Towers, transit, and transparency: a review of Vancouver’s election debates

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      Vision Vancouver hopes to make it a full decade in power after this November’s municipal election, and is confident enough of its controversial record to build a campaign around it.

      Meanwhile, a plethora of opposition parties struggle to differentiate themselves from each other, relying mostly upon principles rather than clear policy ideas.

      Many of the audiences were vehement in their opposition to Vision at the half-dozen debates that I attended. They cited top-down decision making, a lack of consultation, predetermined planning applications, broken promises, and a litany of lawsuits against the city.

      Vision warns that electing the NPA would jeopardize the building of additional supportive housing and rental housing. Vision’s incumbent candidates admit that it has been difficult to achieve their promises given the lack of substantial funding from senior levels of government, and defend their decision to approve towers built outside of downtown as being a necessary compromise to procure money from developers to build housing for the city’s marginalized.

      Outside of Vision, there is a consensus among the other parties that city hall should conduct more meaningful consultation with residents. Many candidates emphasize the importance of adhering to community plans, of towers being inappropriate outside of downtown, and that elections should not be influenced by sizable donations from developers and corporations.

      The right-leaning NPA is campaigning largely upon principles rather than promises, and is emphasizing two offerings: transparency and consultation. NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe is pledging to make Vancouver “the most transparent government in Canada”. Regarding consultation, the NPA intends to give neighbourhoods a louder voice by revitalizing CityPlan—the “citizen as planner” process launched by Vancouver in the 1990s.

      But despite the NPA’s experience and ability to raise millions of dollars, some of their campaign messaging was been rather inept. As a party that favours the free market, at least one candidate (Ken Low) argues that attracting higher-paying jobs is the best way to enable Vancouverites to afford our city’s expensive housing. However, other NPA candidates sing to a different tune, stating that market housing won’t fix the Downtown Eastside’s problems (George Affleck) and that “renovictions are intolerable” (Suzanne Scott)—despite the fact the NPA isn’t offering to build non-market housing or implement restrictions against renovictions.

      The NPA has also failed to present a clear position regarding the proposed Broadway-UBC subway, altering its stance in contradictory ways. Initially, the party messaging was that senior government funding wasn’t available for a subway, followed subsequently by support for an “affordable” underground subway. Yet on October 26, the NPA referred to Vision’s “phantom subway plan”, and seemed to express preference for above-ground alternatives.

      Of Vision’s numerous opponents, COPE has perhaps offered the most promises—and unlike the NPA, COPE has focused its goals upon pertinent issues, such as housing affordability.

      However, some of COPE’s policies seem problematic. For example, all Vancouverites would receive a proposed $30-per-month transit pass, but would be able to opt out. City taxpayers would be responsible for covering any financial shortfalls from opt-outs—how much would this likely be? Additionally, would the proposed vacant property tax run afoul of privacy laws? And are proposals to stop renovictions wading into provincial jurisdiction?

      Political party signs and brochures at West Point Grey United Church on October 22.
      Devon Rowcliffe

      The Greens have some interesting proposals, such as limiting buildings to six storeys, using community councils for decision-making, and emulating Portland’s Dignity Village to reduce homelessness. However, they are struggling to articulate unique positions that haven’t already been expressed by other parties on the critical issues. They fall awkwardly in the middle between the underground Broadway subway advocated by Vision/NPA and the ground-level improvements across the entire city grid proposed by COPE; the Greens’ proposal to create a transportation plan through consultation would be the most democratic, but is perhaps also the least committal.

      The new Cedar party is also blurring into the opposition forest. They advocate for a lobbyist registry and for independent investigators to keep watch over the city’s finances. However, they begin to blend with the NPA (revitalized CityPlan) and COPE (citywide transit improvements), and fade into the cacophony of voices calling for greater neighbourhood say.

      Regardless of who gets into power on November 15, securing funding from senior levels of government for projects such as housing and transit seems likely to be the greatest challenge.

      Devon Rowcliffe is a Vancouver-based political commentator who writes about Vancouver, British Columbian, Canadian, and East Asian politics. He can be reached online at devonrowcliffe@gmail.com or @devonrowcliffe.

      Comments

      6 Comments

      OMG

      Oct 27, 2014 at 1:46pm

      Finally someone who is willing to question COPE's promises! Does Charlie know this happened? When can we expect a rebuttal?

      This was a well-written article and a very quick guide to the problems for each main parties.

      Pete Fry

      Oct 27, 2014 at 4:49pm

      Interesting analysis.
      If I could offer some clarification from the Green camp..

      We've pretty clearly articulated in our platform that we think the $3b for a subway could be better spent system-wide, what we advocate is not for consultation to create a transit plan (creation is better left to experts in this case) but rather we call for collaboration with citizens to determine which options are most appropriate and desirable - as opposed to those parties that would tell us "what we need"

      I inite readers to check out our full platform at vote.vangreens.ca/platform

      PS it's incentivize and encourage (up to) 6stry wood frame - not "limit to"

      Nelson100

      Oct 28, 2014 at 3:38am

      Green, COPE, and Cedar provide reasonable alternatives to the developer parties, Vision and the NPA. There is no reason to continue letting developers run our city and use it as their personal ATM MACHINE.

      michael geller

      Oct 28, 2014 at 10:38am

      "The new Cedar party is also blurring into the opposition forest." Very good!

      OMG

      Oct 28, 2014 at 12:16pm

      I hope people realize that if you only put up lo-rise condos then you're going to need to wipe out more houses and larger chunks of existing neighbourhoods. It should be logical that in order to house X number of people you need to either build upwards, or outwards. You will find plenty of lo-rise buildings in old European capitals, but you don't find many houses and especially those with yards.

      The need to demolish houses will be amplified if the promise of affordable housing is somehow met. We'll be faced with an increased demand and given the reverence the many people place on the American dream of a house with a yard, I think that there will be resistance to reality. The only way to get around this is to find a way to limit the number of people wanting to move into COV. Be careful what you wish for.

      Comment

      Oct 29, 2014 at 10:32am

      Vancouver 1 & Cedar were the best two at this debate by far
      Why so much attention on the big parties