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Vancouver mayor's ex-chief of staff Mike Magee denies lobbying activity

Mayor Gregor Robertson attends a news conference at city hall in Vancouver, B.C., on Nov. 8, 2016. Mr. Robertson's retired chief of staff Mike Magee says he will not be doing any work at city hall on behalf of developers.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Confusion is swirling at city hall and in the city's development community at the news that the mayor's recently retired chief of staff, who is also a close friend, has been talking to developers about potential contract work.

Mike Magee, a powerful force at city hall because of his role and his long-standing personal relationship with Mayor Gregor Robertson, said he has made it very clear that he will not be doing any lobbying work at the city for developers – people who have streamed into his office in recent years.

"I had a talk with Gregor, I told him I'm not going to be lobbying. I'm really trying to just back off [from the city]," said Mr. Magee, who ended his full-time job with the city last May and finished up a contract as a special adviser to the mayor last Sept. 30.

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"I'd assume I'll be in the mayor's office from time to time … or at his house for dinner. But I'm going to be careful about the lobbying role. I don't preclude working for a developer but not in a lobbying role."

In spite of that, some people in Mr. Robertson's own Vision Vancouver party say they are not clear about what the rules are or what exactly Mr. Magee is doing.

"I get it from the development community that he's busy in the field," said Vision Councillor Raymond Louie, who tends to spend the most time of any city councillor liaising with developers and monitoring projects.

"He's completely out of the mayor's office but I don't know how clear that is to people. Maybe they think he can influence their project."

Whatever the reality, said Mr. Louie, there's some danger in not clarifying what's going on.

"The perception [is] this certainly could be a problem for Gregor, for sure."

Vancouver has no official policy prohibiting people who have worked in city government from immediately going to work as lobbyists.

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Mr. Louie said it hasn't become a debate within the party yet, where some have expressed discomfort with the situation. People are talking about it there and it could end up with a demand for a more formal discussion on the topic, he said.

Mr. Robertson said in an e-mailed statement that Mr. Magee hasn't had a formal role with the city since September and that he will not be lobbying.

"As part of Mike's transition to the private sector, there was agreement he would not be taking on any projects or contracts that would involve lobbying the City," the statement said.

Geoff Meggs, a Vision councillor, said he's also been assured by Mr. Magee that he's not lobbying. And, he said, given Mr. Magee's former role, it's not surprising that he shows up at City Hall from time to time to talk to people he has mentored, like current chief of staff Kevin Quinlan.

Several sources in the city's gossipy development community said exactly what Mr. Magee is doing has been a source of hot conjecture.

"There might be some misinformation. I can see why people might be confused," said one.

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Mr. Magee said he has been working on getting contracts in places such as Toronto and Seattle. He has, in the meantime, turned down offers to lobby at the provincial level and the federal level.

"I don't want to do anything where I have to be in a lobbyist registry. And I'm not holding myself up as a development consultant."

However, he does acknowledge he has talked to people in the development industry.

But he said his interest is with other types of projects. He might work with a local social-housing group, he said.

But when it comes to fixed contracts with anyone locally, he said, "I haven't signed anything yet."

Mr. Magee, who was much more accessible than the mayor ever since he became chief of staff in 2008 when Mr. Robertson was first elected, was a regular stop for high-powered people in the industry, wanting to know where the city was going with various policies, what outcomes were likely for various policies, and other issues that could affect them directly.

Mr. Magee had begun working with Mr. Robertson before he became an NDP MLA in 2005.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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