Andrea Reimer: Appointing councillors as neighbourhood liaisons will provide better service to Vancouver residents

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      When an issue arises in your neighbourhood, do you know which city councillor to call? If you are someone who follows city politics, maybe you can name one or two of the members of council. But if you don’t pay close attention to city hall, chances are you wouldn’t know where to begin.

      This week, city council will be voting on a motion I am bringing forward to determine a process for selecting neighbourhood councillor liaisons. The idea isn’t new—in fact it was already approved by city council back in June 2013. That was when the Engaged City Task Force, a committee of 22 residents from all areas of the city and all walks of life, presented its interim report on the most obvious things council could do to make it easier for residents to engage with the city.

      The neighbourhood liaison concept is simple. Each member of city council is designated one or more of the city’s 22 neighbourhoods, to be their “go to” person for local issues. Here is what the Engaged City Task Force recommended:

      The city-wide election process prevents residents from formally having an identified go-to councillor for issues in their neighbourhood. The City should reinvigorate the Council liaison positions by requiring each councillor to represent specific neighbourhoods in Vancouver, and working with local organizations to hold one public event in their designated neighbourhoods per year, with a focus on enhancing knowledge of city services and processes, and connecting people to City Hall.

      The goal with the neighbourhood liaison is to provide better service for residents, and enhance responsiveness and accountability from elected officials. The question people should be asking this week isn’t whether or not we should have neighbourhood liaisons, but rather why the City of Vancouver hasn’t done it yet.

      Frustrated with potholes on your street? Want to know where an upcoming open house is? Interested in starting a block party in your neighbourhood? By having a neighbourhood council liaison, you’d have a go-to person for local issues, instead of emailing 11 people on city council and hoping that someone will get back to you.

      This is exactly why the Vancouver school board and park board have had geographic liaison systems in place for many years. Each elected official has a responsibility to a specific school or community centre. This doesn’t mean that residents are prevented from speaking to other elected officials; not does it suggest local organizations wouldn't continue to directly advocate to the full city council. Rather, it gives the many people who haven't already connected with city hall a starting point of accountability from the people they elect.

      Already some city councillors are aggressively criticizing the liaison proposal, saying it’s some sort of backdoor path to implementing a ward system. This is laughable. The system has been in place for years at the school and park boards and has had no impact on the ward debate there.

      The mayor campaigned in the last election on implementing the Engaged City Task Force recommendations. This is the latest step in following through on that commitment.

      Asking city councillors to work directly with neighbourhoods across the city, holding public events and enhancing awareness about the services city hall can provide—it’s time we got moving on neighbourhood councillor liaisons.