Chair defends meals, massages and other controversial 'perks' at Metro Vancouver HQ
Published Tuesday, April 10, 2018 7:44PM PDT
From the 29th floor of MetroTower III on Kingsway, you can see clearly downtown Vancouver, North Vancouver, Surrey – nearly all the communities that contributed to the purchase of the new headquarters for the regional government. The jaw-dropping view is where Metro Vancouver's bureaucrats, engineers, support staff and politicians have enjoying lunch since moving in late last year.
The prime, AAA real estate is not only used by Metro Vancouver employees and board members, but also by commercial tenants of the building, who get to enjoy the freshly cooked food offered at cost. Any post-lunch tension can be erased with an in-office massage by student masseurs for a nominal $10.
The eyebrow-raising perks were uncovered by Mike Smyth, a columnist at the Province newspaper.
"This was surprising to me because remember that Metro Vancouver had been back on their heels here for the past few weeks defending their pay raise and retroactive severance package," Smyth told CTV News in Victoria.
He says a tipster alerted him to the workplace goodies, which have benefited a regional government organization few taxpayers understand, but are financing for services and expenses they may not approve of.
"This is a board that's in charge of garbage collection, sewers and water -- those are their basic functions. Why do you have to travel to Paris, New York, Australia, Korea, South America. Are you kidding me? Why do you have to travel to these places in order to make the sewers operate properly?"
Metro Vancouver Board chair and Port Coquitlam mayor Greg Moore bristled at the criticism, finding exception with the wording used to discuss the workplace benefits.
"By you calling them perks you're already pre-judging what they are. Perks would mean something we're subsidizing, which we're not,” he said. “We're trying to create the best employment opportunity for our [current] employees and future employees. We, much like everyone in the private sector, are in a competitive marketplace for good employees."
Moore said engineers are in short supply at the moment and Metro Vancouver, running one of the largest utilities in Canada, is having a tough time competing for those serving tech companies, private corporations and other levels of government.
“Frankly, if this was a private sector company like a technology company where they provided meals at costs and they provided massage services at cost, we'd be celebrating them for being innovative about how they're trying to make the best work environment for their employees.”
The B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation isn’t buying that argument.
"These are public servants, as they like to call themselves. These are bureaucrats. They should have your average run of-the-mill office building where most of us work every day," Kris Sims said.
She pointed out the type of research politicians and senior officials perform on fact-finding trips overseas also need to include the kind of research and analysis done by taxpayer-funded bureaucrats at other jurisdictions, suggesting the findings are just as effective presented via video chat and email.
A workplace in what Metro Vancouver’s own website describes as premium office space, “Only 8 (per cent) of buildings are built to AAA (top quality),” with inexpensive extras, fuels what she called a serious disconnect with working-class British Columbians.
"This is the sort of thing that really makes people jaded about politicians and bureaucrats. They work hard every single day, they're barely scraping by between utilities, groceries, taxes and then they turn around seeing politicians and their staff living like this," Sims said.
Moore is standing his ground in the face of the rising criticism.
“There's a lot of benefit to having your employees there working, having lunch with each other, talking and creating a good corporate culture,” he said.
“I don't know why we don't want to do that just because [someone is] a government employee."