David Bieber: Turns out there's actually something at stake in Vancouver by-election

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      By David Bieber

      There’s a by-election this weekend, and after nearly a decade in power, it’s time to send Vision Vancouver politicians a message.

      They are clearly way too far to the left. Their relentless war on the car has been an economic and cultural catastrophe, shuttering thousands of businesses and forcing children all across the city to watch tearfully as the sturdy family vehicle is dragged away for re-education. Their heavy-handed Soviet-style laws make it illegal to barbecue, and they’ve even banned those already tearful children from owning goddamn balloons.

      Granted there is no law actual against barbecues. That was just a fun provincial election misinformation thing the B.C. Liberals “cooked up”. And yes, they did reject that ban on balloons in city parks. And instead of shuttered businesses Vancouver’s economy is basically cooking with gas, the best economy of any major city in Canada for several years now. And over the last decade it’s been the city with the fastest growth of new head offices.

      But they are also way too far to the right. They’ve sold out to the big developers, jacked up the price of living, and blocked the sun with giant coal-powered towers of luxury condos built atop schools and community gardens. It’s all part of their secret deals, and probably run out of a room beneath the Hootsuite building.

      Except, admittedly, they have a pretty progressive record—on the things they control. Confronted with the growing housing affordability crisis, they established the first empty homes tax, launched a city-run affordable housing agency to build thousands of below-market rentals and co-ops, and created a rent bank to save residents from losing their homes. Recognizing the increasingly high cost of living in Vancouver, they became the largest living wage employer in Canada. They’re committed to shifting off fossil fuels and going 100 percent renewable by 2050. While the provincial government dragged its heels on the opioid crisis, they increased property taxes—a brave move—to help fund overdose response.

      Anyway, this is a by-election with nothing at stake. Vision already has five of the 10 council seats, so no matter what, they have a voting majority. That means we can send them a message by voting for all these cool other candidates, be they Green or OneCity or independent.

      Except that given the low visibility and turnout in by-elections, upstart parties and independents don’t do as well as established ones with more money and organization. Like, you know, the NPA. Mostly controlled by Stephen Harper and Christy Clark operatives, the NPA’s candidate is a former B.C. Liberal candidate and staffer, a guy who was caught on tape opposing new housing because it was across the street from him. Despite that, he’s now running on as the guy who can “fix housing”, which is even more interesting given he used to work for former B.C. housing minister Rich Coleman, the guy who basically broke it in the first place.

      So, yeah, voting to send a message to Vision Vancouver is quite likely going to help elect the NPA. That is definitely a thing.

      But that’s okay because even if the NPA wins and winds up with four of the 10 council seats, the Green councillor will still vote with the five Vision councillors to get important things done.

      Except that yes, there is this thing called the supermajority. Apparently while most items can be decided by a simple majority vote, there are some really important items that need a supermajority of eight votes. Things like selling city land and issuing grants. If the NPA wins this by-election seat, it will be able to block these votes. That’s sort of going to stink because for the first time in a decade and a half, Vancouver finally has a provincial government that’s interested in working co-operatively on solving the city’s most pressing issues in housing and transportation—and now we’re on the brink of not being able to vote in favour of the things needed to make that happen.

      Okay then. Turns out there is actually quite a lot at stake on October 14. Vision Vancouver supporters should be concerned. Anyone concerned about an affordable, livable and prosperous Vancouver should be concerned. The vote split could easily hand the NPA a veto on our future this year, and give it the power to win the 2018 elections and start turning back the clock completely.

      The good news is that this makes your vote matter a whole bunch.

      After nearly a decade in power, Vision Vancouver has made mistakes. It's failed to deliver on some key commitments. All parties do. But not all parties also deliver the results it has. Things that have changed our city forever, and things that have set the foundation for greater progress. Now would be a good time to send a message that while there is a long way to go, what’s been achieved so far is worth defending.

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      David Bieber has worked with civic, provincial and federal political leaders, labour unions in B.C., and political parties in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. He was director of party communications for the B.C. NDP from 2003 to 2009.

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