Opinion: Backpedalling mayor undermines Geoff Meggs

That noise you heard last Sunday was the sound of Mayor Gregor Robertson throwing Vision Coun. Geoff Meggs under the bus.

It was just the latest example of what happens when Robertson is allowed out off-leash.

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He does not handle criticism well. He often doesn’t look comfortable in a media scrum. And public debates are definitely not his thing.

But more than that, as a result of his actions he has put at risk the possibility of one of his most effective and vulnerable councillors getting re-elected. (Effective because Meggs is smart and does a lot of the political heavy lifting for Robertson on difficult issues. Vulnerable because he tends, even in good years, to come close to the bottom of the ballot as a vote getter in elections.)

The occasion of Robertson distancing himself from Meggs was a mayoral debate last Sunday. The subject that led to Robertson abandoning Meggs in a clumsy attempt to save his own skin was a statement made by the Meggs to a meeting of the city’s outside workers, members of CUPE Local 1004, a week earlier. It was captured on tape and leaked to the Courier.

Meggs told the room full of trade unionists that the mayor “recommitted” to Vision’s long standing policy not to expand contracting out.

Later in the meeting, the union local agreed to continue with a long-standing policy of its own by funding a number of the centre-left political groups in the upcoming civic election, including $34,000 for Vision. (According to our story, by the way, last time out in 2011 CUPE 1004 donated $42,000 to Vision.)

The recommitment from the mayor and the union’s donation really wasn’t a news story until Robertson made it one in Sunday’s debate.

That’s when NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe said that Vision’s commitment on contracting out, which he characterized as a corrupt deal done in exchange for campaign funds, “tied the hands of the city in the next round of bargaining.”

He asked Robertson if he was “proud” of what his councillor was up to at that union meeting.

Even watching the exchange on YouTube, you got the sense that Robertson was squirming uncomfortably. He made a poor job of ducking the question by changing the subject to NPA policy failings.

It didn’t work.

Again LaPointe asked about “your councillor” and his commitment to the CUPE local 1004 apparently on behalf of the mayor.

To which Robertson said: “He is not my councillor.” If there was any doubt about what Robertson was on about with that comment, his next statement made it clear. Meggs was acting on his own: “I don’t get representatives at meetings like this.”  

Hard to imagine that Meggs or any of the party heavies were pleased with Robertson’s response. But for the NPA and the media, now there was a story.

Then a day later, Monday: The sound coming from our cycling mayor was the sound of a man backpedalling as quickly as possible. But now the headline, at least in the Vancouver Sun, was all about “allegations of corruption.” Mark one up for LaPointe.

Robertson, who a few hours earlier was trying to step away from Meggs and the whole issue of contracting out, was singing a different tune.

As the Sun’s Jeff Lee reported, now the mayor says Meggs was doing the bidding of Vision and he is “a key member of the Vision team” as well as their lead on labour issues.

In fact, Robertson observed, Meggs’ comment to Local 1004 that the mayor would “recommit” to not expanding contracting out was totally in line with Vision’s long-standing position, one that has been in place since 2008 when Vision first came to power.

No kidding.

Then, rather than quit while he was still in recovery mode, Robertson couldn’t resist going after the NPA. He said they are the ones that have a secret agenda to contract out jobs at city hall.

Of course LaPointe denied all this.

But the question remaining is this: Will any of this stick to Vision or Meggs? Right now the latest Justason Poll has Robertson winning even though an Insights West survey found him to have the lowest approval rating of any mayor in the region.

But there is less certainty he can hold the current majority of his councillors.

agarr@vancourier.com
twitter.com/allengarr

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