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Snow fights continue, hot air causes rapid melting

January 6th, 2009 · 29 Comments

The raging debates over the snow and city responses to it continue. I’m finding it fascinating how much of the attention is focused on Vancouver, where the whole issue has turned into a debate along political party lines. I guess the snow in Surrey, Coquitlam, North Van and so on is truly non-partisan. I heard Janet Brown on CKNW yesterday talking about how bad the snow situation was on the streets out in Surrey, but somehow that hasn’t yet led to a call for the impeachment of Mayor Dianne Watts.

Anyway, you can read the latest from Gary Mason at the Globe and Michael Smyth at the Province here and here, with Michael commenting that Gregor was taking more heat here than during his vacation in Cancun. Gee, Suzanne Anton was in Mexico the same two weeks but on the opposite coast — how fitting.

As for me, I’ve decided this is all too silly to pay attention to. Instead, I went out to clear the drain on my street. I highly recommend it as a fun activity. It’s like building sand castles at the beach, where you try to dig little canals to get the water to fill up the moat. Only here, you have to dig little tunnels through the snow so that the slushy water accumulating in isolated little lakes here and there can make it through to the cleared drain.

(For those of you unfamiliar with your street geography, the drain is usually a letter-slot-shaped opening under the sidewalk, about the width of a snow shovel, usually at the lowest point of your street — the place where the lake forms on the street when the drain is blocked by leaves in the fall.)

So, all of you patriotic citizens, out to the barricades with your shovels.

Categories: Uncategorized

  • JS

    Hear, hear! Enough sniping at each other and more rolling up sleeves and helping out. I had a great time out shovelling snow this winter, meeting the neighbours who were also out there shovelling.. Everyone should try it!

    I agree about clearing around the drains – it *is* fun! I would prefer to have a regular metal shovel rather than my plastic snow one right now, however. Much easier for chipping through the frozen chunks.

    The best part is when you are done, going in and putting on dry socks and having a cocoa!

  • tommii

    Um, last time I looked, Suzanne Anton was not the Mayor of Vancouver.

  • T W

    Other places have snow. Vancouver (to judge by some of the posts) just has flakes

  • Vancouverism

    Ha! Comparing the one-member opposition to the Mayor + his majority + all the resources of City Hall including union support. Are you serious, Frances?

  • fbula

    Not sure what tommii and Vancouverism are on about. I just thought it was funny that the mayor and his opposition were both vacationing in Mexico but on opposite coasts. Like, they’re not on the same side in politics or on the same side of Mexico? Get it?

    Sigh. Okay, I’ll be sure to insert the words “humorous observation” or “ironic coincidence” from now on if I ever deviate from the extremely literal.

  • Bill Lee

    …and a fluorescent flag or short pole by the drain
    for the next time to find it more easily.
    If you are in the middle of the block and the drain
    is at one end or the other, you don’t think of where
    it is unless it is clogged with leaves/ice/oobleck.

    A flag post would be quicker than feeling around
    for it with your chipping shovel.
    (and then a car comes along and pushes the snow
    over the drain, closing it again overnight. Sigh!)

  • spartikus

    Obviously we should lock all present and future Mayors of Vancouver in their office and not let them out of 12th and Cambie until the next election because who knows what may happen – an earthquake, or a meteor shower, or a killer bee attack or something. We must be prepared.

    That said, I’m a bit confused, as Gregor’s predecessor was adamant during the civic strike that Mayors simply set agendas and don’t get involved with these sorts of details.

    Mike Klassen was featured heavily on Global’s evening news hour – only identified as “” – ties to the former regime were unmentioned.

  • Scott

    Spartikus-some people have very short memories. Myself I’m in the process of sending Suzanne a framed picture of Jenny Kwan in hopes she’ll think twice before complaining about how she’s being unfairly treated.

  • Interesting context on the global story, Spartikus. I thought Klassen did make a point that the city could have communicated to residents better about garbage pick up — or the lack there of. Apparently Seattle communicated daily to its citizens on what city services were being disrupted.

    If recycling trucks are not coming, I don’t need to haul all the boxes down to the lane!

    Frances — I appreciate the perspective. It is a rare heavy snowfall. It’s not political. Yes, some things could have been done better at city hall, but this doesn’t happen very often. As a city taxpayer I really don’t want the city that well prepared to handle the once-in-20 or once-in-50-year snow event. Once every decade we can all pitch in a shovel out the drains and cope with poor mobility.

  • A. G. Tsakumis


    Global is notoriously lazy when it comes to getting the details right.

    Mike is just looking for platform. He has fashioned himself as some sort of future pol, that will surely, with his incredible talents, solving the AIDS crisis and end Third World hunger.

    Delusions of relevance…

    As for Gregor, I fail to see how his being glued to his desk was supposed to make a difference.

    We had an unusually devastating dumping of the white menace. And we were, clearly, ill-prepared.


    So, indeed, grab a shovel. We all did it.



  • West End Bob

    Sigh. Okay, I’ll be sure to insert the words “humorous observation” or “ironic coincidence” from now on if I ever deviate from the extremely literal.

    No need, fbula. Most of us in your reading audience are intelligent enough to get it without directives.

    Pity that a minority are not . . . . 🙂

  • Dawn Steele

    I read Gary Mason’s column this morning & thought he was spot on – we really are a bunch of babies. My first Canadian winter was in Montreal – and everything since then has been an improvement, I have to say – so I like to indulge in a good chuckle along with those prairie farmers.

    But then there was Pete McMartin setting off all the alarm bells, screaming across the front page of the Sun this morning over the prospect of What If This Happened During the Olympics???!!!

    OMG!! Imagine those poor tourists visiting a residential side street post-snowfall (Lord only knows why they wouldn’t just stick to their hotels downtown and/or the Olympic or commercial venues on main streets that do get cleaned).

    Never mind, that would be the end any chance of anyone ever buying that we’re A World Class City! I mean, really, protecting against innocent athletes being horribly killed in a brutal terrorist attack is hardly any more important than protecting against a Snow Attack in which Motorists Are Inconvenienced!! Isn’t it??

    So please tell me it ain’t true, as CKNW was reporting, that Vancouver City Council has bought into this utter hysteria by going out and throwing more good dollars after all those bad Olympic investments by buying a bunch of hugely costly equipment that’s going to sit idle until the off-chance that a few drops of the white stuff hit some side street that a tourist wants to drive on next February.

    After reading that, I had to go outside and blow off some steam with the snow shovel. Yup – our drains and about 3 other neighbours’ drains were running beautifully by the time I got over it. Very festive affair actually – half the block was out doing all sorts of creative tasks that involved snow shovels – waiting for cars to stick so we could dig them out, flattening that middle part that the cars keep getting bellied-out on, drains, pruning snowbanks, etc.

    Yes, life is as it should be on 24th Ave – we, at least, know how to enjoy a good crisis.

  • Listen Close

    Money for new plows for Olympics was approved under the last council.

  • spartikus

    Apparently Seattle communicated daily to its citizens on what city services were being disrupted.

    So he said, but it’s funny how the perspective on the handling “Snowmaggedon” is different down there.

    Delusions of relevance…

    Well, he gets on TV and radio and a lot of other “bloggers” don’t. Now, I have no issue with a partisan voice brought on to comment on any given issue – as long as they are clearly identified as such. I think this is the serious issue. It may well be this particular instance can be attributed to journalistic laziness. But I note this is the second time I’ve heard of where the pertinent background of has not been mentioned on a major media outlet – the other time being the CBC (mentioned in a comment on this blog).

    Two times don’t make a trend of course, but it’s something I’ll be keeping an eye on.

  • spartikus

    I’d also have more respect for Mike Klassen if he had had the courage to say on-air that he thinks Gregor Robertson’s handling of the recent snowstorm was analogous to President Bush’s handling of Hurricane Katrina. Maybe he has, on different outlets, I don’t know…

  • LP

    As I’ve written in past comments, I’m not going to dump on the city for a once in a lifetime snow event, but in reality this could have been dealt with better.

    I have two comments on what Dawn Steele has written Pete McMartin and his cries of “what if this happened during the Olympics”.

    First, to be fair we’ve all been listening to the NDP for YEARS now, cry, bitch and complain; what if this, what if that, all happened…wait for it….during the Olympics…and how the current government is so woefully unprepared. My god, the mantra can almost repeat itself in my head while I sleep.

    So one of their own, who was undoubtedly part of that vicious cycle of complaining is our mayor, and somehow it’s now wrong for anyone who opposes Vision to cry, bitch and complain about the obvious.

    At least Pete is consistent.

    Second, this will not happen during the Olympics because there will most likely be no holidays allowed for city staff during that period, and if there are, they will be advised that they could be called back if needed.

    Everyone should note here that city manpower was lacking during the holidays until Jan 5th when most returned to work.

    In the future, the city should consider sticking a clause into their union contracts that in the event of record weather events that impact city services drastically, that holidays can be canceled immediately calling people back to work, regardless of the time of year. We’ve all heard the “all hands on deck” saying, correct?

    Why the mayor is taking heat for this is beyond me. Frankly we have a new city manager who is not experienced in municipal affairs that may or may not have been MIA during this whole thing as well. We haven’t heard much about her since Ms. Anton tried to spit and roast her at that first council meeting.

    I’m no Judy fan, but if Ms. Rogers was still in place would there not be people calling for her head about now?

    I suppose there is a reason that most people hired for this job are engineers…….so the mayor isn’t to blame for the snow and resulting inconvenience, however he is to blame for hiring a city manager that could not add any value to recent events.

  • Drains&Sewers

    An email today from the fascinating Vanmap (do get the browser rather than use the on-line version. Best in MS Internet Explorer sadly)

    — quote —
    You are receiving this email because you are a member of the VanMap mailing list.

    Working with our colleagues in Engineering, we have just added catch basins to VanMap. They become available at a scale of 1:2000 and can be
    found in the Sewers layer group; for the time being they default to being on. Please see for the documentation. With all of the snow, there has been much talk about clearing these and although the locations in VanMap are approximate, they may still be helpful to the effort.

    You may also be able to determine the locations of catch basins by turning on the orthophotos and zooming in very close. Depending on the
    lighting, trees, parked cars, shade, etc., you may be able to see where they are. If one year of orthophotos doesn’t do the trick, you may want
    to consult another year as the catch basins are unlikely to have moved.

    We have also added a Disability Parking layer to VanMap; it can be found in the Traffic-Related layer group. Please see for the

    Thanks and all the best for 2009.

    Jonathan Mark, GIS Manager
    IT Department
    Business Planning and Services Group
    City of Vancouver
    604-873-7987 phone
    604-873-7875 fax
    —- end quote —

  • Blaffergassted

    At least one city hall reporter knows the proper use for her shovel.

  • foo

    I guess I must be one of those babies who can’t drive around because of a bit of snow. But, for the life of me I can’t understand why people are so keen to give the city a pass on it’s response to this event.

    I don’t care about the politics, I don’t care to blame the mayor or the council. I’m not whining about the inconvenience of the snow. S…t happens.

    But, the city’s response to this minor emergency is an indicator of how well it would do in a REAL emergency, and the signs aren’t good. If want things to be better, if we don’t want to accept mediocrity, then we really do need to stand up and criticize. We need to hold the management at City Hall accountable. We need to make sure they actually take some notice of how poor their response was, and make some new plans.

    If we just wave it off and scoff at anyone who dares to criticize the holy city employees, then how can we ever expect a better response to any emergency that occurs in the future?

  • Bill Lee

    @LP // Jan 7, 2009 at 2:17 pm
    Uh, recall of city workers from mass vacation?
    Many, like the Mayor Robertson, and Opposition Leader Anton
    are away, on holiday, in other countries like Mexico, or other
    towns (while spending two days at YVR airport).
    They Can’t Get Back To Work.

    And besides, much of the city seemed to take that time off if they
    were not on public service.

    I’m more concerned with the rest of the city that, with the
    enforced school break during the olympics, takes a couple of
    weeks off work because: they can’t afford or arrange daycare,
    it is a good opportunity for the family to see Aunt Marge in
    Saskatchewan, and so on.
    Sydney during their “April” (October) disappear to the beaches
    of Queensland during their olympics. State and city workers
    who were forcibly ‘volunteered’ for the Olympics went once, and
    then took off. A large portion stayed home and 25 percent
    went off on vacation trips.

    The Olympics is a television event. I could be held in a ghost
    town for all that matters, with CGI images of people in the
    stands for the cameras.

    And is the rain lovely and soft and warm today…..:-)

  • Rick

    I think the mayor focused his attention on the right issue during this evil winter-y thing-y: the homeless and getting them shelter.

    As for the residential streets and sidewalks there is no way a plow would fit down my street and I am encouraging all residents of Vancouver to shun those people in the 1900 block of Parker Street (south side) who did not shovel the sidewalk but made the effort to shovel a path from their front doors to where their 4wd vehicles were parked. Tsk, tsk!

  • LP

    Bill Lee: Can you elaborate if you are mocking me or just being sarcastic?

    At any rate: Not everybody leaves the city when they take holidays, unless I didn’t get that memo.

    Calling G & A back would serve no purpose, I doubt they could drive a plow/plough or would put on their hip-waders and spend a day with the laymen. Although the thought of A in hip-waders is worth a few giggles…..go ahead I know you want to.

    I seem to remember hearing that the mayor and council don’t tell the plows where to go, or the garbage trucks where to pick (or something like that).

    The city manager on the other hand, that’s another story. I realize she’s new and all, but for someone to have serendipitously dropped into the mayor’s lap (hopefully not at Brandi’s) and for him to be so moved that she was perfect for the job, heaven forbid that expecting her to have added some value is such a wrong thing to do.

    I think everyone needs to be ecstatic that during this mess that no one died (finish reading now) because an ambulance couldn’t get into a neighborhood that was impassable. ‘If’ that were to have happened, you can bet the rhetoric, blame and lawsuits would have been flying.

  • Regarding the lack of disclosure with respect to Mr. Klassen’s demonstrably partisan civic allegiances during his appearance on Global…

    I think it is important to remember that Mr. Klassen’s fellow Spamaloteer , and former NPA/Sullivan Chief-Of-Staff, Mr. Fontaine, was referred to only as a Vancouver ‘resident’ when he started the wurlitzer cranking with an earlier appearance on CBC-TV.

    Is anybody else seeing a pattern here?

    So, while I agree with Frances that this particular kerfuffle is, on the face of it, silly, I am concerned that next time around this type of stealth wurlitzering will be used to obfuscate on an issue that actually matters .

    For those who think I’m just blowing more hot air than usual, Ms. Bula fronted an earlier comment left from Michael Phillips that dealt with Mr. Fontaine’s CBC appearance here.


  • jaymac

    For those trying to link the current snow removal issue with the Olympics – the main Olympic events are scheduled for the last two weeks of February. When did we last have 3 weeks of snow in late February?? I’d bet there are greater odds of rain on the local mtns and fog at Whistler than any serious snowfall in Vancouver.

    Dawn Steele’s comments that visitors would not be impacted by snow on sidestreets is shortsighted. What about the B and B type accommodations, visiting relatives, house swaps etc? Not all Olympic visitors will be staying in downtown hotels.

    For me the biggest disappointment about the recent weather has been the incivility shown in our so-called Civil City. The lack of snow shoveling on sidewalks by property owners, many of whom seemed well capable of clearing their driveways was just plain rude. In our neighbourhood, a block of mixed-ages, there seemed to be little consideration given by the able-bodied to helping access for seniors both to and from their front doors and to clearing their sidewalks. One fears thinking about what emergency helpers would have had to wade thru in the event of assisting at a life-threatening emergency.

    Why weren’t our politicians and regular media types reminding citizens of some of life’s basic moral obligations i.e to help those who could not help themselves. It was not just the homeless who needed help; the homebound needed it just as much.

    Yes, it was so much easier for the media to blame the absent Mayor for all our woes. Which shows that the media had something to shovel but it was not white.

  • Michael Phillips

    So how about this for a verdict on Snowmageddon, the rapidly melting pseudo-scandal:

    Yes, the Mayor and the City should have communicated the situation better to the public.
    People were bound to be ticked at the driving, busing, skytrain and walking constraints
    imposed by the snow and they naturally wanted to be updated regularly on what was being done,
    where, how quickly etc. Sure, the difference between cleaning up the snow versus cleaning up the snow while telling everyone how well you are cleaning up the snow is not great, but it is still of significance to the frustrated. Regular bulletins on the city website and greater availability of communications personel would have helped.

    No, the mayor and the city could not have cleaned up much more snow than they did. After all of their bluster, City has only two pieces of advice on how more snow could have been gathered, which they announce to great fanfare (Leadership 101, Jan 6th):

    1) “Get on the phone with the unions. A bunch of city staff would not come off holidays to shovel snow. This is a BIG problem. The unions spent a LOT of money and time to get you elected. Mike Jackson of CUPE 1004 will pick up the phone if the Mayor calls. You tell him, “Look, you got me elected, and now you’re making me look like a chump. Get your staff back on the roads…”

    2) “Let the City Manager know her responsibilities. We have to ask, if Judy Rogers was still City Manager, would we be in the mess we are in now? Gregor hired Penny Ballem. She owes him big time. The Mayor should have called Penny to get her to bust some chops in the communications and engineering departments.”

    Both pieces of advice would result in illegal, immoral and ineffectual actions and would, in fact, generate a genuine scandal if discovered.
    This is 2008, you can’t call up union bosses and ask them to use their authority to make labour feel obliged to perform favours for political friends which they don’t want to perform and are under no legal obligation to perform. This is not “On the Waterfront”, this is not the Meat Packing District of New York in the 30’s. We have labour law and you cannot use authority to make a person feel as though they must “voluntarily” take overtime. And Penny Ballem busting chops wouldn’t do much better for the same reasons. And Judy Rogers busting chops would darn well cause job action.

    The City performed adequately, not terribly well, not terribly badly.

    How boring.

  • Dawn Steele

    Well folks, it depends on what you define as a crisis. Inconvenienced motorists in a city with full public transport does not meet my definition of a crisis.

    At least not when homeless people are still dying those same streets for a lack of housing, when some parents don’t actually get to sleep for a week or more because their autistic child screams 24/7 and they’re on a 6-year waitlist for respite, or when one in four kids is growing up in poverty and can’t even dream of mom or dad affording to own a car, and when for the rest of us suffering through the “crisis” means facing the same commute people in Surrey endure every day or having to stay home safe, snug and warm with every conceivable modern comfort.

    It’s all relative, of course… but it’s still not the same as getting killed by terrorists or dying/losing everything in Katrina, whether it happens during the Olympics or not.

    I do agree with Foo that it’s a perfectly legitimate opportunity to raise the question of how well we will be prepared in a real emergency (…and I do think we would all be deeply troubled by the answers). But it still doesn’t mean we should confuse tall snowbanks and slushy streets with a real crisis.

  • Michael Phillips

    Haha, I mean….this is 2009!! The nog still hasn’t worn off yet.

  • LP


    Geez, and Larry Campbell and/or his henchmen, never sat across from the unions and told them in EXPLICIT terms what they were going to do, or else?

    Puhlease……if you think that shit doesn’t happen today you’re fooling yourself and I’m using nice language. Perhaps you need to come down from your nog….

  • spartikus

    Geez, and Larry Campbell and/or his henchmen, never sat across from the unions and told them in EXPLICIT terms what they were going to do, or else?

    As always, examples are helpful.