Vancouver’s mayor is taking heat after saying he was “blindsided” by a vote to cut one per cent of the city police force’s budget.
The vote came as the city grapples with how to fill a multi-million dollar hole in its budget, due to lost revenue due to COVID-19.
Speaking on CKNW’s Mornings With Simi Friday, Kennedy Stewart said he had no indication about the plan ahead of an in-camera meeting Wednesday.
“I actually, going into the meeting where this decision was made, I actually didn’t know that that would be a part of what was discussed, so I was blindsided,” said Stewart.
In-camera meetings are usually used to deal with real estate, legal or collective bargaining decisions in which sensitive information can not be made public; how the mayor and individual councillors voted can not be disclosed.
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Stewart’s comments drew a quick rebuke from former Vancouver city councillor George Affleck.
“If they were blindsided, they should have called — and the mayor specifically as the chair of the in-camera meetings — should have called the meeting out of order and said let’s not discuss this now, and refer it to another meeting,” said Affleck.
“It appears the mayor is not in charge, he seems to be clued out about what’s going on whether it be housing, whether it be financial, and now most recently the Vancouver police department’s cut of one per cent.”
Because of in-camera rules, it’s not clear to the public how the proposal ended up on council’s agenda.
Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer said he learned about the cut in an email from city manager Sadhu Johnson.
Global News requested an interview with Johnson, but was told he was not available.
The Vancouver police budget has grown by more than $100 million in the last decade, and represents about one-fifth of the city’s $1.6 billion 2020 operating budget.
But the move to cut the police budget by about $3.5 million has also drawn criticism from both the police chief and some Vancouver councillors, who say non-essential services should be the first to face the axe.
Non-Partisan Association (NPA) Coun. Melissa De Genova pointed to polling the mayor referred to this week asking the public how they felt about the COVID-19 reopening process.
“I wonder if that was really a good use of money, and I’m going to be asking at the next council meeting if that did in deed come from the mayor’s office budget at a time when we’re looking at cutting core services,” she said.
“When there’s talk of bankruptcy and there’s rumours about how we’re operating I think we have to look at the core services of the City of Vancouver first.”
On Thursday, Global News asked the mayor about another non-essential project, the planned $40 million upgrade to the Granville Bridge.
Stewart said that funding comes from the city’s capital budget, and can’t be used for operating expenses.
However, the province changed those rules last month to help struggling municipalities, allowing them to borrow interest free from their capital reserves.
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