It recently came to light that the City of Burnaby has been spending an obscene amount of money on something they have no business spending a dime of tax dollars on — golf.

Burnaby taxpayers paid the nearly $42,000 golf bill racked up last year by Burnaby city council members, commissioners and so-called VIPs, according to information uncovered by the Burnaby Now newspaper.

Apparently, the city has a freebie golf pass system that can be used by city officials at various municipal-owned courses around town.

Politicians in Burnaby sure haven’t been shy about using this ridiculous perk to the max, mindlessly wasting green on their personal green time.

The worst tee-time offender was Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, sticking the city with a bill of $5,717.65.

Other big golfers on city council include Coun. Colleen Jordan, who golfed away $4,674.20, and Coun. Paul McDonell’s $2,633.40.

To make matters worse, this taxpayer-funded golf nonsense is an annual program – each year the golf fund gets refilled to the tune of $50,000.

Burnaby Coun. Sav Dhaliwal attempted to defend this outrageous expenditure by saying the golf pass system helps drum up new business for the city’s courses because pass users may bring their friends along for their tee time.

The only thing the freebie golf-pass system drums up is a better handicap for the city officials who are clocking in their tee time at the expense of taxpayers.

Dhaliwal further defended the program by saying that it is a token of appreciation from the city to the commissioners and councillors.

A token of appreciation? It makes you wonder what other taxpayer-funded perks and tokens are being doled out to Burnaby elected officials.

Burnaby city hall should be apologizing and putting the golf freebie pass through the shredder. In fact, elected city officials who partook in the passes should pay back taxpayers.

Instead, council is defending the program and making excuses. This sort of entitlement attitude is a hallmark of governments that have been in power for too long without any formal organized opposition to scrutinize their actions or question their finances.

The Burnaby Citizens Association has been running the city for over 10 years.

However, this November’s civic election could overhaul council and bring in a fresh team of new faces.

The Burnaby First Coalition is running a full slate of candidates to unseat the government. They hope to bring change and transparency to city hall and increase the dismal voter turnout, which last election was only 23%. This latest golf revelation will certainly help their cause.

Come election day, Burnaby’s current politicians may have a lot more spare time to golf – this time it would be on their own dime.

For the last three months, Oppenheimer Park has been home to an unsafe and illegal tent city. And it’s Mayor Gregor Robertson’s fault.

Back in June, Vancouver City Council passed a motion saying the city rests on unceded First Nations’ land. At the time, Robertson no doubt thought this was nothing more than a symbolic act that would help foster some good relations.

Now he is learning the hard way that his government’s so-called “symbolic” gestures can actually have real and expensive consequences.

The Oppenheimer campers have claimed they have the right to be there because the park is on aboriginal territory. Council’s motion essentially granted them a licence to pitch their tents in a public park and call it home.

After months of doing nothing and allowing around 200 tents to go up, Robertson now wants the overcrowded tent city to go. Not surprisingly, he is running into some roadblocks. Some of the campers have lawyered up, and a legal attempt to evict them has been postponed.

The campers will likely come to court equipped with plenty of arguments why they should be allowed the stay, including the mayor’s very own acknowledgement that the park is located on unceded aboriginal land.

Bizarrely, this is not the first time Robertson has had a tent city pop up under his watch. We all remember the 2011 Occupy Vancouver tent city that took over the front lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery. For weeks, Robertson stood by and allowed the campers, who were breaking countless laws, to occupy the public grounds. The city only took action to remove the occupiers after one of them died from a drug overdose.

So why does the mayor allow these tent cities to exist in the first place? Why does he let them grow for months before taking action? It may have something to do with the fact that both the Oppenheimer Park and Occupy campers are the mayor’s ideological allies.

Call me cynical, but somehow I don’t think a group of protesters demanding lower taxes would be allowed to set up an illegal tent city for even an hour before being ticketed, fined and shut down.

Taxpayers have to pay the price for the mayor’s tent cities. The Vancouver Police Department says it has spent $75,000 policing Oppenheimer Park, and the city’s legal bill in seeking court injunctions isn’t cheap.

It’s time for the mayor to say no to illegal tent cities — from day one.

A recent report drafted by Ernst & Young at the request of the provincial government shows municipal employee salaries have grown out of control.

Case in point, Port Coquitlam, home to only 57,000 people – yet in 2012-13 the chief administrative officer earned a staggering $429,566. Part of that was due to an unused vacation time payout when he retired, but that’s still over $100,000 more than our prime minister. Overall, a small municipality like Port Coquitlam is spending a huge sum on salaries – there were 36 others employed by the city who made over $100,000.

The city managers for Surrey and Vancouver also earn more than the prime minister and there’s a long list of local government employees who are earning well above what our premier earns.

These include the head municipal bureaucrats in Richmond, Delta, Langley Township, Coquitlam and the City of North Vancouver. In Richmond, the deputy CAO also made over $300,000. Something is wrong when the people helping to run our medium-sized cities are earning more than the people running our province and country.

It’s not just the senior municipal civil servants who are making the big bucks. There are too many middle managers making too much money. The City of Vancouver alone employed 620 people earning over $100,000. In Surrey, that number is 247 while Burnaby employs 145 civil servants earning big salaries.

How did it get so out of control? Unlike other levels of government, at the local level there are few mechanisms to rein in wages. There are few organized opposition parties and the media focuses more on the bright lights of federal or provincial politics.

While Victoria and Ottawa have made efforts to regulate their employee’s pay and benefits, municipal employee salaries have been left to grow unbridled.

The president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities had an unconvincing excuse for this, saying “compensation is always a challenge and we live in one of the least affordable regions in the country.”

We all know that Vancouver is expensive, but the fact that the city manager for Vancouver earned $366,009 is ludicrous. There are also two deputy city managers in Vancouver — one made $256,000 and the other $258,000. That means that almost $1 million of Vancouver’s annual city operating budget is spent on three people.

It’s no wonder property taxes are so high.

Let’s bring in accountability and rein in municipal staff salaries. Taxpayers’ money should be spent on things like roads and services – not fat paycheques for management.

No, you aren’t suffering from double vision — it’s just that as we gear up for Vancouver’s municipal election, Vision and the Non-Partisan Association are looking increasingly similar.

Last week, NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe made a big campaign announcement that he will take on child hunger by working with various groups to fund a breakfast program.

Practically at the same time, Mayor Gregor Robertson, who is running for re-election for Vision Vancouver, made his own announcement on child hunger. He pledged the city would invest funds into the Vancouver School Board’s breakfast program.

It’s great to see an important issue like child hunger take front and center in this campaign. However, the two candidates have essentially the same position on the issue, they just disagree on how a school breakfast program should be funded and facilitated.

This week, LaPointe announced another big NPA campaign policy. If elected, he says he will create the “first-ever” Vancouver ombudsperson’s office. This will help Vancouverites deal with their issues with the city so they can avoid other costly avenues, such as the courts.

Vision Vancouver was quick to point out that the position already exists: the B.C. Ombudsperson, who has jurisdiction over all local governments – including Vancouver.

Well, there goes LaPointe’s groundbreaking announcement – his big policy is something that already functionally exists. However, LaPointe is adamant that Vancouver needs its own distinct ombudsperson, and even pointed out that in a former life, he was an ombudsperson for the CBC.

Again there is no fundamental disagreement – both mayoral candidates believe Vancouverites need an ombudsperson, all they disagree about is who pays for the service: the city or the province.

Another big NPA policy announcement is city-wide free Wi-Fi. If elected as mayor, LaPointe has promised there will be free Wi-Fi throughout the city. But Vision has been pilot-projecting free Wi-Fi in select Vancouver areas since 2013 and Vision Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer has said that city-wide Wi-Fi is a long term goal.

Another big promise and no fundamental difference between the parties.

There are nearly two months left in this election, and the NPA has promised there are more policies to come. Based on what they have released so far, the choice in this election is between Vision and a team offering the same policies as Vision – only with a different set of faces.

If the NPA wants people to vote to change government, they need to offer policies and ideas that are different from Vision.

We rarely seem to hear about spending scandals and wasted money in municipal governments. Why is that?

Is it because municipal politicians are more careful with tax dollars, or are better money managers than their provincial and federal counterparts?

I don’t think so.

Municipal spending scandals happen, but they are simply more likely to be hidden from inquisitive eyes. Unlike other levels of government, municipal governments generally don’t have formal opposition parties whose main job it is to scrutinize what the government is doing. Another big thing that helps bring transparency at the provincial and federal levels is the auditor general position.

Every year, an auditor general — an independent, expert civil servant — and his or her team examine how the government spends money. They issue a report that tells everyone where the government is doing well and where it isn’t when it comes to spending habits.

But wait, unbeknownst to many British Columbians, there actually is an auditor general responsible for looking into the spending of municipal governments in our province.

According to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Auditor General for Local Government was created two years ago, has spent nearly $5 million in taxpayers’ money and has published just one measly audit of one tiny rural municipality.

Now there’s a spending scandal — $5 million for one report.

In November, we are electing new mayors, councillors and school trustees for four years. It would have been useful for reports on how our money is being spent in the Lower Mainland. That sort of information is vital to helping voters make up their minds as to whether their councils have been governing wisely or wasting money.

But instead of transparency, we have a brick wall. For example, voters actually have no idea if Vancouver is making smart decisions on sewers or if Richmond is paying employees too much.

And what makes it worse is this lack of information is deliberate. Back in March, the provincial minister responsible for the Auditor General for Local Government actually said that no reports would be released in the run-up the civic elections – because they were “respecting local governments.”

What about respecting taxpayers?

It’s time for some reports from the Auditor General for Local Government – let’s get some value for the money we are spending on her office.

« Older Articles