Analysis: Mayor travelled globe on green agenda

Mayor Gregor Robertson spent more than $63,000 on travel and 181 days away from Vancouver between 2009 and mid-2014, according to a Courier analysis.

During 2012 alone, Robertson was out-of-town on city business for 53 days.

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Half of the 34 trips over the 5 1/2-year span were to regional or national conferences for mayors and councillors. He led trade mission to China in 2010 and 2013 and to London for the 2012 Olympics. Seven of Robertson’s highest-profile international junkets were to promote Vision Vancouver’s environmental agenda.

Robertson’s longest trip of the first half of 2014 was Feb. 2-11 to Johannesburg, South Africa for the C40 Cities Climate Conference. Billionaire ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the C40 president and sponsors included German conglomerate Siemens, which has a pipeline unit. In a video interview on the convention website, Robertson touted his party’s plan to make Vancouver the world’s greenest city by 2020, but conceded “we’ve definitely copied a lot of ideas from other cities.” Robertson was Bloomberg’s guest at the Oct. 5-9, 2013 CityLab conference in New York. Aspen Institute reimbursed $1,219.22 of Robertson’s $2,346.24 expenses.

In 2012, Robertson appeared at the Meeting of the Minds in San Francisco (Oct. 9-12), where his bio claimed Vancouver “successfully engaged neighbourhood-based community groups.” The event was sponsored by Toyota, IBM, IT and surveillance company Cisco and engineering firm CH2MHill, whose energy and chemicals unit works in Alberta’s oil sands.

In mid-May of that year, Robertson attended the New Cities Summit in Paris, co-sponsored by French LNG and nuclear power company GDF Suez. Robertson was reimbursed for $2,649.44 in expenses. Robertson was also reimbursed $2,902.94 for attending the World Cities Summit in Singapore (June 29-July 3), which counted Shell as a co-sponsor.

From April 11-15, 2010, Robertson visited New York. His airfare and one night of accommodation was paid by the New School, host of a climate change forum ($1,426.56). Chief of staff Mike Magee claimed $4,145.54 in expenses and taxpayers were also charged $5,250 for Vancouver ad agency FD Element’s contract to manage and promote Robertson’s trip.

In 2009, Robertson’s longest trips were to the Climate Summit for Mayors in Copenhagen (Dec. 11-17) and Olympic torch lighting and handover in Greece (Oct. 20-31). The latter included a stop in London where Robertson gave that city’s mayor Boris Johnson a Canucks jersey and Olympic torch.

Asked to justify his international trips, Robertson told the Courier: “Absolutely, it’s important to represent the city on the world stage and we had a lot of business missions that have brought a lot of business to the city.”

NPA challenger Kirk LaPointe accused Robertson of “wanting to be chairman of the National Energy Board or a lot of other things; the job I’m running for is mayor.”

Robertson’s predecessor Sam Sullivan charged $70,982 for travel from 2006 to 2008, but those costs included an attendant to assist Sullivan, who was Canada’s first quadriplegic mayor. David Cadman, the ex-COPE councillor who endorsed Robertson, racked up $119,000 in expenses for trips to represent city hall and Metro Vancouver at international climate change conferences from 2005 to 2009.

Meanwhile, between November 2011 and December 2013, Robertson spent $227,000 from a discretionary fund not reported in city financial statements. That included $2,514.75 paid to Offsetters Clean Technology Inc. for “offsetting the flights of the Office of the Mayor.” Offsetters invoiced the city on Dec. 20, 2013 for 95.8 tonnes of carbon emissions at $25/per tonne plus tax for Robertson ($997.75), Magee ($745) and “VV Team” ($651.40). Critics of carbon offsets say the symbolic payments do not reduce pollution.

In 2013, photographer Joshua Berson, who also shoots for Vision Vancouver, was paid almost $6,000 for four days of Robertson photo opportunities. Point Blank Creative got $315 to shoot two Robertson video greetings to the World Green Building Council and Broadbent Institute. The latter is a left-wing Toronto thinktank whose director of strategic partnerships is Vision Vancouver strategist Mira Oreck. Flow Creative Marketing billed $9,980.72 to launch Robertson’s account on Sina Weibo, China’s state-censored answer to Twitter.

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