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Vancouver mayor Ken Sim creates task force to review city budgets

Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr: "I think we already have a lot of checks and balances in the system."
Mayor Ken Sim told reporters Monday at city hall that his nine-member budget task force will review the city’s operating and capital budgets “with a fine-tooth comb” to get “our finances in better shape.”

Mayor Ken Sim announced Monday that he has created a task force with a mandate to review the city’s operating and capital budgets “with a fine-tooth comb” and recommend ways tax dollars can be spent “more efficiently and responsibly.”

Sim’s announcement, which he signalled at a recent council meeting would soon be put in place, comes one month after he and his ABC Vancouver colleagues approved a 10.7 per cent property tax hike for this year.

The mayor and council also began this year with a 7.3 per cent pay increase.

“Large property tax increases are not sustainable, stating the obvious here,” Sim told reporters at city hall when asked whether the task force’s work would mean a reduced tax increase in 2024.

“We have this incredible team standing shoulder to shoulder with us, with different perspectives and highly accomplished [finance people]. They're going to give us brutally honest recommendations as to what we can do to get our finances in better shape, but also make better decisions.”

The task force’s mandate does not include reviewing the books of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, Vancouver Public Library or the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), which will undergo an audit this year performed by the city’s independent auditor general.

In March, council approved a budget of $373.5 million for the Vancouver Police Department which includes $8 million to begin hiring 100 officers. Twenty per cent of the city’s $1.9-billion budget is spent on police.

The task force, whose members are working for free, will produce a report that is to be delivered to the mayor on or before Oct. 3. The report would then be released to the public and go before council two weeks later.

Auditor general

The city has a finance team regularly celebrated by council and finance organizations for its work, winning the Government Finance Officers Association’s “distinguished budget presentation award” in 2022.

“In order to receive the award, a governmental unit must publish a budget document that meets program criteria as a policy document, as an operations guide, as a financial plan and as a communications device,” according to the award from the North American association.

Auditor General Mike Macdonell, who leads a finance team independent of city hall, is also a resource for council, although Macdonell does not take direction from politicians. Macdonell made the decision to review the VPD’s finances, along with the recent audit of office furniture procurement.

Sim said the task force’s work “augments everything that’s being done,” adding that “we love our team and the auditor general.”

“They're doing incredible work,” the mayor said. “They're incredibly competent, and they do a lot of great things. So this team here is just bringing a different perspective and a whole bunch of different skill sets and perspectives to help opine on what we're currently doing.”

Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr said she didn’t think the task force was necessary, largely because of the existing finance teams in place at the city, along with the auditor general.

“I think we already have a lot of checks and balances in the system,” Carr told Glacier Media. “I'm not sure what the independent outside group can do that would be an improvement to the process we've already got.”

'Rule out cuts'

OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle said in an emailed statement that she supports the task force but wants its scope expanded to “rule out cuts to frontline services, and look at ways to generate revenue to improve them.”

“I also think the scope should expand to include a review of recent infrastructure decisions at the Vancouver park board,” said Boyle, who is her party’s lone voice on council. “Is paying $70M to replace an existing bike lane really a good use of money? Should we have just kept the temporary lane in place?”

She said revenue projections should also be reviewed, arguing that building more housing and legalizing apartment buildings across Vancouver would bring more money via fees and taxes to bolster the city’s finances.  

“You can't build a great city for free,” Boyle said. “You need effective investment. And you need to embrace growth — in population, in productivity and in prosperity. I welcome third-party validation of that.”

The nine-member task force is a mix of people from the finance sector and others with previous government and political experience, including former deputy premier Joy MacPhail, who currently serves as chairperson of the BC Ferries board.

Bridgitte Anderson, Wade Grant

The eight other members are:

• Randy Pratt, chairperson of the task force, is a chartered professional accountant and current president of Nampa Enterprises. He spent 24 years at Adera Development Corporation as chief financial officer.

• Lisa Stewart, an accountant, is the senior investment counsellor at RBC PH&N Investment Counsel.

• Vince Lok recently retired from his role as the chief financial officer and executive vice-president of Teekay Corporation after nearly 30 years with the company. Lok spent his early career in audit at Deloitte.   

• Calvin Buss spent more than two decades at Deloitte, where he was most recently a partner responsible for the Asia Pacific Audit and Assurance practice.    

• Tom Chambers served 26 years as a partner in senior management roles with PricewaterhouseCoopers. For the past decade, he has served as an independent director for several large public and private companies. 

• Bridgitte Anderson is the current president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.

• Kenneth Bayne is the city’s former director of planning and treasury.

• Wade Grant, a Musqueam Indian Band member, served under former premier Christy Clark’s government and was a member of the Vancouver Police Board.