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Vision Vancouver Minority With Strong NPA, Green Opposition Is Ideal City Council

11/13/2014 03:16 EST | Updated 01/13/2015 05:59 EST
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Good governance is an art -- an alchemy of nuance, maturity, principle, and flexibility.

Civic government's unique structure contrasts with provincial legislatures and the federal parliamentary system, where large departments are headed by cabinet ministers for the majority. Civic government is much closer to the community and functions -- or ought to -- more like a board of directors.

In casting my votes for mayor and council in Vancouver this election I'll be guided by one fundamental question: What are the component elements of an ideal civic board of directors?

Principled candidates with one or more of the following: financial acumen, business experience (particularly small business), people skills, institutional knowledge and memory, temperament, familiarity with the Downtown Eastside and housing, poverty and homeless issues, women, cultural diversity and First Nations, legal training, community engagement, openness, fairness, ability to horse-trade both with people of opposing political persuasions and with other levels of government.

A tall order.

Then there are the issues of the day. In Vancouver in 2014, housing affordability, transportation, economic development, and developer influence at City Hall are top issues, followed by the ongoing matter of shelter for the homeless. It's more than disappointing that both major parties played politics with pipelines and oil, when Vancouver so badly needs a powerful commitment by all to deal with more pressing local concerns.

Vision has squandered a great deal of the public confidence that returned it to power in 2011, and it's lost a good deal of mine. My recommendation, given an overall review of needed skill set and policy, is for a Vision-led minority government with a substantially empowered NPA and Green opposition.

It's absurd that Adriane Carr (miraculously polling as the most popular councillor in the city) had to fight and scrape just to be heard by a council that purports to share so many of the Green Party's goals. It speaks to a pettiness and defensiveness that shut out new ideas and other approaches. And it's not the first time.

Vision similarly isolated and marginalized Suzanne Anton, a move that carried its own karma. Both Carr and Anton were duly elected by the people of Vancouver, and should have been accorded more respect. The thousands of Vancouverites who trooped out to countless public hearings and community demonstrations felt the same way, including those who are astonished that ground preparation has begun on a massive casino that they thought Vision had blocked.

One thing that rankled through the past several years was Vision's habit of block voting on virtually every issue. How many Vision councillors can the average Vancouverite name? They voted in lock-step and are almost indistinguishable to all but close city watchers.

The NPA has some very substantive proposals, my favourite among them being their suggestion to create affordable rental housing by allowing mixed-tenure zones and working with other levels of government on a tax credit for new rental housing investments. This has serious upside potential.

It's a mystery, then, why the NPA (and Vision) threw up their hands at other tax options aimed at increasing affordability. One example was COPE's proposal for a vacancy tax -- an idea initially floated in 2013 by tax expert and former Supreme Court Justice Ian Pitfield.

While there's doubt as to how effective such a duty would be in lowering house prices, this idea would certainly add rental housing, introduce some tax fairness and needed revenue. Small businesses currently subsidize the tax burden of homeowners, but there's no rationale for them to subsidize second or third empty homes. Indeed, empty homes and condos deprive our retailers of the feet on the street they need to survive in a city with low disposable incomes.

Almost nobody in this campaign raised small business as a vital economic driver, notwithstanding that almost 90 per cent of our businesses employ fewer than 20 people. Imported tech or resource company offices are job trophies, not the real deal. It's small business that's hewing the wood and drawing the water in this town. They needed to hear much more about how City Hall can help them.

Instead we got gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over a Chevron school sponsorship proposal that would provide about .1% of the VSB annual budget -- in other words, a rounding error. That's right -- 1/1000th of the budget. There's something very oily about how much attention this very marginal proposal received. Would this town seriously consider a McDonalds' school funding proposal promoted at drive-thrus?

When it comes to developer influence, Vision and the NPA are really Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee. They just have different teams backing them.

So bearing all the above in mind, the following are people I consider deserving of a vote for council. I balanced experience, knowledge, diversity, city representation, temperament for governing and the ability to make deals with opponents.

Ideally Vision and the NPA should be compelled to work together, with Greens holding leverage. Adriane Carr is widely supported across the political spectrum, has been a great champion of the community and has demonstrated, with precious little opportunity, that environmental sustainability doesn't have to be so divisive. She's widely trusted and has earned the chance to hold the balance of power.

Beginning with the governing Vision party and its primary challenger, and considering all the above, my recommendations are:

Andrea Reimer Vision - Experienced, knowledgeable, seasoned, smart

Geoff Meggs Vision - Experienced politico, understands labour issues

Raymond Louie Vision - Experienced, financially focused

Niki Sharma Vision - Lawyer, experienced on Park Board

George Affleck NPA - Experienced, seasoned councillor--knows the ropes

Elizabeth Ball NPA - Experienced councillor and strong arts & non-profit background

Ian Robertson NPA - Accomplished, respected business leader with strong civic experience

Suzanne Scott NPA - Respected academic with strong grasp of finance

Adriane Carr Greens - Top performer on Council, trusted across political spectrum

Cleta Brown Greens - Lawyer

Also consider:

Pete Fry Greens - Respected Strathcona/East Van voice

Ken Low NPA - Professional engineer, experienced with civic government, broad Chinese community ties

Keith Higgins COPE - Strong arts, non-profit, business experience

Audrey Siegl COPE - First Nations woman working in field of violence against women

Mayor

COPE's Meena Wong mounted a strong campaign for a team bereft of significant backing and funding. On meeting her I liked her enormously, particularly her courage and toughness. As an immigrant woman, she knows our city in a way too few of us do. This race is not hers to win, but let's please have many more Meena Wongs in the future. She ran a brave and refreshing campaign.

Kirk LaPointe of the NPA remains an enigma. What does he stand for, exactly? Undeniably he brings a first-rate mind and a superlative CV, yet it's concerning that he hasn't articulated a strong point of view. Of course he promises to listen, but a mayoralty candidate should also tell us where he intends to lead.

It's not that clear what LaPointe's passionate about. And I can't get over five words he uttered in response to a substantial question by one of Vancouver's top reporters: "Bit of an empty question." Under pressure, LaPointe not only evaded, he struck back in a dismissive contemptuous way.

Vancouver, that's a tell.

Gregor Robertson -- what to say? Chastened by a campaign that unexpectedly exposed his party's weak flank, this mayor's in trouble. He could have and should have widened his approach with the public and opposing councillors, and been more welcoming to people of different views.

He could have and should have done something about Vision's unseemly close relationship with a chosen few developers, its peremptory governing style and the lack of transparency surrounding a host of civic issues. And affordability is a slogan, not a committed objective.

This is a very tough call. Neither of the main candidates inspires a huge groundswell of enthusiastic support.

But in a tight race, Robertson's experience and knowledge of civic issues and his Metro Vancouver relationships over transit and other issues carries extra weight. Vancouver should never have lost COPE's estimable Ellen Woodsworth from council, so well known for her close association with DTES and poverty issues.

In the closing days of this campaign, Robertson's prioritization of the homelessness (inexcusably absent from the NPA platform) tips the scale.

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