'Cheap and tacky': Vancouver considers cutting back rewards for city's most honoured citizens

The City of Vancouver is looking into revising the rewards it offers to some of its most distinguished citizens, but an opposition NPA councillor is calling the changes "cheap and tacky."

Coun. Andrea Reimer says proposed rewards are still relatively generous

Women's rights advocate Margaret Mitchell was honoured with a Freedom of the City Award in 2016. (City of Vancouver/Twitter)

The City of Vancouver is looking into revising the rewards it offers to some of its most distinguished citizens, but an opposition NPA councillor is calling the changes "cheap and tacky."

The Freedom of the City Award is Vancouver's highest award for distinguished citizens, according to the city's website. The program has been in place since 1936 and was last revised in 1978.

Recipients of the award include former mayor and premier Mike Harcourt, famed environmentalist David Suzuki and business tycoon Jim Pattison. 

Some of the program's rewards staff are recommending be removed or changed include free parking for up to three hours, paid funeral expenses and a framed handwritten scroll. 

"The report ... just totally guts all the nice positive things when you get (the award)," said Coun. George Affleck.  

"This is not a huge cost to us, even if they do use these things. And I just think it's something that's part of the honour."

'Cheap and tacky'

Award recipients would still receive a medal and free admission to park board facilities.

Free entry to attractions like the PNE, aquarium and civic theatres would be removed, but staff say these weren't offered in practice anyway because the city doesn't operate those facilities itself.

Staff are recommending the city replace the handwritten scroll with a printed certificate. 

"What are you going to get? A piece of paper from Staples in a binder? It just seems cheap and tacky to me," Affleck said. 

Rewards still generous: Reimer

The changes would only apply to new recipients. Existing recipients would be grandfathered into the existing program. 

Responding to questions from council, staff said costs for the program were difficult to track and they couldn't offer a definitive number.

They said, few recipients took advantage of the benefits, and, when specifically asked about the funeral expenses, none came to mind in the last 10 years.

Staff said they made their recommendations based on what seven other cities currently offer, including Calgary, Ottawa and Montreal. 

Of the seven cities, only two offer a free parking pass — Kelowna and Coquitlam. None offer paid funeral expenses. 

Coun. Andrea Reimer said the city's proposed rewards for the program are still relatively generous. 

"In a modern world, perhaps a handwritten scroll and other things aren't the best way to say we very much appreciate your service to the city," she said. 

The report was deferred to further discussion pending more information from staff regarding costs.

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