Voters face tricky choice

Pity the voters of Vancouver. In electing their next mayor, citizens must choose between two fairly dismal front-runners: veteran Non-Partisan Association Coun. Sam Sullivan, who has presented few new ideas during the campaign and who has accomplished very little on council over the past 12 years; and Vision Vancouver Coun. Jim Green, a sometimes litigious bully and spendthrift with a predilection for making backroom deals with senior levels of government.

Both politicians are crafty. They left voters with the impression during the 2002 election campaign that they opposed lifting the citywide moratorium on slot machines. Yet both voted in favour of shoving hundreds of the one-armed bandits into Hastings Racecourse against the wishes of many neighbourhood residents.

Sullivan came up with a clever bit of sophistry to justify his position, which benefited Bruno Wall, one of his largest campaign contributors. He said the decision on slots had already been made in an earlier vote at the Plaza of Nations. By the time the Hastings Park vote came around, he said, council was merely choosing where the machines should go. In reality, the two casino proposals were separated to increase the likelihood of the moratorium being lifted.

But this election is not about slot machines. Nor is it about the $2-billion Richmond/Airport/Vancouver Rapid Transit Project, which both Sullivan and Green supported. This time, some of the major issues are transportation in general, leadership, crime and safety, and the future of St. Paul's Hospital.

Sullivan has plenty of shortcomings. He almost always caves to the wishes of senior bureaucrats, leaving them in charge of the city. When senior staff refused to offer fair treatment to hundreds of South False Creek leaseholders, including seniors, there was nary a peep from Sullivan.

By spearheading the defeat of the ward system, Sullivan also maintained senior staff's control over decision-making. Thanks to Sullivan's efforts, there won't be any pesky elected neighbourhood representatives to question decisions directly affecting their constituents.

Because Sullivan has no demonstrated track record in standing up to authority, he cannot be counted on to oppose tyranny. That should worry residents in the run-up to the Olympics, when Sullivan could be chairing the police board and when people's civil liberties will be most at risk.

Two things can be said in Sullivan's favour: he came out very early in favour of harm reduction for drug addicts, and he understands the importance of industrial land to the city's economy. Sullivan also has a good sense of humour, and he is not a political bully.

Then there is the transit issue. During the last election, Sullivan claimed he would rely on research before voting on key issues. But there is no evidence that he looked at any peer-reviewed studies on rapid transit before he supported the $2-billion RAV boondoggle. The legacy of council's vote will be higher transit fares, deteriorating bus service, and rising property taxes.

Jim Green has been equally weak on transportation and even more hypocritical. After casting a vote in favour of the RAV project, Green now portrays himself as the champion of Cambie Street merchants who are dealing with the fallout.

On transit, gambling, and many other topics, Green generally goes along with the wishes of the B.C. Federation of Labour. Big labour lobbies for casinos and transportation megaprojects, which bring in lots of union dues. Green advances this agenda, much like his former associate Glen Clark did in previous NDP governments.

Green can point to some accomplishments over the past term on council. He introduced a single-room-accommodation bylaw, which might prevent poor people from getting evicted from flophouses on the Downtown Eastside. He and the rest of council legalized secondary suites. Green also breathed life into the entertainment industry with his relentless promotion of later closing hours for bars and nightclubs.

But Green hasn't been completely reliable on arts and cultural issues.

As council's point man on the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre, he capitulated to the provincial government's decision not to include a major arts complex in the $615-million facility. Green also voted against a staff recommendation earlier this year to ensure that the primary use of the Plaza of Nations continued to be special events, festivals, and entertainment. Fortunately for the city's cultural life, the rest of council voted against Green and his Vision Vancouver pals.

In addition, Green hasn't come to the defence of the Vogue Theatre yet. It's one of the city's most important live cultural venues, and it's supposedly about to be turned into a supper club.

Most disturbing of all, Green walked away from his former party, COPE, rather than seek a contested mayoral nomination. This move has threatened the political careers of some of the city's most progressive politicians. If Green was able to inflict this much damage on the city's left as a councillor, imagine what havoc would follow if he became mayor.

Make no mistake. Green is not a left-winger. He is just as pro-development as any NPA candidate. Green's closest allies, Mayor Larry Campbell and Coun. Raymond Louie, voted for the public-private RAV deal and voted for higher transit fares.

The Vision Vancouver platform panders shamelessly to the Vancouver police department. There is no mention of police-budget overruns, police assaults in Stanley Park, or police bungling of the missing-women investigation. Instead, Green makes the ridiculous claim that the former NPA council didn't do enough for the boys in blue.

Given the choice between Sullivan and Green, it's tempting to recommend Ben West of the Work Less Party. West is bright and articulate. But he has no chance of winning, and in this election, the stakes are too high to waste a vote.

At the start of this election campaign, the Georgia Straight published a cover story about the future of St. Paul's Hospital. The Gordon Campbell government is setting the stage for a new public-private hospital on False Creek Flats.

Research published in peer-reviewed journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the British Medical Journal has demonstrated that once the profit motive is introduced into the hospital sector, costs rise and more people die. B.C. is home to some of the top health economists in the world, who would probably share their views with city staff if only they were asked to do so.

The next council has a choice. It can rezone the land behind the train and bus station on False Creek Flats to accommodate a new hospital built through a public-private partnership. Or the new council could refuse a rezoning application, ensuring that St. Paul's Hospital will stay on Burrard Street, where it serves downtown residents.

The real-estate industry is already setting its sights on Burrard as one of the next great areas to make a buck. Getting rid of the hospital will help accomplish this objective.

But for West End residents and Davie Street businesses, St. Paul's Hospital is the heart of the neighbourhood. If there ever was a disaster downtown, more people might die if there wasn't an acute-care facility nearby.

The NPA's Sam Sullivan lives in nearby Yaletown and has never voted to rezone industrial land. He claims that the best option is maintaining the hospital at its current site.

Green has made noises about retaining first-rate health-care services in the West End. However, as a member of city council, Green did not apply the brakes when the director of current planning, Larry Beasley, first floated the idea of moving St. Paul's to False Creek Flats. Instead, Green let the process continue. Green has also not demonstrated Sullivan's awareness of the importance of industrial land to the economic life of the city.

In addition, Green has a history of working cooperatively with the Gordon Campbell government. Green supported slot machines, which were promoted by the provincially owned BC Lottery Corporation. The B.C. government later increased the number of subsidized housing units in the Woodward's project. Green supported the Olympic bid. The provincially-funded health authority later created a supervised injection site.

St. Paul's Hospital is too important to become another Jim Green bargaining chip for more social housing, another safe injection site, or whatever else might be on his wish list.

Moreover, Green has demonstrated a troublesome tendency to trumpet the interests of developers. All this adds up to a significant risk to St. Paul's if Green becomes mayor.

For all of Sullivan's political limitations-and there are many-he is far more likely than Green to vote to save downtown Vancouver's major hospital from the wrecking ball. Because the NPA mayoral candidate has been vocal on this issue over a long period of time, we're recommending a vote for Sam Sullivan as Vancouver's next mayor on Saturday. The fate of the hospital should not be left in the hands of Jim Green.