Devon Rowcliffe: Innovative election promises from Vancouver political parties

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      With Vancouver’s municipal election just days away (and in fact already begun, thanks to advance voting), we’ve been bombarded with messages from a plethora of political parties. We’ve heard an assortment of snappy one-liners designed to be easily memorized, involving policy promises, character assassinations, spin doctoring, and everything in between.

      Sadly, these orchestrated communications campaigns only supply voters with a superficial glimpse of how the various political parties would run our city. However, all of the parties do boast a variety of ideas about how Vancouver should be managed—and below is a short (and highly subjective) selection of some of their more innovative promises that are unique to each party. (Note that most arts and culture promises have already been published in a previous article, and thus aren’t repeated below.)

      As the incumbents, Vision has already implemented many of their previous ideas, and yet they offer a range of new promises. The party that has been in power for the past six years pledges to build 500 new affordable homes, prioritize new co-op rental housing, and protect existing co-op housing (in light of CMHC leases soon to expire).

      Other ideas include matching blank walls with local artists to create new murals, planting 150,000 new trees by 2020, expanding the food-scrap collection program to apartments and condos, creating 1,500 additional community garden plots by 2018, and connecting the trail network on the city’s southern waterfront as well as between the Lions Gate and Second Narrows bridges.

      The NPA has made transparency their top priority, promising to make Vancouver “the most open government in all of Canada. This includes holding at least one quarter of council committee, school board, and park board meetings in city neighbourhoods; creating a better electronic forum for citizens to ask questions of elected officials; and producing an annual report to illustrate how public consultations have influenced city decisions.

      Other promises unique to the NPA also include expanding free public access to Wi-Fi Internet (particularly in low-income areas), permanently protecting parks and green spaces, making Vancouver the car-sharing capital of North America, and offering Mandarin classes at every Vancouver high school.

      The Green party advocates improving engagement by holding public hearings in neighbourhoods affected by council decisions, as well as by establishing an entity similar to Portland’s Office of Neighbourhood Involvement. To reduce homelessness, they suggest creating intentional shelter communities similar to Portland’s Dignity Village, as well as requiring that single room occupancy hotels that are poorly maintained by private owners instead be managed by non-profit societies.

      Other ideas from the Greens include graduated business licence fees to reduce the financial burden on smaller independent businesses, establishing an aboriginal culture centre, and re‑naming some of the city’s places and streets according to previous indigenous designations.

      COPE pledges to create a Vancouver Housing Authority that would construct residences, including social housing, public rental housing, and regular market housing. This would involve building 800 units of social housing annually, including 400 in the Downtown Eastside every year to replace single-room occupancy hotels. COPE also promises to implement a luxury housing tax on homes worth more than $1.5 million, create a vacant property tax, establish a rental housing ombudsperson, and advocate for rent increases to be tied to units rather than to tenancy (to prevent “reno-victions”).

      Other ideas from COPE include creating a cultural land reserve, establishing urban food forests, and advocating for TransLink’s board of directors to be democratically elected.

      OneCity aims to increase the city’s supply of affordable housing by requiring 20 percent of suites in residential developments of more than five units to be rented at affordable prices. The party is also proposing a “flipping levy, similar to the residential property transfer tax found in Singapore and Hong Kong, to reduce speculative housing purchases. OneCity would also extend the “rate of change” by-law to all residences to prevent the loss of rental units (the by-law currently only applies to buildings with six or more units).

      Much like the NPA, the Cedar party is also prioritizing transparency. They advocate establishing an anti‑corruption office that would investigate “conflicts of interest and possible white collar crime” and would publish quarterly reports.  The office would be funded by city hall but would not report to council, and would have “full access to all city documents and departments without notice or impediment.

      Cedar also commit to the city purchasing some heritage buildings if deemed to be “vital cultural and community resources” and under threat of re-development.

      Continuing a theme amongst the right-leaning parties, the upstart Vancouver 1st is also keen to create more transparency, including posting the expenses of elected officials every month (instead of each year), as well as requiring line-item budgets and expenses of every city department. The new political party also advocates removing all parking meters from city parks, beaches, and community centres.

      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.

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