Appeared in the North Shore News – November 25, 2011
Is West Vancouver Citizens for Good Government (WVCGG) a monster that eats a whole town’s political culture every three years, then burps, digests and snores for the next three?
Or just nice neighbours, exchanging apple pie recipes over the back fence?
Fascinating issue, you’ll agree. But first, applause for the 50 per cent of fresh new faces on West Van council: Mary-Ann Booth (lawyer), Craig Cameron (lawyer) and Nora Gambioli (lawyer).
Amazing how so many lawyers are devoted to selfless public service.
They will join incumbents Bill Soprovich, who came last in his first council bid and has topped the polls six times since, Trish Panz and Michael Lewis around the town hall power table next month – December, Christmas month.
But there’s a new hardeyed Santa in charge, no lawyer but a none-too-jolly private businessman, and he is not in a giving mood in this ho, ho horrible time for many financially pressed West Vancouver citizens and even anxious wealthier ones.
Disillusioning though it will be to some readers, the gifts to run town hall, where salaries gobble up 80 per cent of the budget, come from the taxpayer. They aren’t cobbled in Santa’s workshop by elves.
The elves have retired – on handsome pensions, of course.
Mayor-elect Mike Smith has made it clear: If Metrowide union contracts impose a four-per-cent salary rise, the budget will have to be cut four per cent. Period. Last year’s determined squeeze on the budget that fell just short of its zero-rise target will be resurrected.
Don’t think the grandiose projects of the Pam Goldsmith-Jones era, like Grosvenor’s boosterishly dubbed AmblesideNOW!, will be invulnerable. Or the swollen sums paid to lawyers, typified early by the half-million squandered by the mayor-chaired police board to fire honourable cop Scott Armstrong and replace him with the vainglorious scoundrel Kash Heed.
The last two councils were evenly split several times on development-related issues, often with Couns. Lewis – former member of the budget-policing Interested Taxpayers Action Committee – Soprovich and Smith on the nay side. Coun. Shannon Walker, businesswoman and daughter of the glossy Walker Building’s Chuck Walker, who retired to raise her children, proved no fool with the public’s money either.
(Longish footnote: I asked Shannon’s take on the election. In part: “I am very encouraged by the make-up of the new council. . . . Actually makes me a bit sad I won’t be part of it because I think it looks like an energetic and intellectual group of leaders that will push the boundaries a bit. I think it is unfortunate that Coun. (Michael) Evison was not re-elected as he was always a very diligent, wellprepared and enthusiastic member of our team and I really enjoyed working with him.” She and Smith are also mutual admirers. She asks who I think might run for mayor in 2014. Answer: Herself. Have I ever been wrong?)
And now? Let’s see if council’s chemistry changes with the three newcomers (none of whom, Constant Reader unkindly notes, got the nod from the undersigned).
Gambioli didn’t mention that she had been a Green party candidate in the 2002 provincial election. Still Green? West Vancouverites quirkily are kneejerk naturelovers but not political environmentalists, a large distinction.
Cameron, affronted by the suspicion in this space that he was too sleek, too trite in speeches, too “downtown,” cordially suggested a get-toknow-you informal interview over coffee, an hour-plus.
Charming. A justice ministry lawyer, granted one (unpaid) day off weekly for council work. “I’d be better off if I lost,” he laughed. Father of three youngsters. Boyishly belies his 42 years (youngest kid on the council block), and almost embarrassingly open – I feared that if I asked him about his sex life, he’d tell me. I gave notice I’d be on the lookout for his alleged sleekness, downtown-ness etc., so he’s been alerted to look quietly rich and dress in stained dog-walking clothes like all genuine West Vancouverites.
Mary-Ann Booth isn’t so amusing. In my view she shouldn’t even have thought of running for council: Her husband is a lawyer for a firm that does business with Grosvenor – a connection only drawn from her at an allcandidates meeting, and which subsequently she smoothly passed over.
Of course Booth will abstain from debate and voting on Grosvenor-related matters. That abstention in a small six-member council could be decisive. But also, what of other developments that conceivably might compete with Grosvenor’s? All aspiring and even practising politicians should consult Plutarch’s narrative that established the “Caesar’s wife” example.
. . .
Oops, no space to hash over WVCGG’s influence, except to say that it can’t be blamed for having no competitors in this small town. It should have. The real knock on the WVCGG is its up-front fee of $900 from council candidates (refunded if they don’t make the cut) before it even considers their pitch.
© Trevor Lautens, 2011