City Hall of Shame - The Orca
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City Hall of Shame

Maclean Kay
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Maclean Kay: Too many of BC’s municipal governments have made a habit of making news for the wrong reasons.

Three of BC’s major cities keep tripping over their feet, as municipal leaders have been making the wrong kind of headlines.

Let’s start in Surrey, where Mayor Doug McCallum will spend at least part of his day tomorrow in court.

He’ll be there facing charges of public mischief, stemming from an incident in September when he claimed a car was deliberately driven over his foot. (Not to put too fine a point on it, but a conviction or guilty plea would be interpreted to mean he made the whole damn thing up.) Surrey taxpayers are covering the Mayor’s legal fees.

Whatever happened in that Save-On-Foods parking lot, McCallum is now avoiding confrontation – but appears to have gone too far. Last month, the mayor and his Safe Surrey Coalition “won” a dishonourable mention in the Canadian Association of Journalists’ Code of Silence Awards, for explicitly banning seven frequent critics from city hall.

BC’s largest city has also made a habit of stepping on the rake.

For example, last year Vancouver introduced a mandatory $0.25 single-use cup fee for restaurants.

Things quickly went south.

As with so many wayward policies, the idea behind it was fine – reduce waste, encourage coffee and soft drink lovers to bring reusable cups.

But while some maintained “it’s just an extra quarter”, others quickly found it was a significant barrier to the city’s poor and homeless population. And the fee wasn’t collected by the city, but retained by the café or restaurant. It wasn’t funding any essential services or new environmental initiative. It was just an added cost.

“Fees and taxes do not inspire innovation. They don’t inspire programming change, they don’t inspire engaging the consumer to get on the same side, it divides people, and in this particular circumstance, unnecessarily. Cup share reusable programs are already well underway. We even have small businesses who said this is not a good thing,” said Councillor Rebecca Bligh.

Despite calls for change, the fee remains in place.

Yes, it’s really more of a silly story, a headshaker that won’t be the straw that breaks most people’s wallets. But Vancouver keeps getting things like this wrong, despite an astonishingly-growing bureaucracy. In the past week alone, Vancouver made news for its regulations choking restaurant patios and a local Little League baseball parade.

A constant drip of stories like these creates the unshakeable impression that as city staff expands, it mostly seeks to justify its growth, introducing new regulations for the sake of new regulations.

To the city’s credit, it has promised to move quickly on several of these headaches, but the underlying question is why patios and little league parades needed more municipal oversight in the first place.

Finally, the province’s capital.

Sigh.

Victoria’s city council has built a reputation for tone deaf and often ham-fisted activism, never more apparent than last week.

In what should have been a brief, straightforward discussion about suspending “twin city” status with the Russian city of Khabarovsk, council managed to embarrass itself, when discussing the invasion of Ukraine, Councillor Ben Isitt made comparisons with RCMP arrests at Coastal GasLink sites in Northern BC.

One is a contentious but legal enforcement of a court injunction; the other is using internationally prohibited weapons to target and kill civilians. This is not a difficult distinction for most reasonable people to make – even if they vigorously oppose the former.

This is far from the first time Isitt has created awkward news, including having to resign from the regional district’s Indigenous relations committee after what the Pacheedaht First Nation called “deeply offensive behaviour” on their lands, committing multiple privacy breaches in 2021, and Premier John Horgan describing his opinion of the councillor as “unprintable” after Isitt’s behaviour and role at protests in 2020.

If nothing else, it’s a municipal election year.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca

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