Should the mayor of Vancouver be inviting developers into his office for private conversations? The NPA’s candidate for that office, Kirk LaPointe, has tried to turn this into a political issue in recent mayoral debates.
“I will not meet with developers,” LaPointe said on Shaw TV on October 27. “I will be beholden to no one. I will be the mayor for everyone, not only my friends.”
Mayor Gregor Robertson, on the other hand, disagrees with the notion that developers should interact only with the planning department and not with politicians.
When the Georgia Straight asked Robertson about this in the Shaw studio after the televised debate, he said: “I think it’s important that elected officials understand what developers are proposing. Certainly, through the neighbourhood-planning process, we shape the future with the community and ensure that the community’s voice comes first. But as developers bring forward proposals, I think it’s important that everyone has access to understand what they are putting forward and to provide feedback on that.”
Robertson added that he is in favour of creating a lobbyist registry, something LaPointe has championed during this campaign. The federal and provincial governments have had these in place for years in order to reveal who’s trying to meet with officials to obtain legislative changes and influence public policy.
Some of the Shaw debate’s hottest moments concerned issues of transparency. When LaPointe was asked what his party would do to increase housing affordability, he ignored the question and talked instead about a leaked recording of a meeting between Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs and officials with CUPE Local 1004, which represents the city’s outside workers.
LaPointe alleged that Meggs committed on behalf of Robertson not to contract out city services. Then the NPA candidate claimed that this “resulted in $102,000 in donations from the union”.
“I understand that we want to talk about housing affordability, but the mayor has not given us any answers about this deal,” LaPointe stated.
Robertson dismissed LaPointe’s remarks by saying it’s “typical” of the NPA to refuse to answer questions on affordable housing. The mayor said that under Vision Vancouver, the city has helped create more than 1,000 units a year of rental housing for people with low and middle incomes.
That prompted Meena Wong, who’s running for mayor for the Coalition of Progressive Electors, to say that a $1,400-per-month studio or one-bedroom apartment is not within the reach of someone earning less than $40,000 per year. Wong also said that her party, unlike Vision Vancouver and the NPA, won’t accept donations from developers and will build affordable housing owned by the city on city-owned land.
Independent candidate Bob Kasting claimed that before public hearings on rezoning applications, developers make “some sort of deal” with the city in connection with development cost levies and community-amenity contributions. He added that regardless of the amount of opposition among residents, applications are invariably approved by Vision Vancouver and NPA councillors.
“So I think there’s something massively flawed about the way this is happening,” Kasting said. “It starts right at the roots.”
Meanwhile, LaPointe claimed that neighbourhoods have repeatedly been alienated by the process. “They feel that there are a few select developers who know the secret handshake at City Hall and that the rest of them are locked out.”
Robertson, on the other hand, insisted that the NPA mayoral candidate was wrong. “It’s illegal for it to be a determined outcome, Mr. LaPointe, and if you understood the procedure bylaw at city council, you would understand that,” Robertson said.
LaPointe retorted that the mayor won’t acknowledge that the “system is broken” and that the city has become “addicted to community-amenity contributions”, which, according to the NPA candidate, the city negotiates in secret.
Robertson then piped up: “Would you raise taxes to build parks and community centres instead of [collecting] the community-amenity contributions?”
“I’ll ask you the question,” LaPointe responded. “What deal have you done with the developers akin to the one you’ve made with the union?”
Robertson replied: “There are no deals. There are no deals, Mr. LaPointe. You should know that.”
Voters go to the polls on November 15.