Sam Sullivan would never have gotten away with that

Coals burning
Frmr NPA Mayor Sam Sullivan was regularly raked over the coals by Vision/COPE

Regardless of what you think of the ten civic politicians that make up the COPE/Vision Vancouver coalition government, you have to admit they were a formidable opposition during the last term of  council. There were few if any staff reports or NPA motions that sailed through the chamber without their pointed attacks and amendments to the amendments. I can honestly say that former Mayor Sam Sullivan and his NPA caucus colleagues were often stunned by some of the mud that was flung their way every week.

Looking back, the opposition accused Sullivan and his council of being anti-gay, anti-arts, anti-daycares, anti-fun, anti-neighbhourhoods, pro-business, pro-developer, and so on. During one council meeting, they even had the temerity to accuse him of taking brown envelopes full of cash and stuffing it in his pocket. Had I not been in the chamber to witness it for myself, I simply wouldn’t have believed it.

One thing is for sure though. There is no way Sullivan & the NPA could have pulled off the policy flip-flop and anti-democratic activity Gregor Robertson did this week and get away it.

With only one NPA member in opposition, keeping this massive COPE/Vision majority government accountable has been Councillor Suzanne Anton's herculean task. I’m sure many days it must seem overwhelming to her as the ten of them rule Vancouver like it’s their own kingdom. Being a lone voice is one likely reason Anton wasn’t able to muster up any media attention on Robertson watering down many of his so-called “green” commitments this week.

If you recall, in 2009 Mayor Gregor had promised to create 20,000 new “green” jobs by 2020, and he got a lot of great press out of it. His new diluted commitment is to double the number of green jobs by 2020 – using 2010 as the base level. He claims there were 12,000 green jobs in 2010, which means his new target falls 8,000 jobs short of last year’s promise.

It’s clear now Robertson knew he wouldn't be able to get anywhere near the target of 20,000 new jobs. Yet I’m still not convinced he’ll be able to meet even his new target, given that he provides no clear benchmarks or year-by-year breakdown by which he’ll accomplish this vague goal.

This isn’t the first time Robertson has gotten away with flip-flopping on a major policy item, and getting no notice from the MSM. We previously wrote about how he promised during the election campaign to “end homelessness” by 2015 in Vancouver.

Mayor Gregor then quietly dropped that commitment after a survey of homelessness in Vancouver found it had actually increased by 12% under his watch. Robertson’s watered down goal became to “end street homelessness” by 2015. Once again, its rather doubtful he’ll ever meet this commitment. At least not without a significant new support for permanent housing from senior levels of government – something he has failed to secure so far during this term.

If the tables were turned and Sullivan had done these major policy flip flops or backtracks, Vision/COPE would have squawked like a flock of backyard chickens. They would have challenged some members of the media to hold Sullivan’s council to account.

It goes without saying that you would have read about it in Allen Garr’s column(s) in the Courier. Odds are civic reporters like my friend Frances Bula would also have noted this in her coverage, and report every nasty detail – and rightly so. After all, reporters are supposed to report on the track record and decisions made by politicians. To her credit, Bula has been one of the few MSM to express serious concerns regarding some of the actions undertaken by this government. I'm sure she receives no end of grief from the Mayor's handlers as a result.

When there's a big flip-flop by Robertson you never hear about it. Rather, he’s described as “pragmatic,” or a “mayor that listens and adjusts his policies accordingly.” Robertson himself tries to spin his council's caving in yesterday on the Planning Department's move to add height on select sites in the Downtown Eastside as a move to approve 'dtes community-led planning.’ Nice try, Gregor.

Had Sullivan’s council tried to spin like this during their 2005-2008 term, it’s unlikely there would be any takers in the mainstream media.

Had the NPA attempted to do what Vision Vancouver did yesterday with their taller buildings proposal, I can assure you they would have been pummeled. At the last minute and with 80 concerned speakers lined up to speak to council, they canceled the public meeting and sent it back to staff to conduct even more consultation. By the way, this whole process started back in 2007. It’s been consulted out of existence.

There was no simply way Vision was going to tolerate the spectre of 80 angry people shouting at them in the chamber regarding higher buildings. We all knew Vision Vancouver liked backyard chickens, but it’s now clear they're acting like them too. I guess governing in a civic election year will do that to you.

Had Sullivan & the NPA shut down a public meeting like happened yesterday, the attacks from Vision would have been deafening. “Undemocratic!” Heather Deal would have shouted. “Why are you afraid of listening to the public?” Tim Stevenson would have remarked. “This is unfair to all of those speakers,” Raymond Louie would have bellowed. I could see that this decision would have earned headlines suggesting “Citizen Sam” was bullying his way through council again.

This morning I confess I have a bit of Vision/COPE envy. If the ranks of today's opposition were more than just one councillor, there might be bigger consequences for breaking campaign promises in the way Vision has. As it stands, we’ll have to wait for the upcoming civic election to see how voters feel about being ruled by fiat.

My crystal ball keeps telling me there are a changes coming on the horizon when it comes to the makeup of the next council. At the very least, I’m confident voters will want to keep a future government more accountable than the current one has been.

- Post by Daniel

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