a business and I see the amount of graffiti that now litters this area on street lights, telephone poles, mail boxes and newspaper boxes and the empty buildings, I would be hesitant to invest. At a minimum, I would expect the municipal government to look after a simple thing like this to ensure its own infrastructure is at least graffiti free. Really sends a message to the vandals that they are free to tag whenever and wherever they please and the message to investors is one of risk that my business will be targeted and I will incur the ongoing expense of cleaning up the taggers mess. Worst case is the corner store at York and Yew. They are constantly the victims of taggers and racist graffiti on two occasions.
A small but important thing and something that has deteriorated in this neighbourhood since Vision was in power.

I agree Skippy (wholeheartedly)

Graffiti is a blight and the cost and time of combating it is very,very tiring.It's no wonder people give up trying to combat it.

We had to run around our neighbourhood helping elderly neighbours paint it out.
It's on your home, you deal with it. Even if you are 90 and on a small pension.
We had to wade through bureaucracy in many organizations (i.e Hydro, Canada Post, etc) to deal with it on THEIR property.

The City never got around to sidewalks.

What does it show?

No respect for anybody.

Bureaucracy passes the buck.

I agree that business taxes will need to be aligned with surrounding jurisdictions and look forward to learing more about this from you.

I find your comments on economic planning even more interesting though. It would be interesting to have an economic planning commission that took a long-term view. The design problem is how to do this while keeping it accountable and democratic. Worth more discussion.

Skippy, Chris: The city managers office decided to cancel the Graffiti Abatement Program in 2010 as a cost saving measure without fully understanding the implications and in spite of community groups valiantly trying to point out the error in the logic.

I must give Penny credit on this one - she has admitted it was a mistake and there will be money made available to restart the program in the next budget.

Supposedly, that will look after public buildings garbage cans and light poles. Now we need to kick the ass of newspaper publishers, Canada post,and the waste haulers to clean up their property or face having their stuff banned from city streets.

Steve - anytime!

My concerns are non-partisan. I don't care who gets elected as long as they start paying attention to the economic sustainability of our city.

Our foray into graffiti removing took place when the program was still in existence.
It was still very difficult because of all the groups that have to be contacted when taggers are running wild.

The list felt endless, and it was impossible to ever coordinate anything.

Try finding people these days in bureaucracy land.
Press 1, press 2, press 3, press 0 to talk to a human who then tells you to hang up phone again and press 1.

A couple of months back, I was heading to take food to Chris in the back alley and came across 3 young guys tagging the wall. (19-20+ years)

At first glance, the one guy looked remarkabley like a clerk at Darby's and the WTF are you doing came flying out of my mouth.

The tagger and one other finished up their 'job' and the third turned his back to me and started to walk away.

Anyways, dialed the police who did show up relatively quickly. Gave them full desriptions of the three. I have seen two of them in the neighborhood since then so they live somewhere close.

The officer that attended told me that the 'City' currently has a lawsuit against a prolific tagger as this person has caused significant damage and they are looking for restitution.

I found that interesting as it has not been made public (or at least I don't rememeber reading it anywhere).

I know there was a case on the Island where the parents were held financially accountable for their teen son that had been picked up and warned numerous times.

One thing you don't see over the border - graffiti.

Check out!

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