BC VIEWS: How not to run your city

Stunts and waste by Victoria councillors obscure a more serious matter, the influence of CUPE on municipal bargaining

Municipal politicians from all over B.C. are in Victoria this week for their annual convention, meeting with provincial cabinet ministers and debating resolutions.

Taxpayers would be well advised to question their mayors, councillors and regional district directors when they get home. Not just about hotel bills or what they accomplished, but whether they have picked up any ideas from Victoria on how local government should be run.

In 30-odd years of watching local governments, I have never seen a council blow money and chase ridiculous ideas the way Victoria does.

For example, the city is now considering hiring an “artist in residence.” Mayor Lisa Helps says this will build in beauty to projects without hiring consultants, and add value to taxpayer-funded facilities.

We’ve seen this artistic value notion at work already. The city’s new drawbridge connecting Vic West and Esquimalt to downtown is nothing if not artistic, with graceful sculptural elements. At least that’s how it appeared in drawings when the project was begun in 2009.

Seven years later, the construction site looks all but abandoned, costs having soared above $100 million. We’re assured by the latest consultant, municipal maestro Jonathan Huggett, that things are back on track and the artistic custom steel components being manufactured in China are free of defects this time. We’ll see.

Helps wasted no time establishing her style when she surprised herself by being elected in 2014. She spent $50,000 on a management consultant, explaining that this was the maximum she could spend without council approval.

Speaking of art, Victoria now has a musical staircase in one of the city-owned downtown parkades. For only $10,000, people can now play music by going up and down stairs.

That’s right, the city is in the parking business. Oddly, these dank concrete structures with unionized city staff have struggled, so council considered sculptures and paintings before buying a stairway to Heaven.

Residents of Greater Victoria and its dozen boutique suburbs are used to screwed-up projects. From dysfunctional police who can’t communicate to a stalled sewage system that will cause tax bills to skyrocket if it is ever built, incompetence is expected here.

Two Victoria councillors specialize in silly stunts that divert public attention from their performance. Coun. Ben Isitt and his sidekick Coun. Jeremy Loveday recently talked their colleagues into declaring a ban on genetically modified foods in Victoria.

There is no sign yet of local grocery stores throwing out hundreds of products containing canola oil and other agricultural staples. Apparently, city hall can’t override federal health regulations.

Ben and Jerry, as they have become known, are radical left-wing activists, often seen organizing protests demanding this or that from the province and Ottawa.

Loveday wants Victoria to declare itself a “sanctuary city.” That’s where local police are instructed not to ask people about their citizenship status, in order to circumvent federal immigration law.

In this age of terrorism, let that sink in for a bit. It makes Loveday’s initiative to allow skateboarders to mingle with downtown traffic seem almost sensible.

Ben and Jerry’s campaigns were largely financed by the Canadian Union of Public Employees. In June, they led Victoria council to exit the regional labour relations group that bargains with CUPE and other unions.

Helps dismissed concerns by other area councils that CUPE will now target Victoria and “whipsaw” other municipalities to match its settlements, in the grand B.C. labour tradition.

Helps said that’s old-fashioned thinking. And besides, Victoria city hall staff duplicate much of the regional labour function. A consultant said so.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

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