What Do an Ipod and a Federal Stimulus Dollar Have in Common? More Than You Might Think...

Deputy Mayor George Chow (centre right) in a photo by Stacey Robinsmith.

The Honourable Stockwell Day, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, along with Vancouver Deputy Mayor George Chow, brought a ragtag group of media sorts out to the Pan Pacific Hotel in order to announce that the federal government and the city of Vancouver are going to be spending $86 million on infrastructure upgrades in Vancouver and approximately $17.2 million of those dollars will be spent specifically on improvements to Stanley Park.

The media announcement started in the Pan Pacific Hotel with a stunning view of the North Shore Mountains and Stanley Park in the background. That is, a stunning view until the construction crew working below started a project that proceeded to release a continuous and massive cloud of steam that totally blocked the view.

The recently defeated Conservative candidate (Coquitlam-New West-Port Moody riding) and even more recently appointed Conservative Senator Yonah Martin began the press conference by walking up to the microphone and telling the gathered media folk that, as her daughter puts it, “There are only three more sleeps.” She went on to explain that today’s announcement is a bit like Christmas for the people of Vancouver because of all the projects that were being announced.

She then introduced Minister Stockwell Day who proceeded to thank the provincial government for working at moving the economy forward with their own stimulus funding package, although they were not involved in any of the projects being announced today. These are projects that the federal government is partnering strictly with the city of Vancouver on completing.

Speaking of funds, the announcement was for $30 million from the federal government and $56 million from the city of Vancouver for a total of $86 million of stimulus spending. And the projects, called “shovel ready” have to be completed before March 2011 or the city might not get the federal funds.

Deputy Mayor George Chow then took the microphone. He proceeded to thank the “grandparents” for their Christmas gifts. Minister Day looked a little puzzled so Chow clarified by saying that the relationship between the city and the provincial government is like child and parent. Therefore the relationship between city and Ottawa, is like child and grandparent. He then added that nowadays kids dream of getting iPods, and these projects were like iPods. He then added that hopefully Minister Day returned next year with flat-screen televisions. Is that what you call damned with faint praise?

Then we head downstairs and out into the elements where no pesky steam cloud can obscure the view. Repeat of introductions as the cold settles into the small gathering. The fact sheet is released and we quickly scan the details; I see that, as promised, Stanley Park is getting a good share of the money; more than $17 million. The Seawall from English Bay to Sunset Beach and Brockton Point Lighthouse sections will see improvements to the tune of $7 million, as well, sections of the road will be repaved, field houses upgraded, Malkin Bowl will get an upgrade, sewer systems upgraded and so on.

The inevitable question and answer period begins. Apparently the recently granted Approved Destination Status (ADS) by the Chinese government is expected to create a tourism boom for Canada and Vancouver in particular. Hence the focus of these stimulus dollars on making the city look pretty. Of course there are substantial dollars going towards the city sewer systems, an Orpheum Theatre reno, Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza improvements as well as some work done on the exterior of City Hall.

When I ask  Aaron Jasper, Vancouver Parks Board member if any of the funds could be used to make it easier for the Parks Board to save the Bloedel Conservatory he is hesitant to say very much. He points out that even though there are significant dollars being spent in the city, the monies are not being granted to the Operating Budget of the city. Therefore, the announcement of these dollars does not impact the Parks Board decisions around the Conservatory. He adds that he is hopeful that an organization will step forward with some type of proposal as to how the Conservatory can be preserved. He mentionsthat the Van Dusen Garden has been a remarkably successful model.

I spot Phil Hochstein of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of BC (ICBA). I ask for his thoughts on the announcement. He says:

“The announcement is a great one for the construction industry. It includes a variety of projects sizes and types meaning an array of contractors will be able to bid on the work. For example if the projects were all road or utility-type work the road building contractors would be happy but not the building contractors. The list includes something for everyone.”

I then ask him if he sees this as a way to cushion the expected post-Olympic construction bust to which he replies,

"For some of the smaller contractors it can help them through the more challenging times expected in 2010. More private sector spending is still required as public spending can never replace the volume of private sector money that fuelled the industry for the past few years. Simply put, my industry scaled up to meet the glorious demand of the past few years and is not scaling down as the demand has shrunk considerably. Both scaling up and then down is a painful process.”

Hochstein was obviously pleased with the stimulus funding announcement.

Back to Deputy Mayor Chow. He talks about the new police forensic centre that will be built on the False Creek Flats behind Great Northern Way. He says that he expects that eventually the police will likely move out of the 312 Main Street location due to some of the serious problems with that building. He does add that there will likely be some kind of police presence in the existing Main Street building for some years to come.

And then just like that, the press conference is over and the politicos disappear to wherever politicos disappear to after momentous announcements are made.

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