Bill McCreery: City hall democracy has suffered under Vision Vancouver

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      Is this Vision Vancouver council compromising the democratic process at city hall? The evidence says it is. The well-being and integrity of the democratic process under today’s Vision administration is of increasing concern to Vancouver voters.

      There has been a series of censorship, information control, and troubling Vision decisions, policies, and initiatives over the past two years. Their infringement on city hall democracy goes further. Examples include blocked freedom-of-information requests, FOI officer Paul Hancock quitting, a lack of budget transparency, and unaccounted for discretionary expenses limits increased from $30,000 to $300,000.

      There appear to be two reasons for these:

      1. A perceived need by Vision to control ideologically driven messaging; and

      2. An arrogant “Vision knows what’s best for Vancouver” attitude.

      The latest censorship hammer was announced on Monday (November 22). Wendy Stewart, a city communications officer, advised reporter Frances Bula that the media could no longer interview city staff by about “staff reports” being submitted to council. The media in future will be limited to speaking to councillors and the mayor.

      This is yet another in a series of poorly-thought-through Vision initiatives particularly relevant to a “state of city hall democracy” discussion. This gag order is significant because it censors the essential flow of information between staff, council, the media, and thence to voters. All members of a democratic society need to be knowledgeable, and that means all need access to information to form their opinions. In this respect, the media plays a crucial role in a democratic society. They have the responsibility to inform the public.

      Therefore, it is essential that this gag be removed immediately.

      What’s wrong with the previous process of staff explaining complex issues and technical details to reporters in a relatively unbiased manner? Given the changing times, some fine-tuning may be necessary. For example, staff briefing councillors before reports are released and more attention paid to the sheer volume councillors are expected to absorb each week. The sometimes 12-inch-high stack of reports which landed on my desk on Fridays as a park commissioner meant I spent the weekend reading it for Monday’s meeting. It was bad enough years ago. I am sure there is even more volume today.

      Why can’t a reporter, or any citizen, speak to staff on contentious projects like the casino? This barrier is another unfortunate twist in this tangled web. No wonder the public is not seeing the kinds of articles we should from the media given the nature and number of controversial initiatives on the go.

      The reason that the Vision council and political staff need to instigate these draconian 1984 gag measures is precisely because of the disconnect which occurs when professional and technical staff reports are massaged by the political staff. By the time these reports are rewritten to reflect the particular Vision philosophical perspective or objective, the staff’s technical background work is sometimes disconnected with the published report. So, it’s not surprising there’s also a disconnect between what staff and councillors say to the media.

      Censorship practices such as these are necessary in a totalitarian state, but they are foreign to a democracy. History teaches that those who attempt to censor the public, censor themselves in the end.

      Another important concern that seriously inhibits the democratic process at city hall is the practice of having council and committee meetings during working hours and then holding “in camera” evening meetings when most citizens can participate. Why not reverse the timing?

      In 1973, the TEAM council established a new policy of holding all meetings between 6:30 and 10 p.m. so that citizens could speak or listen to council debate on matters affecting them directly. Interestingly, the pre-1973 council oversaw a very centralized, top-down staff organization, similar to today’s Vision management model. The goal was to make city hall open and accessible to Vancouver citizens by encouraging them to participate in the decision-making process, as well as give ongoing input regarding city services and initiatives, including local area planning.

      This Vision council is doing the opposite. They are closing down city hall. They are discouraging citizens from participating in council and committee meetings while muzzling the media.

      Bill McCreery is a Non-Partisan Association candidate for Vancouver city council. He served as a TEAM park board commissioner from 1973 to 1974.




      Nov 26, 2010 at 6:25pm

      Bill tell me what you think of the NPA's many terms in office? Was it as open as you seem to imply it was? Was Sam Sullivan arrogant and dismissive? Was the Olympic Village funding debated in council chambers or behind closed doors?

      If there is evidence of arrogance and "to control ideologically driven messaging" the NPA councils are the poster child!

      james green

      Nov 26, 2010 at 7:52pm

      Though you are NPA and it is to your political benefit to write an article slamming Vision, you are very right in what you say. Visions' behaviour is exactly like anyone or party that has someone to hid.
      Vision we must remember is new party and has much to hid and fear as they are losing ground. Their poor treatment of staff is unparalled in this city. Their spending is nothing less that incredible ( ie the mayor's recent $10,000 trip to New York, ) and MaGee's, Megg's and Louies domination of the agenda at city hall, the despotic behavior of the city manager and much more.
      My message to you Bill, is please remember that you serve the people not your interests or those of your contributors, should you be elected to council next election. Vision is the best, or is it the worse example of how not to run this city. If elected you will have the opportunity to do what is right. Democratic principles must drive every thing you will do.

      James Green

      Nov 30, 2010 at 8:21pm

      The NPA is not my choice either but all three parties have one or two good councillors. If can find these 6 and add 4 independents and a new mayor we may have some hope. Calling the NPA out for perhaps being less then open does not negate Gregor Robertson's and Vision's arrogance and undemocratic governance as we said when we were kids, two wrongs don't make a right.
      Furthermore, mentioning Sam Sullivan perhaps the worse mayor we have ever had next to Gregor, is irrevelant.
      Lastly, for this mayor to regain any credibilty as a leader he must fire the city manager and Mike MaGee and get rid of Geoff Meggs, three of the worse, cruelest and dictatorial people at city hall.

      Julian Christians

      Dec 3, 2010 at 7:56pm

      Could you provide any evidence of "blocked freedom-of-information requests"? Otherwise, it just looks like you are making stuff up and hoping it will stick.

      Your statement that "The media in future will be limited to speaking to councillors and the mayor." is only true with respect to reports before council, e.g., see

      To leave out this context is deliberately misleading.

      I hope you run your campaign on ideas rather than smear tactics.