New Mayor’s office connects to old escape hatch

gregor's emergency exit
Gregor Robertson heads for his custom emergency exit to avoid the public glare

As someone who used to work in the Mayor’s office in Vancouver, I’ve been watching the controversy swirl regarding Robertson’s office renovations with great interest. Let me first say I am not only surprised to hear of the move, I also happen to think it’s a complete waste of taxpayer dollars. Given the recent statements of COPE/NPA councillors David Cadman, Ellen Woodsworth and Suzanne Anton, it would appear I am in good company.

If someone would have told me a month ago the Mayor of Vancouver would spend well over $260,000 to move to and outfit another office in order to get more privacy, I would have laughed out loud. That’s because Gregor Robertson’s current digs are the best City Hall has to offer. The apartment-sized office is already equipped with a shower, bathtub, sink, sleeping area, storage closet, and space for a full-sized boardroom table, desk and seating area. That doesn’t even include the additional space available for seven support staff.

When I left my post as Chief of Staff back in the summer of 2008, I can report that the Mayor’s office was a pretty swanky place to work. The plush royal blue carpet combined with the teak paneling was more than adequate to host dignitaries such as the Governor General, Dalai Lama, Prince Edward and even California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Since Mayor Robertson was elected in November 2008, he invested over $800,000 to install new carpets and update the bathroom on the 3rd floor. This is in addition to spending several thousand dollars to re-oil those heritage teak walls that adorn his office. Oh, did I mention the Mayor’s office also has a million dollar view of the North Shore?

After a series of bad decisions translated into some pretty bad press for him this summer, the timing of Robertson’s renovations couldn’t be worse. Rushing these through in the middle of summer hoping that nobody would notice was a clear miscalculation. Thanks to the dogged investigative reporting of the Vancouver Sun’s Jeff Lee this story is now topping the news and has become the topic of discussion at the water cooler.

Lee is reporting this evening that three veteran city councillors have the common sense (and political smarts) to understand the optics of this move/renovation are simply atrocious. How on earth could COPE or NPA councillors justify a costly move of the Mayor’s office to help accommodate his plans to hire more political staff when they are laying off civil servants? For heaven’s sake, even David “Carbon” Cadman understands this is an expenditure he shouldn’t defend.

Meanwhile, the Mayor continues to remain in hiding while his caucus are behaving like trained seals. Rather than protesting Robertson’s plans for fancier offices, they are actually in the media trying to justify the expense. Take for example what Vision councillor Kerry Jang told the Sun on Tuesday:

Currently we don’t have any place to eat outside of our desks and the food cart is in the back hallway and it sits there overnight and stinks up all of the third floor until it is picked up.

In terms of the mayor’s office, it is a wide open space that is always busy and the guy has nowhere to work, I mean, outside of the bathroom.

Whaaa? Vancouver taxpayers are going to build a new dining room for the councillors because Jang and his Vision colleagues think their free meals are stinking up their offices? I can hardly believe what I’m reading. Is he for real?

As for Jang’s contention the office isn’t private enough to work in, that’s complete hogwash. The Mayor’s office currently sits behind three sets of doors. Once those doors are closed, you can’t find a more private office anywhere in City Hall. As for the spin that in-camera meetings (which are held in the Mayor’s office) can be distracting for his Worship, that might be because he is supposed to chair those meetings.

The Mayor’s hand-picked city manager Penny Ballem has been busy in the media trying to downplay this whole issue. It’s an old building in need of repair, she says. We’re only knocking down a few walls to accommodate his Worship, she claims. One lame talking point after another…this has not been Penny’s finest hour.

In terms of the actual renovation taking place to Ballem’s office to accommodate Robertson’s quest for more political staff, one tidbit of information did strike me as interesting. When I first heard the Mayor was moving into Penny’s office, I had to ask myself, what about his private elevator? After all, a move to the West Wing would cut off his access to this hidden route to and from his office.

For those unfamiliar with City Hall, a hidden separate elevator for use by the Mayor and select staff exists through a back door in his office. I’m told that over the years many mayors have used the elevator as a convenient way to dodge reporters or angry protests.

What a relief it is to read in tonight’s report by Jeff Lee that the Mayor will still retain that coveted private escape route from his office:

When I asked Ballem if she was going to build a shrine for the mayor in her old office with that $47,000, she snorted. Robertson has to inherit her "cheapo" old glass desk and his renos are "dead simple". Most of the costs are for punching two doors into the aforementioned lunchroom so the mayor can travel the offices without having to go out into the public foyer.

The Mayor’s decision to move his office in the dead of summer likely made a lot of sense in the political war room a few months ago. Unfortunately for his Worship, even the best laid plans have a way of upsetting the voting public.

If Robertson had an ounce of political common sense he’d put a halt to this unnecessary and costly move immediately. Otherwise, the seven empty floors at City Hall and his new swanky digs may well become permanent symbols of what voters perceive as an arrogant and out-of-touch government.


Click to see Jeff Lee’s video on the secret Mayor’s elevator. And click to see Mayor Robertson sneaking out of City Hall (thanks to one of our commenters for this link).

UPDATE: CKNW reports that Mayor Robertson is back on vacation after his exhausting session playing tuba with 90-something Dal Richards on Saturday, and acting mayor Raymond Louie is pointing the finger of blame for Robertson’s decision to expand his office at Sam Sullivan.

– post by Daniel

Bill Rathie's boner & other summer politics
Where's the Mayor?

Broken image or link? Click here to report it or visit

About The Author

  • Glen Hall

    Come on….if you’re going to talk about a priate elevator and three doors to get to the mayor’s office, how did you miss posting this link:
    If only I could have found a version of him arriving on his bike……

  • I’ve never seen the M/O in Vancouver. But if it’s anything like it was portrayed in “Da Vinci’s City Hall,” it’s gotta be in the top two or three political offices in the nation.
    I drooled with envy every time it came on screen.

  • Jeremy

    Why doesn’t Jeff Lee take his camera and let us into the Mayor’s office itself? I’d love to see the teak walls and bathroom. This is a part of the story that nobody has covered yet. If it is as cramped and dingy as Robertson’s flunkies say it is, then yes, I will support the move. Until then, I’ve downloaded a blank NPA membership form to fill out just in case.

  • KK

    How can Vision blame the previous council for the expansion of the current Mayor’s office. This is another dumb move that will backfire on them. Who is giving them communication advice? They should be dumped asap!
    Jim Greene said on CKNW yesterday that Vision actually voted in favour of emptying out 7 floors of city hall and moving out the engineering staff. This was an in camera meeting so who knows the truth here. Bottom line is Ramond Louie should just accept the blame and move on. Pointing fingers at the NPA after you’ve been in government two years simply looks petty and foolish.

  • Sacrificial Lamb

    It looks like Gregor Robertson appointed Raymond Louie, his former leadership rival, as acting mayor this month. Interesting how all his blows up with Robertson out of town and Louie left holding the bag and mopping up the mess. Curious timing indeed.
    Kind of reminds me of that old Life cereal commercial. “give the renovation story to Raymond. Raymond will do anything”. It was kind of cute when Mikey did the commercial, but it takes a different turn in this dispute. If Louie ever does want to be mayor he had better keep his head low and let Robertson own this one. He should take Cadman’s cue. Doesn’t he realize the mayor may have set him up?

  • Bob Hawkins

    It is only taxpayers’ hard earned dollars. What is all the noise about? The majority of people voted for these people, and they are getting what they presumably wanted.

  • Kerry

    Check out the photo of city hall in today’s Vancouver Sun story. Kind of symbolic. It looks like the final days of Saigon when everyone was fleeing the city. The bureaucrats couldn’t get out of there fast enough so they left all their belongings!

  • Darwin

    I am just wondering if Vancouver City Hall is sending phony parking ticket like I have received to cover the costs of Mayor’s office reno.

  • daniel

    @Glen. So funny. I just saw your comment and looked at the video. It kind of nicely sums up the controversy doesn’t it. Thanks for the link (I see Mike added it to the story already). Much appreciated.

  • Julia

    I have been inside the mayors office for a meeting under a previous administration. Its the size of an average condo in Yaletown with a much better view.
    we cancel graffiti programs and litter pick up on our streets but have money to renovate offices.

  • Glen Hall

    Mike & Daniel,
    The symbolism of the video is pretty remarkable. Though I would suggest Don Adams ONLY acted as a nitwit while Gregor is the full-meal deal.
    The show could be called “Get Green” with Joel Solomon “playing” the role could be “The Chief”.
    I believe this clip features an actor playing the role of Raymond Louie when called upon.

  • Max

    And this just up – the ‘asbestos’ spin:
    Renovation is good for YOU
    Penny Daflos | Email news tips to Penny
    The Acting Mayor of Vancouver is defending the City’s decision to move the Engineering Department to private, leased space saying it’s in the taxpayers best interest.
    Raymond Louie says six of the 11 floors at City Hall are undergoing extensive re-furbishment and will be re-occupied soon, “We’re going through a planned process to replace plumbing and remove asbestos from the upper floors and as that happens we can bring people back into this heritage building that’s housed City Hall since the 1930s.”
    Louie doesn’t know the time line, but says those floors will be occupied by other city workers currently working in leased space around the city.

  • Todd

    “The symbolism of the video is pretty remarkable. Though I would suggest Don Adams ONLY acted as a nitwit while Gregor is the full-meal deal.”
    After seeing the video plus your last comment – Best laugh I’ve had all day. 😀
    Sheesh, you might even have a future career ahead of you providing material to Yuk Yuk’s comedy club. 😉

  • “we cancel graffiti programs and litter pick up on our streets…” Really? Well that explains the Calcutta-like feel of my morning walks to work lately.

  • A superb story, Daniel. My compliments. I will feature it in a story I’m about to release.
    Very nicely done!

  • Rachel

    Excellent story, Daniel. This reno is foolish and completely self serving. How many staff in the city work during their lunches eating at their desk, stay late for work and still eat at their desk…what the hell do these councillors think this is?? There is no justification to spend more taxpayers money for this reno. Can someone put the link for the NPA membership form on this site, please!

  • daniel

    Alex/Rachel. Thanks for the feedback.
    Alex, I look forward to reading your upcoming post. I’m sure it will prove interesting!

  • The Angry Taxpayer

    LOVED the video of the Mayor sneaking out the secret elevator.
    That must have been taken shortly after one of his jarring, undecipherable comments about anything.
    I believe he was heard to say to ubergrupenfuhrer McGee, on departing: “Sorry about that, Chief!”

  • Take care of Penny and the dollars will take care of themselves…

  • Is City Hall seismically sound? If not, should it be occupied at all, at least until it’s upgraded? $$$$$$!

  • Paul
    Join up! Make a donation! Let’s make sure Red Light Robertson is shown the door next year.

  • 12th and Cambee-ite

    I can just imagine how stressful it must be at the mayor’s office this week. His staff must be pulling their hair out now that their diabolical strategy to get new office space in the middle of summer has been foiled. What were they thinking? Did they think nobody would notice the construction crews taking apart the office? What a rookie mistake on their part. They should have just onwed the story and talked about all the union jobs they are creating in this recession due to their infrastrcture upgrades. That sounds so much more palatable.
    Meanwhile as Rome burns, Gregor is off at his private cottage on Cortes Island (god this guy gets a lot of holiday time!!!) and is telling the media (through his lackies) that he is out kayaking and unavailable for comment until at least Friday. There is no cel service apparntly when you are kayaking in northern gulf islands. Ohhhh…to be the mayor on a warm sunny day and kayaking amongst the killer whales and porpoises while your caucus is swimming in a shallow pool with the sharks. What a great gig.
    Meanwhile Ray Louie is getting creamed in the media along with the rest of his vision colleagues. All this is happening while the city manager steams up as she packs her bags and gets ready to move down to the second floor temporarily. I think she’s being relocated right next to the sanitation room. What did she do to Gregor (aka Magee) to deserve this? Do tell Penny.
    Oh, just another wonderful week at my workplace known as silly hall. It will kind of be sad when vision have all been kicked out of office and someone else is packing boxes. What on earth will we all talk about in the corridors of power? Yawn. Silly Hall will have to get back to filling potholes and keeping our sewers operating.
    I for one am getting my resume dusted off to apply for one of the many vacancies that will open up when a new administration takes a broom to the political hacks who’ve been hired in the public service during this administration. Back to work now.

  • Bill McCreery

    Thank you Paul & Rachel. You will be welcome in the NPA. If you have time drop in tomorrow afternoon @ our latest Pub Night:
    WHERE: The Five Point Pub, 3124 Main Street (see map)
    WHEN: Drop in anytime between 5:30 and 7:30 pm on Thursday, August 26
    WHY: Because it will be fun!

  • Brad Z

    With all the bad press the Mayor’s been getting lately he may want to make some staffing changes in his office. The Mayor’s communication guy should get the boot and be replaced by Jonathan Ross. He’s run a successful blog and should have been hired to work there in the first place. He has more political experience than Quinlan does and was overlooked back in ’08. This would be a good time to promote Ross and shakeup his office. It would show the public that someone is being held accountable for this summer’s reign of error by the Mayor’s staff. You read it here first! Expect a shakeup soon. Likely after Robertson gets back from China.

  • Hiring Jonathan Ross is a brilliant idea!

  • You have to remember how journalists sometimes get their sources (hint – some just make them up), or what they do when they have to write about a subject they know nothing about (hint – they Wiki) – it would shock you, if you only knew.

  • J Kay

    If Robertson dumps Quinlan in favour of Ross that would all but assure NPA their victory in 2011. Rest assured the mayor’s staff are secure in their jobs knowing the B team consists of Ross and co. This ain’t happening any time soon. Despite what Ross might be praying for.

  • Charlie Harper

    What a scoop Jeff Lee, the secret escape elevator that has been there since 1936.

  • david hadaway

    Mayor Robertson – no comment.
    Jonathan Ross’s blog – 0 comments.
    A match made in heaven.

  • Greg

    @david. Give the mayor a break. CKNW reports today that he has been out kayaking in the Northern Gulf Islands since Monday. He is out of cellular range and nobody has heard from him since. That’s why he is blissfully unaware of all the controversy swirling away back home.
    No doubt when he gets back to shore, he will put a halt to this silly and costly move. Let’s cut him some slack until he does.

  • Lin

    @ Greg. You’re being sarcastic, right?
    How do you think the Mayor got nicknamed Bubble Boy by his ol pal Al Garr – by sneaking into the drug & violence-plagued HEAT shelter on Howe @ midnight last year to avoid facing any fed-up, impacted neighbours of it, that’s how.
    Owning up to errors in judgement is clearly NOT in the DNA or visions of our Mayor and his party.

  • RealityCheck

    More problems for Smoothie…
    Canadian Federation of Independent Business has taken an interest in the sham consultation that took place with the Hornby bike lanes (like the open house where cycling proponents harassed anyone who questioned the “trial”).
    Is this the beginning of the class-action lawsuit?

  • Henry L

    @RealityCheck. The man who built his phoney political career on the backs of Cambie street merchants will now have the shoe on the other foot. I wouldn’t blame these merchants one bit for filing a class action lawsuit. Let’s hope the judge offers them a financial award just prior to the next civic election while voters are paying attention.

  • boohoo

    Who is this Jonathan Ross that you guys go on about…link to his blog?

  • George

    “Sounds of Silence” from the Vision crew…e

  • Paul

    “@david. Give the mayor a break. CKNW reports today that he has been out kayaking in the Northern Gulf Islands since Monday. He is out of cellular range and nobody has heard from him since. That’s why he is blissfully unaware of all the controversy swirling away back home.
    No doubt when he gets back to shore, he will put a halt to this silly and costly move. Let’s cut him some slack until he does.”
    As mayor of a major city, you should NEVER be out of cell range. EVER. I would hope it’s part of the job. If I can do it for my far less important position, certainly the person we voted for and rely on to lead us for a three year term can do it. This is not an internship position.

  • david hadaway

    Jonathan Ross runs the pro Vision blog.
    A strange characteristic of this blog is that most articles have ‘0 comments’ at the top. This is because it will not show any response that contradicts the party line.
    Sometimes, however, you will find an article with a comment or two. These typically begin either, “Jonathan, once again your awesome political analysis…” or “Jonathan, welcome back from your awesome dream destination holiday…”

  • boohoo

    I will check it out. The comments section sounds like Tsakumis’ blog. I suppose that type of person is on either side of the spectrum.

  • The Angry Taxpayer

    Per Jonathan Ross working at the Hall,
    the legalist, the legendary, large cojone-ied Denny Crane might say:
    “BRING IT ON!!!”

  • …bullseye, over and out…
    Tricks are for kids…

    If Gregor Robertson is “off-the-grid” then how is he making comments on facebook, as recently as 22 hours ago, and almost daily, previously to that?
    Did anyone really think Quinlan would tell the truth?
    Did anyone think Magee is capable of telling the truth?
    These guys are in deep trouble. Just watch.

  • Alex, that’s hilarious. Can you send a screen shot of Gregor’s off-the-grid Facebook posts that we presume are made with a satellite phone with a hand-crank generator.

  • Ulysses

    @Alex. Are you trying to imply that the mayor may not have been telling the truth? Are you hinting Robertson might have been hiding and monitoring the blogoshphere/media from the comfort of his luxury retreat on Cortes Island. Say it isn’t so. Surely Gregor’s staff wouldn’t hide him away during a controversy. Naaahhh. Couldn’t happen. Great catch on your part.

  • Naomi

    “As someone who used to work in the Mayor’s office in Vancouver”, I think you’re a little bitter you’re not working there anymore. 🙂

  • George

    not sure, are you directing your comment to me. If so, sorry, I’m a card carrying Vision member, until I send in my NPA application. I didn’t drink the Kool Aid.

  • Naomi

    @George, no I was quoting the first line of the article.
    You have to apply to join the (N)PA?

  • FYI, anyone can get themselves a software program called Hootsuite (developed here in Vancouver) which offers the ability to pre-write and schedule social media updates (including Facebook, Twitter, etc) and also share access to those accounts with other people.
    Very useful program. Great if you’re out of town but want to keep your Facebook page or Twitter feed fresh while you are away.