Editorial: Why sending the city’s chief of staff to Ottawa is a no-brainer

There are some who have suggested that the decision to appoint former chief of staff Mike Magee as a special advisor and send him to the nation's capital is a waste of public money. That couldn't be much further from the truth

April 19, 2016

By Max Fawcett / Photo: Nima Zadrafi

Let me just come out and say it: I think the decision to send Mike Magee, Mayor Gregor Robertson’s now former chief of staff, to Ottawa is a good idea. Great, even. Magee will be making the same six figures that he banked in his old role, but given his connections to Prime Minister Trudeau’s team in Ottawa and the importance of getting as many of the federal dollars that are about to flow out of that city into ours as possible, his presence there is probably worth seven—and maybe eight or nine. After all, while Vancouver has good representation at the cabinet table in Jody Wilson-Raybould and Harjit Sajjan, its voice is much less prominent inside the Trudeau government’s PMO. Given that, the cost of having someone like Magee who can (and, more importantly, will) be heard in the Langevin Block ought to be viewed as an investment with huge upside.

Of course, this being politics and all, Vision Vancouver’s opposition was always going to find a way to criticize the move. And sure enough, the NPA’s George Affleck managed to live up—or, perhaps, down—to that expectation. “I believe the mayor is the chief lobbyist of Vancouver. To take taxpayers’ funds and use them to pay a lobbyist, not only is it redundant, but I don’t think it’s responsible spending of taxpayers’ dollars,” Affleck told the Vancouver Sun. “If the mayor had the opportunity to save some money, this would be the perfect time. He should be in Ottawa, working those rooms and talking to the prime minister and getting us what’s best for Vancouver.”

This is basically the dictionary definition of being penny-wise, pound-foolish, given the hundreds of millions of dollars that are in flux right now and the relatively puny cost of Magee’s salary. Meanwhile, the idea that Magee is there to lobby the Prime Minister—and the mayor isn’t—rubs him the wrong way. “It’s not lobbying, Magee says. “I’m working full-time for the cityI’m city employee, and I’m advocating for the city. But I’ve got a pretty deep relationship with the crew in Ottawa, and a deep knowledge of what they’re trying to do and achieve and where Vancouver fits into that. So I’ve got a unique perspective that’s going to benefit Vancouver right now. And of course, the mayor’s on speed dial with the prime minister. He can talk and connect with him at any point—and will.”

Indeed, Magee says, Vancouver’s relationship with Ottawa may never have been better than it is right now. “We’ve been in power in Vancouver for almost eight years now, and they see us as senior players on the scene whose values align [with theirs]. Even the prime minister was saying that there’s never been a moment in Confederation where Ottawa and Vancouver have been more aligned in what the desired outcomes are.” Given that alignment, it makes perfect sense to send someone like Magee—someone who has a deep understanding of both Vancouver’s needs and Ottawa’s inner-workings—to try and press that advantage. Indeed, it would almost be negligent not to, the political equivalent of getting dealt an 11 in Blackjack and not doubling down.

What’s on the table if we win? “We’re really clear,” Magee says. “Affordable housing and transit are the two biggest priorities, and infrastructure is a very close third.” And while there’s been some money put to work in those areas in the first Trudeau government budget, he says the real dollars will flow in the next one—which makes establishing Vancouver’s presence inside the Ottawa bubble over the next few months critically important.“The cement is there. It’s in the mixer, and it’s being poured. Before it sets there’s an opportunity to look at how it can be formed and how it can become a better product at the end of the day.”

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