MUNICIPAL ELECTION: Mayoral candidate Paul Brown campaigning on fiscal prudence, taxes and transparency

Government consultant says too many decisions being made behind closed doors

Paul Brown

Paul Brown

Back in May, Paul Brown came racing out of the gates as Victoria’s first declared mayoral candidate.

After placing sixth in the 2010 byelection for city council, with 1,065 votes, Brown this time started campaigning early to overcome the fact he’s a little-known candidate.

Brown is a partner in a consulting firm called 3e Training Inc., providing management advice to governments, and a director with the Victoria Chapter of the Financial Management Institute of Canada. He has volunteered for many years with Big Brothers and Sisters of Victoria, but has no community leadership experience.

“About halfway through the (2010) campaign, I was contacted by some people by email and they said, ‘You know what, we’re impressed by what you’re doing … (but) you haven’t got a chance.’”

That grassroots support grew into the official endorsement of an electoral organization called Open Victoria.

At first, Brown’s goal for the 2011 election was a seat on council. “The further I got into it, the more convinced I became that something had to be done,” he explained of his motivation to oust Mayor Dean Fortin.

Brown has positioned himself as the voice of financial prudence in a time of economic uncertainty.

“We need to focus on the issues of greatest importance to the city and right now, council’s attention tends to be focused 80 per cent of the time on issues of insignificant importance, or of provincial, national or global nature, over which we have very little influence,” he said.

“One of the big challenges I face right now is persuading the public that we are going into a financial crisis.”

Signs of the crisis, according to Brown, include the city’s $467-million infrastructure deficit, such as the Crystal Pool which needs replacement but has no allocated funding. Brown also points to the looming cost of sewage treatment, the mayor’s support for light-rail transit, and this year’s seven per cent residential tax increase.

“A lot of people I’m speaking to knocking on doors, they’re angry that they were told (they’d face a tax increase of) 3.96 per cent,” he said, referring to the overall tax increase for 2011, before taking into account the tax ratio.

On the city’s focus to address homelessness and affordable housing, he said: “I think it’s admirable that the city stepped forward.

“I think it’s disappointing that the province hasn’t taken this on … The problem is when you’re getting into something you don’t understand,” he said, referencing the city’s purchase of a Traveller’s Inn which sits boarded up for the foreseeable future due to cost escalation.

“Too many decisions are being made behind closed doors,” Brown argued. By way of example, he points to a budget presentation lasting only 15 minutes.

While he acknowledged the city held several community budget presentations, he said they were not very informative and budget documents online are not adequately detailed.

To keep tax increases at a sustainable level, Brown proposes to tackle the city’s growth in management.

“We’ve grown from one to nine people earning over $150,000 (since 2008),” he said.

“We are doing an incredible amount of planning at city hall,” he added. “They (reports) go on the shelf.”

Another idea is amalgamating services with other municipalities, such as garbage collection.

“I think we can get economies of scale if we do it all together… I would love to move to amalgamation, but lets take these baby steps.”

He calls council’s decision to launch kitchen-scrap collection “dumb.”

“We should be doing it with the rest of the municipalities,” he said.

Brown criticizes a common practice among some councillors of attacking higher levels of government.

“My business is working with provincial governments,” he explained. “There is a general attitude in the B.C. government right now that this city council cannot be trusted and will do anything to try to embarrass the provincial government.”

At the same time, Brown’s own campaign is heavy on attack tactics toward the city council. When asked if this will affect his ability to work effectively with his colleagues, if elected, he responded: “I think council knows they are in trouble.”