Four councillors from two different electoral slates came together Tuesday to denounce what they claim were untrue statements about Delta’s “golden handshake” made by mayoral candidate George Harvie.
Councillors Sylvia Bishop (running for mayor with Team Delta), Robert Campbell (running for re-election with Team Delta), Jeannie Kanakos (running for re-election with Independents Working for You) and Bruce McDonald (running for re-election with Independents Working for You) were all part of the announcement on Oct. 9.
The statement was endorsed by all five of the current councillors, Kanakos said, although Heather King, who is not seeking re-election, wasn’t present at the press conference. Although they said they were bringing the concerns forward as council members, the councillors did not share their concerns about Harvie’s comments with current Mayor Lois Jackson. Jackson is running for council with Harvie’s Achieving for Delta slate.
“It isn’t a case of the slates amalgamating on this [issue],” McDonald said about their statement on Harvie’s comments. “We were presented with information, we acted upon that. Then the CAO came back and said ‘I didn’t like it, I didn’t want it, I was opposed to it.’ It’s just not right.
“It doesn’t align in any way with the truth.”
As the longest serving council member, McDonald read the joint statement for the group. The statement said that former city manager and current mayoral candidate Harvie made untrue statements about his role in the creation of Delta’s “golden handshake,” an end-of-service benefit that would see the current mayor and council members receiving between $30,000 and $124,000 if not re-elected.
The comments in question were from Harvie’s election Q&A with the Delta Optimist. In his answer regarding the end-of-service benefit, Harvie said that one of the key reasons he was running for mayor was that he didn’t agree with the golden handshake.
“As your city manager, it was a policy I took great exception to — and as mayor, I’ll be taking swift action to put a stop to it,” he said.
This statement, the four councillors argued, did not align with what happened at the in-camera meeting where council discussed the potential benefit, nor did it align with the fact that the report on council remuneration, which included the end-of-service benefit, was reviewed and endorsed by Harvie.
McDonald said that council received a draft proposal for an end-of-service benefit but rejected it, saying it was “too rich.” The revised benefit was brought forward in January 2017 and approved unanimously by council.
Harvie, in a phone call with the North Delta Reporter, brought up the fact that council directed staff to look into pension-like options during the April 27, 2015 council meeting. During the meeting, Jackson said end-of-service benefits were becoming more common in municipal councils and would help in attracting better candidates. The suggestion to look into end-of-service benefits was part of the council remuneration bylaw that year, and passed unanimously.
Over the course of the next year, Harvie said, there were many in-camera meetings with council and staff to discuss options for the end-of-service benefit. He said that, as city manager, it was his job to review the report but it was written by many staff members and approved by council.
“Now, under criticism of approving their own council benefit, Sylvia [Bishop] and certain council members are deflecting the criticism to the staff, despite videos showing council’s direction,” Harvie said. “In 17 years of providing council remuneration reports, there has never been prior public consultation. That’s council’s decision.”
This is not the first time issues around Delta’s golden handshake have come up during the election. During an all-candidates meeting on Sept. 29, mayoral candidates were asked, in a yes-or-no format, whether they supported the retroactive nature of the benefit. All mayoral candidates who were present, including Bishop and Harvie, indicated they weren’t, although Harvie was accused of not answering the question by Independents Working for You council candidate Sandeep Pandher.
Kanakos brought the issue back to council on Sept. 24, with her notice of motion to eliminate the retroactive portion of the service benefit, create a cap on remuneration and hold a public information meeting on the subject. Kanakos’ motion will be up for discussion at the Oct. 15 council meeting.
Some independent candidates are saying Kanakos’ motion is too little too late. Council hopeful Kay Hale commented on the notice of motion, saying in the a press release that the current mayor and council should refrain from accepting their end-of-service benefit and “instead opt to put that … lump sum towards a good cause to improve some parks and playgrounds for our children.”
Council candidate Mike Smith, who has been vocal about his opposition to the golden handshake, also commented on Kanakos’ “change of tune,” as he called it. Smith had been calling for incoming councillors to pledge they wouldn’t give themselves golden handshakes in the future.
Kanakos said that her change of heart on the golden handshake isn’t political — although it comes at a political time.
“The residents of Delta have been very clear on social media. They don’t agree with the approach,” Kanakos said. “In reading the social media, there were points made that I hadn’t thought of before.”
She pointed to a comment made by a part-time worker for the city who, like elected officials, wouldn’t receive a pension when they retired.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” she said.
Campbell said he felt the idea of an end-of-service benefit is still a good one, although he believes that it now needs to be revisited. McDonald agreed, saying he doesn’t think it’s wrong conceptually for council to get a service benefit, but he has changed his mind on its retroactive nature.
Bishop, running against Harvie in the upcoming election, brought the discussion back to her concern over Harvie’s comments.
“The reason we came together on this was there was a false statement made by George,” she said. “This today is about George misrepresenting the truth and lying about something he had a hand in and was fully involved with.
“The whole thing about the golden handshake is coming up, it’s going to be discussed at council,” she continued, calling it a “separate issue.”
”This is about George misrepresenting the truth, George lying about what happened. And that’s a real concern.”
When asked about Bishop’s comments, Harvie said there was “no misunderstanding and no excuses.”
“When Metro Vancouver received criticism for the end-of-service benefit, they did not blame staff, they withdrew the benefit,” Harvie said. “It is unfortunate Delta councillors are blaming staff instead of taking accountability for their own actions.”
He reiterated his statements in the Delta Optimist Q&A, saying that he always believed elected officials should run for the sole purpose of making a difference in the community, and said one of his first actions if elected would be to request council to withdraw the benefit and ask the province to set remuneration standards for all local governments.
“Council should be standing up and, if they want to, supporting their decisions,” he said. “Council is accountable for their own decisions.”