Opinion: Union support of Vision hardly a scandal

There is nothing like context to ruin a good story. And there is nothing like a bit of history to derail a political assault.

My case in point is a press release on Monday, Oct. 20 from the Non-Partisan Association.

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The release begins: “Vision Vancouver’s promise to the union for the city of Vancouver workers to stop expanding contract out jobs betrays taxpayers’ interests and tries to buy votes in exchange for campaign contributions and support. It is a further evidence of Gregor Robertson’s culture of backroom deals, says NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe.”

As the NPA release points out, its allegations are based on a story in the Courier last week. Reporter Bob Mackin was “leaked” a tape recording of a meeting between the executive of CUPE union Local 1040 and both Vision and COPE candidates seeking re-election next month. Local 1040 represents outside workers at city hall. And CUPE has been a major donor to both Vision and COPE during past election campaigns.

It is worth noting that meetings between candidates of all stripes and their potential financial supporters, whether it is Vision or COPE meeting with trade unions or the NPA meeting with a developer like Rob Macdonald, are always held in private.

So that’s not really news.

Nor would it be news that this CUPE local and others would once again be supporting COPE and Vision candidates any more than it would be news that Macdonald was writing out a cheque for the NPA.

The Courier story accurately quotes Vision Coun. Geoff Meggs telling the union executive, as part of his pitch for support, that “Gregor Robertson, our mayor, has again recommitted to not expand contracting out, to make sure that whenever we can bring in new processes, that members of 1004 will be there delivering those services.”

Actually it would be news if Robertson did not “recommit to not expand contracting out.” That has been a publicly stated Vision policy since Vision’s first electoral run when it successfully drove the NPA from power six years ago.

You may recall that in 2007 while former mayor Sam Sullivan and the NPA were in the majority that there was a lengthy strike by the city’s workers. A key issue in that battle was around the city’s proposed policy to accelerate contracting out thus reducing the size of the unionized work force and particularly those members of CUPE Local 1004.

The two Vision candidates competing for the party’s mayoral nomination back then, Raymond Louie and Gregor Robertson, both committed publicly to put an end to contracting out at city hall.

It is debatable whether that policy is what the NPA refers to as “a flagrant mismanagement of taxpayer’s money” any more than spending money on homeless shelters or recreational facilities. But that’s what elections are for.

The Courier story also points out that under Vision Local 1004 workers on the city payroll got a 6.75 per cent increase over four years.

But you would be jumping to conclusions, as LaPointe readily does referring to Vision’s “secret sweetheart deals,” connecting the wage increase to the dollars flowing from Local 1004 to Vision’s coffers.

City hall is undoubtedly a more union friendly environment under Vision than the NPA. Unions are consulted on budget issues, but their numbers have also been significantly squeezed under the centralization of services carried out by city manager Penny Ballem.

Besides, under the last NPA council headed by Sullivan, city workers got a five year settlement of 17.5 per cent, double what they got under Vision. And they didn’t give the NPA a nickel.

Now, if you still think there is something unsavory about all this, I refer you to the in-depth article in the Courier this week by my colleague Mike Howell. He interviews major municipal campaign donors from unions to developers, some of whom contribute to both major parties and a few minor ones, too.

You will see that, thanks to the at-large system of elections and the continued refusal by the province to impose spending restrictions on electoral contests, both major parties now find themselves having to raise millions of dollars to run successful campaigns.

Now that is scandalous. But it is hardly news.



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