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?
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.