Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Vision Vancouver: openness promise made, promise broken

George Affleck to the rescue.

The former CBC reporter and producer, who runs a public relations agency called Curve Communications, was elected as an NPA city councillor in the 2011 election. Almost two years on, he has seen from the inside what those of us in the media have experienced on the outside.

Vancouver city hall, under the Vision Vancouver majority and leadership of Mayor Gregor Robertson, has become a closed shop. It has adopted the same corporate communications system for dealing with the media that exists under the proroguing Conservatives in Ottawa and the no-fall-Legislature-sitting BC Liberals in Victoria. This ranges from late replies to calls or emails from reporters seeking basic facts to the now-glacial Freedom of Information process that defaults to secrecy. No longer are we allowed to call a senior bureaucrat for an interview or even basic information. All requests must go through a central channel. Rarely are senior managers made available for interviews anymore. Instead, we get a crafted-by-committee paragraph or less statement that, sometimes, doesn't come close to being relevant.

Former city councillor and mayoral candidate Peter Ladner summed it up in this Business in Vancouver column. So did Stanley Tromp in The Tyee, who took a critical look at the ludicrous theatre that surrounds the open data movement, of which City of Vancouver claims to be a champion. As I like to say, it's nice to know where all the fire hydrants are, but how much did they cost taxpayers, who supplied them and how did they get the contract?

georgehead
Affleck: motion for openness
What is the reason why those in power feel the need to keep citizens in the dark and feed them excrement? The phenomenon of the permanent campaign. It's all about controlling the message and manufacturing consent. Those in power want to keep power. They use every available communications tool to control the message and prevent the slightest of embarrassment, every single day. And they do it on your dime. Their ultimate goal is to convince just enough of you to vote for them on election day, so that they can continue the cycle and satisfy those interest groups that donated to their cause.

Don't believe me? Denise Rudnicki is Canada's expert on the permanent campaign and how it is ultimately a detriment to democracy. Here's one of her shorter pieces: Inside the Government's Message-Making Machine.

Spending on communications has tripled at Vancouver city hall over the last seven years. The stakes are high. Vision Vancouver genuinely wants to see the Greenest City 2020 strategy that it imposed come to fruition in 2020. That means it wants another two election victories in 2014 and 2017, to go along with the 2008 and 2011 majorities.

Mayor Gregor Robertson
Robertson: promised transparency
Vision Vancouver might just succeed. It has created a formidable machine that appeals to those on the left, centre and right. It is where political donations from big unions and big business go. Without an effective opposition (NPA and COPE are still licking their wounds from 2011) the ruling party needs only to stay afloat in the daily news cycle until voting day, Nov. 15, 2014. Lo and behold, folks in neighbourhoods throughout the city are pushing back at Vision's habit of rubber-stamping rezoning and development of condos and bike lanes. A citywide protest march on city hall, called #OurVancouver, is planned for Sept. 24.

When he was sworn-in on Dec. 8, 2008, Mayor Gregor Robertson promised to "ensure transparency, accountability and public debate at city hall."

"I will not let you down on making city hall more open and accountable," Robertson said in his speech, which you can read here.

It is now 2013. Robertson has not delivered openness. He has let Vancouverites down.

Here is Affleck's motion. Watch out for the Vision Vancouver spin.

Media Access to City of Vancouver Staff 
Whereas the City of Vancouver values openness and transparency; 
Whereas media has an important role in communicating the actions of the City of Vancouver, and are crucial to ensuring informed, engaged citizens; 
Whereas the budget allocated to the Communications Department has increased from $1.25 million to $1.94 million, and staffing has increased from 9 to 20 positions over the past four years; 
Whereas local media have raised concerns regarding open access to officials, timely interviews with officials, and the ability to receive information on city policies; 
Whereas city departmental staff are professional, have good judgement and are generally very knowledgeable in their fields of expertise; 
Whereas past policy permitted city hall staff to communicate directly with members of the media at the discretion of their direct managers with no noticeable negative effects; 
Therefore be it resolved that provide a report to Council within three months which will explain:
  • 1)   Current policy relating to media access to Department Heads in the context of current global best practices;
  • 2)    Clear and concise policy around timely access to information by media; and
  • 3)    How the commensurate workload of the Communications Department could be monitored with the view of cutting costs in that department as part of continued efforts of the Shared Services Review. 

4 comments:

Bill McCreery said...

Vision Vancouver has many other now you see it now you don't tactics.

Last night at the Marpole Oakridge Community Association Board meeting we had asked the Park Board to send someone who could confirm what their plans are for the replacement of the Marpole Oakridge Community Centre, the capital funds ere approved in the 2011 Capital Plan. We have been trying since last Spring to communicate with Park board staff without success. Last night they sent someone from the recreation department who could not answer any of our questions.

So we are now looking, and ever hopefully, at getting the facilities planner who is actually responsible for our project to come to next month's meeting. This is Vision Vancouver a delay, delay, delay tactic and they're using taxpayer paid staff to prevent taxpayers from finding out what they're up to.

Bill McCreery said...

Vision Vancouver has many other now you see it now you don't tactics.

Last night at the Marpole Oakridge Community Association Board meeting we had asked the Park Board to send someone who could confirm what their plans are for the replacement of the Marpole Oakridge Community Centre, the capital funds ere approved in the 2011 Capital Plan. We have been trying since last Spring to communicate with Park board staff without success. Last night they sent someone from the recreation department who could not answer any of our questions.

So we are now looking, and ever hopefully, at getting the facilities planner who is actually responsible for our project to come to next month's meeting. This is Vision Vancouver a delay, delay, delay tactic and they're using taxpayer paid staff to prevent taxpayers from finding out what they're up to.

Guy Fangeat said...

As with all levels of government, I keep asking myself if I will be around when the day comes that taxpayers stand up and tell politicians to go to hell. How they can take your money and then hide behind all kinds of stupidity that keeps you in the dark is beyond me. Can you imagine if one of your kids asked for $20 & and when you asked what's it for...they say that's not your business ?

Guy in Victoria

Bill McCreery said...

The wording of the motion needs clarifying:

"... Therefore be it resolved that [WHO??] provide a report to Council within three months which will explain:..."

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