The Hubris of the City’s Silence

April 5, 2016

Here in Grandview, we have suffered under the pretensions of a so-called Community Plan process for almost four years now. It started out with great fanfare and hope, but swiftly degenerated into a planner-led debacle. At one stage, the then Chief Planner Brian Jackson was forced to admit that the process had been an utter failure and had not served the best interests of the neighbourhood’s residents while our Mayor cried crocodile tears to ensure his re-election.

After this fiasco, the Planners and the politicians regrouped and came up with what proved to be the equally distasteful Citizens’ Assembly idea. However, after months and months of total immersion within the planners’ worldview, even the force-fed Assembly couldn’t come up with a plan that was acceptable to the Planners and their paymasters. To those who doubt me, you have to explain why, almost a year since the CA presented its report, its recommendations (or versions or rejections of them) still haven’t been incorporated into a revised Plan that the Planners feel confident enough to offer residents’ for their opinion.

When the CA report was submitted last summer, we were advised by the Planners that there would be further public consultations in the fall of 2015 leading eventually to a new Community Plan presentation to City Council in the spring of 2016. We now find ourselves in April of the latter year, without consultations and without any news of a Plan.

All of this history — and the fact that taxpayers are forking out millions each year for twenty or more City communications staff — is the required background to the main thrust of this post.

Over the last few months, a large number of Grandview residents have written to individual Planners, the Planning Director, and/or the Mayor requesting information about what is happening with the Plan (or important parts of it) and the process. Over the last week or so, I have personally tweeted local Planner Andrew Pask on numerous occasions asking for an update. The response? Zilch.  Not even the courtesy of an acknowledgement, let alone any substantive reply.

If it was just me being ignored, I might understand that; after all, I recognize I have been a pain in their neck for a long time and they are probably sick of hearing from me. But they can have no such excuse for ignoring other residents and groups from the community who write asking for information. Especially when they have two dozen City-hired communications people available to spin a reply.

Who do these people think they are that they can simply ignore repeated reasonable requests from the people who pay them and whom they are pledged to serve? Their ignorant and pompous behaviour in this respect comes mighty close to genuine hubris; and no good can ever come from that.

 

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Image: Upon Reflection: Downtown

April 5, 2016

upon reflection__downtown_web

 

Click on image for a better view.


Heading For the Cliff? Public Education in BC

April 5, 2016

At the GWAC meeting last night, the room was packed with residents eager to take part in a discussion on the Vancouver School Board’s efforts to deal with this year’s $27m budget shortfall; and I don’t think they were disappointed.

Speakers at the main table included the VSB Chair Mike Lombardi and vice-chair Janet Fraser, along with VSB Trustees Chris Richardson and Penny Noble,  and Dr. Farah Schroff of the District PAC. Also in the room were VSB Trustees Patti Bacchus, Allan Wong, and Joy Alexander.

GWAC and VSB

Dorothy Barkley (GWAC), Mike Lombardi, Janet Fraser, Chris Richardson

The main take away from an informative and lively meeting is that the Provincial Liberals (not unlike Cameron’s Tories in the UK) are seeking to eliminate the public education system and to replace it with a privatized model. They are doing this by imposing restrictions on School Board actions and refusing to effectively fund the public system.  BC now has the second lowest funding per pupil in Canada.

It was noted that the BC public school system requires about $300 million extra per year to properly do its job, which happens to be a sum equal to the funding the Liberals give to independent schools. By far the loudest applause of the night came when it was suggested that public money should no longer be spent on these private schools (as is the case in Ontario, for example). However, members of the panel reminded the audience that both the Liberals and the NDP support continued funding of private schools (presumably for different reasons). The sense of the meeting was that services and conditions currently only available in private schools should be made available throughout the public system.

Mike Lombardi spent some time explaining the restrictions placed on the VSB’s actions:  he noted that they are having to deal with an instruction from the Ministry that schools will only receive seismic upgrading if they meet a 95% capacity utilization. No-one disagreed with him when he said this requirement had no evidentiary or pedagogical rationale.  Along the same lines, the Province has decided that active schools cannot be used as temporary spaces for students whose own schools are unavailable due to seismic upgrading. This means that schools have to be officially closed before they can be used as temporary locations. The problem is exacerbated by the Ministry’s refusal to fund any portable classrooms, no matter how temporary.

The Provincial Ministry now negotiates directly with the teaching unions, with no local input. However, they have not increased budgets to school boards to meet these contractual costs. This results in a situation where VSB has a shortfall of $27million to deal with this year. They cannot propose a deficit budget  without the risk of the Minister firing the entire Board and imposing an undemocratic governnance, and so they have to reduce teaching staff and close schools to meet their budget. Dr. Schroff, in a cri de coeur, supplied a long list of worthy programs that will have to be cut in order to keep funding the basics of education.

In response to a question, the panel stated that they have been working diligently with other Metro school boards to reduce costs by combined bulk buying and similar strategies, but there are limits to what can be achieved.

The Ministry has determined that up to twenty Vancouver schools should be closed. However, Lombardi stated that schools are the heart of a community and that the School Board have decided they will not sell any school lands or properties. Rather, they will try to lease out closed facilities, both to recover some operating revenue and to have them available in the future.  In response to a question about the fear East Vancouver will bear the brunt of closures, Lombardi disagreed but said that consultations were still ongoing.

The meeting agreed with the panel that the public school system needs to better publicize its successes. The VSB needs to do this (Lombardi noted they have only one communications officer, preferring to spend money on teachers), but parents also need to play their part in talking up their local schools. The panel suggested that community members talk and write to their MLAs, discuss their concerns in the press and on social media, and make sure they give their input to the VSB.

* * * * *

This was the first meeting held under GWAC’s new and improved Board. It was extremely well organized and run. In fact, I believe it was (with the exception of the mass meeting on the Community Plan we held in the summer of 2013) the most useful and instructive meeting GWAC has held in many years.  It augurs well for the year ahead.