Former Vancouver councillor highlights how mayor's clout increased in the Gregor Robertson era

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      After Vision Vancouver took office in 2008, there was an early sign that it was going to be spending more money than its predecessor.

      In its first year in office in 2009, the budget line item for "general government" rose 46 percent from $105.8 million to $154.8 million.

      By 2016, it reached $172.9 million. In the most recent budget, $180.6 million is set aside "for general government".

      This includes "Mayor and Council, Corporate Support Services, General Government, and debt and capital from revenue", according to the city's financial statement.

      The mayor's office alone has a $1.3-million budget this year. The cost of all 10 councillors is $1.74 million, according to the budget.

      The growth the Vancouver mayor's office staff has been noticed by former COPE councillor Ellen Woodsworth, whose final term ended in 2011.

      In an interview at the Georgia Straight office, Woodsworth recalled that when she was first elected in 2002, then mayor Larry Campbell had only three staff members. She said this has ballooned to nine or 10 people in the Vision Vancouver era.

      (The Straight has emailed the mayor's office asking for a list of staff members and job titles. This information is not available on the mayor's office website or in the city budget.)

      According to Woodsworth, staff in the mayor's office can support Vision councillors overseeing certain key areas.

      "Under Gregor Robertson's terms in office, they formed, like, almost a cabinet of Vision and the mayor," Woodsworth said. "And then there's the additional [city] staff that help the mayor out directly."

      That includes the city manager, who can delegate tasks to other city staff to provide assistance to Robertson.

      Woodsworth said that while the mayor has tremendous resources, three councillors must share one secretary at Vancouver City Hall.

      She believes that this leaves non-Vision politicians severely under-resourced in researching issues and responding to citizens' concerns.

      "One individual councillor, if they're not in a majority with the mayor, finds it very, very difficult to do the kind of work that those people who are in a party—which has the power of the mayor's office—can do," Woodsworth said.

      When she was a COPE councillor, Ellen Woodsworth had far less taxpayer-financed help than Vision Vancouver politicians, who could benefit from additional staffing in the mayor's office.
      Stephen Hui

      She pointed out that in the pre-Vision days, there was a deputy mayor's position, which was rotated on a monthly basis between councillors, regardless of their party affiliation.

      Vision replaced this with two positions: a deputy mayor, who was appointed by the mayor for the entire year, and an "acting mayor" position, which was filled by veteran Vision Vancouver councillor Raymond Louie.

      Woodsworth described this change as "another loss of a democratic institution that went across party lines".

      "It was a good way for the public to see and know different councillors," she noted.

      When asked if council could reallocate the budget to provide more staff support for councillors and less staffing in the mayor's office, Woodsworth replied: "Certainly."

      She recognizes that Vision Vancouver supporters might like the current arrangement, but now that it's in place, the beneficiary could be a mayor with another party.

      "Then you elect someone with the NPA and you're probably not so in favour," Woodsworth wryly commented, "and you're no longer in power and you're not going to be able to shift that money out of the mayor's office."

      A progressive Toronto mayor, David Miller, did the same thing, she emphasized. He was replaced by a right-wing populist, Rob Ford, who could harness this additional power in the mayor's office to advance his agenda.

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