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It's time to hold your nose

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Something really stinks at City Hall. And out of this pile of stinking manure we have to choose our future for the next three years.

The smell can be overwhelming when the mayor, two past mayors, and the Chair of the Finance Committee who is a mayor-wannabe, close ranks and agree that taxpayers should be kept in the dark about their money.

All four men represent the three governing political parties that got us into this mess. Anybody who thought they’d come out against these sorts deals should give their heads a shake.

Our most recent past-mayor, elected as a COPE mayor turned VISION mayor, is now a senator. So much for accountability. Larry Campbell knows who to ignore to get what he wants. Now that he’s a senator, those he can most afford to ignore voters since I don’t know too many senators who would risk their life-long powdered butts for the electorate.

For Sam Sullivan, one of Vancouver’s leading candidates for the ‘Demagogue of the Year’ award, to side against the public’s right to know comes as no surprise. Indeed, given that he’s the one that took the council in-camera to consider this $100,000,000.00 gift to the developer, he’d be beyond hypocritical if he were to turn around and agree to opening the process up to the light of day.

For Philip Owen to have come out of private life to weigh in on this fiasco is a bit of a surprise if not a serious disappointment. For the NPA to be reaching back to a leader they formerly repudiated underscores how desperate they are to save their collective political skin. What has Philip to gain from coming out of private life? Perhaps to save his own legacy?

Peter Ladner, asserting that he was framed, insisting that the city is losing millions while political posturing goes on, is desperate to get this flaming file off his desk. But he’s just adding gasoline to that fire by saying last week that the property endowment fund was able to carry this extra burden only to say this week that there is no liquidity in the fund at all. This, from the Chair of the Finance Committee.

Just like John “The Fundamentals of the Economy are Strong” McCain a month before the US stock market went to Hell in a Hand basket, I seriously doubt that Ladner has a complete grasp of the financial picture of the city. And now he wants to be mayor.

We should not be so naive as to believe that the city cannot have secret negotiations. What should concern us, however, is that only with the shining of light on this one case, other liabilities have become better known. Like another $390,000,000.00 loan guarantee to the same New York finance company. At this rate, it’s starting to look like the City of Vancouver is a joint-partner alongside the US Treasury Department in bankrolling Wall Street.

So let the politicians throw mud at each other. It’s time for us grown-ups to make a decision and to cast our vote. For the City of Vancouver’s ballot we should aim for a balance: a number of veterans and a few newcomers to city council. Gregor Robertson as Mayor, and a couple of Vision Vancouver candidates, such as Tim Stevenson and Raymond Louie. Robertson’s judgement may have been clouded over his fare evasion issue but like it or not, he’s as much an outsider as we are going to get in this election.

As for the capital expenditures, Vancouverites should vote a firm NO to all of them. It’s time there was real accountability at City Hall and throwing good money after bad to this bunch of children who seemingly couldn’t manage an allowance from their parents should not be the ones in charge of another $100,000,000 of our money for capital expenditures. At least not until the Olympic Village disaster is accounted for to the satisfaction of the voters, citizens and taxpayers of this fair city.

And once our councillors believe they have cleaned up the way City Hall does business, they can call for a plebiscite to approve the extra capital expenditures. Like an interim performance report card, it would be a decent referendum on whether we citizens think our politicians have cleaned up their act enough to once again deserve our confidence.

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Politics and the Hundred Million Dollar Question

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

A buck twenty-five, or a hundred million dollars. A transit-fare cheat or a dismissive steward of our tax-money who refuses to share what is up with the city’s finances. That’s our choice for mayor in this election.

Just when I thought I knew the answer to who I thought should be mayor of Vancouver, this perfect storm blows across out fair city. Peter Ladner, in an off-handed comment at CKNW surmised the convenience of diverting from Robertson’s fare evasion scandal last week and the loan issue this week- suggesting that Vision Vancouver created a stir to deflect from Robertson’s image troubles. Convenient indeed.

Were it not for Vision Vancouver’s Tim Stevenson to draw attention to this in-camera decision to lend (or guarantee) Millennium Developments or its own financier, Fortress Investments, $100,000,000 to ensure the Olympic village got done, we would have never known about it. Certainly not before the election. Any more details? Nope. It was all discussed in-camera.

To be clear, considering the sad state of real estate prices in the Vancouver market, it’s looking like the taxpayers of Vancouver are going to be on the hook for most, if not all of the hundred million.

But to be fair, if the city does wind up having to foot the bill for the final touches on the new False Creek neighbourhood, the entire development will revert to city ownership. While this much we do know, questions remain.

The fact that it is silly-season, with a full city-wide election only a week away, politics cannot be cleaved out of this discussion. Is this just a political stunt being played by Vision Vancouver to discredit the NPA? Maybe. But regardless, because all the political parties agreed to an in-camera session to discuss this issue there is no way of knowing the truth to this most political of questions and so I cast a pox on all their houses.

Since Vision Vancouver and their comrads in COPE got weak-kneed about playing along with the NPA to go in-camera concerning this massive liability, I question their judgement in the first place. Equally, the fact that the NPA wasn’t prepared for this public outrage is equally mind-stumping.

Peter Ladner, the NPA Mayoral candidate, assures us all that even if the city does wind up having to pay out the $100,000,000.00, taxpayers will not have to pay a dime. How, is that possible? Does he propose that the short-fall be paid out of parking meter revenue? How is it that demanding to know what’s going on, “posturing” as Ladner puts it, is “costing us millions of dollars”? Who is in control here? The developer or the citizens of Vancouver? What other financial surprises have you hidden from the taxpayers?

Should the city have entered into a $100,000,000.00 agreement at all- never mind that it was in secret? Not on your life. A contract was signed several years ago and a contract is a contract. In the case of default, according to the contract, the property reverts to the city. So if the entire development was about to revert to the city, why should it not? At least we’d have an asset to balance the liability. But we can’t un-ring a bell. What’s done is done. Or so it seems.

So putting politics aside (because I still don’t know who to vote for) and looking forward, it is imperative on the Vancouver City Council to add a condition to the loan- or loan guarantee- whatever it is, that Fortress Investments actively and agressively look for alternative financing. On this point there should be no negotiation so that the taxpayers of Vancouver are not exposed to this $100,000,000.00 liabiity until the end of the Olympics. If this condition isn’t met, the city should walk away from the table.

The taxpayers of Vancouver deserve no less.