Mayor Gregor Robertson and city manager Penny Ballem left for London Thursday to join the Vancouver Economic Commission in a $100,000 “targeted strike” to attract business to Vancouver.
The tab for the mayor, his chief of staff Mike Magee and Ballem is expected to be about $10,000 for the three-day trip but the mayor said he won’t attend any Olympic events. The mayor’s office said Robertson and Magee will share a hotel room to cut costs.
“My focus is all on business and making sure we can attract jobs and investment back to Vancouver, and use the London Games as a market place that we can access,” he told reporters Wednesday.
City taxpayers will pay for the majority of the economic commission’s tab. The commission, whose CEO Lee Malleau is already in London, generally receives more than 80 per cent of its operating budget funds from the city, with the balance from the federal government.
Robertson is the chairperson of the commission’s board of directors and Ballem is a director. In March, the commission requested from council and received up to a maximum of $2.9 million to fund its operations and programming.
That report indicated the commission would travel to London but there was no mention the mayor would be on the trip, said NPA Coun. George Affleck, who voted against the $2.9 million funding request because of scant budget details.
“I had no idea that they would be spending this kind of money and sending so many staff from city hall,” Affleck said. “I would like to know, before sending the mayor and spending this kind of money, what exactly are the goals here—what are we trying to achieve? I don’t have any of that information.”
Affleck said he wants a full report back from the mayor and city manager on the London trip. He also wants the commission to provide more detail when asking for money in future requests to the city.
“To me, [the commission] is becoming the mayor’s slush fund,” he added. “It’s his way to travel around the world, using [the commission] as the front to enjoy travelling around the world and I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
The mayor travelled to China in September 2010 on another economic trade mission. The economic commission covered the expenses.
About 30 companies, which are paying their own costs, are part of what Robertson described as a “business mission” to recruit talent and investment from the United Kingdom.
Companies include Disney, Allscenes, Xomo Digital, Reunion Pictures, Fenix Energy, Corvus Energy, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Brightlight Pictures and Waste to Energy Canada.
“We model it as a project similar to our business program in 2010,” said the mayor, noting the Vancouver delegation will target digital media and clean technology companies. “We had great success with that program—over $350 million in economic impact for the region. And this is a targeted strike at the London Olympics who are interested in Vancouver.”
Robertson acknowledged the delegation will play a “background role” to the summer Olympics but that it is important “we get some attention on the great Olympics we hosted” in February 2010.
Robertson’s agenda includes visits with London mayor Boris Johnson and former premier Gordon Campbell, who is Canada’s High Commissioner to Britain.
“We will be hosting events at Canada House with Mr. Campbell and using the Canadian assets on the ground in London,” the mayor said. “We’re partnering with the federal government on that initiative. So we double up and make sure we maximize those resources.”
The mayor was last in London in October 2009 during a stopover from Greece when he and a delegation brought the Olympic torch to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Games.