Why would a tabloid newspaper want to beat up on Vision Vancouver?

Yesterday, the  Province newspaper came up with a catchy front-page headline: Blurred Vision.

The subheadline spoke of something very sinister: Trail of internal emails shows democracy at stake at Vancouver City Hall.

At the risk of alienating everyone who hates Vision Vancouver, I'm going to suggest that people shouldn't get too overheated about this story.

Communications staff at all levels of government have been supporting politicians in power for as long as I've been in this business.

It's a bit rich for former NPA mayor Philip Owen to attack city manager Penny Ballem and the mayor's chief of staff, Mike Magee, in the Province article.

That's because former city manager Judy Rogers and the communications staff reporting to her did everything in their power to make St. Philip look as grand as possible in the eyes of the public.

Some real concerns about Vision's governance

That said, it's true that the city's amended communications policy has been designed to benefit Vision Vancouver politicians by silencing staff's voices.

It creates more room for Vision councillors such as Andrea Reimer, Kerry Jang, and Heather Deal to boost their name recognition. They do this by becoming the de facto city spokespeople on various issues.

Higher name recognition enhances councillors' chance of reelection.

The former NPA-controlled council never put a sock in the mouths of staff so they could hog the spotlight.

It's also true that city manager Penny Ballem sometimes seems less interested in public consultation than Rogers, her predecessor.

That was clear when city staff brought forward a motion amending public-hearing procedures to make it easier for councillors to vote even if they miss listening to some speakers.

Then there's the matter of no one at City Hall with the sole title of "director of planning" anymore.

This means no city staffer has the stature of former mandarins Larry Beasley or Brent Toderian to speak about what's purely in the public interest from a planning perspective. 

The new head of planning, Brian Jackson, is the "general manager, planning and development". While his duties include filling the role of director of planning as outlined in the Vancouver Charter, he's also responsible for achieving other goals.

Presumably, these objectives include helping meet the City of Vancouver's revenue objectives. This can sometimes collide with what's in the citizens' best interest from a planning perspective.

Under Ballem's leadership at Vancouver City Hall, there have also been late-distribution reports to council on important matters.

These have the effect of curtailing media coverage of controversial issues and shortening the window for people to ask for a chance to speak to politicians.

But that was also the case under the NPA—these late-distribution reports were jammed forward under Rogers, as well.

What's the Province's agenda?

The more intriguing story, as far as I can tell, is that Province—under editor-in-chief Wayne Moriarty—appears to have an axe to grind against Vision.

That's apparent to anyone who's read the Province's editorials on bike lanes over the years, not to mention Jon Ferry's silly rants attacking climate scientists.

I can remember when local blogger Alex Tsakumis listed Moriarty as the highest-ranking print journalist on an alleged Vision Vancouver media hit list (which I never saw).

Regardless of the existence of this list, it's pretty clear to me that some Province editors get a rush of natural opiates in their brain every time they get a chance to kick the shit out of Vision Vancouver.

Yesterday's headline offered yet another blast of endorphins.

But is democracy really at stake at Vancouver City Hall, as the Province suggests?

If so, it's not because of a few emails passed between city communications staff and the mayor's office. That's been going on for an awfully long time.

It's because of some of the other reasons outlined above, plus the continued influence of big money on municipal politics.

Until that's taken care of, democracy will always be in peril at Vancouver City Hall, no matter which party is in power.

Comments (16) Add New Comment
RUK
I like the Province for its excellent sports coverage. The news department used to be fairly enterprising but for the last twenty years they are merely wire repeaters, with a soupcon of editorial opinion which I surmise is meant to accord with what is clearly a low opinion of their audience's intelligence.

The Province hates Vision not for itself, but for the greenwashing, liberal rhetoric, and general smarty-pantsness in which it distinguishes itself from the NPA.

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Jenables
So Charlie, I guess the hiring of ballem, (at 100,000 more than Judy Rogers) after her stint in provincial politics doesn't bother you? Or maybe you feel that healthcare in bc is so much better since 2002. I'd beg to differ. Budgets with no actual details, just a bunch of pie charts and bar graphs looking a lot more like a marketing brochure replacing actual information are good enough? Have you seen the way council treats citizens who speak in council? Do you think people who volunteer for their community center association are pests who should be vilified and portrayed as selfish for wanting to serve the community they live in ? Do you think it is wise to rezone massive chunks of the city to major push back from residents who worry about being displaced, among other things? Is a bike share business something the cov should be bankrolling, especially with bixi? Do you think a studio renting for $1443/month should be considered affordable? I could go on and on, unfortunately but perhaps you see my point. You seem to be making the same mistake they do, in assuming that anytime people are upset by their actions, that it is purely political and not a breach to democracy. Come on Charlie, you already wrote what could easily be described as an advertisement for vision. Or maybe you like the fact as a reporter that you are no longer allowed to talk directly to staff? This is taxpayer money and we have the right to know how it is being spent. Perhaps the province does have an agenda Charlie but perhaps vision has done more than enough to earn it, as you have also noted above.
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SouthVancouver
I'm with the Province. Yes previous governments were no angels, but I find something particularly disturbing about Vision's flippant disrepect for democracy, worrisome ties with developers, constant self congratulation and in particular the incessant green wash they coat themselves with.
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Ethan Baron
Puzzling and disturbing to see a journalist slamming coverage that reveals how seriously Vision is compromising democracy by blocking media access to public information and public employees. Seriously, Charlie, you yourself deal with this stuff from every level of government now and you know what a problem it is - why are you downplaying the damage it does to the ability of the public to make informed political decisions? Beat up on the Province all you want, there are plenty of legitimate targets in its coverage and the opinions in its pages, but don't let Vision off the hook for taking a page out of the federal Tories' and BC Liberals' books on shutting out oversight so they can do what they want without questions or backlash from the public. Full disclosure: I used to be a Province columnist.
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James green
Nothing should surprise us regarding the behaviours of civic parties, councils and mayors past of present.
We need an auditor general at the civic level, we need recall legislation, we need reports online showing all mayor's and councilors meetings with who, where and for what, we need a charter of citizens rights and responsibilities, we need to end the reign of these political parties and vote for individuals not parties, we need a cut in waste such as the monies being paid to the city manager and the blotted communications department and useless $300,000 trips to china and $250,000 to reno the mayors office and the multi millions for bike lanes and studies, we need a city ombudsman, we need a return to rule of the people and an end to the concentration of power in the hands of a few power brokers in the mayor's office and a few developers, we need real community engagement and an equal place at the table for citizens we need election reform,and I could go on for pages. It is time for a new Vancouver Charter that dictates accountability, transparency and ethical behavior by all elected officials and the civil servants at city hall. Most of all we need a new mayor, city manager and an end to politicians that act as rulers and as benevolent dictators who once elected forget their mandate to serve the people not themselves, not their parties and not their campaign supporters.It is an overused word, but we need change in the way this city is governed and a new direction for this city where democracy drives all things mayors and councils do.
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Charlie Smith
Ethan,

Thanks for the comment. As I pointed out in the article, I think there are far more serious problems than a little back-and-forth between the mayor's office and the communications office. I'm sure this was fairly standard long before Gregor Robertson became mayor.

Charlie
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RUK
I actually like the greenwash BTW.

Bike lanes are a symbol and a flashpoint, maybe they only carry a minute fraction of the people who commute to work, but I respect that that is what the city is trying to show it is about. It's a fantastic symbol in the way that supporting public art is a symbol, clean streets are a symbol. It shows the aspirations of the city.

The homeless target is also fantastic. They gave their critics something to bash them with - they could have said nothing and been smarter, but less idealistic. Ideals are good.


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James Green
Charlie

A little back and forth my foot. This city is ruled by elected officials who misuse our tax dollars to drive their message and spin to get them re elected. A little back and forth my foot, again Charlie, as what councils and mayors do is a symbol of their leadership and the way the communications is done at city hall must be taken seriously and not trivialized Charlie.
You sometime surprise me with this kind of off handed remark.
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Angie
I support The Province with this story. Vision Vancouver does what they want to do. They don't even listen to the citizens of Vancouver. I voted for them last time, but not again. I'll vote for anyone, but Vision Vancouver. Ironically, your paper always seems to be pro-Vision Vancouver. Vision Vancouver is made up of a bunch of Green Party losers, who ended up forming Vision Vancouver. Look it up.
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RAA
The logic of this column is opaque at best. Charlie Smith outlines a number of reasons Vancouverites should be concerned about the anti-democratic practices of Vision Vancouver that curtail citizen input and do not consider citizens' best interest. And then, without any explanation as to the qualitative difference between his own presumably justified critique and Wayne Moriarty's "axe to grind," he excoriates the Province for taking every possible opportunity to "kick the shit out of Vision Vancouver." Charlie Smith implies that his critique of Vision Vancouver is fair minded whereas the regular critiques on the part of the Province are part of a sinister agenda. He does not explain to us why he is entitled to criticize the municipal government but The Province is not.
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spartikus
Dear RAA & friends,

It's a simple concept: Writing stories that lack merit undermine your credibility & distract from stories that do have merit.

Or "Quality, not quantity"
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PendrellSt
Further to your comment on Brian Jackson's other roles, I think the key one is "development" facilitator. Keep those high rises going up! Glass, glass, and more cheesy glass ....
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G
The agenda of a tabloid is of less importance to me than the agenda of a slick political machine that has kowtowed to developers for years. What concerns me most is their long term plan for the Langara lands, specifically the strip of golf course along Cambie street that is prime for residential towers. The announcement of development plans for the Pearson land on Cambie between 57th & 59th was given little attention by the media but therein are the clues that tell us the fate of the golf course is sealed.

Following the next civic election a Vision controlled Parks Board and Council will arrange for the development of at least part of the golf course land by friendly developers. The public will be told the sale is the only alternative to another tax grab on property owners by the city and few people will defend golfers, a convenient "elitist" group. Vision have played the developers tune for years but their propaganda machine keeps churning out the green myth to rapturous applause.
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Street Smarts
Is it true that the Vision Team will fire Penny Bellham by the end of the year as a way to distance themselves from the issues they created, bring in someone new to clean up the mess? It might work, usually doesn't work but when things are so bad it is worth a try!

Vision team is believing their polling numbers, maybe they should call someone at NDP headquarters! Mike and Joel know the real numbers.

I also wonder when Gregor will announce he is running for Justin before or after the next civic election? Best to step aside now Gregor, you haven't been defeated yet and let one of the other council members of Vision run for Mayor, Andrea Riemer is hoping she gets the nod to fall on the sword!

Geoff M and Tony T will depart council that will be announced in May, wait till you hear who the replacements will be,

Mike Magee is hoping to follow Gregor to Ottawa, so the really big question is who will replace him now that the job of getting Gregor to Ottawa has been done.

Vision was and always a stepping stone for Jeol to get Gregor to Ottawa, that is almost done.

Next year will be awesome to watch it unfold.

Who will run for Vision, where will they get the real money they use to fund their programs when Joel changes focus, how effective will Tim be to recreate COPE, the COPE team is disorganized now however real work is going on creating new policies that will let them merge with other parties like TEAM and NSV? big question will be can the NPA rebuild a tired brand with a new leader ( who will that be? Wild guess someone young under 40, new to politics with a social media background). Then there is always the unexpected in politics, will a new party come to the front of the race, lots to think about. Lots of new players to deal with the mess that Vision will leave behind.

Predictions a year out ( a lot can and will change)

Council

Green will win 2 seats- Ms Carr is the big winner over the past two years, no matter how nasty vision has been she has outed them for not being Green!
Cope will win 2 seats, expect Tim back, he is popular for being a radical
NPA will will 4 seats and the Mayor
Vision will win 2 seats, we will feel sorry for the survivors as they have to explain and defend the crazy polices and outrageous expenses that occurred.

Parks Board will be strongly COPE 3 and NPA 4

School Board will be Vision 4, COPE 2 and NPA 3

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Rf
I was expecting more from that article in the province. I can't stand vision....but I can't say I found anything in the article very nefarious. Nice headline but it did make the reporter look a little silly when it lacked much substance.
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Perry
Hey, Sam Cooper loves talking about what Sam Cooper has done. Loads of "Obtained" and such in his copy, even though it's press releases.
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