06 December 2009

A Surreal Experience with City Council

Last Thursday night I made a presentation to City Council at their public hearings on the budget. I had expected to make my brief (about 3 minutes) statement and then be thanked and sent away--after all there were nearly 90 speakers on the list, and what I had to say wasn't exactly what the majority of council wanted to hear. I was asking them to rethink their strategy of a 2% tax increase and 20 million dollars in cuts. Imagine my surprise when Councillor after Councillor grilled me over my views on everything from animals in captivity to whether there really were any inefficiencies within the city government. Here is a transcript of my remarks:

Your worship, Councillors, my name is Stuart Mackinnon. I have the honour to be both a Trustee of the Vancouver Public Library and a Commissioner of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation. Tonight though I speak mostly as a homeowner and taxpayer.

I stand before you tonight to ask that you re-think your budgetary strategy which includes a property tax increase of 2%, a 2% tax shift from business to residential property tax, and an additional $20 million in savings from a combination of increased charges to the public and/or cuts in programs and services. As a homeowner and tax payer I applaud you for your concern for the citizens who pay property or business taxes, but I ask you to re-think this in light of the damage and hurt that will be caused by the imposed short-falls on the Park Board and Library Board.

These shortfalls are on top of shortfalls that each Board had to deal with last year. These shortfalls mean that libraries will close earlier, that fewer books will be purchased and that fewer workers will be available to help the public. These shortfalls mean that two iconic destinations in Vancouver—the Children’s farmyard and the Bloedel conservatory will be closed forever. Fewer trees will be planted on our streets, fewer flowers will be planted in Queen Elizabeth Park, an after school care facility will close, hours will shortened at community centres and there will be fewer programs. The closures will affect everyone who lives in or visits Vancouver. The reduction in hours and services will most probably affect most the people who can least afford them—the very people we were elected to help. This recession has affected everyone, but it has affected most those on limited incomes, those on fixed incomes and those without incomes. These people use libraries, community centres and parks because they can’t afford to pay for movies or other entertainments that cost more.

Your 2% tax increase is admirable, but it is arbitrary. It is not fixed in stone. It is your choice. No one likes to pay more taxes, but equally no one wants to lose the valuable services and programs that this city offers. You can choose to raise the taxes to 4 or 5 or 6% and each percentage will allow the Library and Park Boards to fulfil their mandates to serve to citizens of our great city.

You will hear tonight many people asking you to save this or that particular service or amenity. I am asking you to save them all, to not cut the heart out of our city. I am asking you to re-think and re-adjust you budgetary expenditures.

Thank you.

All but three of the Councillors plus the Mayor asked me questions resulting in an astounding 40 minutes of dialogue--all the while 80+ others were waiting to speak. Cllr Jang and Cllr Louie both seemed to take it as an affront that I would speak against their plans, with Cllr Louie badgering me on how I would spend an extra hundred thousand dollars. I had thought he was asking what I, in my capacity as an elected official, would spend it on, and so replied that I couldn't make that decision as I didn't have the authority. In what can only be described as a surreal exchange I finally declared that if I was the sole arbiter of the money, then I would spend it on the trees on the street program. For those in attendance, they must have been wondering what was going on. Why were two city politicians spending so much time in conversation when they wanted to speak.

Surely the most bizarre exchange had to have been with Cllr Stevenson who stated that there were no inefficiencies in the city so no savings could be made there--this after City Council spent tens of thousands of dollars on a Core Services review to find inefficiencies and duplications. If there are no inefficiencies does Cllr Stevenson think this was tax dollars well spent?

I had tried in my submission to be non political, tried to keep partisan politics out it. I can only think that the Vision councillors were so angry that I had had the nerve to speak out against their budget that they had wanted to punish and embarrass me in public. All they manged to do was to look extremely mean and petty and ended up embarrassing themselves.


  1. If anyone thinks there are no inefficiencies within the Park Board they are dreaming. Fact is there are so many, however because it is Management Inefficiencies there is no way that anything will be done about them. Do you honestly believe that the Park Board Management would cut there positions. Why were the trades foremen and the Community Centre Co -ordinators made exempt positions?

    AS for the Conservatory I would ask why was it allowed to deteriorate? And what incentive is there for any person or corporation
    willing to donate to the Park Board when very clearly the Board neglects their facilities. Perhaps less Byng Thom curved roof architecture and more maintenance on what you have.

  2. I'd just really like to thank you for your outspoken advocacy for the conservatory and farmyard. A lot of people in politics seem to prefer a clubby approach. I'm glad you've kept the public trust (as well as public opinion) in mind. This thing was a gift, for Pete's sake. Some of your colleagues have been so quick to toss it on the trash heap that it makes me wonder if they have some other motive I'm not seeing.