British Columbia

Vancouver mayor absent as councillor calls for snow removal inquiry

A Vancouver city councillor is calling for an independent investigation into the city's snow removal plans as the whereabouts of the city's Mayor Gregor Robertson remains a mystery during the civic crisis.

'I have not seen the mayor and he has not made himself visible during this very critical time in our city'

A Vancouver resident uses a shovel, spade, salt and a hammer to clear front walkway of house. (Tristan LeRudulier/CBC)

A Vancouver city councillor is calling for an independent investigation into the city's snow removal plans as the whereabouts of the city's Mayor Gregor Robertson remains a mystery during the civic crisis.

Across the city many side streets and sidewalks have not been cleared, sanded or salted, leaving many residents feeling trapped in their homes. Garbage and recycling has been left uncollected for weeks in some neighbourhoods — and frustrated residents have been demanding action from city hall.

"Getting around in our city is crucial... After three weeks of this we should have dealt with this," says opposition NPA city councillor George Affleck.

Affleck said he's going to bring a motion to council calling for an independent review of the city's response.

"I don't feel that Vision Vancouver and the mayor are taking this seriously. Frankly I don't think we have proper staffing to deal with this, and that's why we need to have someone else come in a take a look at it."

Where is the mayor?

Meanwhile, Affleck is asking why Mayor Gregor Robertson has been absent during the city's snow removal crisis.

"I have not seen the mayor and he has not made himself visible during this very critical time in our city," said Affleck. "Where is the mayor? Off on some tropical vacation."

Instead, city staff have faced the media to account for the city's response.

Councillor Melissa Degenova says everyone deserves time off with their families over the holidays, but either the city's Deputy Mayor, Geoff Meggs, or the Acting Mayor, Raymond Louie, should step up during the crisis.

She notes they are both paid "hefty additions" to their salaries to carry out those duties.

"I would expect that if the mayor was leaving the country and was not in constant contact with our staff, that he would have words with his acting or deputy mayor to make sure they are leading the charge on this," she said.

But instead on Tuesday, Jerry Dobrovolny, the city's general manager of engineering services, appeared before the media at city hall to say city staff were being redeployed from construction and other duties to clear snow and ice where people have complained — including from city-owned sidewalks that haven't been tackled, despite a bylaw requiring it.

When quizzed by reporters about why that wasn't done sooner, Dobrovolny said they'd hoped for a melt.

More salt coming to fire halls

Meanwhile, The City of Vancouver is promising there will be more free salt available for residents at fire halls on Thursday after supplies ran out within minutes at many locations of Wednesday.

The expected deliveries come in response to demands the city do more to make streets and sidewalks safe.

New Westminster is also distributing  free salt and sand mix at the city works yard  and Mission is offering free salt and sand at Firehall #1 on Thursday.

Suppliers selling out

It's not just the city that is experiencing a salt crisis. Other cities are also hoarding their supplies.

Stores and wholesalers also say they having trouble meeting the demand.

Lyle Perry at Kerrisdale Lumber said on Tuesday the store sold 250 bags in less than two hours.

"We're out right now." said Perry. "It's quite hard to source locally so we've been pulling stuff in from the states. A lot of our regular suppliers are saying we can get it to you in February."

One wholesale supplier, Lafarge, says it's expecting a large shipment mid-month, which should hold for the rest of the winter, barring further unexpected weather.

At Kissner Salt in Ontario, marketing manager Kristie Kimmett says to the end of December the demand from B.C.'s South Coast was up 50 per cent from previous years.

"Names that we ordinarily would only see a couple of times in a regular season, I'm seeing pop up over and over again. So Port Coquitlam, Victoria, Richmond, Delta."

Kimmett says Kissner gets salt from mines in the United States and is doing its best to meet demand.

About the Author

Mike Laanela is an online journalist with CBC News in Vancouver.