Governance & Politics
April 16, 2021

The Race is On: Sim versus Coupar

In case there was any doubt, this is going to be a hard-fought (and long) civic election.  At least one set of gloves has come off.

Ken Sim (undoubtedly the mayoral candidate for the ABC party) has taken aim at John Coupar (mayoral candidate for the NPA) if not head on, at least to the source of his identity.

Here’s the latest from Sim:

Today I am announcing my first policy commitment:

If I am elected Mayor of Vancouver, I commit to abolishing the elected Park Board and rolling it back under the authority of City Council, where it belongs.

If I am successful in securing a nomination from an electors organization, I will also be looking to recruit candidates to run for Park Board alongside me, who will be committed to being the last elected Park Board Commissioners.

It’s a bold move.  There has always been a belief by many that, on one hand, the Park Board is an anachronism – redundant and (to City Hall) annoying.  On the other, many believe it reflects a profound priority of this city and its culture: a deeply rooted love of nature and the importance of parks, community centres and the social supports they offer.

Historically the existence of a separate political body for parks has meant we were green before it was capitalized.  No Council, regardless of its ideological positions, can easily erode that commitment – so long, it’s argued, as an elected Park Board is there.

Pragmatically, it just hasn’t been worth the constitutional struggle to abolish it, likely requiring an amendment to the Vancouver Charter – hence provincial approval.

But it is no coincidence that Sim’s first major policy statement (effectively responding to the criticism that he hasn’t any) takes dead aim at the primary identity of John Coupar, long-time Park Commissioner, a board chair, proudest of his support for the Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park, and even his opposition to bikeways in parks.

By the time you read this, Coupar will likely be responding.  And it won’t be as mild as the persona that Coupar cultivates.

 

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Take a walk on the Fraser River Trail Greenway which is the perfect thing to do on a brisk spring day. You can start at the south foot of Blenheim Street, and you can go west where the private Point Grey Golf Club has worked with the City to create a publicly accessible trail along the Fraser River.

There was one section of the Fraser River Trail Greenway south of the Point Grey Golf Course that was inaccessible due to a large stream embankment. The Simpson Family in Southlands who had lost a son in an accident in the armed forces chose to honour his memory and paid for the public bridge which is accessible to walkers, rollers, cyclists and horse back riders. You can continue on that trail that proceeds west through the ancient territory of the Musqueam First Nation, and that trail joins up to Pacific Spirit Park at Southwest Marine Drive.

 

But let’s say you choose to go east on the City of Vancouver’s Fraser River Trail which was approved by Council in 1995. There is a footpath on city public lands, and you then can follow the Fraser River beside the city’s McCleery Public Golf Course. It’s a wonderful walk beside the Fraser. And then you run into this:

And there is the obnoxious, anonymous signage:

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On March 15 2021 at 12:15 p.m. a note went out that the Director of Planning Gil Kelley was leaving the City of Vancouver after four years.  As Dan Fumano of the Vancouver Sun writes Mr. Kelley’s parting words were kind and diplomatic:  “There are a lot of development pressures, and I think it’s important for a midterm council and for a new incoming city manager — which presumably be happening pretty soon — to be able to have the person they want at the helm.”

I had previously written about Mr. Kelley when he spoke publicly after accepting the job.

At that time Mr. Kelley alluded that both Portland Oregon and Vancouver have passionate focus upon “urban planning substituting for major league sports”, in that the public wants to watch, participate, and if the team is losing, make sure that the Planning Department knows.

But you cannot separate Mr. Kelley’s departure from that of the well-regarded City Manager, Sadhu Johnston. Both of these public servants were hired under the previous Vision banner of government and worked with majority councils that had a very clear mandate on sustainability and their version of “green” work. I have already written about the huge chasm Vancouver government has fallen into now that we now have “political” city managers.

Vancouver previously experienced great success with their unusual city manager model, where the position provided a constant hand on the wheel at city hall, despite political changes. This has meant that long term policy previously approved by other councils could be interpreted, amended, directed and implemented by new incoming Council, with a direct understanding of the context and background. That made Vancouver different from most cities.

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What is the biggest fear of someone who is classified as a “vulnerable” sidewalk user?  It is falling on the sidewalk. And for those vulnerable people using sidewalks, be they seniors or people with any type of mobility impairment or vision disability a fall can lead to death within months.

Despite clear international evidence that keeping sidewalks clear of impediments is a universal standard, the Vancouver City Council voted unanimously to allow for electrical charging cords to be placed on vinyl conduits over city sidewalks. Every present  member of council cited the importance of their Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP) and with no acknowledgement of the irony of placing the rights of vehicles over sidewalk users, voted to allow cords with covers to be placed on the sidewalk.

As James Carter who owns a car dealership that sells electric vehicles  said on a CKNW radio show with Lynda Steele

They make people shovel snow off the sidewalk by 10 a.m. but they are going to allow people to place power cords across the sidewalk? It just does not sound like a good idea to me”. 

Mr. Carter also pointed out that there are lots of free charging facilities set up by B.C. Hydro and others across the city. There’s no electric charging drought.

This policy of placing electrical cord conduits on sidewalks does not impact most of us. But it does impact the most vulnerable of any sidewalk user.

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It’s no secret that when election ballots were alphabetized in the City of Vancouver that they seemed to favour people who had names at the top of the alphabet. You can take a look at this list of Mayors and Councils dating back to 1887. From my unscientific examination that there appears to be a heck of a lot of Councillors with last names beginning with the letters  “A” to “D”.

In 2005, six councillors had their last names with the initials “A” to “D”. In 2008 there were four Councillors that had their last names starting with  “A” to “D” initials. The City of Vancouver Council has ten members, as well as the Mayor.

If you have a slate of councillors you want to get elected with, knowing that their last name started with a letter from the front of the alphabet has historically helped.

It made sense to randomize the ballot, but what to do with the very long slate of names, many names people voting for Councillor might be unfamiliar with?  Alex Strachan reported in a 1993 article in the Vancouver Sun  that “studies show voters choosing a slate from the list of 40 names or more may choose several selections at the top of the list before realizing they have a few choices left”. 

Sadly it appears to be human nature that people go to the bottom of the list and then work their way up~”overlooking the names in the middle”.

In 1993 the ballot was randomized, with the order of ranking on the ballot being decided by names being drawn from a ballot box. The successful mayor, Phillip Owen was number two on the ballot; his main opponent, Libby Davies was in the 11th spot.

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It’s only mid-January, and already we have a nomination for ‘Article of the Year.’

Doug Ward’s long-form analysis in The Tyee of the No. 1 story in this town is a must-read if you want an informed perspective on the particulars of the housing challenges in Vancouver, what actions and proposals have been taken, and where the various factions on council stand.  It’s the best read so far of the political players, their motivations and critiques of each other.  It’s a lot of material to pack into a single story, and this one is as good as we’ve seen so far.

Here’s Doug’s conclusion:

The politically low-friction days of filling brown fields with new developments are over. And nowadays, almost all densification in established neighbourhoods happens on the east side of town, while on the wealthier west side, says (Andy) Yan, “The homes have become larger and emptier. It’s getting less dense.”

Something’s got to give….  (But) Stewart and his councillors have yet to forge an agenda that reflects the mood of crisis that delivered them to their posts in the first place. They have until the fall of 2022 to demonstrate otherwise.

My thoughts:

The housing challenge cannot be met within the boundaries of Vancouver.  Housing is, at minimum, a regional challenge, involving every level of government.  City of Vancouver politicians should never be so presumptuous as to think they have the levers to solve it between Boundary Road and the UEL.

Also unquestioned (even in Doug’s piece) is the presumption that the City should replace the market as the short-term determinant for housing supply and affordability.   Let’s leave aside the question as to whether that’s possible (it isn’t), the fact is that most citizens, including immigrants, would be distrustful of an ideological solution unless it manifestly benefits them directly.

It could be that city government won’t have to intervene in any major way (rezoning the city from one end to the other or budgeting to build thousands of units) so long as it can affect marginal supply at a time when more global factors align (especially interest rates and health of the economy – which influences immigration rates, domestic and foreign).  By assisting the market to strategically supply an ongoing expectation of new units (which is happening now, especially in the rental stock) in a sufficiently short period of time, the overall market may be moderated in price and scarcity to remove the issue as a political imperative.  The pandemic might do the same, but likely won’t make much of a difference in the medium term.  (It hasn’t so far.)

The hope being placed on the Vancouver Plan was naïve to begin with, and unachievable in the time left in this council’s term, especially given the disruption of the pandemic.  Trying to accommodate a visionary or ideological model of change for every neighbourhood simultaneously, especially when it involves the character or scale of a community, is simply not doable without having to pay too high a political price (assuming there is a disciplined majority willing to take the risk).

Such a city-wide plan cannot on one hand provide an overview of how growth will be accommodated (along with infrastructure and amenities) in a way that is accepted as equitable and, on the other, inform citizens on what can literally be built next door to them (which is the real purpose of zoning: to give assurance, continuity and control over the rate of change).  The Vancouver Plan has no chance of doing that, and so will be compromised into mush or deferred into the future if it isn’t abandoned.

Vancouver will muddle along, spot-rezonings and all, and manage to still end up with a remarkably successful (if expensive) city.

 

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Passing the Torch: Lessons Learned for Future Generations of Women Advocates~A conversation with Shirin Ebadi at Simon Fraser University

Shirin Ebadi is the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. The first woman appointed as judge in Iran, she was subsequently barred from her post after the Islamic Revolution on the basis of her gender. Returning to the courts as a private lawyer to defend controversial political and human rights cases led to her own incarceration and 25 days in solitary confinement. Despite these challenges, Shirin Ebadi continues to dedicate her life to fighting for human rights, especially the rights of women, children, and political prisoners. She will join us to talk about the hard-won lessons she has learned, to pass the torch to future generations of women advocates.
A zoom link will be provided to registered attendees via email.
About the Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies
The Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies has been established at Simon Fraser University to encourage the academic discussion and public understanding of the cultures and societies of Muslim peoples in the past and present.

Date: Wednesday January 27, 2021

Time: 12 noon Pacific Time

You can register by clicking this link.

Images: VanityFair,LessonPlanet.com

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