Vancouver voters will be going to the polls within three months after longtime Vision Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs announced Tuesday that he resigned to become NDP premier-designate John Horgan’s chief of staff.
Meggs, who was first elected in 2008, said he decided to vacate his council seat after Horgan called and asked him to be his chief of staff. Horgan became premier-designate June 29 after the Christy Clark government fell in a confidence vote.
“When the premier-designate calls with a request to serve in that role as chief of staff and he’s working on issues that are dear to me like making this province more affordable — and improving the province in so many ways — it’s very difficult to say no,” Meggs told the Courier by telephone Tuesday. “So I agreed, but it was not a simple or easy decision. I really enjoy being a city councillor and I took the commitment very seriously. This would be the only job [as chief of staff] I could imagine taking me away from the city at this point.”
Meggs’ departure leaves Vision Vancouver with six seats on the 11-member council. The NPA holds three and the Greens, one. Even if Vision were to lose the byelection, the party would still have a slim majority going into the October’s 2018 civic election.
According to the Vancouver Charter, city council must appoint a chief election officer “as soon as practicable” after a vacancy on council. That officer must then set a date for the byelection, which must be on a Saturday and no later than 80 days after the officer is appointed.
That appointment could occur when council holds its next regular meeting July 11. The byelection could cost upwards of $1 million, although the Courier was unable to confirm estimates from the city clerk’s office before deadline, or a date for the byelection. (The cost of the referendum to gauge whether Vancouverites wanted to host the 2010 Winter Games was roughly $600,000.That occurred in 2003).
“I think it’ll be expensive, which is one of my regrets about it,” Meggs said. “That was one of the things that weighed on me. But I really did feel on balance it would be more straight forward and more respectful all around to resign and not have that overlap [of continuing as a city councillor], which I think could be a source of confusion and frustration.”
Members of all three parties represented at council confirmed Tuesday that they will run candidates in the byelection, which will serve as an indication of the public’s support for the ruling Vision party, which has been in power since 2008.
Meggs’ connection to Victoria is strong, having served as communications manager in the NDP government of then-premier Glen Clark in the 1990s. Meggs, whose wife is a former executive member of the NDP, also unsuccessfully sought the NDP nomination in 2012 in Vancouver-Fairview to George Heyman, who was re-elected May 9 and could become a cabinet minister in the new government.
Meggs’ time on council was spent focused on improving transit and creating affordable housing, which were two central planks of the NDP’s platform in the recent provincial election. He and other members of his Vision party have for years criticized the ruling B.C. Liberals over inadequate housing and transit, including the government’s requirement for a referendum on sources of revenue to fund transit.
NPA Coun. George Affleck, who was involved in several political exchanges with Meggs over the years, said he wasn’t surprised his council foe was moving on to Victoria. Affleck cited Meggs’ connections to the NDP, including his role in this year’s campaign, as a reason.
“From what I understand, he was very involved in the policy development for the campaign,” said Affleck, who suggested Meggs was looking for a change as his term came to a close. “He’s a strong councillor. Obviously, we don’t see eye to eye on a lot of philosophical things. But I would say for Vision Vancouver, it’s a big loss for them.”
When the Courier informed Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr about Meggs’ resignation, her reaction was: “Wow — that’s a shocker.” Carr said she didn’t see Meggs’ resignation coming, but added that it made sense given his ties to the provincial NDP.
She described her relationship with Meggs on council as “civil,” except for a time in her first term when he sided with then-city manager Penny Ballem in a dispute between Carr and Ballem. In this term, Meggs, who was Vision’s caucus chairperson, was more collaborative and reasonable to deal with, she said.
Vision Coun. Raymond Louie, who was first elected to council in 2002, said Meggs’ move was a good opportunity for him and that his role could benefit Vancouver on issues such as transit, housing and tackling the overdose crisis.
“It bodes well for us on council to have a former colleague being the guy who has the premier’s ear,” said Louie, who was a councillor when Larry Campbell was mayor. Meggs served as Campbell’s executive assistant for three years before going on to work as director of communications and executive director of the B.C. Federation of Labour.
To Louie’s point about having a link to the premier’s office, Meggs said Horgan has already committed to creating more affordable housing, funding transit and other issues central to Vision's agenda.
“It’s not going to become more of a dynamic because I’m present,” he said. “My job will be to work for him and take all of the issues into account. Of course, I know the Vancouver scene. And those issues that were in his platform, I’m very comfortable with.”
Added Meggs: “This is why I think it’s important that I made a clean break. I want people to feel that I’m there for the premier and whatever work he needs to have done — and not for any specific group.”
Asked what he was going to miss about serving on council, he said cited two things.
“One is I really enjoyed going and meeting people that I never would have met under any other circumstances, who welcome you into their workplace or their community because you’re an elected official — that’s been a fantastic learning experience,” he said. “But also, I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish on a whole number of fronts here — for greening the city, for the fight on homelessness. Of course, I’ve been deeply involved in the work on making sure the [Dunsmuir and Georgia] viaducts get replaced.”
The last time a byelection occurred in Vancouver is believed to be in the 1980s.