American Terry Tamminen (left) was provided with a sneak preview of Vancouver’s new environmental policy before it was introduced to Council
For three years, I worked for Mayor Sam Sullivan at Vancouver City Hall. The guy is a total policy wonk. He lives and breathes it every day. That’s because he understands better than most how government policy can have an impact on our society as a whole.
During his term as Mayor, he introduced a series of policy initiatives such as EcoDensity and Project Civil City, CAST and the Streetohome Foundation. It was always surprising to me how angry the Vision Vancouver opposition became every time the Mayor called a news conference to announce his intentions to introduce these new policies to Council for debate.
I recall Vision Councillors Heather Deal, Raymond Louie and Tim Stevenson were the most "outraged" by the Mayor’s policy initiatives. "This is policy development in the backroom," they shouted. "Why was Council not invited to participate in the process before it was announced to the public," they screamed. In essence, they felt mayors shouldn’t be allowed to go off and develop policy "in the backrooms."
That was then, this is now.
Here is an excerpt from a Vancouver Sun column in which reporter Frances Bula outlined some of the opposition’s concerns about the Mayor’s EcoDensity plans:
Councillors from other parties are unlikely to oppose his ideas. But they do question the way his announcement was made and what impact his initiative will really have. Vision Vancouver Coun. Heather Deal said non-NPA councillors didn’t find out about the planned announcement until they got a press release along with the rest of the world Thursday. And they wouldn’t get any details about it unless they went to his media conference.
Bula goes on to provide the following analysis regarding the power of a Mayor:
Instead, the mayor [Sam Sullivan] stressed that he is just launching a process. That’s due partly to political reality. In spite of the quasi-prime ministerial ambiance at Sullivan’s announcement, mayors in Canada can’t make unilateral decisions, since they represent only one vote and have no formal powers beyond that.
We’re not sure if Bula’s sage observations have been passed along to the current Mayor and his staff?
Mayor Robertson has been leading the development of the City’s new enviro policy since he took power last December. He’s held a series of closed-door meetings with a number of ‘key advisors’ to help him prepare the policy platform. Sound familiar?
Yet there has been utter silence from NPA Councillor Anton (or her Vision colleagues) regarding this process. This despite the fact the Mayor revealed this week he gave Terry Tamminen, an American environmentalist, a ‘sneak peek’ of the policy before it was introduced to Council.
I could just imagine what Vision would have done had Mayor Sullivan provided a foreign expert in densification a ‘sneak peek’ into his EcoDensity initiative before it came to Council for debate and ratification. The opposition would have squealed like stuck pigs, and so-called "neighbourhood representatives" from across town would crash public hearings with their lists of complaints about the "lack of public process." Today, now that Robertson is the mayor this type of activity is just accepted as the norm and a healthy part of the democratic process.
The Province newspaper is reporting that Terry Tamminen "likes what he sees" regarding Robertson’s plans to make the city the "greenest" in the world. It’s too bad the rest of us haven’t been allowed to see what else Robertson’s been dreaming up besides Gregor’s Gardens and backyard chickens. I guess we’ll have to wait for the press conference?
I would take a bit more comfort if the Mayor would have also allowed someone like Jock Finlayson, a well-respected economist with the BC Business Council to also get a sneak peek before this becomes a fait accompli. That’s because the Mayor’s plan should not only be environmentally sustainable, it should be economically sustainable as well.
If you want to find out more about the Mayor’s Green City Action Team (GCAT), it can be a bit of a struggle. Besides a news release announcing the committee, you won’t find anything on the Mayor’s website about the proceedings of the closed-door meetings.
The only tangible outcome of GCAT to date was the decision to rip up the north lawn of City Hall in order to construct Gregor’s Garden. But rest assured, there are more symbolic announcements to come.
That’s why CityCaucus.com filed an FOI request for copies of the meeting minutes to help you better understand what is going on in relation to the committee developing future environmental policy for the City. We have posted the full meeting minutes here for you to review before the spin begins in earnest later this week.
It is worth noting there is no record of any motion, or vote which took place recommending the first action item undertaken be Gregor’s Garden. Rather, the minutes reflect there are merely a number of ideas generated for consideration.
Later this week the Mayor and his Vision colleagues/staff will ramp up the spin machine as they release their "quick starts" portion of Robertson’s new environmental policy for Vancouver, without one iota of public input. We wonder if this will be met with stone silence from the usual groups who complained during Sullivan’s term as Mayor.
I suspect that Councillor Suzanne Anton will be reading about the policy for the first time in the morning papers along side the rest of us. But unlike when they were in opposition, don’t expect Louie, Deal and Stevenson to be squealing about process on this one.