Gregor Robertson: “you can question how worthwhile democracy is…”

Mayor Gregor Robertson represents Vancouver in Shanghai (at Expo)

We’re getting the occasional news bites from overseas where Mayor Robertson’s $120,000 "green" industry economic junket is taking place in China. With not much to report yet about the journey we’re getting reports about how Robertson is distantly related to Dr. Norman Bethune from journos over there, and announcements partnerships between North American companies and the City.

Today however some breaking news. Gregor Robertson opened up to a CBC reporter in Beijing who asked Vancouver’s Mayor his thoughts about doing business with a country that many perceive as having relatively lax environmental standards. Robertson has been criticized during his term back home for his council’s lack of public consultation on zoning decisions, bike lanes, bridges and HEAT shelters, mainly in the name of improving the city’s environment.

His response to the CBC reporter’s question about working with an authoritarian regime was as follows:

"…you can be critical of a lot of regimes around the world, and you can question how worthwhile democracy is in a lot of countries right now which are, frankly, ignoring the biggest crisis in the history of our species which is climate change. That’s where you see the Chinese government taking radical dramatic action in investing in turning the ship around. And you do not see that in Western governments right now, democratically elected, and that’s because they’re afraid. And that’s not serving the greater interests of society."

So to our readers, what are your thoughts on the Mayor’s comments?

What do you think this statement means? Is democracy a tool for change or an impediment? For Robertson’s China junket, what was a pretty dull affair will certainly now garner a little more attention thanks to the Mayor’s words.

UPDATE: The Globe and Mail follows up with a finger-wagging editorial about Vancouver’s Mayor, calling him "naive" and "carried away by communism" – read here:

– post by Mike

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About The Author

  • “A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there’s no question about it,” – George W Bush

  • George

    Democracy cubed?

  • landlord

    “…the biggest crisis in the history of our species”?
    Very 21st century point of view, often held by those who have never personally experienced a real crisis.
    Many of those who lived through (and all of those who died in) two world wars might beg to differ. Militarism is a far greater threat to humanity than the climate. His erstwhile economic saviours in China sponsor fascist dictatorships in North Korea, Myanmar, and half of Africa. China is a military dicatorship whose citizens enjoy no human rights whatsoever.
    But never mind. Curling up in the lap of the Politburo might pull some green votes in November 2011. After the Shanghai grip-and-grins most of the blood will wash off the Mayor’s hands with a good organic, hypo-allergenic soap.

  • boohoo

    What’s interesting is his global approach to the ‘greater interests of society’–how we’re (the royal we) not doing enough to solve this global problem. He’s right btw, we do a lot of token things like build green roofs but we still shop at walmart and drive like there’s no end in sight.
    Yet in his own city, it’s Vancouver’s way or the highway.
    I would also like to see that quote without being cut off right before that juicy tidbit. Whenever a blog or news starts a quote with ‘…’ you know there’s some context missing.

  • Dave

    Boohoo, are you also paid to be “conversational miner”? You are too much. No matter what this mayor and council does, you are there cheering on the sidelines.
    Read the whole quote then give us your opinion! Do you support his comments about communist nations or not? Do you? Forget the cheap semantics and hyperbole.

  • @boohoo. The quote is all we have, and it’s the same one Bula used in her report.
    You’re right about the symbolic stuff – light bulbs, beehives, city hall gardens, chickens – not really lessening our carbon footprint. But for Robertson it’s as important to be “seen” being green as it is doing something about it. Problem is, of course, that he’s not doing the latter.

  • boohoo

    I agree, but the rest of us aren’t any different. We drive hybrids or recycle or do whatever token thing we do and then feel good about being green. We’re no different.
    The problem with actually doing something about it is that it requires serious change, something none of us are prepared to do.
    Please explain to me how I am ‘cheerleading’ the mayor on this one. My point was that his green measures are token and that his ‘what’s best for the greater society’ vision doesn’t translate to civic politics. That’s cheerleading?

  • “China really has the ultimate Kevin Falcon government structure”
    – Kevin Falcon (May 2006)

  • RealityCheck

    …And Kevin Falcon’s inexcusable comment is supposed to make Gregor’s embrace of a brutal one-party dictatorship okay?
    Anyone who believes in western democracy who supported Vision in the past should really be doing some soul-searching today.

  • Frank

    Chris, good on you for equating Kevin Falcon with Gregor Robertson! Not sure what Minister Falcon will think about it though. My bet is the two of them are someday in a dog fight for the Premier’s job. Then we’ll get the chance to compare notes on who has been the better leader.

  • Jay

    Two wrongs don’t make a right (wing politician.) Chris, just cause Kevin also said something stupid doesn’t take away from Robertson’s own controversial comment.
    You far lefties have to come up with a better defence to this stupid statement than “Kevin did it too…nah nah naaah naaaah”.

  • Actually, my point was that I doubt there’s a politician alive who doesn’t secretly envy the power of dictatorship, much as the first poster in this thread also pointed out. Funny how nobody jumped on him.

  • George

    I personally didn’t jump on the first poster because I interpreted the statement as sarcasm.
    Look who he was quoting… IMHO

  • The Angry Taxpayer

    Democracy, screwed?

  • Jesse

    interesting piece on Robertson’s trip to China
    very often, i find that sustainability is used as a substitute for accountability

  • Ah, but when I said it, it had to be a defense of the mayor? Isn’t it funny how we find our own subtexts between the lines?
    If you heard the actual quote on the CBC this morning it seemed as though Robertson was congratulating China on doing more about climate change than the democratically elected gov’ts which supposedly represent ‘the people’… of which a majority do want to see issues surrounding pollution, natural resources, and fossil fuel reliance addressed. It was hardly a ringing endorsement of human rights violations. I’m not sure that they ARE doing more personally, but he’s entitled to his opinion.
    Putting aside THAT debate (is climate change real) it was pretty obvious that Robertson wasn’t commenting on China’s governance, but on their moves w/r/t ‘greener’ approaches.
    Funny, funny stuff. We may rely on China for all our plastic doo-dads, but outrage we can manufacture right here at home thankyouverymuch.

  • landlord

    The head of CSIS makes an unprecedented public comment about Chinese “influence” on BC municipal politicians.
    The mayor of Vancouver then goes to China and says nice things about police states.
    Probably no connection.
    Think Beijing knows about the Falun Gong fundraisers at Hollyhock?

  • Jay

    @Chris. Will you let us all know if you think communism trumps democracy when it comes to protecting the environment? That seems to be what Robertson is implying. We’re all waiting. Do you like China’s approach to the environment?

  • “Will you let us all know if you think communism trumps democracy when it comes to protecting the environment?”
    Sure Jay, you’ll be the first to know.
    “That seems to be what Robertson is implying.”
    I didn’t infer that from his statement.
    “We’re all waiting. Do you like China’s approach to the environment?”
    Really, you’re all waiting? Who are you speaking for?
    I have a better idea. Why don’t you tell us what you think. If I find it interesting I might respond.

  • George

    My uncle, proud member of “The Canadian Black Watch” died during WWII, so I could enjoy the freedoms that I have today.
    Perhaps the Mayor should think before voicing his well, you assume, that I spoke without listening to CBC and the entire comment…never assume. We are a brighter bunch than you give us credit for.
    Perhaps if you cut the holier than thou garbage, we could take your comments a little more seriously. IMHO

  • Bill McCreery

    “I doubt there’s a politician alive who doesn’t secretly envy the power of dictatorship….”
    Revealing Chris. Please don’t generalize & don’t assume.

  • clear.the.air

    Mike Klassen wrote: “You’re right about the symbolic stuff – light bulbs, beehives, city hall gardens, chickens – not really lessening our carbon footprint. But for Robertson it’s as important to be “seen” being green as it is doing something about it. Problem is, of course, that he’s not doing the latter.”
    In a previous post Mike Klassen wrote:
    “We’ve been highly critical of the “symbolic environmentalism” taking place at Vancouver City Hall, for example, which takes our eye off the real goals of building more dense and efficient cities. Jaccard’s speech adds fuel, so to speak, to the discussion about the urgency of climate change. Real leadership from cities is one way this will have to happen, not photo ops and gestures.
    So, Mr. Klassen, what leadership is missing? Which measures would you take to reduce our city’s ecological footprint? Vancouver is building compact, transit oriented neighbourhoods and encouragingly starting to integrate local energy systems (i.e. SE & NE False Creek). It’s building a bike network so that people can get around in an affordable and healthy manner without producing carbon emissions. It’s encouraging local and residential food production, including the ridiculously maligned backyard chickens, which reduces the emissions associated with transporting food to markets. It’s partnering with businesses to reduce their carbon output while encouraging clean tech companies to set up in the region. It’s put in place the beginnings of the infrastructure for a transition to electric vehicles. There are other examples relating to composting, reducing waste pick up, etc. What is missing? What else would you do or propose to speed things up?

  • @Bill
    “Please don’t generalize & don’t assume”
    Point taken. However, there’s a knife that cuts both ways. I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest you have been guilty of the same behaviour Bill. Let’s both agree to work harder in this regard shall we?
    @George “as well, you assume, that I spoke without listening to CBC and the entire comment…never assume.”
    No worries. Let me rephrase:
    When I heard the actual quote on the CBC this morning it seemed as though Robertson was congratulating China on doing more about climate change than the democratically elected gov’ts which supposedly represent ‘the people’… of which a majority do want to see issues surrounding pollution, natural resources, and fossil fuel reliance addressed.
    “We are a brighter bunch than you give us credit for. Perhaps if you cut the holier than thou garbage, we could take your comments a little more seriously. IMHO”
    If I thought you weren’t bright, I wouldn’t bother to engage your comments.
    As for my comments, not a single one goes by without a ker-fuffle. I think they are being taken seriously, otherwise you’d ignore them.

  • Terry

    Anybody bother to read Gary Mason’s terrible column this morning where he is whining that bloggers are taking over the world. What a cry baby. He should go back to covering the CFL. He obviously read all of Magee’s talking points and carefully laid them out for everyone to read. In Mason’s democracy, only major dailies and news conglomerates would control the information we read. Anything coming from bloggers is “juvenile” or “settling scores”. What planet is this goof living on? Attacking city caucus for reporting on scandals at city ball is about as lame as it gets. He must be the laughing stock of his newsroom today. Meanwhile his competitors are running circles around him as they understand they need to adjust to the new media world we live in. Gary you’re right. You are old fashioned and rather than whining about how bloggers are out working you, why don’t you just work a little harder?

  • Dave1

    A must read today is another tour de force opinion piece by Gary (I am SO important!) Mason in the Globe today.
    Wow what a brilliant piece of writing and editorial. His happy pills were kicking in big time today… the cogent argument, the defence of Penny Pincher Ballem ( mm interesting that he forgot to mention her time in Ontario .. oh ya how did that work out?.. what did it cost the taxpayers to get rid of her…all of course conviniently forgotten).
    Of course in his haste to drive home his point as if he was a paragon of virtue, he made it clear he is as much or more of a hack as those he condemns.
    At least those he condemns (yes including Ross) come up with legitimate news unlike Mason, Garr and others who couldn’t smell a story with a cane and braille unless it was spoon fed to him. (See Brian Burke and Mike Magee for details)
    Mason brilliantly shows once again how former journalists like himself and others are becoming more irrelevant and not taken seriously, all the time.
    They forget that news can be interesting and very important. Columns and ink spent devoted to man crushes on devilishly good looks, sexy hair, and matching belt and shoes .. mm not so much.
    They just don’t get it ..
    One thought for Gary.. time to kiss up more and get a gig where you can ride things out till you really retire.. your expiry date has long since past.

  • The Club Set

    Gary Mason has becoming a laughing stock after this morning’s column. Had breakfast with the boys at the Vancouver Club and we all had a good chuckle over his whine. It made the Globe look really bad. Does anyone give him feedback on this stuff before it’s published? It would appear not.
    This blog has been the only contrarian opinion to this government since the last election. Funny how the Globe see’s accountability as a bad thing. No wonder they always gush over a guy who waxes on about how great communism is for the environment.

  • Chris

    @Dave1. All I can say is hallelujah. You speak the truth my brother. Mason is a joke as a civic reporter. Didn’t this guy used to cover sports? At least I remember someone with a similar name doing so. What is he door commenting on urban affairs. Has he actually ever been to a full council meeting or popped by city hall. I doubt it. While Tsakumis, Ross and this blog have their faults, I couldn’t live without their coverage of civic issues. Just ignore his attacks as the comments of a has been columnist trying to remain relevant in some way.

  • Insider at the Hall

    I work at City Hall and have never seen Mason at a single meeting or public hearing. That doesn’t mean he’s never been here, just never saw him in the last 11 years since I’ve been here. Hope that answers your question. Back to lunch now. Great comments and post.

  • dave1

    Good memory. This is the same guy that covered sports and was so lousy at that, they moved him out.
    Mason lost all his credibility when he leaked info from Brian Burke on a number of self serving to matters to Burke including the sale of the team at the time.
    Mason like Garr and others need the hard bits explained or spoon fed to them so they can write something semi coherent. Actually doing real reporting, research and attending a meeting is anthema to them.
    I suspect Mason and Fabula are the Globe’s attempt to show that they are tuned into the concerns of the West Coast.
    Kinda sad really, but typical of Toronto centric media knowing whats best or reality for the rest of us outside the Golden Horsehoe of Southern Ontario.
    As for whether his columns get proofed or vetted.. Who knows, but I bet good ole’ Gary has his lips puckered so big the Globe cares not to notice

  • “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or certainty of corruption by full authority.”
    Lord Acton 1887

  • Julia

    I have been curious why Jeff Lee has been so quiet. According to his twitter account, he is taking a holiday (can you call home reno’s a holiday?)
    I will be very curious what he has to say upon his return. He is usually very good about stripping away the emotion and finding the issue. I guess that is why he is on the list!

  • @CTA Your list is a mixed bag of policy developed and approved under previous councils. The majority of bike infrastructure all preceded Vision’s term as government. The city’s strategy to emphasize walkable neighbourhoods was developed over the past two decades. Local energy systems at False Creek were approved during the previous two councils. The local food policy is again several years old, although my recent commentary on urban agriculture questions the return on investment.
    Backyard chickens according your analysis have less carbon footprint by raising four at a time in Vancouver’s residential neighbourhoods. Oh really? How are those fowl housed in the winter? How is their feed transported to the homes where these critters live? It all takes energy, my friend. And it’s a heckuva lot more efficient to have someone in Agassiz raise/feed/shelter more birds than your neighbour.
    As for electric vehicle plug-ins. What a momentous green policy development — make it easier for cars to tap into the energy grid! According to studies nearly one-quarter of an auto’s carbon footprint goes into manufacturing the car. All that energy to charge vehicles still has to be produced…and we know that most energy in developed countries comes from fossil fuels.
    We must credit the hard work done by Vancouver over decades to make us more sustainable. Shame on anyone who would try to take credit for it all.

  • clear.the.air

    I never wrote that those policies didn’t develop over time. Without a doubt there is a history of successive councils that have made decisions that have mitigated the damage our city does to the biosphere while making it more livable. TEAM’s shut down of the downtown freeway disaster and Gordon Price’s early championing of a separated bike lane for the Burrard Bridge are two examples. Sam’s ecodensity program was also good for its laneway housing and LEED Silver standard.
    Nor am I saying that any person or group is laying claim to all of it. The current council is building on existing policies (e.g. LEED Silver to Gold) while adding new ones of their own framed by targets and time-sensitive goal (i.e. Greenest City by 2020). In my opinion, having the targets and 2020 goal are key because our climate and energy crises are time-sensitive crises.
    But both of the above are beside the point. What I asked you Mr. Klassen was:
    “What leadership is missing? Which measures would you take to reduce our city’s ecological footprint?
    “What is missing? What else would you do or propose to speed things up?

  • rf

    I guess if Gary can’t find a story before the blogs he can always write article number 356 about his son, his dog, or something else lame that his ‘you may not know this but i’m a celebrity’ ego thinks other people actually find interesting.

  • mr J

    This is so hilarious – of course we are all hipocrits;;; as we all cherish our cheap chinese made crap that we buy at walmart- on the environment front to our entire govt prov/fed are just as corrupt as we sell train/freighter loads of coal to china to make electricity…its our capitalist system …of course we BC’ers pay a carbon tax somehow thinking we are saving the planet!! laughable…but if China is making great environmental strides that should or shouldnt be a reason to do business withh them – certainly shouldnt trump their human rights policies – …bring on the electric car and the clean diesel technology….all you granola crunching freedom fighters – vision and gregor is not the problem its our hipocritical and conflicting policies and attitudes about pretty much everything…..what we do in vancouver (600,000ppl) is but a drop in the bucket and any good is likely cancelled out by just 1 train load of coal to China…its all laughable and sad at the same time!

  • Max

    Didn’t ‘green’ Robertson and Vision purchase the granite needed to replace/repair the Stanley Park Sea Wall from a company in China, over purchasing it from a local company?
    I believe it took 3 months by container ship to get here.

  • Bill

    I really hope that our Mayor was just sucking up to the Chinese to further his trade mission and he is not so dumb as to believe that China gives a rats ass about climate change. They are on a growth trajectory that is going to require a lot more energy in future and they want to secure it however they can get it – nuclear, coal, oil sands, wind or solar. And they are not hampered by environmental standards that might be demanded in a democracy – they can and do build whatever they want, where ever they want.
    We are better stewards of the environment by protecting our water and air from real pollution rather than chasing windmills for a problem that might not even exist and will not solve if it does.

  • The Globe and Mail follows up with a finger-wagging editorial about Vancouver’s Mayor, calling him “naive” and “carried away by communism” – read here:

  • PSM

    I suppose I do question how worthwhile democracy when somebody like Gregor Robertson and his ilk get elected to anything.

  • david hadaway

    The Peoples Republic demonstrates its commitment to recycling by removing for transplant the organs of executed prisoners – and it executes a lot of people. Naturally the permission of the condemned or their relations is not required. I wonder if Mr Robertson and his entourage have an opinion on that.

  • Jay

    Swell, now we have our very own made-in-Canada version of Sarah Palin to be proud of back home; a great looking 40-something opportunist who really can’t make intelligent, informed commentary on world issues.
    As someone who has worked extensively throughout China, all I can say is – clueless, eh?

  • landlord

    They invented the policy of execution by a bullet to the back of the head of a kneeling prisoner, then sending the family a bill for the cost of the bullet.

  • Bill McCreery

    In addition to his revealing musing about totalitarianism’s advantages over democracy’s VV’s brain trust also had further musings about the Olympic Village in that same CBC interview. This morning hearing Gregor wondering out loud from China [he was supposed to be getting away to avoid things like this] that maybe there should be more rental housing in the OV or something to that effect. He referred to the +/-400 unsold units & blamed the down market.
    This is really all about is the incompetent management of the entire Olympic Village [what has become] scandal. It started by them leaking confidential incamera information during the 2008 election to gain a political advantage. It worked in the short term but, now VV have to live with the monster they created. And, the taxpayers’ money they’ve apparently misdirected to pay J. Ross & co. is peanuts by comparison to the $300,000 / month of also taxpayer money flying out the window from the Olympic Village debacle.
    The really, really serious mistake was for Gregor & co to bad mouth this project during the election because any development project gets a life of its own, good or bad. They gave it a bad rep from the get go, creating a marketing disaster! We’re still living with it. Once a project has a negative image it’s very, very difficult to shake.
    Since then, they’ve been in office for almost 2 years. They knew before they were elected they would need to have a plan in place to effectively manage the post Olympics transition of the OV. But, they delayed making a decision until a few months ago, that delay clearly showing they had no plan. &, the decisions they have made also clearly show they are ideologically driven & rigid despite what the on the ground conditions are. Among other sand traps they’ve created they’ve decided to rent to a select group of people who we now know don’t want to rent there &/or can’t afford the rents. Surely after +/-3 months with no takers maybe its time for a 2nd look? On the social housing side the conveluted process is another obvious no go. They knew from the day they were elected they had to deal with these matters. They’ve slashed programmes, facilities budgets & cut jobs across the City but, they haven’t dealt with something they knew they had to. Is this good management?
    Boy o boy! Magee, Bob Rennie, pls ask this man to stop talking about the OV. He’s not helping. He’s making a bad he created in the 1st place, then made worse & now much worse.

  • Just Plain Sad

    @ Bill
    A very accurate assessment. Well written. Its just plain sad that it is almost 2 years later and incites like yours are still for the most part ignored by the general public and marginalized by the ruling regime. Maybe this is the end of the charade and the beginning of the end. We can only hope.

  • david hadaway
    An interesting article on green totalitarianism. I love the idea of environmentalism as a luxury brand for guilty consumers. It sums up our well travelled Mayor very well.

  • RealityCheck

    The Guardian article is stunning in both it’s content and it’s comments. It should be read by every moderate person who wants to be green, yet is uncomfortable and angry with enviro orthodoxy.

  • landlord

    But what if people joyously stop consuming the Guardian?

  • Alan Parker

    What an idiot. Only Gregor would be dumb enough to attempt such comparisons.

  • George

    Excellent article in City Caucus recommended reads today..China’s “Green Economy” will have to wait….

  • Kent

    Gregor Robertson LOL
    Without doubt the most intelligent mayor in the history of Vancouver !
    The movie Zoolander comes to mind and like Darrel Zoolander a disfuntioal male model, Gregor lives in a delusional reality where bike and chickens have more rights than the voting public .
    If this clown thinks he has a future in politics he had better think twice (If he is in fact he is capable of thinking, which is debatable)
    Gregor’s future is as a bike mechanic or a chicken wrangler.
    what a absolute moron !

  • Kent

    Correction to Gregor Robertson LOL
    I said the most intelligent mayor when in fact anyone with a brain would have seen this as a typo. What I meant to say was the most unintelligent ! 🙂

  • Samantha Eugeni

    Gregor is an interesting individual. I can’t even drive over the Burrard St. bridge because of the bike lanes that no one uses. Now tell me – I live in a condo – do I get to keep 5 chickens on my balcony? Where is that homeless refuse for lost chickens? Just asking.