Trudeau, Translink, shakeups at city hall made for busy year

Political goings on this past year in Vancouver were not totally eclipsed by the historic federal election of the Liberals and Justin Trudeau. But that event was intimately connected with Mayor Gregor Robertson and his aspirations for the city.

The mayor left little doubt as to whom he was backing and not just because Trudeau wanted to legalize pot. Early on in the federal campaign,
Robertson was unusually effusive in his applause for a Trudeau announcement regarding a “significant and meaningful commitment to meet the urgent need for major infrastructure investment in cities and communities across Canada.”  

This came in spite of the fact that the other party leaders were making similar promises.

Within a week of the new government being sworn in in Ottawa, Robertson’s chief of staff Mike Magee was on his horse and heading to the nation’s capital to grease the ways for a trip by his boss.

And, wouldn’t you know it, a couple of weeks ago, Trudeau the Younger became the first sitting prime minister to visit Vancouver city hall since his father made the trip back in 1973 when soon-to-be federal Liberal MP Art Phillips was mayor. It was the Justin and Gregor show with promises of money for infrastructure and housing and, well, it was all very “green” and hugs and smiles. Municipalities and their issues were back on the federal agenda.

That presumably will include the awkward problem of dealing with regulation by the city of all those dozens of illegal dispensers of marijuana, if Trudeau carries out his promise to have the weed legalized. 

Federal infrastructure money will not solve the problem of local funding created by the province that we saw with the disastrous transit referendum this year. Premier Christy Clark, of course, can commit billions for a new bridge to span the Fraser and replace the George Massey Tunnel. But the premier continues to insist that no new taxes can be collected in this region for the purpose of transit unless it is approved by the electorate. 

That costly action earlier this year failed miserably largely because of an equally problematic insistence by the Liberals in Victoria, which is to keep the much criticized undemocratic governance structure of TransLink. 

And TransLink this past year was just one spot where we saw a dramatic shift in leadership following complaints by the “stakeholders.” CEO Ian Jarvis got a golden parachute send-off that resulted in him reduced to an advisory role on full pay while another CEO took his place.

There were a number of senior departures at Vancouver city hall as well, although it could be debated as to whether they jumped or were pushed. Most prominent was controversial city manager Penny Ballem, thought to be an impediment to Robertson keeping his election promise to listen more to the people.

Ahead of her leaving, Brenda Prosken, manager of community services got nudged out, viewed as over her head in the job. Engineering head Peter Judd’s departure was announced in the same memo, although there was no question of his competence.

The head of planning, Brian Jackson, however, had become a pariah among his peers during his short three years on the job. With his departure announcement, there wasn’t a wet eye in the house.

There was much grumbling, which continues, about housing affordability in general and, in particular, the continued destruction with city hall approval of perfectly livable pre-1940s houses, which are being crunched and carried off to the landfill at a steady clip. (The exceptions are the mansions in First Shaughnessy, which are now protected.) 

The city’s insistence, by the way, that the much larger replacement houses have garages, has also led to our “greenest city” seeing the steady mowing down of mature trees to make way for these structures.

Structures council has approved removal for that will be less lamented, although not without some controversy, will be those viaducts, remnants of a 1970s aborted plan for a cross town freeway.

And controversy combined with some doubt still surrounds the new art gallery planned for Larwill Park just east of the old post office on Georgia. Like those viaducts, we will have a better idea of what will happen there in the coming year.

And then there is the seemingly unresolvable problem of street homelessness.

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