Vancouver election candidates bring forth fresh ideas to shake up the status quo

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      The media and the public love a political horse race.

      Therefore, it's no surprise that there's been a great deal of attention on polling in the Vancouver election.

      There's also lots of focus on the candidates' personal histories. That's to be expected in any campaign.

      But what's stood out for me have been the ideas put forth by various candidates to shake up the status quo.

      Some of these policies have received coverage whereas others have been largely overlooked by the media.

      Below, you'll find links to some proposals and documents that I feel are worth reading before Vancouver residents cast ballots on October 10.

      Yes Vancouver mayoral candidate Hector Bremner has issued the single longest policy document of the campaign: a 49-page housing policy.
      Charlie Smith

      1. Yes Vancouver's housing platform

      Whether you agree or disagree with mayoral candidate Hector Bremner's prescription to solve the housing shortage, you have to admire the effort that went into his housing plan.

      The 49-page PDF explains how the shortage of rental housing and high cost of ownership were 90 years in the making, dating back to segregationist Harland Bartholomew's original town plan in 1927. 

      "The history of housing in Vancouver is one of restriction and imposed artificial scarcity," Yes Vancouver states.

      It makes a convincing case that exclusionary zoning in more than two-thirds of the city is the real reason why we've reached our current crisis.

      "Great cities have four floors and corner stores in every neighbourhood," the document declares. "With our plan to legalize housing, we will facilitate organic growth by creating flexible zoning, allowing a variety of typologies between and including single family and four storey apartment buildings, with or without ground-floor commercial space."

      It's urbanism writ large for millennials who think it's terribly unfair that their only options are basement suites in most of the city or sky-high rentals on the relatively small amount of land zoned for multifamily projects.

      Bremner is often tarred as the developers' candidate. But for tenants who wonder why they can't find decent, affordable housing in Vancouver, he's offered the most comprehensive explanation.

      Do we want to pull up the drawbridge (even though we can't because the city has no control over federal immigration policy)?

      Or do we want an intelligent conversation about how to accommodate a growing population, which is not only being driven by immigration, but also by the movement of people from rural to urban areas within Canada?

      Bremner has kick-started that discussion. His housing platform should be required reading for any journalist covering this election.

      COPE council candidate Anne Roberts thinks it's achievable to provide low-cost transit to people with low and moderate incomes.

      2. COPE's U-Pass for the Working Class

      It seems so simple, yet nobody has proposed this until now. Coalition of Progressive Electors council candidate Anne Roberts has called for extending the U-Pass transit subsidy to the working class of Vancouver.

      Kids aged 18 and under ride for free. Extend the seniors B.C. Bus program to low-income residents in the city. And extend the U-Pass, which is available to college and university students, to all working-class people with low to median incomes.

      The total annual cost would be less than $80 million. More buses would be required, adding $50 million to $100 million per year over the long term in capital and operating costs.

      Roberts proposes that this should be funded with carbon-tax revenues. Back in 2013, the B.C. NDP argued that this money should go to transit.

      Of course, this might entail revisiting whether there should be a $2.8-billion Broadway subway with six stops between VCC-Clark Station and Arbutus Street.

      But hey, why not have a public debate over this? And maybe there's a way to figure out how to have both.

      Kudos to Roberts for opening the public's eyes to a new approach for improving the lives of low-income workers. And shame on the Vancouver and District Labour Council for not endorsing her candidacy.

      A serious candidate for serious times: Shauna Sylvester has invested enormous amounts of time on the policymaking side of running for office.

      3. Shauna Sylvester's broad focus on public policies

      An SFU professor of public practice with a long history in the environmental movement, Sylvester has delivered the most comprehensive across-the-board policies of any mayoral candidate in the race.

      While some have focused a great deal of effort on specific areas—Bremner on housing and Kennedy Stewart on democratic renewal, to cite two examples—Sylvester has presented plausible plans on everything from climate change to the arts to transportation to the opioid crisis to small business.

      Sylvester hasn't ignored housing, either, by promising to make Vancouver the North American capital of co-ops. She's demonstrated authentic leadership by consulting experts in a broad range of areas before preparing thoughtful documents.

      Vancouverites would be well-served if she were to govern in the same manner as she's conducted her campaign.

      OneCity's Brandon Yan and Christine Boyle want public amenities to yield public benefits when they lead to higher surrounding land values.

      4. OneCity's land-value capture policy

      OneCity council candidates Brandon Yan and Christine Boyle argue that the public should capture the benefits of higher land values created through public infrastructure investments.

      Furthermore, they suggest that this approach will sharply diminish speculation, which can drive up commercial property taxes that threaten the viability of local businesses.

      "To put this in perspective, if a mere 1 percent of B.C.’s land value increase over the past ten years had been taxed, governments would have had an additional $10 billion they could have invested into affordable housing," OneCity says on its website.

      The idea has been endorsed by housing economist Tom Davidoff, who says it "can provide a lot of assistance to a lot of Vancouver families".

      The Vancouver Greens have presented a plethora of promises to appeal to a broad cross-section of Vancouver voters.
      Vancouver Greens

      5. The sheer number of promises by Green council candidates

      If you are tired of political parties who issue short platform pronouncements with just five promises (like the Harper Conservatives used to do), then check out what the Vancouver Greens have on the menu.

      There are too many Green promises to list in their entirety. Trust me—they cover the gamut of city issues.

      Here are a few worth noting: a renters' office at city hall; a one-year moratorium on the demolition of affordable, purpose-built rental housing; accessible public washrooms as community amenities in targeted new developments; and zoning for smaller street frontages to encourage vibrant streetscapes and more locally owned shops.

      The Greens also want to make Vancouver "the most walkable city in North America" by incorporating walkability metrics into the planning process. That's a fresh idea.

      Independent mayoral candidate Kennedy Stewart has long been a keener about reforming the processes of government—and that's on display in his platform.

      6. Kennedy Stewart's democratic-reform proposals

      Cleverly entitled "By the People, for the People", Stewart's platform encapsulate ideas that the former NDP MP and independent mayoral candidate has been advancing for more than 20 years as a politician and as an academic.

      They include introducing a lobbyist registry and electoral reform (which depends on the province giving it a green light).

      Stewart also proposes new conflict-of-interest rules that put an end to the revolving door between sitting on council or working in the senior bureaucracy and immediately moving into the private sector to profit on one's connection to city hall.

      In addition, he wants to replicate a petition system that he introduced in Ottawa. This was a remarkable accomplishment given that the Conservatives had a majority at the time.

      Under his plan, if residents collect enough signatures on a petition, they could be invited to participate in a petition hearing chaired by the mayor.

      Most importantly, Stewart also wants to push the province to force third-party advertisers and local candidates to disclose donations throughout an election year and not just during the election period.

      Council candidate Wade Grant has put racial harmony and reconciliation at the top of his political agenda.

      7. Wade Grant's call for leadership that embraces diversity

      It may sound trite to some, but when put into action, embracing diversity can be a powerful force for the betterment of our city.

      It's already on display in the Vancouver Public Library system.

      Under the long-term leadership of former chief librarian Sandra Singh, the VPL ensured that each branch contains books, videos, and other resources suitable for diverse communities specific to different neighbourhoods. It helped promote inclusiveness, diminished isolation, and enhanced connections.

      Now, independent council candidate Wade Grant is making "leadership that embraces diversity" a cornerstone of his municipal campaign.

      "When I look at the incredible diversity of Vancouver, I don’t see differences, I see so much that we all share in common," Grant states on his website. "By working together we can turn the incredible opportunity of diversity into a very special asset. Diversity is our capital that will help us to lead the world in figuring out how to live together with hope and harmony for a better future, in spite of our differences."

      Vancouver's taken some steps in this regard, but Grant, whose ancestry is both Musqueam and Chinese, wants to take a giant leap forward.

      Independent mayoral candidate Sean Cassidy is dissatisfied with what his competitors are promising renters.

      8. Sean Cassidy's housing platform

      The Making Room policy to allow duplexes in single-family areas has been supported by Stewart, Bremner, and Vision Vancouver. If this troubles you, check out Cassidy's critique.

      A former senior debt manager at the federal-government-owned Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., Cassidy has also offered a devastating denunciation of the city's handling of the Airbnb issue.

      He says that city council has authority under the Vancouver Charter to set and regulate market rents for projects that it approves.

      "The past city council composed of mostly of Vision Vancouver and NPA councillors was unwilling to use its ability to regulate market rental rates," Cassidy writes in a recent article on "When the market is failing a significant population of citizens who are renters, we need a mayor and council that is willing to regulate rents for affordability."

      Jean Swanson was nearly elected in a by-election a year ago after promising a "Mansion Tax". She's repeating that pledge in the current campaign.

      9. COPE'S Mansion Tax

      COPE canvassers have fanned out across the city, asking this question: "Do you want to tax mansions to house all the homeless?"

      It's a compelling message and one that the left-wing party has backed up with numbers showing how this is possible to do.

      COPE has also proposed variable property taxes on business, with big corporations paying a higher share.

      These new property taxes would go straight into public housing.

      Similar to Cassidy, COPE candidates also argue that the Vancouver Charter authorizes council to regulate rents.

      ProVancouver council candidate Rohana Rezel wants to tax the daylights out of illegal Airbnb operators.
      Charlie Smith

      10. ProVancouver's plan to enforce the Airbnb bylaw

      Rohana Rezel, who's running for council with ProVancouver, is appalled by what he believes is the city's poor oversight of its Airbnb bylaw.

      His research suggests there are thousands of short-term rental ads for units that are not licensed by the city.

      Rezel thinks there's an easy technical solution to determine the legality of these listings. And he wants offenders fined $1,000 per day, with the funds given back to tenants.

      “Who are the number one victims of Airbnb?” Rezel said in a recent interview with the Straight. “It’s the renters of Vancouver.”

      If elected mayor, the NPA's Ken Sim would revive former NPA mayor Philip Owen's practice of convening meetings with all of Vancouver's provincial and federal representatives.

      11. NPA's "Team Vancouver" idea

      When Philip Owen was mayor of Vancouver, he gathered all the city's MLAs and MPs together for regular brainstorming sessions.

      It was designed to help the city obtain benefits from senior levels of government. And it led directly to the Vancouver Agreement, which brought public, private, and community sector partners together to enhance public services in the Downtown Eastside from 1998 to 2010.

      Key players in the early days were Owen, Vancouver Centre Liberal MP Hedy Fry, and then Vancouver–Mount Pleasant NDP MLA Jenny Kwan. 

      The NPA website promises to bring back this "Team Vancouver" concept so that the city "can secure our fair share of investment and support from other levels of government".

      It's a good idea that should be embraced by everyone running for office in this election.

      Adrian Crook is one of many independent council candidates who are hoping their ideas will help them get elected.
      Charlie Smith

      12. Adrian Crook's Affordable Housing Accountability dashboard

      How is the city faring in enhancing affordability, improving the rental-vacancy rate, and replacing demolished housing?

      What is the median rent in this city? What are the population forecasts? And how much housing is being created to meet this demand?

      There's no central clearinghouse of information for the public. 

      Independent council candidate Adrian Crook wants to fix that by launching an affordable housing accountability dashboard.

      It's a terrific way to monitor the progress of the next council, arming citizens with the data they need to determine if their politicians need to be replaced when voters return to the polls in 2022.