Mayor Gregor Robertson was insistent Thursday that he will seek a fourth term at city hall despite his communications director leaving in February for a job in Ottawa and his chief of staff set to step down at the end of this month.
Robertson stated his intention to seek re-election after news broke that longtime chief of staff Mike Magee will become “special advisor” to the mayor for four months, before scaling back his role later this year.
He said Magee will focus on ensuring Vancouver gets its share of available federal dollars for infrastructure projects, particularly transit and affordable housing. He will continue to earn his annual $120,000-plus salary.
“We want to make sure there’s a steady, strong voice for Vancouver working with our Ottawa partners,” Robertson told reporters after stepping out of a Vancouver Police Board meeting. “Mike’s done lots of that in this past year in building good relations, so we want to continue that work with Ottawa.”
Ottawa is where Robertson’s communications director, Braeden Caley, landed in February and is now senior communications director for the Liberal Party of Canada. Caley was president of the B.C. wing of the federal Liberals during last fall’s federal election.
Asked whether he was next to go to Ottawa, where he has built a strong relationship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals, Robertson said “I have no plans to go to Ottawa,” adding that he will seek a fourth term.
“That’s my intention – yeah,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Robertson was first elected in 2008 and was re-elected in 2011 and 2014. Magee was a key member of Robertson’s campaign teams and has been the lead architect in Vision Vancouver’s ambitious agenda at city hall. (Magee did not return messages left by the Courier Thursday before this story was posted).
“He has been a very special advisor to date but he’s had all the day-to-day duties of chief of staff,” said Robertson, when asked how Magee’s duties will be different than his role since 2008. He noted Kevin Quinlan, who has served as deputy chief of staff, will fill Magee’s job. “We’ve got now two strong horses to pull an enormous load this year.”
Katie Robb, a former consultant to public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard, recently took over as the mayor’s director of communications.
NPA Coun. George Affleck, an ardent critic of Robertson and Vision Vancouver, said he didn’t understand the reasoning for Magee’s appointment when the mayor is “the chief lobbyist of Vancouver.”
“To take taxpayers’ funds and use them to pay a lobbyist, not only is redundant, it’s I don’t think responsible spending of taxpayers’ dollars,” said Affleck, who stood back of a media scrum to listen to Robertson’s answers regarding Magee’s appointment, including whether he would seek a fourth term. “When you asked him whether or not he was going to stick around, he didn’t say yes or no. His answer was quite vague. So I think the people of this city should know, yes or no, is the mayor sticking around…I don’t think he is. I think he’s preparing to leave.”
Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr said she didn’t receive any notice from the mayor’s office about Magee’s appointment. She said she was disappointed having to hear the news from media reports.
Carr pointed out that Vision Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie, who is president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, already spends a lot of time in Ottawa lobbying the federal government. She also noted the mayor’s strong relationship with the prime minister, who visited city hall last December.
“So it looks to me that we’re a pretty strong force there, already,” she said. “I don’t know of any other city that sort of buys itself a full-time lobbyist to work with other levels of government. It’s unheard of, as far as I know, but maybe I’m wrong.”
In 2006, then-NPA mayor Sam Sullivan hired former city manager Ken Dobell and public-private financing expert Don Fairbairn to develop a model to allow non-government sources to invest in social housing.
They were paid $300,000 to write a report that recommended the city create a “Vancouver Homeless Foundation” and donate city land to be used for supportive housing.
Vision Vancouver, which had four members including Coun. Tim Stevenson at the time, voted against the recommendation.
“This homelessness foundation just sets up yet another level of complicated bureaucracy, and why should the city have to bribe the province to get the funding it deserves?” Stevenson said in March 2007. “Vancouver already goes far beyond what any other municipality does, and now we’re being asked to give away valuable land on the off-chance the province will chip in. This is not something we can accept.”
Since then, the city worked a deal with the provincial government to build 13 supportive housing buildings – the 14th is still in limbo – and Robertson recently floated a plan with Ottawa to put up more than 20 city properties in return for $500 million from the federal government to construct up to 3,500 housing units.
The Sullivan administration also hired former attorney general Geoff Plant, at $160,000 per year, to be "civil city commissioner." Plant's role was to help the mayor reach his goals of reducing homelessness, aggressive panhandling, the open drug market and public nuisance complaints by 50 per cent by 2010. Vision panned Plant's hiring and severed ties with him after the party won a majority in 2008.
Vision said the $300,000 annual cost of "Project Civil City," which included Plant's salary, office support and supplies, would be better spent on community policing and ending homelessness. Vision also argued that much of Plant's mandate was already being worked on by other city departments, including the Vancouver Police Department and the city's housing centre.