Local governments have the capacity to create havoc in our lives. To illustrate this point, we’ll bring you some examples involving people at the Georgia Straight. Consider it a microcosm of what is occurring on a citywide basis.
Vancouver city staff harmed one employee’s quality of life by instructing her landlord to tear up a food garden on a boulevard outside her house, even though it was supported by a majority of the neighbours. Why? Because a single nonresident landlord in the area filed numerous complaints.
Another staffer’s tranquil home life was ruined when Vancouver city council approved a massive rezoning application across the street. It was recommended by the planning department against the wishes of virtually everyone in his neighbourhood. Residents sat night after night through a marathon public hearing, pleading for adjustments. The Vision Vancouver–controlled majority on council didn’t make a single amendment. The prevailing view was that senior staff—not concerned residents—knew what was best for his neighbourhood.
Not long ago, the circulation department at the Straight was knocked for a loop when the city’s engineering department launched a sneak attack early one Thursday morning. City trucks scooped up hundreds of downtown newspaper boxes without consultation with publishers. This was two days before the Occupy Vancouver encampment was set to begin. Not only was this theft of boxes probably illegal under Canada’s Constitution, it was also incredibly inconvenient for employees of local publishing companies.
These examples lead us to believe that there are many people across the Vancouver feeling somewhat besieged by city hall. Look no further than the Olympic Village, where low-income residents are being hammered by large utility-fee increases imposed suddenly and without consultation.
Here’s another example of city hall’s influence on our lives: reporters sometimes have to wait many hours to get official comment on a city-staff report going to council. This is because of a gag order imposed on the bureaucracy by the current municipal regime. This policy costs our company time and undermines our productivity.
On the positive side, several Straight staff members are delighted with separated bike lanes downtown and on the Burrard Bridge. While they’re feeling a great sense of relief, some employees who drive are exasperated by what’s happened to Hornby Street. The debate within our office mirrors discussions taking place across the city.
Many Straight employees were excited by the city-initiated Summer Live concerts in Stanley Park this past July, which showcased local artists and musicians. It was a monumental success. Several staff members say they personally like Mayor Gregor Robertson. They’re happy that Vision Vancouver has maintained arts-funding levels, unlike the B.C. Liberal government in Victoria. Some also applaud Vision Vancouver and COPE politicians for standing up to the provincial government and voting against a new downtown casino. They’re baffled by NPA mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton’s position, which appeared to be both for and against the casino.
Housing is a big concern across the city and within our company. There has been a noticeable drop in street homelessness since Vision Vancouver was elected in 2008. Despite this, some Straight staffers have privately declared that they won’t vote for Vision Vancouver politicians because of a perception that they’re in the back pocket of the development industry. And they’re not happy about the demolition of the Pantages Theatre and affordable housing at the Little Mountain housing project.
Then there’s the riot. Yes, that riot. NPA and Vision politicians both tried to ride Canucks fever to their political advantage. Both thought it would help the city economy to invite the bridge-and-tunnel crowd into the downtown core to spend their money on food, booze, taxis, and who knows what else.
Politicians and senior bureaucrats will never admit publicly that they also wanted to suck up to the CBC, which wanted to show Vancouverites celebrating in the streets every time the Canucks scored a goal. So they all agreed to put up the JumboTrons—“dumbotrons”, in the words of independent mayoral candidate Darrell Zimmerman. And the presence of the dumbotrons, combined with massive overcrowding downtown, led directly to a riot. Property damage, policing costs, and court time will add up into the millions.
Somebody on council should have said “no” to the dumbotrons at some point along the way. But nobody did because they believed it was political suicide to get in the way of Stanley Cup celebrations. This suggests a need for new blood on council.
Civic bureaucrats have responded to the riot by concluding that any event—be it Occupy Vancouver, a Grey Cup celebration, or the Symphony of Fire—justifies a crackdown on the distribution of newspapers downtown. City officials also won’t acknowledge their role in creating the conditions for the last riot, even though it’s obvious to many of us who work at the Georgia Straight.
Of course, our experience is not the whole story. It’s just a slice of what’s gone on in Vancouver over the past three years. There have been high points and low points. Much of what has taken place can be linked to Mayor Gregor Robertson’s party, Vision Vancouver, making too many promises in the last election. They were going to be good money managers and they said they would listen to neighbourhoods. They were going to try to keep the Mount Pleasant outdoor pool open and they maintained that they would keep a lid on property taxes. They would eliminate street homelessness and create the greenest city in the world.
But when the Vision-controlled council shifted part of the tax load from business to residential properties—and then refused to raise homeowners’ taxes significantly—it faced a cash crunch. That led to the closure of the children’s farmyard at Stanley Park and new fees for toddlers who use park-board pools and ice rinks. Forget about the Mount Pleasant pool. That pledge ended up on the scrap heap.
In the city’s mad rush for money, it accelerated the rezoning of land, leading to a backlash in various neighbourhoods. The city had to fund the wage increases agreed to by the previous council. Collecting community-amenity contributions from developers for higher densities fattened the treasury in the absence of sizable tax hikes.
Now, Vision Vancouver politicians are asking the public to trust them again with absolute control over city council and the park board. A key issue for us is the balance of power between city hall and residents. It’s out of whack right now. The NPA’s solution, for the most part, involves giving senior staff even more latitude to determine what’s best for the rest of us. It strikes us that we need more control over the senior staff, not less. Like Vision in 2008, the NPA is now making excessive promises, including a new streetcar, while promising to keep spending at the rate of inflation.
All parties have a few candidates with the intellect and backbone to confront senior staff when they’re on the wrong track. These politicians need encouragement to do this more often.
Council must view itself as the board of directors for the entire city. Under this arrangement, the shareholders are the citizens, not the senior staff. In these tough economic times, we need more independent thinkers who understand that the role of council is to go beyond being a cheerleader for senior bureaucrats. Councillors must be watchdogs over staff as well as guardians of the public interest.
We kept that in mind with our recommendations in this year’s edition of the Straight Slate. We’ve included a category called “worth considering” in case you can’t stomach voting for any of those on our recommended list.
We’re calling for a minority government in Vancouver because we’ve had enough of one party controlling council and park board for the past generation. That’s gone on long enough. As an example of how party politics has contaminated this city, look no further than a questionnaire that we sent to all council candidates. Vision Vancouver returned a bulk response, suggesting that every single candidate has an identical opinion on every single question. No wonder Vision politicians are sometimes criticized for voting like sheep. Keep in mind that several NPA candidates didn’t respond at all to our survey.
Gregor Robertson (Vision Vancouver)
It’s a recommendation made under duress. It’s also done with the hope that Robertson has learned from his first term in office, and might become a more democratic mayor if he’s reelected. His heart often seems in the right place, particularly on the environment and homelessness. But in his first two years as mayor, he sometimes came across as wooden and timid. As a result, the city became a bit player at the regional level.
That began to change this year when he took a strong position in favour of more funding for buses against the wishes of two big-city mayors, Burnaby’s Derek Corrigan and Richmond’s Malcolm Brodie, who’ve already benefited from massive public investments in rapid transit. Robertson is also right with his opposition to a streetcar—it’s an expensive idea being advanced by his main rival, Anton, when there are more pressing transit priorities in the city in a tough economy.
People who think the mayor is a pawn of the development industry are rallying around the candidacy of Randy Helten, who’s with a new party called Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver. We don’t think Helten is ready to be mayor of the city, as witnessed by his difficulty in responding to basic questions about the police budget and tax shifting. We also believe that a vote for Helten will only help Anton get elected.
If you can’t stand Robertson and Anton and you’re not sure about Helten, you could cast a protest vote for Dubgee, an East Vancouver musician and educational activist, or for limousine driver Gerry McGuire. Both are very knowledgeable about civic issues.
Meanwhile, Anton’s rabid reaction to the Occupy Vancouver protest raises questions in our minds about her suitability to become mayor and chair of the police board. We prefer Robertson’s cool approach over Anton’s desire to bring in the gendarmes, who just might smash some heads.
Anton also appears to be practising voodoo economics. She promises not to allow spending to exceed the level of inflation. At the same time, Anton says she will improve childcare, increase spending on police, use city funds to create rental housing, add a streetcar, build a seniors centre in South Vancouver, create an office of neighbourhood engagement, and possibly bring back the Mount Pleasant outdoor pool. The NPA also says it will return any surpluses to taxpayers. The last pledge will be easy to keep because if Anton sticks to all of her other promises, there’s not going to be any surplus.
Tim Louis (COPE)
Some Vision apparatchiks don’t want him on council, which is reason enough for many to vote for him. Former NPA mayor Philip Owen has suggested that Louis, a lawyer and former chair of Vancity credit union, will be a good guardian of the public purse. Louis listens to average people, and has a track record of translating their wishes into action. As a councillor from 1999 to 2005, he provided a written response to every citizen who ever wrote a letter to the mayor and council. He’s one of the strongest advocates of neighbourhood involvement in decision-making, and would help offset the predilection of most Vision and NPA politicians to side with developers in rezoning applications.
Ellen Woodsworth (COPE)
She has been one of the hardest workers on council in the last term and consistently demonstrated a willingness to listen to people in the community. She fought the evictions at the Little Mountain housing project and she’s been a tireless advocate for seniors. Woodsworth has also demonstrated a genuine curiosity to learn about different cultures in Vancouver. After serving two terms on council, she has a solid grasp over a wide range of issues. Woodsworth, a tenant, has also promoted the creation of a rent bank in Vancouver, which would enhance housing security for other tenants in the city.
RJ Aquino (COPE)
He’s a younger activist with deep roots in the local Filipino community. If he’s elected, don’t expect miracles in his first year because Aquino still has some things to learn about land-use issues, which is a big part of the job. But if he is on council with veterans like Louis and Woodsworth, he’ll be a reliably progressive voice, keeping NPA and Vision politicians from veering too far to the right. Aquino says he wants to see more affordable housing. He also speaks Tagalog and understands some of the challenges facing low-income people in Vancouver. In addition, COPE supports a ward system, which would reduce the tendency of municipal politicians to act in the interests of those with the deepest pockets, who fund their campaigns.
Sandy Garossino (Independent)
Every council needs someone with some legal smarts, and Garossino, a nonpractising lawyer, would keep an eye over the citizens’ civil liberties. As a former prosecutor who focused on youth and gangs, she has a good grip on how organized crime operates. She and NPA candidate Sean Bickerton led the fight against a new casino in downtown Vancouver. Garossino has also extensive experience in the arts, having served on several boards, including the Alliance for Arts and Culture. She helped launch spoken-word artist Shane Koyczan’s career. Garossino has operated taxi companies and played a major role in the launch of the very successful Indian Summer festival this year at SFU Woodward’s. Think of her as a culturally, financially, and legally literate candidate.
Elizabeth Murphy (Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver)
If Murphy is elected, she’ll be the worst nightmare on council for senior staff. As a former city bureaucrat, she understands better than anyone how the planning process is tilted against neighbourhoods. Murphy is the most knowledgeable candidate when it comes to heritage, environmentally sensible development, and Metro Vancouver’s regional growth strategy. She’s also well-versed in how NPA– and Vision-controlled councils have undermined democratic participation and sided with the development industry. Murphy likes to present herself as an advocate of the everyday Vancouverite, but her financial-disclosure statement reveals that she has a stake in three rental properties on the East Side and lives in her own home near UBC.
Kerry Jang (Vision Vancouver)
The UBC professor of psychiatry volunteered for some of the toughest issues in his first term on council, including mental health, homelessness, and the sex trade. He helped create more barrier-free shelters, and while they’re not the most ideal form of housing, they did sharply reduce the number of homeless people sleeping in the streets and probably saved some lives. Barrier-free shelters, which allow people to bring in their pets and shopping carts, also provide a point of contact for other services. In addition, Jang adeptly stickhandled the sex-trade issue, bringing more of a harm-reduction focus to the city’s approach. He’s an intelligent and gracious politician, and demonstrated a willingness to work cooperatively with COPE’s Ellen Woodsworth on several motions.
Geoff Meggs (Vision Vancouver)
He may be the most polarizing figure on council with both the right and the far left, but there’s no denying his intellect or his ability to explain complicated subjects in an understandable way. Like Jang, Meggs handled difficult issues: the financial mess at the former Olympic Village and bike lanes. The Vision-controlled city council made the correct decision in replacing a New York–based private-equity firm as the lender for the Olympic Village, and this likely saved taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. Meggs resisted calls from the right to reduce the number of subsidized units. The city won’t end up in the black, but the losses have been curtailed and the neighbourhood is showing signs of life. He also demonstrated a political backbone by pushing ahead with the Hornby Street separated bike lane in the face of intense opposition. Now Meggs is promoting a rapid-transit project along the Broadway corridor (yes, Meggs likes expensive megaprojects), which will enrage many. He’s not one to wilt under pressure.
Raymond Louie (Vision Vancouver)
Louie, a three-term councillor, chairs the city services and budgets committee. In this position, he has overseen more regular reporting of the city’s financial situation, including at the former Olympic Village. There’s now a 10-year outlook on capital spending, which provides a better overview. The Vancouver Services Review took a hard look at how the city is spending money. Vision Vancouver politicians have also kept a lid on residential property taxes, which reflects Louie’s influence on council. Council’s decision to embrace the tax shift can be blamed on (or credited to) Robertson, who supported this against Louie’s wishes before the 2008 election. Louie doesn’t attract a lot of headlines, but his steady hand has kept the city on an even financial path, even though voters might disagree with some of the results, including cuts to the park board. As chair of the PNE, Louie and CEO Mike McDaniel have helped alleviate some of the neighbours’ concerns about the annual fair, while other residents won’t be satisfied until the city-owned business shrinks its footprint in Hastings Park.
Sean Bickerton (NPA)
Some candidates get involved in municipal issues and start showing up at Vancouver City Hall only in an election year. Bickerton, on the other hand, has been an active participant in civic issues for many years. He fought the downtown casino. He’s deeply involved in various arts and cultural organizations. Bickerton, an ardent opponent of bullying, would also bring a much-needed LGBT perspective to the council chamber, particularly if Vision Vancouver’s Tim Stevenson fails to get reelected. The NPA has embraced arts and culture in its platform this year, and we’re pretty sure that Bickerton played a part in this. He has never been elected to council before, but his passion for various issues suggests that he wouldn’t have a steep learning curve.
Bill McCreery (NPA)
One of council’s main jobs is dealing with land-use issues, and McCreery, an architect, has indicated over the past year that he’ll listen seriously to the concerns of neighbourhoods. Like Elizabeth Murphy, he would also keep an eye on the planning department if he gets elected to council. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that McCreery was the only NPA candidate endorsed by Murphy’s party, Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver.
Worth considering for council
If you’re looking for a forceful advocate for arts and culture, you may want to vote for Elizabeth Ball (NPA). Another arts advocate is Ken Charko (NPA), the blunt-speaking owner of the Dunbar Theatre, who would also bring a strong voice for smaller business to the council chamber. Chris Shaw (De-Growth Vancouver) was the city’s leading critic of the Olympics, and believes that the city is on the wrong track by promoting rampant economic growth. Shaw, a UBC professor of ophthalmology, would tell the truth in the council chamber, rather than pussyfooting around issues for fear of alienating campaign contributors. One of the greenest and hardest-working councillors is Andrea Reimer (Vision Vancouver). She didn’t get a recommendation because as chair of the planning and environment committee, she didn’t do enough to level the playing field between the planning department and neighbourhoods. Terry Martin (Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver) is a former chair of the board of variance. He has a good handle on land-use issues.
Vancouver Park Board
Donalda Greenwell-Baker (COPE)
She has worked in several East Vancouver community centres, and is well-acquainted with the challenges facing Vancouver’s low-income residents. Greenwell-Baker is intelligent and articulate, and you won’t have to worry about her being pushed around by senior bureaucrats. As a long-time CUPE Local 15 secretary-treasurer, she’s also extremely knowledgeable about city finances. And she has supported the greening of Hastings Park.
Brent Granby (COPE)
Granby has worked for many years on neighbourhood issues in the West End, including the campaign to keep St. Paul’s Hospital on Burrard Street. He walks the talk on environmental issues, and as an adviser to outgoing COPE commissioner Loretta Woodcock, he’s already up to speed on the issues. COPE opposed the imposition of recreational fees on young children.
Jamie Lee Hamilton (IDEA)
The veteran community activist is the only candidate who has devised a solution for the constant problem of council cutbacks to parks and recreation—giving the park board full autonomy to fund its programs and finance its capital projects. Yes, Jamie Lee Hamilton is a park-board separatist. She’s also a passionate advocate for equal rights and for low-income people. That’s why she’s so vehemently opposed to the Vision-controlled board’s decision to impose fees on kids under six years old at local pools and skating rinks.
Melissa De Genova (NPA)
Her father, Al De Genova, was an energetic and independent-minded park commissioner for many years, and we believe that she will follow in his footsteps. She’s worked hard to get young people involved in electoral politics. And at a recent park candidates’ debate at the Douglas Park Community Centre, she demonstrated humility by acknowledging that she didn’t fully appreciate how much Mount Pleasant residents valued their outdoor pool when she ran in 2008. De Genova knows the challenges facing the park board and nobody can question her work ethic.
Dave Pasin (NPA)
Pasin, a long-time director of the West End Community Centre, has spoken out against Vision Vancouver politicians’ desire to grab surpluses from community-centre associations and redistribute these funds. He’s a forceful and knowledgeable debater who has pledged to eliminate recreational fees for children under six years old. He has also called for a ban on shark-fin soup, which reflects his interest in environmental issues. If Pasin is elected, he’ll shake things up at the park board.
Constance Barnes (Vision Vancouver)
She was the only Vision commissioner to vote against fees for young kids. A single mother, she has also advocated for safe spaces for children in park-board facilities. Barnes is on the left side of the Vision spectrum. Some won’t vote for her because she got behind the wheel after having too many drinks, and then drove her car into a house. To them, we say that the voters didn’t disqualify Gordon Campbell from political office for impaired driving. The same standard should apply to Barnes, who has admitted her error and sought treatment.
Niki Sharma (Vision Vancouver)
She’s a bright young lawyer specializing in aboriginal legal issues. Sharma also has a degree in environmental biology, which would serve her well as a park commissioner. She values diversity and has a good understanding of women’s issues, having served on the board of Battered Women’s Support Services. Over time, we believe she has the potential to emerge as a fiery advocate who will battle on the side of low-income people against entrenched interests. The park board has been a launching pad for the careers of some of the city’s most influential politicians over the years. Sharma just might follow in that tradition.
Vancouver Board of Education
Please see this page for our candidate recommendations.
There’s no race for mayor in West Vancouver, where Coun. Michael Smith is running unopposed. Council watchdog Carolanne Reynolds would be a good addition to West Van council. Trish Panz deserves to be reelected for shepherding forward a progressive climate-change plan. Former B.C. Green party candidate Damian Kettlewell is also worth supporting. In the District of North Vancouver, Richard Walton is one of the region’s most competent mayors, and deserves another term. Lisa Muri has been one of the district’s more progressive politicians over the years. Roger Bassam, who works in information technology, and former police officer Doug Mackay-Dunn have also demonstrated intelligence in the district council chamber. In the nearby City of North Vancouver, we’re recommending the reelection of Mayor Darrell Mussatto, who is one of the greenest politicians in the region, along with his most important supporter on council, Craig Keating. Newcomers Juliana Buitenhuis, Yashar Khalighi, and Michael Charrois would bring progressive voices to the chamber and are all worth supporting.
We haven’t always been thrilled with Mayor Wayne Wright, who initially resisted city involvement in saving the Massey Theatre. But under his tenure, the city has seen improvements to the Uptown area and along Columbia Street. Wright deserves credit for New Westminster being the first city in Canada to apologize for its treatment of Chinese pioneers. His opponent, James Crosty, has promised to boost the arts. Early in the campaign, Wright stupidly referred to Crosty’s “lifestyle”—Crosty is gay—making us wonder if the mayor realizes it’s the 21st century. On balance, we’ll tip our hat to Crosty, who has tried to engage young voters. We recommend reelecting councillors Jonathan Cote, Bill Harper, Jaimie McEvoy, and Lorrie Williams, who supported a living wage. Also, save a vote for council for Paul Mulangu, who has been a great advocate for African immigrants, and for former NDP MLA Chuck Puchmayr.
Mayor Derek Corrigan and his Burnaby Citizens Association team deserve to be reelected, given their prudent oversight of city finances, sensitive approach to development, and appreciation for the environment. The City of Burnaby could be doing more to address homelessness, but deserves credit for paying attention to the looming Canada–EU trade deal. BCA candidates for the board of education provided teachers with material to counter homophobic bullying, despite intense opposition from the Christian right.
We can’t recommend the reelection of Mayor Dianne Watts after her defence of former president George W. Bush’s recent visit to her city. Watts has also sent conflicting signals over whether she wants Metro Vancouver to build a waste incinerator in Surrey, whereas one of her opponents, Ross Buchanan, has been unequivocally opposed. Another mayoral candidate, Vikram Bajwa, has tried to find out how much Surrey taxpayers ended up forking out on the Bush visit. We say vote for him if you don’t like people who start illegal wars of aggression visiting your city. For council, we like lots of the progressive Surrey Civic Coalition candidates, notably incumbent Bob Bose, Stephanie Ryan, Rina Gill, and former councillor Gary Robinson. They all know their stuff. If you have to vote for members of the Watts gang, the best choices are incumbents Judy Villeneuve and Barinder Rasode, who’ve been associated with progressive causes in the past.
Coquitlam voters are lucky in that they have two good candidates for mayor: incumbent Richard Stewart and veteran councillor Barrie Lynch. The unions are backing Lynch. Stewart, a former B.C. Liberal MLA, has displayed a progressive side as mayor, even showing up to participate in an antiracist demonstration. He has worked hard to bring the Evergreen Line to his community, and persuaded other mayors to support more funding for TransLink. On balance, we’ll give him the nod. In Port Moody, Coun. Mike Clay has the experience to move into the mayor’s chair, having served six years on council. We like his support for a more transparent municipal government. In Port Coquitlam, Greg Moore deserves to be reelected, notwithstanding his ardent support for incinerating more garbage. PoCo has an impressive curbside recycling program and it remains livable and affordable. In Pitt Meadows, we’re backing Coun. Deb Walters for mayor because residents deserve someone who sees this as a full-time job. In Maple Ridge, Ernie Daykin has been an upbeat mayor who, despite his right-wing history, probably deserves to be reelected based on his knowledge of local and regional issues. His challenger, Craig Ruthven, wants to speed up the handling of applications to the planning department, even though Maple Ridge is one of the fastest-growing municipalities.
Metro Vancouver chair Lois Jackson has focused a great deal of attention to regional issues, sometimes to the detriment of Delta residents. It’s time for a full-time mayor, which is why we’re recommending former councillor Krista Engelland. She’s in an uphill race because her criticism of the proposed Southlands development won’t generate many campaign contributions. We’re also recommending Sylvia Bishop and Anne Peterson for council.
Mayor Malcolm Brodie will probably be reelected, but we’re supporting lawyer Richard Lee, even though he opposed the supervised-injection site in Vancouver many years ago. Lee is calling for more democratic governance, and he questions the mayor’s opposition to more funding for TransLink. Brodie’s political career received a boost when the Canada Line was built, and after this, it seems mean-spirited to deny more transit to other communities. Lee will also be able to communicate better with Richmond’s growing Chinese population.