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.