Campaign Finance Reform in BC

July 4, 2017

Now that we have finally dumped the cash-soaked BC Liberals, and an NDP/Green alliance is preparing its parliamentary program, we need to engage in a serious discussion about electoral finance reform.  I am glad to see the debate beginning to heat up on Twitter and elsewhere and I thought I would add my few cents to the discussion.

First, I am sure most critics of the present system agree that (a) corporate and union donations must be banned; and (b) reform needs to encompass both provincial and municipal politics. Beyond that, differences emerge.

In the discussions I have seen to date there is much concentration on limiting individual contributions; mainly, it seems, as a way to stop the infamous $25,000 lunches that Christy Clark and Gregor Robertson seem to enjoy so much. I believe that to be the wrong focus, preferring instead to concentrate on transparency and equalising opportunity for independents and smaller parties.

Transparency is vital for keeping the system honest and open. But transparency cannot just be for campaigns, it must cover all aspects of party financing between elections too. Vision Vancouver (and no doubt other parties) have received millions of dollars in contributions in the “dark years” between elections when no reporting is required. This must stop  Political parties are public entities and their accounts must be public also. In addition, the reporting of contributions should be as close to real-time as technically feasible — no more waiting for the end of the quarter or the end of the year.  Monthly statements should be the least we should accept, and with modern accounting software there is no excuse for anything less.

Limits on campaign spending are key to allowing smaller parties and independents to compete. What those limits should be is open for debate (and will presumably be different for municipal and provincial constituencies) but they need to accomplish two goals: creating a more level playing field for all who want to run, and limiting the extraordinary waste of resources that, for example, we see so blatantly in Vancouver elections. I believe that whatever limits are set should cover at least a period of one year up to the election date.

These limits also need to encompass and control so-called third party expenditures. I haven’t thought through a solution to that issue yet, but I want to make sure it is not forgotten.

Finally, let me return to the question of individual donations. Limiting campaign spending and real-time contribution reporting will reduce the gross discrepancies that have occurred in the past. However, I am not at all sure we need to worry about it anyway.  Let us say that a campaign limit of $50,000 is set for a mayoral contest. If Joe Billionaire wants to fork out the entire $50,000 why should that bother us providing it becomes immediately known through the transparency rules?  I would argue, to the contrary, that the payment would quickly become a campaign issue with that candidate being branded Joe Billionaire’s lapdog and probably costing at least as many votes as her backer’s money may have gained.

Well, that’s a start. As always the devil is in the details and I look forward to a healthy and thorough discussion of this vital topic.


The Broadway Beast Is Back!

June 21, 2017

The outrageously expensive, technologically unnecessary, and entirely developer-profit-driven Broadway subway to nowhere is back for another round of propaganda/sales meetings.

There will be “open houses” as follows:

  • June 24: 10am-2:00pm at 511 W. Broadway
  • June 27: 4:00pm-7:00pm at 511 W. Broadway
  • June 28: 4:00pm-7:00pm at 511 W. Broadway

You can read the City’s propaganda at their website.

I wrote my own thoughts on this quite a while ago, and do not see any reason to change my opinion that the subway is a disaster designed solely to feed huge for-profit condo towers along Broadway to the detriment of transportation throughout the city.

There are far better ways to deal with our transit issues than a $4 billion (or much more) hole in the ground, but I bet these “open houses” will not be a forum for that debate.


More On the Broadway Plaza

June 9, 2017

It seems I wasn’t the only one disappointed with the Planning meeting last night regarding Broadway and Commercial. Local resident and GWAC director Dave Carman who attended the meeting has sent the following letter to the Mayor, City Council, and Planners. He has kindly allowed me to republish the letter here:

My name is David Carman and I attended the Grandview-Woodland Plaza Exploration on June 7th. In addition to learning about the new plaza proposal I wanted to get information about the rationale behind the significant change being proposed. Other than a desire to “Heal the Divide”, no other information was provided in this regard on the display boards.

During the controlled question period it was revealed that the impetus for the proposed switch in location was unsurprisingly driven by the fact that the main tenant (Safeway) and main developer (Westbank) were not on board with having the public plaza built on their site. They apparently wish to see the plaza moved from their private property and placed elsewhere – in this case onto city owned land.

Considering the amount of time, preparation and planning I can imagine would have gone into the original plaza proposal I was very surprised to learn of this suggested change. Surely to have proceeded with a plaza plan of such magnitude – a plaza considered by some to be the anchor point of the entire Grandview-Woodland Plan – in-depth consultation and buy-in from the tenant and developer would have been required. I discussed this matter after the presentation with a member of the city planning staff, Yardley McNeill. Ms. McNeill was either unaware of or not forthcoming about any previous consultation planning staff may or may not have had with the tenant/developer and said the proposed change came “totally out of the blue”.

The aforementioned response can only leave me three possible conclusions:

  1. City planners formulated the original plaza plan with the blessing of the tenant/developer who have since back-pedaled on their commitment;
  1. City planners formulated the original plaza plan with no consultation or commitment from the on-site tenant/developer;
  1. City planners consulted with the tenant/developer, were aware of their concerns and knew that ultimately the original plaza proposal could possibly fail – yet put the plaza plan forth regardless to help to sell the GW plan.

The first scenario would suggest incompetence on the part of the tenant/developer, the latter two on the part of city planning staff.

Much of the feedback from the general public regarding the GW plan was ignored, but as this new plaza proposal demonstrates, city planning staff appear to be much more accommodating to corporate and development interests. In fact, based on the results I’ve seen from previous “public consultations” this suggested plaza relocation is not simply a proposal, but more likely a done deal.”

I also heard from another attendee that the City’s meeting last Wednesday on the North East False Creek project was run in a very similar manner to the one I described. Is this the new “open house” style for the future? Yet more bread and circuses peddling smoke and mirrors for the masses while the important decisions continue to get made behind closed doors?

 


A Vision For Robertson’s Millenials

June 7, 2017

I have written before about my belief that the aim of the Billionaire Boys’ Club and their political arm, Vision Vancouver, is to create a Vancouver that is solely for the 1%; a city of refuge for the rich. The proletariat — or at least that fraction of them required to maintain the lifestyle and businesses of the 1% — would be forced to live in the suburbs and travel in and out of the city via the rapid transit lines (preferably hidden below ground so as not to disrupt the aesthetics of the city beautiful) so favoured by Vision.

Since coming to power in 2008, Vision Vancouver have worked hand in glove with the development and real estate industries to being about these desired aims; and they have succeeded brilliantly, ensuring that wages are kept low, that no regular worker in Vancouver can afford to buy a house or even an apartment, that rents are skyrocketing beyond all reason, that provision for the least fortunate is collapsing around us. One of Vision’s bag men has openly boasted that Vancouver is not for regular people.

However, when they have forced most of us out, there may be a reason that some workers will need to be kept in the city, rather than be shipped in every day, and Hong Kong provides an excellent illustration of the kind of thing Vision Vancouver — famous for stating that affordable housing is whatever you can afford — may have in mind for the long term, for the millennials they are courting, perhaps:

 

 

These images are from a Guardian article concerning so-called “coffin cubicles”.  They show 15 sq.ft cubicles that people have adapted for “living.” And the article helpfully notes that a standard 400 sq.ft apartment can be subdivided into 20 double-decker sealed cubicles of this kind.

Now, Vancouver has about 25,000 vacant housing units ….


GWAC and Renters

June 6, 2017

I attended the regular GWAC meeting last night, the main subject of discussion at which was the potential improvement of tenants’ rights in the over-heated property market that is Vancouver today.

Given that about 60% of Grandview’s residents are renters, I have to begin by expressing my disappointment at the low turnout for this meeting; at no time were there more than a dozen non-GWAC-directors in the room. Many recent GWAC meetings have had better attendance than this, on subjects of less immediate concern to so many. There was also a notable lack of presence by organisations — the BIA, for example, the Kettle, church groups, to name just a few — who claim a community interest but rarely partake except when their own direct interests are concerned.

The main business of the evening was a joint presentation by Marilyn and Emma of the Grandview Renters’ Action Group and Neil from the Vancouver Tenants’ Union. These are both recently formed groups and they want to introduce themselves to the community. After a brief recitation of the well-known problems facing renters in Vancouver today, the Grandview Group listed its priorities (my summaries):

  1. Affordable rents;
  2. Steady supply of both new and renovated units;
  3. An end to renovictions and other dodgy “evictions”;
  4. Provision of safe housing;
  5. Legislation to make housing a human right.

The local group is in the process of reaching out to renters and other groups in the neighbourhood, and hopes to swiftly become the go-to place for tenant’s information and advocacy in Grandview. They have monthly meetings and they urge renters to become members through the website.

The Vancouver group is doing much the same thing, although acting more as an umbrella group for local groups. They are also working on eliminating loopholes in the RTA to bring more stability and certainty to renters. They are keen to get tenants’ reps into each multi-family building, and they look to implement a Montreal-style linkage of rent to a unit rather than to a tenancy (thus ending the practice of massive rent increases between tenancies and the subsequent pressure this puts on some landlords to evict existing “rent-controlled” tenants).

The Vancouver Tenants’ Union plans to have a convention this fall to elect a Board, establish principles, etc.

After the presentations, there was a free-wheeling Q&A/discussion that covered a lot of ground including RTA horror stories, AirBnb issues, empty suites, and possible ways of reducing rents. It was generally agreed, I believe, that in Vancouver’s current market, renters are becoming second class citizens, marginalised by insecurity. It was also understood that the Vancouver permitting process has become so unwieldy and costly as to discourage many homeowners from establishing legal suites. It also seemed to be agreed that one part of a solution is for all three levels of government to get back into the business of building genuinely affordable housing units, owned by the municipality and thus protected from market pressures.

A very useful discussion, and a well-managed meeting. We can only hope that ever-larger numbers of Grandview residents will find enough interest in these topics to come to meetings and have their say. GWAC offers that opportunity to everyone and is a vital resource for the neighbourhood.

 


Still Blind About The Subway

March 23, 2017

Now that the Federal Liberals have been generous with our tax dollars and appear to be throwing offers of money at the Lower Mainland’s transit and transportation systems, with both the BC Liberals and NDP seemingly jumping on board, and with Gregor Robertson openly salivating at the prospect of overturning the Transit Referendum and the profits his cronies can make, it is imperative that we revitalize the campaign against the Broadway subway to nowhere.

To begin, here is a piece I wrote before the 2014 municipal election. Some references may be dated, but the facts remain,

 

A Lack of Vision On The Broadway Corridor

Vision Vancouver, the developer-funded incumbent regime at City Hall, have decided to make a subway under Broadway, from Commercial to UBC, a major plank of their re-election campaign. Apparently it is beside the point that they don’t have the money to do it, nor any control over the funding, and that it is a bad and unimaginative idea, suited only for the profits of the regime’s crony partners. A subway we shall have, they say.

Let’s begin by looking at some of the yawning gaps in Vision’s proposal.

First, to claim this is a subway to UBC is simply false.  The subway, as currently proposed, will be dug from Commercial & Broadway only to Arbutus where westbound commuters will have to leave the subway, climb up to the street level and then wait for a bus to UBC to complete their journey, one way.  So, any commuter time savings discussed must take into account the time and inconvenience needed for this transfer. And, of course, the same inconvenient transfer will be necessary when leaving UBC to travel eastwards.

Second, all expert opinion suggests that putting the financing together and then building the tunnel will take eight years at least before delivering one second of improvement.  I suppose we must hang around in long lines waiting for an already-crowded 99B Line for another eight years, as there are no plans to improve the service before then.

lineups

In fact, under Vision’s plans for Commercial & Broadway, the commuting situation will get much worse.  They plan to add about 10,000 more people to that neighbourhood, mostly housed in huge 30+ storey highrise towers at the intersection, without any increase in transit. Those 10,000 people will simply add to the congestion and line-ups that already annoy so many travelers; and which can only be aggravated by years and years of subway construction work.

Third, what would this new commuter paradise look like?  Under Vision, there is little doubt Broadway will consist of islands of massive towers separated by barren wastelands between the stops.

MAIN.Marine-Gateway600px

Even the pro-subway Urban Land Institute, in their Final Report in July, warned that Vision had gone hog-wild over towers. It is worth noting that there will still need to be street-level buses to move people between the stations and their high-rises; so the subway becomes not a replacement, but simply a very expensive addition.

Finally in this review, let’s take a moment for an overview of this $3 billion, 8-year project: Question: did you ever see a government-run mega project go over-budget and/or over-schedule?  I can’t think of one that didn’t.

So, after all that complaining, are there alternatives?  Yes, of course. And there are alternatives whether the $3 billion falls like manna from heaven or whether we have to do this without such largesse.  The prime failure of Vision’s plan is its lack of imagination.

For example, should that kind of money be available, Patrick Condon (who elsewhere has pointed out the contradictions in Vision’s plan) has already described the magnificent transit system we could have all across Vancouver for the same cost of $3 billion that Vision wants to waste on a single line between Commercial and Arbutus. Why would we not want to improve service everywhere rather than service a small slice of our needs?

What else?  We could move large sections of UBC to, say, the Post Office building downtown, and the Emily Carr site on Granville Island.  This would spread the transit load geographically and, at least in the case of the Post Office, would build upon existing transit infrastructure.

And/or we could insist that UBC and the high-tech companies the Mayor and Geoff Meggs have said will dominate the Broadway corridor move to flex-time scheduling, thus spreading the traffic load across the system throughout the day and thus reducing “rush hour” congestion.

And/or we could divert automobile traffic off Broadway to 4th, 12th, 25th and 41st, for example.  Personally, I would be happy to see the entire Broadway corridor become a pedestrian/transit/cycle-only street.  A mix of short-haul and express buses would speed along their own dedicated lanes, as would bicycles, feeding retail along the entire street rather than just in towering shopping centres.

Finally, we can consider alternative technologies for moving people along Broadway.  An at-grade Light Rapid Transit system, costing about a third of the tunnel project but going all the way to UBC, is an obvious candidate.

OffLRTproposal

There are plenty of other ideas floating around.  What we know is that the three billion dollar hole in the ground is the least viable, the least effective, and the least neighbourhood-friendly option and, besides, it cannot be ready for almost a decade at best.  It is time to be creative and make better decisions for our commuters and our City today.


Why Supply Is Clearly NOT The Problem

March 10, 2017

Early last year I wrote a piece about how the City of Vancouver is approving about twice the number of housing units that we need to manage our population growth.  Now we have the latest population statistics from Stats Can and we can check my arguments against reality.

Between 2011 and 2015, the City of Vancouver population grew by 27,984 people.

Even today, with all the sociological changes in the way we live, most of us still do not live alone (who can afford it?) — we live in households, traditional or otherwise. Households here average a little over 2 people. That means that we grew by approximately 13,000 households. This figure represents the genuine need for new housing.

According to the CoV’s own figures, we approved 25,341 housing units in that same period — or about twice the number we actually needed to meet the growth in households. The development industry has tried to tell us that household size has fallen and so the need is greater. However, the Census figures do not agree with them.

These latest figures confirm that we are building for greed not need, and may go some way to explaining why we have 25,000 vacant properties in the city.