Vancouver inches ever so gradually toward executive-style governance

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      Vancouver and other B.C. municipalities have what's known as a "weak-mayor system".

      That's because the mayor is, in essence, first among equals with just one vote at the council table.

      In U.S. cities, the situation is far different.

      In Seattle, for instance, the mayor is the chief executive officer. He or she directs and controls officers of the city unless specifically prohibited from doing so by the City Charter.

      The Seattle mayor can also veto measures passed by city council, though that can be overridden by a two-thirds vote.

      Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson can't do that.

      In Chicago, the mayor recently fired the police chief. In Vancouver, Robertson would need the support of the police board, which includes five provincial appointees, before he could ever consider something like that.

      In New York, the mayor can not only fire the police chief, but can also dump people who oversee schools. It's why former New York mayors like Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani were deemed so powerful.

      Nobody would have ever characterized them as "weak" chief executives.

      Robertson has no power over the operations of Vancouver schools.

      But in recent years, Vancouver's mayor has been gradually usurping more authority through a variety of means.

      Most noticeably, he became chair of TransLink's Mayor's Council, giving him a platform to speak about regional issues.

      Robertson also appointed an acting mayor (Raymond Louie) and a deputy mayor (Heather Deal). That latter position comes with a $2,853 monthly stipend on top of a councillor's $68,552 salary.

      The mayor's appropriation of this power sends a message to councillors on his slate that they had better behave if they want perks like this in the future.

      In addition, Robertson has increased the size of the mayor's office staff from that of his predecessor, Sam Sullivan. Robertson's aides seem to work around the clock to advance his political objectives.

      Then there's the Vancouver Economic Commission, which has been converted into a tool to advance the mayor's goal to attract clean-tech businesses. 

      Robertson is the honorary chair of the VEC, which is headed by an experienced political operative, Ian McKay, former national director of the Liberal Party of Canada.

      The mayor also created and cochairs the Greenest City Action Team, giving him another avenue to advance his agenda. GCAT sets targets, council endorses them, and city staff leap into action to meet the objectives.

      The next move toward centralizing authority comes in a notice of motion on the Tuesday (January 19) council agenda.

      Introduced by Coun. Andrea Reimer, it calls for the mayor or his designate to appoint councillors to serve as liaisons to different parts of the city.

      Councillors can request to work with certain communities, but ultimately, the mayor will make recommendation to council.

      Forget about the idea of neighbourhoods electing their own representatives through a ward system, like what exists in cities in other provinces.

      By appointing councillors to act as liaisons to various neighbourhoods, the mayor's office has an opportunity to firm up support in different areas.

      Moreover, the mayor could appoint opposition councillors to act as liaisons in neighbourhoods where voter turnout might not be very high.

      It's quite remarkable how much power Robertson and his political aides have accumulated under our weak-mayor system.

      One can only imagine how much further they might go if the provincial government didn't retain control over the Vancouver Charter.