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Burnaby #1, Surrey #2 in national cities ranking

July 17th, 2009 · 39 Comments

You have to look at this survey out in Maclean’s this morning, looking at the best and worst run cities in Canada. Burnaby, Surrey and Vancouver are in the top four — with Vancouver down from the usual number-one spot it enjoys in other lists because of inefficiency in “recreation and culture.” ????

I haven’t had a chance to delve into this yet or figure out how they generated these numbers. In any case, Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan and Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts must be happy campers this morning.

Categories: Uncategorized

  • Yeah really . . .

    And Nanaimo and Surrey where the cultural capitals of Canada 2008 . . .

  • rf

    I don’t think Derek Corrigan is familiar with feeling “happy”.

    Smug? check. Arrogant? check. Petty? check. Condescending? check.

  • Not running for mayor

    I think the relationship Burnaby shares with Vancouver can be easily compared with that of the PNE with it’s local residents.
    They complain about their neighbour and blame their problems on the neighbour, but when the time comes they have no issue with using that neighbour to thier advantage by sitting outside selling parking. Sums up Burnaby to a tee.

    Kudos for Corrigan though he’s smart enough to sell it.

  • It’s truly a shame, then, that after years of increases under the NPA, one of the first things the Vision council did is cut the arts budget by 8%.

  • spartikus

    What would the NPA have cut instead?

  • Michael Phillips


    What’s a shame is that the NPA were running this city from 2005 to 2008, during one of the most prosperous periods of our city’s growth, and managed to avoid putting an adequate amount of our growing economic (not to mention intellectual) resources into ameliorating our severe social problems, art not being one of them. We could have harnessed that growth and used it to amend the social problems that were growing with each year.

    This council , despite its flaws, has already in the last few months put more of a dent in our homelessness and tenancy housing crises than the NPA did in three years, and this despite an economic crisis. That requires taking risks and making tough choices (like the cut you mentioned) something the previous issue-deaf NPA council couldn’t bother with.

  • SV

    Burnaby has always struck me as a well run place.It’s parks and rec. centres are excellent. Plus bike racks everywhere!

  • While I am pleased to see Vancouver on the list, having also worked extensively in Burnaby, and more recently served on the Surrey Mayor’s economic advisory committee and the Surrey City Development Corporation, I believe these two cities deserve their higher rating.

    I too agree that Burnaby is a very well run city. There is a high level of fiscal responsibility which is impressive. While Derek Corrigan is generally regarded as a very ‘left-leaning’ politician, he played a major role in the development of the city’s very credible economic development strategy. It’s available on-line, and worth reviewing.

    Burnaby is also to be commended for the high level of trust and collaboration between the City Council and senior city officials. There is almost always a level of certainty and accord that makes it a good place to do business.

    I also found it to be very environmentally advanced. For example, the city gives out annual environmental awards to worthwhile projects. Vancouver should take notice. The program works.

    In Surrey, Diane Watts has taken a very keen personal interest in her city’s economic health. The fact that she created a very broadly based economic advisory board with people like Michael Levy, and other highly respected community leaders is noteworthy. The city is also to be commended, in my opinion, for creating a municipal development corporation to guide the creation of its new downtown and cultural precinct, including a new City Hall.

    So while I know that many Fabula readers are proud of the new administration in Vancouver, there is much that can be learned from the performance of Burnaby and Surrey. We should take note. After all, Macleans did. And while I do not always agree with everything I read in Macleans, I think the magazine is on the mark in terms of highlighting the importance of being a well-managed city, and the local selections it has made.

  • Cummon Michael

    OMG Burnaby: laying layer upon layer of lard tells me more about you than that suburb. Your hagiography and beatification of Burnaby administration is just a little, may I say, too slippery.

    You would be more convincing if you were to temper and caveat your phraseology by completing it with, “within the current dysfunctional urban misaaprehensions.”

    Burnaby, read most speculation driven, local and international conurbations, large and small, is failure writ large. Nomenclature, such as “world class”, “sustainable” and “paradise” are constant and necessary distractions to placate a very dissatisfied public unable to express their needs in the face of an ever “in your face” municipal bureaucracy.

    Thanq god I have independence enough that I do not have to join the chorus.

    Inaccessible SFU (especially for bicycles), the local administration cannot be held responsible, Metrotown, of which it can, and sprawl is hardly something to be proud of. Sprawl on SE Marine Drive expediently contravenes provincial wetlands regulations.

    Then there is the sheer and debilitating ugliness, which is of so pervasive, yet esoteric a nature, the municipal vocabulary has no language.

    The Vancouver Adair kafuffle demonstrates the need for distraction. If communities were fulfilling the needs of their citizens there would be no need for expensive “communications” departments. Citizen satisfaction would be apodictic!

    MacLean’s is just more fluff. The local Fraser Institute is pushing a similar agenda. I stopped listening decades ago.

  • “If communities were fulfilling the needs of their citizens there would be no need for expensive “communications” departments”

    If we’ve learned anything from this vers of the Burrard Bridge trial versus the last one, it’s that a good communications program is crucial to the success of some municipal initiatives. Whether you agree with the idea or not, it’s hard to fault the execution of the awareness campaign.

  • I dunno Chris . . .

    MSM was dissing the BB/bike trial all the way . . . and probably will up the heat at the first opportunity again.

    Frances gave us all the opporunity to spout off in every direction almost instantaneously and you can bet the Hallistas were following intensely.

    . . . and where was the city communcations people in all this . . .

  • PS

    BB cyclists. . . and may I suggest Chris that the cyclists who sounded off this last few days conduct themselves with very much more gentle decorum than they did on this blog.

    Otherwise all the good work so far will give the MSM every right to gloat . . . nah nah we told you so . . .

  • “MSM was dissing the BB/bike trial all the way”

    Well, that’s what they do. The traffic choppers don’t hover over non-traffic jams (Monday being the exception). They were certainly aware of the issue is what I’m saying.

  • “may I suggest Chris that the cyclists who sounded off this last few days conduct themselves with very much more gentle decorum than they did on this blog.”

    ??? May I suggest that good manners are in short supply on the Internet, regardless of how one chooses to transport themselves.

  • Michael Phillips – actually the NPA did exactly what you want, which is to get 3800 units of socially assisted housing underway that Mayor Robertson now touts as the answer to the problem.

    But it was Sam Sullivan and the NPA caucus that worked closely in partnership with the province to work out a brand new type of program to purchase SROs and convert them to social housing. I know because right next to our building at Pender and Abott they’ve already started work on a residence for women with children under that program.

    Somehow the NPA were able to do both – support the arts, which are key to the city’s economy and livability, and get more social housing built than any previous council in Vancouver history. We can only hope Vision will do half as well. We all share the goal of making this city more liveable for everyone.

  • An eight percent cut sounds pretty good to me when I compare that decrease with the 25% drop in value of my portfolio overall.

  • Civic competition is healthy. Instead of arguing who is the best, lets challenge ourselves to make the cities we live in even better. Successful initiatives can inspire improvements in other cities.

  • spartikus

    and may I suggest Chris that the cyclists who sounded off this last few days conduct themselves with very much more gentle decorum than they did on this blog.

    I was thinking the other day that if swapped out “cyclist” with [Name of ethnic group] you’d see how borderline odious some of this criticism is. No one, to my knowledge, has been crowned Emperor of All-the- Cyclists, so no one speaks for them.

    Hold individuals responsible for their words, not groups.

    As for decorum, I would start with the man in the mirror. Your own behaviour has veered into the weird at one or two points the last few days.

  • You are absolutely right I am just as bad as you are and fortunately for the human race I have the good grace to recognize that when I look in the mirror.

    You are not alone: Fred, Froth, yunno geritol and two glasses, and another who’s name does not warrant me bothering to scroll down to remember also used the reverse blame game . . . so originality clearly is not your forté . . .

    Spartikus (sic), I hope you adopted the name out of respect for your namesake, Spartacus, a Roman slave, who was crucified in 71 BC trying to better his peoples’ lives.

    When you look in the mirror there leering at you is a little man who is incapable of taking personal responsibility and cannot take good advice when it is offered.

    Please try to be kind to yourself and please watch for out for other road users, whatever their means of transportation . . . I wouldn’t like to see the BB bike lane vetoed because of the likes of you . . .

    Yes, I am as bad as you but for one distinct difference. I do not ride a bike and I am not a hazard to myself or to others.

    Now go piss up a rope . . .

  • spartikus

    When you look in the mirror there leering at you is a little man who is incapable of taking personal responsibility and cannot take good advice when it is offered.

    If you take issue with a specific comment of mine, please refer to it directly.

    Otherwise, I quite honestly have no idea what you’re talking about. I think you may be conflating several people.

  • Michael Phillips


    Ah, the fabled 3800! 3813 actually. Minus the 913 units started and fully funded by previous governments, minus the 1471 units that have yet to be “underway” in any appreciable sense such as say…construction….

    (I’m basing this on the fact that in October of last year the sites for 1471 units had yet to have broken ground [if the tyee was correct… and I don’t believe construction has begun on the 12 prospective social housing sites slated for construction by the province, perhaps Ms. Bula can correct me if thats not true)

    …minus hundreds of SRO rooms that have shut down… in all, 591 street homeless counted in 2005 and 786 street homeless counted in 2008, a 32% increase in 3 years while the NPA talked about cutting homelessness by 50% under the Civil City plan. This is a statistic that cannot be snuck around.

    ( p. 38 vs. p.1)

    Not to mention the rentable units that have disappeared and the tenants that have been kicked out into a below 1% vacancy rental housing market, without any tenancy housing plan even on the last government’s radar…

    (by the way, Sean and I are putting on this discussion in case any of you missed the previous election)

    …plus no visible progress on the front of drug addiction (the most severely underrated of our social problems, still)…

    Anyway, these failures during 3 years of tremendous economic growth are what most of the city became frustrated with and that’s why we largely voted for Vision.

    Now the shelters should have been regulated far better and perhaps even moved after the winter. Certainly a top to bottom rethink of the plan was in order after the “emergency” rushed winter phase of the sheltering plan ended. There’s no excuse for not doing this and Councillor Jang should stop insulting us on the news.

    But contrast a council that tries to shelter another 450 people per night, screws up, and ends up only being able to shelter an extra 350 people per night (assuming the second shelter will close). That’s still far and away better than a government that never even found that capacity to help, didn’t bother, didn’t find enough shelter in 3 years that this council found in 3 weeks.

    Now Councillor Anton says “Mayor Gregor Robertson’s poor planning and lack of consultation has caused the provincial government to pull the funding for the much needed Granville Homeless shelter”.

    If it’s so much needed, how come the NPA didn’t open it?! This council opens 5 shelters the previous council never did, and because 2 of them (likely) shut down they can’t handle the file?

    If the NPA considers our shelters to be so much needed how come there were approximately 700 homeless in shelters the year they took office and only 61 more the year they left, despite the 32 % increase in street homelessness?

    (same links as above)

    We’ve already dwarfed that increase just since the election, even if the Howe shelter closes.

    This council screwed up with under-regulating the shelters, but even after screwing up we’ll still have more good shelter space in this city, despite the economic crisis, then the NPA ever would have given us and that’s a fact.

  • Mary

    “inefficient” is a well deserved criticism of Vancouver’s administration. In the 1980s there were 2 layers of management between professional staff and Council. Today, in most departments, there are at least 4, often 5. It makes getting reports to Council a nightmare of confusion and inefficiency as every manager, director, managing director, deputy/assistant general manager, general manager, and of course the micro-managing City Manager, feels a need to edit, re-write, re-frame, quible, stall, and deflect as they read and re-read the political tea leaves attempting to prove that they know what the pols want and are, therfore, necessary to running the show.

    Get rid of 20% of the managment staff and you’d see a remarkable improvement in efficiency.

  • Blaffergassted

    Burnaby did great in the livability rankings, but less well on the financial aspects of this survey.

    Tax rates are high but the left-leaning council keeps getting re-elected.


  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    “the NPA did exactly what you want, which is to get 3800 units of socially assisted housing underway…”

    “it was Sam Sullivan and the NPA caucus that worked closely in partnership with the province to work out a brand new type of program to purchase SROs and convert them to social housing.”


    Sean B., thanks for the laugh. I don’t mind partisan rhetoric, in fact, I quite enjoy seeing how different people spin things. However, both of these ridiculous NPA claims were thoroughly debunked and derided when Ladner made them during the November campaign. So I find it laughable (and kinda sad) that you are repeating them here six months later as if they were the truth. A more accurate term for these kinds of statements is, I believe, “truthiness”.

    I guess the “new NPA” you are touting ain’t so different than the old NPA, eh?

    And anyway, if our media had any appetite for investigative journalism (present company excluded, of course), they might want to investigate how a speculator named Robert Wilson managed to flip 7 or more of these DTES SRO buildings to the Province for a profit of close to 18 MILLION in less than one year. Wilson had never owned a single SRO before 2006, then he buys a fistful of them, then he flips them to the province for huge profits. Fishy, fishy, fishy. Did he get tipped off on the province’s impending poverty hotel buying binge? I guess we’ll never know…

  • Not Running for mayor

    Gee couldn’t be that he saw downtown shifting eastwards and began buying properties knowing they would go up in value. The only reason you’re even mentioning him is because the government bought his properties. How how the smuck that bought the army navy parking lot at 60 W Cordova for $6.2Million 14months ago and now sold it for $11Million. That smuck made $5Million on a single property but it’s not interesting as he didn’t sell it to the government. There were alot of transactions in the DTES over the last few years, but were all lead by the vision of making money, not robbing taxpayers.

  • gmgw

    Speaking as one who has been required (family reasons) to visit Surrey on a semi-regular basis for some 25 years and on a biweekly basis (most of the year) for the past five, I have to say that I don’t give a damn how well-managed the place is, or how photogenic the ridiculously overpraised Diane Watts is (how eager would newspaper editors, especially Surrey newspaper editors, be to constantly run pictures of her if she looked like Bernice Gerard?); I would rather eat a box of live slugs than spend even one month as a full-time Surrey resident.

    Mussolini may have made the trains run on time, but that doesn’t mean I would want to have lived in Fascist Italy, either. However, let me hastily add that anyone who is of the belief that Costco and megamalls represent the apex of human cultural development will be happy as a pig in excrement in Surrey.

    And that last phrase is as good an analogy for the Surrey Experience as anything I can think of. Excuse me while I shudder.

  • Very, very interesting NR for M: the Cordova AN parking lot!

    Almost 70% up in 14 months. Is this figure mark to money?

    Or real value.

    Because if it is the former who do we believe? Or the latter then the market is so distorted as to make the recent skyline study meaningless: the up coming view review too!

    At that kind of speculative hike and ensuing developer pressure planning is meaningless.

    Which BTW, on checking the city view review web page, the photo shows a very narrow peek at the Lions that would be lost half a block either side of east or west.

    And, like yunno, a view from a precarious perch on the bath room counter somewhere at the top of the slopes . . .

  • PS

    Current state of the town!

    Many projects on hold or abandoned. Completed projects price-reduced.

    Majority of occupants renting from defaults or speculator holders.

    And a speculator makes 70% windfall in an area slated for hundreds of SRO’s.

    I am not questioning your figures NR for M but I am wondering if the Campbell insiders have something to do with this.

    Is this what “green shoots” look like?

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    NRFM, of course you’re right, it is interesting because they were sold to the government! In the second provincial announcement, 5 of the 6 DTES SROs purchased were Wilson’s. 7 out of 12 total from the DTES were his. I can see a speculator investing in 2 or 3, maybe, but over 50% bought by the Province were his. Doesn’t that seem fishy to you? Especially for a small condo developer who has zero experience running SROs? You’d have to be pretty prescient and damn sure that the DTES was going to gentrify to take that kind of gamble on 7 “problem” buildings.

    Last year I compared Wilson’s purchase prices reported in the Tyee to the Government’s Housing announcements which gave their purchase prices for the SROs, and it averaged out to a 60% profit for Wilson. This was at the height of the bubble, sure, yet the price index in Greater Van over these two years rose about 9-12% each year. Wilson made about 40% profit OVER and above the average price rise. Again, doesn’t that seem way out of whack? Bear in mind that these were mostly Heritage buildings, which cost way more to redevelop than non-heritage or empty lots. Again, a BIG gamble.

    Wilson has always refused to talk to the media about this — the Tyee tried many times to no avail. If it’s all on the up and up, why hide?

  • Michael Phillips – No administration is perfect. Mistakes were made and I agree with your assessment of why voters turfed us out. (And I too hope that everyone is enjoying our stroll down elections past lane …)

    But the the housing initiative of Sam Sullivan and the NPA caucus was an unprecedented effort, and whether it is the 3813 units we claim, some of which are still in the planning stages, or just 2000 units of new, socially-assisted housing, it is still more than any previous council has ever done.

    Those that are truly interested in ending homelessness and not just using the crisis for partisan gain, should be open to good policy no matter where it originates.

    I wrote this Mayor and Council early in their tenure to congratulate them on opening the shelters in a bitterly cold winter and potentially saving lives in the process. I wonder how many people posting on this blog ever wrote Mayor Sullivan to thank him for his efforts to build socially assisted housing?

    And contrary to the assertions made here, the 12 SROs are actually under construction – they’ve already torn down the building on the lot next to mine at Abbott and Pender, which will be a managed residence for single mothers with children.

    But this entire discussion misses the big picture. To be effective, any program to “end” homelessness has to coordinate efforts across all three levels of government, and include mental health treatment, public health services, specialized care for victims of fetal alcohol syndrome, treatment beds for alchohol and drug addiction, education, job training, work programs, etc., and here we are eight months into their first term fought on this single issue, and what do we have? People swept off the streets and shoved in a shelter under a bridge with none of the services necessary to make that place more than a dumping ground.

    To my mind that is not a serious effort at all and more than a little shameful. And it certainly isn’t adequate to the task.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    “But this entire discussion misses the big picture….”

    Sean, I’m sure you don’t care what I think (few do!), and there are several points you make that I take issue with (but won’t bother arguing here), but the paragraph you wrote that starts with “But this entire discussion…” is bang on and excellent criticism — the kind of position that the NPA should be adopting. So, if I can make one suggestion: Look forward, not back. Defending Sullivan’s record will get you nowhere fast if you are seriously trying to help remake the party.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    Oh, and, Sean, since you confess to be a nearby resident, perhaps you could invest some effort into righting the shortsighted decision to quash the Pantages Theatre redevelopment? This could have a profound effect on many levels. I think only people who spend every day in this area seem able to grasp what a huge difference it could make. All the previous NPA and current Vision councils seem to care about is the pricetag. Fair enough, but I am convinced (and there are numerous City and external reports that back this up) that the long-term economic, social and cultural benefits to the city and local area will dwarf whatever we spend on this project now….

    They wanted $26 million to restore the theatre, add a 99 seat community theatre, build 125 units of new social housing, an entrance to Chinatown, plus retail space, etc. Compare the bang for buck of that project to the absurd price of $110 million for 240 units in the Athlete’s Village. It seems to me the Pantages would be a worthy cause for a local politician to fight for. Just saying…

  • Michael Phillips


    Well, I think it’s a bit much to say that the NPA can take credit for a stock of social housing, the bulk of which doesn’t seem like it will be ready in even two years time, when their government was elected 3 1/2 years ago, and then at the same time say it’s shameful that we haven’t seen a bunch of new social housing deals from the Mayor after only 8 months. As anyone trying to defend the NPA record on social housing would have to argue, these things take time. I hope Vision will be able to do better than 5 1/2 years from election to completion, if they even get finished that soon.

    Very true about needing to address the diversity of causes of our homelessness/destitution crisis. However, there is both a short-term set of solutions and a long-term set and while we both require that our government address underlying issues as a basis for ending the homelessness crisis, after 8 months it’s premature to expect a new full-fledged attack on all these fronts. In another year you could perhaps make that criticism but I hope and expect that you wouldn’t be able to.

    What can be expected after 8 months is a very aggressive attack on street homelessness, which is what we’ve had, in fact too aggressive. I hope very much that two more shelters properly situated and run can be opened, probably using only city funding at this point, to reestablish momentum and de-stigmatize the effort to shelter the homeless which is the worst casualty of the shelter debacle.

    I have to mention that it’s nice to talk about these contentious issues in a civil, rational way with you, and on a blog no less…thanks.

    Gassy Jack, one day I expect the Pantages Theatre to be open and at the heart of a new DTES, its gorgeous and can be a cultural anchor for the neighbourhood.

    Infact, I’m sure the logistics of this are a nightmare, but even in its dilapidated state I would absolutely go see low-budget shows there now. There’s a small video piece at the VAG that shows stage performers on stage at the Pantages as-is, and its riveting, raw theatre. I’m not sure if we have the imagination to accept the theatre as is, but I wonder if low-budget shows can pay for themselves and the per-show facility costs, I think they possibly could.

    Sean, you have connexions, git r’ done!

  • Joe Just Joe

    I think it is a very safe assumption that the Pantage theatre will be saved, the question is not if but when.
    The previous proposal was not ever going to happen as the developer “Worthington” was asking for an obscene amount of bonus density, at a time when the density bank is already saturated. That developer without getting into slander is also of questionable reputation.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    Folks, I thought the Pantages was a done deal too, but I heard recently that the $150,000 feasability study was awarded to the REALTOR whose sign is on the building!!!! Uggggg!!! They are apparently pushing the opinion that the interior is now beyond repair and unsalvageable, and Deal and Bayne (the point people for this) have apparently swallowed this nonsense. I hear the new plan is just to save the exterior, which, of course, ain’t much to look at and would be a waste of time. The interior is the beautiful part.

    Also, the feds announced a new Cultural Spaces program in May as part of the infrastructure program, in which they will pay HALF of the restoration of heritage theatres. The City has been dragging their feet waiting for Fed and provincial funding, well, it’s there!!!

    I believe the City finally (after 7 years) approved the Density for Transfer in February. They’ll never get anywhere near the amount they requested, though.

    If anyone does care about this and wants to help, there is a petition with over 800 signatures and counting and letters can be sent to the Mayor and council. If you are on facebook, see the group Save the Pantages Theatre Vancouver, BC, where you can link to lots of info and the petition.

    Please help any way you can!!

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    BTW Michael, the theatre is now too unsafe for any type of shows and has been closed permanently until renos are done.

  • Joe Just Joe

    Not sure which density transfer you are refering to as there was no density approved for the Pantages theatre, there was a density bonus approved for the York theatre though. Perhaps you have the details mixed up on the two.
    The plan by Worthington would’ve included a large density bonus but it was rejected by council last term. The property is now being shopped.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    JJJ, you’re right, it was only approved “In Principle”.

  • MP & Gassy Jack,
    I’ve really enjoyed the discussion.

    Regarding the Pantages, during the election, I spoke repeatedly about the key role the Pantages could play in revitalizing the DTES and Chinatown, especially with their concept of a lobby entrance off Pender in addition to the Hastings entrance. I also lobbied the elected caucus of the day extensively on the subject.

    I compare it to Lincoln Center, which was plunked right down in the middle of the slum whose gangs found fame in West Side Story … we all know today how the entire Upper West Side was transformed into one of the most liveable and diverse areas in Manhattan. The same is true of Rockefeller Center further south.
    If elected, it was one of my promises to keep.

    But your comments have stimulated some ideas, and I will explore the topic again with those with influence to see if the new Federal infrastructure funding you mention changes the equation.

    Thanks again for a truly enjoyable exchange.