It appears the Mayor’s Council are once again on the hot seat.
For the best part of a decade, the Council has demonstrated apparent amity, likely due to recognition that they were going to need to work together to get a disinterested Provincial Government to support any kind of transit funding stability as the region’s growth exploded. Alas, they recently seem ready to take a step back into parochial foot-shooting. With a federal government hot to spend money on urban infrastructure renewal and low-carbon transportation and a provincial government equally willing to prioritize sustainable transportation investments, the 10 year plan developed by a consensus of Mayors is suddenly being questioned by the very Mayors that put the plan together.
The first shot in this apparent internal battle was the vote to make Mayor Corrigan of Burnaby (the one Mayor who questioned the 10-year vision all along, leading random bloggers to suggest he was “transit regressive”) the new Chair of the Mayors Council, giving him more power to set the agenda and negotiate with the province over the terms of transit investment. He did this (presumably, because the voting was secret ballot), only through a one-mayor one-vote system that provides the Mayors of Anmore and Lions Bay equal voices to those of Vancouver and Surrey. However, most votes at the Mayor’s Council have a weighted vote system in an effort to closer approximate the population differences across the region and the relative sources of the budgets that TransLink spends.
The Agenda for Thursday’s Mayors Council meeting is out, and it suggests this tenuous situation will be tested right away. The only substantive agenda item is a motion put forward by Mayor Greg Moore of Port Coquitlam:
…that the Mayors Council supports the implementation of the Phase Two Plan in early-2018 as planned, including construction of the Surrey-Newton-Guildford LRT, Millennium Line Broadway Extension, the SkyTrain Upgrade Strategy and the replacement of the Pattullo Bridge, along with increases to bus and HandyDART service and funding for walking, cycling and Major Road Network infrastructure across the region;
There is more there (you can read the Agenda and resolution, with all its whereases and nuanced language, here), but the message is clear. At least one member of the Mayors Council (the one who happens to be the Chair of Metro Vancouver) wants the plan forward to be made clear to Translink planning staff, the Provincial and Federal Governments, and to all of the regional partners involved in planning our transportation system. It is clear that at least some of the mayors on the Council still believe in the vision, see its urgency, and are willing to speak up to the pall of suspicion that has resulted from Mayor Corrigan’s election (not the least by semi-informed bloggers, like me)
This is the vote to watch to see who is on-side with well-developed and integrated sustainable transportation investments, and who is willing to delay solutions to our regional transportation challenges for yet another decade.
There is a lot to grab your attention right now when it comes to local government. Budget deliberations, mobility pricing, the ongoing housing crisis, election 2018; it is hard to pick your battles sometimes.
However, the pending start of construction activity along the proposed Kinder Morgan TransMountain Pipeline Expansion is likely to spend some time in the news this spring and summer. Although directly-impacted local governments such as Coquitlam and Burnaby have taken very different approaches to the project, there have been people in New Westminster raising alarm about the potential impacts on the Brunette River watershed, along our eastern border.
What has not been discussed as much in our local government context, is what this project means to the First Nations along the route and to the indigenous people upon whose traditional lands this project will impose itself. As our own City approaches reconciliation, we need to start thinking more broadly about how we engage the indigenous community when we are evaluating our support or opposition to resource projects – even ones we have little jurisdiction over.
Next week, the Massey Theatre Society is partnering with Savage Society and Itsazoo Productions to present “The Pipeline Project”, a multi-media theatre event and conversation that explores these themes. As part of the Massey’s ongoing “Skookum Indigenous Arts Program”
By all reviews, it is a serious, but at times humourous and disarming discussion of pipeline politics, and the sometimes unrecognized push-pull between “environmentalism” and the ongoing fight for indigenous rights. There are even a couple of matinee performances/discussions for those who can’t get out at night.
Here is a (slightly NSFW, but funny when it is) preview:
I think it is pretty timely with where New West, the province, and the nation are on this discussion. It’s gut check time when it comes to defining what kind of place we want Canada to be. This is a good chance to start listening. Get tickets here.
Bike lanes are in the news a bit again, here in New West, and out in one of our higher-profile western suburbs. It got me thinking about good and bad cycling infrastructure, and I haven’t gone off on a rant on this blog for a while, so make a cup of tea, because I am going to launch off on the Worst Piece of Cycling Infrastructure Ever®, known around these parts as the South Fraser Perimeter Road (“SFPR” or Highway 17). As this will most surely be tl;dr, you can skip down to the important part here.
When some previous Minister of Transportation (Falcon? Lekstrom? meh, it doesn’t matter) was hyping the region’s biggest-at-the-time motordom project, loosely defined as “the Gateway”, they were quick to point out the benefits to cyclists. The SFPR was announced as part of the largest MoT investment in cycling infrastructure of all time. This hyperbole was supported by the entire ~40km length of this glorious new road having cycling lanes affixed.
At the time, a few skeptics suggested that the shoulders of a high-speed truck route through farms and industrial areas may not be the ideal place to ride a bike, and by the time the new highway was opened, the previously-promised cyclist benefits were being seriously downplayed (hence all the dead links in that 4-year-old post above). But a Bike Route it is, to this day. There is a sign every 500m telling you so:
A couple of years on, the disaster of this poorly-placed, terribly-designed, and wholly-disingenuous cycling investment is pretty clear to anyone brave enough to venture onto this designated cycling route. No point dancing around the point: for cyclists of all skill levels, the SFPR is so unfriendly and dangerous that those “Bike Route” signs represent a reckless disregard for public safety.
That is a strong statement, so before I committed to it, I headed out to the SFPR with my bike to experience the length of the route in its harrowing glory, just to build up the temper necessary to commit that charge to hypertext. I went into it nervous, spent the ride terrified, and left enraged. Mission accomplished.
For the majority of the SFPR, the “Bike Route” is a 2.5 metre wide paved shoulder adjacent to industrial traffic moving at highway speeds. Nowhere is there a barrier protecting the shoulder from intrusions by trucks, not even rumble strips to warn drivers who may vary from their lane. The traffic is mixed, but the route was ostensibly built for and dominated by large trucks. The speed limit is allegedly 80 km/h, but speeds vary incredibly, from closer to 60 km/h around intersections (trucks accelerate slowly, after all, creating great rage moments for commuters!) to well over 100 km/h in the more open stretches.
In places where there is a soft shoulder or a low jersey barrier, having 80 km/h truck traffic blow by 2 metres from your left shoulder is unsettling. Where you are between those trucks and a 4 metre-high sound barrier wall (marked by the occasional gouge from vehicle swipes) or a 10-m concrete buttress, it is nerve-rattling.
The knowledge that a momentary lack of attention by one of those drivers, or an impromptu swerve or technical problem with your bike means certain death provides a certain… clarity of thought. That thought is not “sure am glad I wore my helmet!”
The rational move (other than to avoid the SFPR altogether, which I will get to later) is to squeeze as far over to the right and put as much space between your body and the trucks. The problem with this strategy is that the SFPR “Bike Routes” are dotted with particularly deep and treacherous rainwater catch basins, and the further you get from the traffic-swept white line, the thicker and more challenging the road shoulder debris becomes:
The road debris on this route is not surprising for an industrial truck route, unless you are surprised by the raw number of rusty and broken bolts and other important-looking parts that are ejected from trucks. Debris encountered on my ride included rocks large and small, glass, plastic vehicle parts, kitty-littered oil slicks, random lumber, nails, tire carcasses, tie-downs and bungie cords, and the occasional dead animal. These only serve to heighten the chances of one of those life-limiting impromptu swerves or technical failures. Once you realize the “swept clear” parts of the bike lanes are only done so by vehicles crossing the line at speed that you start to wonder if the route is designed specifically to kill you.
Or just designed to confuse you…
To add another layer of frustration to this alleged “bike route” is its isolation. Choose the SFPR and you are stuck with the SFPR, because it largely fails to connect to an established regional network and actively prevents you from getting on or off the SFPR where these types of connections may be obvious.
There are two locations on either side of the Alex Fraser Bridge, where a perfectly safe, low-traffic road is separated from the SFPR (one by a tall sound barrier wall) in such a way that getting out of danger’s way is impossible. For lack of a connection here, crossing this 5 foot barrier requires a multi-kilometre detour.
This lack of connection to regional cycling infrastructure is most obvious at the three regionally-important bridges under which the SFPR passes. The quality of the cycling paths on those three bridges is (east-to-west) really good, terrible, and not too bad, but they are all nonetheless important links. Again, either no connection has been contemplated for the bike route, or actual multi-layer physical barriers have been installed to prevent an SFPR cyclist from getting to the bridge where connections would be natural.
To get on the Alex Fraser Bridge from the SFPR requires a 3-km detour through two hairy multi-lane intersections. The Pattullo requires 1.5km and riding right past a pedestrian overpass, which would make for a great connection if it wasn’t barriered from access from the bike lane. The connection to the great bike infrastructure on the Port Mann is so far that is it actually a shorter distance just to ride to the terrible cycling infrastructure on the Pattullo.
So the SFPR fails at every aspect of effective cycling infrastructure: it lacks the most basic safety and comfort considerations, it lacks connections, it lacks any form of appeal. It is not surprising that during my ride of the entire 40km length of the SFPR, both ways (done over two sunny mid-week days early in the fall), I never saw a single other person on a bicycle on the entire route. However, every 500m there is one of those little green signs. Or something like this:
So it is time for the cycling community to wake up and recognize we got played. Of course, this is the Ministry of Transportation’s standard playbook, so we could have seen it coming: This “bike route” is a safety pull-off area for trucks.
We were sold “cycling benefits” of a Billion-plus-dollar piece of transportation infrastructure, and got something else: bike signs placed on paved shoulder really intended to keep trucks in the other two lanes moving if the occasional vehicle needs to pull over, or of someone just needs to park a trailer for a few hours. Aside from that, it is a gutter for gravel and trash and carcasses and truck parts to prevent them from accumulating where they may impede truck travel. This “Bike Route” is just a part of the truck route, nothing else.
(I need to super-emphasize this) The SFPR it was never meant to be a Bike Route.
So what to do? I’d like first to call upon the new Minister of Transportation to take down those “Bike Route” signs.
It isn’t her fault, she didn’t create this mess, but she adopted it by getting elected, so it is on her to do the right thing. The MoTI must stop threatening the lives of cyclists. Removing the signs and anything else that may incite otherwise-unaware bicycle users from mistakenly entering this cycling abattoir. Put an end to the ruse that this is any place for bicycles.
I could ask her for many more things – investment in cycling infrastructure for Surrey and Delta to make up for the funding-securing lies told by her predecessors, a commitment to policy changes to prevent her staff from ever doing this kind of bait-and-switch again – but those are opportunities for the future, and will require budget and policy decisions and such. She is a busy person with a huge mandate and new to the job; there will be time for those niceties later. First we must undo this mistake made intentionally by the previous government.
In the short term, someone in Minister Trevena’s office needs to call up the road maintenance contractor that bought the rights to not clean the shoulders here, and ask them to send a crew out to remove those signs. It shouldn’t take more than a day, it won’t cost any money, and it’s the right thing to do.
We had a discussion at Council this week on the next steps for Truth and Reconciliation. As I noted in my Council Report, I didn’t support the staff recommendation to launch a Task Force to bring partners together and talk about an implementation strategy. I suggested that we may be headed down the wrong path, and need a bit of a gut check here on how we will engage this process.
First off, I want to make it clear I am not critical of the work staff have done so far, nor do I want this early course-correction to make it look like we are slowing the process or any less committed to it. Quite the opposite, I take to heart requests I have heard from members of our community that we go into this process with intention, and do it right. And that takes some explanation.
Every time we discuss reconciliation, I feel the need to put a big caveat before all of my comments: I am not a person who lived an indigenous experience. I recognize I have a whole bunch to learn about what that experience is, about what reconciliation means to people who have suffered under the residential school system and other forms of cultural repression that fill our history as Canadians.
Yet here we are, and with the best of intentions, I am another settler being asked to provide leadership over a process that is, fundamentally, not about my voice or my community.
Like many of my council colleagues, I attended an event a Douglas College last week where the intersections between local governments and the Truth and Reconciliation process were the topic. Again I left feeling that there is so much I don’t know, that I feel challenged in understanding where we even start. It was actually in discussions with participants after the event that some questions were framed for me in a way that got me to think about our path forward in New Westminster.
First off, we have a staff working group, charged with determining how our City’s internal processes and larger policies may need to change in order to fulfill our community’s commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action. I think that is an important step, and within the structure of a local government, we need to do this. I have faith in our staff’s ability to interface our internal structures and regulatory frameworks with whatever comes out of the reconciliation conversation.
However, the proposed next step, forming a Task Force of internal and external people, first had me asking who would serve on such a task force, and what role does Council have on it. How would we decide on representation? Wait – why am *I* deciding on representation? Ultimately, this led to questioning if a Task Force is really the structure we want to use to answer questions – or even to raise questions.
One thing that has been bothering me since this Council opened the discussion about reconciliation is that every news story, every debate eventually ends up at talking about a statue. It seems that some think we need to deal with the statue, or take a few similar simple (but arguably very symbolic) actions like changing road signs, then the City can say we have done something and move on to worrying about roads and sewers and parks. And of course, the topic of the names of places becomes a rallying point for supporters and opponents of… well I guess what they support or oppose is pretty loosely defined, but “us” and “them” is at the heart of all of those arguments. It’s “their” statue, it’s “our” name, why do “they” not respect our position?
When I was discussing this the other day with a really wise friend, she asked me (and I paraphrase) what is reconciliation before we have truth? We need to first open up respectful discussion, and explore the truth of this community. Not about statues or place names, but about our experiences. To do that, we need to create spaces and opportunities for people to speak their truth. And those conversations may be very difficult.
As I was quoted (and again, I was paraphrasing someone smarter than me), a Task Force that meets once a month in an office and operates by Roberts Rules of Order in relation to a Term of Reference is about as colonial a structure as anyone can imagine. It is actually designed to avoid and get past difficult conversations in the interest of getting business done. The Witness Blanket visiting our community and the resultant conversations that happened at the Anvil and at kitchen tables around that installation, were a beginning to the conversation, but I don’t think the conversation is over. The bigger issue is – I don’t know how to write the continuation of that conversation into a Terms of Reference.
I don’t want to constrain those conversations with the wrong structure. We need know from the indigenous community what space they need to share their truth, and we need to allow settlers here in New Westminster, whether they arrived yesterday or are fourth generation, to equally share their truth. To be offended. To self-reflect. To learn.
We may end up putting together a Task Force at some point to make recommendations to Council, but we are not there yet. To get there, we need to get some people experienced in leading these conversations, preferably someone who has viewed this challenge through a lived indigenous experience, and ask them how best to connect with indigenous communities and the voices we often fail to hear. We need guidance on creating the space for that conversation. It may be here in New West, it may be somewhere else. It may be around a table, it may be around a fire. What is important is that we not ask our partners to fit into our space, or into our structure, The point is, I DON’T KNOW, and I argue few in the City do know.
So I moved that the Staff Working Group on Reconciliation seek an external consulting organization experienced in working on reconciliation dialogues to develop a communication and relationship-building process that all parties are welcomed to share their experience and their vision for reconciliation.
We are starting a journey here, and there is almost guaranteed to be bumpy points along the path, but we believe in the destination, and need to travel together.
We are one year from voting in local elections, and based on increased activity in the local blogosphere and a perceptible sharpening of local social media jabs, we can safely assume the silly season has begun.
The more serious campaign news this week is that the provincial government has provided a heads-up on how to organize our 2018 campaigns. We knew there were going to be spending limits, but it is good to have some certainty on the ending of Corporate and Organized Labour donations.
New campaign spending limits based on the voting population were established early this year with amendments to the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act. In 2018 New Westminster, Mayoral candidates will be limited to about $45,000, and Councillors to about $23,000.
After some speculation, and more than a little uncertainty, the provincial government introduced yesterday proposed legislation to ban donations to local election campaigns by Corporations and Labour Unions. It is safe to assume that the Green Party will support the legislation (it is something they have called for), so we can now say the playing field for the next election is set.
To get an idea what this means in New West, you can look at how money was raised last election. The data is available at the Elections BC site where financial disclosure forms for 2014 are still posted.
Starting with the Mayoral election, you can see that in aggregate, most fundraising was from businesses:
However, the main candidates did vary quite a bit in how they raised their funds. Candidate Cote, by far, collected the most from individual donations in 2014 (twice that of all other candidates), and received the bulk of available labour support (though only a little more than ¼ of his funding). In contrast, Mayor Wright received most of the business support, and was in turn mostly supported by businesses. Both main candidates spent more in 2014 than will be allowed in 2018, and neither collected enough from individuals to meet the proposed maximum spending amount.
In aggregate, Council candidates collected most of their funding from individuals. Labour provided less than 1/4 of the funding, and business less than 1/5. (I’m going to avoid talking about the couple of candidates who were mostly “anonymously” supported):
Individually, only two candidates (yes, I’m one of them!) got even close to the proposed 2018 spending limit. Notably, both of us were also within the top 3 in fundraising from individuals:
Although the ranking of overall spending closely parallels that of fundraising from individuals, there is no doubt that the gap between the biggest and lowest spenders was widened by business and labour contributions. Based on that trend, it is probably safe to assume that the removal of so-called “big money” from local elections will result in more equality in campaign fundraising/spending. This is a good thing.
My equivocation is part of the reason why I haven’t taken a vocal side in the “Ban Big Money” rhetoric. I absolutely think it is a good thing in the long run for democracy, however I was elected under the old system, and received the benefit of business and labour contributions. Now I have a potentially bigger advantage: incumbency.
There is no doubt in council elections that incumbency is an advantage. One way to overcome that burned-in advantage is to raise more money and run the kind of super-organized and hit-all-the-bases campaign we all dream of running. It could be argued that having used a “big money advantage” to get a seat, my now campaigning to take that potential opportunity away from others is, well, self-serving. And that always made me feel a bit itchy about actively campaigning for this change.
In the end, this is where we are for 2018, and I’m glad we all have lots of heads-up about what the rules are going to be. Game on.
On Saturday, local government elected types met in North Vancouver for a Council of Council meeting. For a great write-up of what the meeting is and what we discussed, surf over to Nathan Pachal’s great South Fraser blog. I want to talk about another conversation that came out of the CofC.
At the event, Councillor Trentadue leaned over to me and made the observation (I paraphrase) “Crazy how little diversity there is in this room”. This lack of diversity was also noticed by others covering the event, noted in a few tweets:
I had an afternoon meeting for the Lower Mainland LGA, and side-bar conversations with a few of the Councillors continued on this theme, partly because some members of LMLGA are working on an event to discuss the general lack of “civility” in civic politics, and how that creates barriers to full participation. The story of Mayor Read of Maple Ridge announcing she will not stand for a second term was also fresh in our minds. It would be puerile to assume these issues are not interconnected.
But it go us to talking about the why. Is it the electorate not voting for diversity, or is there something structural in the job that prevents diversity? That seems like something that should be easy to figure out.
I quickly went to the CivicInfo 2014 election results database to ask the question – do we not vote for women, or are women not running? Of the 19 local governments in Greater Vancouver that report on the (binary, natch) gender of candidates (Vancouver and Bowen Island do not provide this data) for Mayor and Council, the data gives us this:
For Council, 33% of candidates were women, and 38% of those elected were women.
For Mayor, 16% of candidates were women, and 16% of the winners were women. Perhaps more tellingly, there was a woman on the mayoral ballot in only 7 of 19 communities (three were elected).
As a first-level approximation, we can suggest that voters, when given the opportunity, vote for women at least as commonly as for men. However, there are half as many women running for Council, and a paltry one-in-six mayoral candidates are women. If it isn’t the voter’s fault that local government is so dominated by men, what is it about the job that so biases those who apply for the job? I have my own suspicions, but maybe I’m not the right person to answer that question?
Unfortunately, there is absolutely no data collected on whether candidates identify as persons of colour, members of a First Nation, or have disabilities. It is harder to tell if it is the voters that account for the shade of the average Council of Council room.
I should note that it was pointed out to me recently (through a letter to Mayor and Council) that there is a general a lack of diversity in our Council Advisory Committees, and that the City does not appear to be taking any specific actions towards increasing that diversity (hey, apply for a committee now!). It is also recognized that the current Public Consultation and Public Hearing model is dominated by, well, the dominant demographic. I don’t have the answers here, but strongly feel we need to broaden public participation at the community level first if we are going to see more diversity in elected roles. Unless we do, it is hard to call our society “democratic”.
This is part 4 on my reporting out on what I did at the 2017 UBCM conference. Part 3 is here
On the Thursday of UBCM 2017, I again caught the early train downtown for a morning clinic, this one on Socially Responsible Investing. The CAO of the Municipal Finance Authority and a gentleman from an Investment Management company came to speak to a pretty small audience about repeated calls from several local governments (including New West) towards divestment from fossil fuel industries.
Long story slightly shortened: most local governments in BC place most of their reserves in pooled funds held by the Municipal Finance Authority. Through pooling our savings, we can get pretty good returns, the investments are quite secure, and we can re-invest back into our communities – it’s a pretty good model. However, about 8% of these funds are invested in fossil fuel extraction companies, and another 4% or so in fossil fuel transmission companies – like the same Kinder Morgan that communities across BC are trying to prevent from fouling our landscape. We are paying to prevent Kinder Morgan from threatening the lower Brunette River, and at the same time, financing their fight against us. Many of our communities would like a better option – a fund where we can invest that doesn’t include that 12% of carbon-intensive industries.
The presentations were (alas) essentially a long justification for why this is not possible. Every tired argument against divestment was brought out, but the most bothersome was the industry-sustaining argument that the “fiduciary responsibility” of the fund manager will not allow them to make ethical decisions – they are required by law to return the maximum investment possible, and it isn’t up to them to make ethical judgement around climate change. This argument follows that it is up to legislators and regulators to remove impacts of unethical industrial activity, not the investor (which is strange, as *we are the regulators*, so our own investment is being used to battle our own efforts to regulate the industry). They also argue that it is difficult because we would need to divest from every industry that may produce greenhouse gasses like plastics companies and convenience store companies that share land with gas pumps… a familiar and bullshitty slippery slope argument. These arguments were, understandably) met with some pretty strong opposition from some members of the audience, but the circular reasoning used to prop up the oil industry is well lubed.
The MFA is attempting to put together a “Socially Responsible Investing” option for local governments, but are (perhaps not surprisingly) getting a lukewarm response, partly because the poorly defined and wishy-washy way the idea was presented to local governments. Altogether, a frustrating morning session.
A much more positive experience was attending an afternoon workshop on Transgender Inclusion: Preparing for the New Reality. This was an interactive workshop about evaluating whether our local governments are integrating inclusion to our operations and our infrastructure. The “new reality” part is not that transgendered people are living in our communities (they have for as long as communities have existed), but that both the BC Human Rights Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act have been updated (in 2016 and 2017, respectfully) to include the protection from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. So what used to be the right thing to do is now the law.
The session included a lot of training for those less familiar with the modern reality of cultural inclusion, as simple as defining the difference between birth-assigned sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexuality. There were also representatives from Vancouver and Vernon, two BC cities leading the way in inclusivity. But mostly, the session left us with a bunch of questions to ask ourselves when we get back to our communities – how are we designing our spaces to be inclusive? Do our photos and written materials demonstrate an inclusive city? How are we addressing single-gender sport and arts programs? Do our Housing Agreements protect access for transgendered peoples? What are the feedback mechanisms we have put in place to make changes where needed?
We were also pointed to resources to guide our Local Governments (staff and elected types) to do more, and to do better. This was easily the best session I attended at UBCM this year.
Aside from these sessions, forums and workshops, the UBCM conference includes an Annual General Meeting, with things like Bylaws and Financial Reports and election of new Officers. These events occur throughout the week. There is also a Resolutions session which occurs on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning.
This year there were something north of 150 Resolutions on the Agenda for 2017. These resolutions are put forward by member communities, and are voted upon by the membership in an open meeting, some on a consent process, some debated on the floor. You can read all of the resolutions for 2017 here, although note not all were passed by the Membership. You can search the database of previous resolutions here.
This year there was a rigorous debates on topics as wide-reaching as the fate of the Martin Mars water bombers to repealing Daylight Savings Time. The only resolution New Westminster put forward this year came to the floor for debate on Friday morning. It was a call for action to prevent a renoviction crisis in our City. The text was:
Whereas the practice of renovictions, by which some landlords evict their tenants under the guise of performing major renovations and then significantly increase the rent of those units, is on the rise in our province; And whereas this practice is very disruptive to those impacted, including the elderly, low-income families, and new immigrants, and contributes to housing unaffordability and homelessness; And whereas municipalities are limited in their ability to address this issue and many tenants are unaware of their rights or are reluctant to exercise them: Therefore be it resolved that UBCM urge the provincial government to undertake a broad review of the Residential Tenancy Act including, but not limited to, amending the Residential Tenancy Act to: • allow renters the right of first refusal to return to their units at a rent that is no more than what the landlord could lawfully have charged, including allowable annual increases, if there had been no interruption in the tenancy; • eliminate or amend fixed-term tenancy agreements to prevent significant rent increases upon renewal; and • permit one tenant or applicant to represent and take collective action on behalf of all tenants in a building.
…and I am happy to announce it was passed by the Membership, after being well motivated by Councillor McEvoy.
There is one final aspect of the UBCM that isn’t really on the schedule, but is really valuable. It is an annual chance to network with local government types from across the province. I had great informal chats over coffee and/or beers with councillors from several other cities; told them my stories and they told me theirs, from dealing with internet trolls to frustrations of slow policy development to excitedly explaining how our City attacked a problem their City is having right now. Being a City Councillor is like any other job in that your cohort are often your best mentors and the best source of inspiration. They share your view and can see your challenges better than most. I always find inspiring people doing great work, and am re-charged by our conversations.
This is part 3 on my reporting out on what I did at the 2017 UBCM conference. Part 2 is here.
My third day at UBCM had less of an educational component, more of a political one.
One aspect of UBCM is an opportunity for Local Government elected types and staff to meet with Provincial Government elected types and staff, so we can raise important issues, lobby for support for our initiatives or programs, or learn about how provincial government programs are going to impact us. These meetings are arranged ahead of time, and with hundreds of local governments in attendance and only so many provincial folks to go around, the scheduling is pretty difficult. Meetings are generally 15 minutes to a half an hour, and rarely result in immediate action on issues – especially this year with a new government so early in their mandate.
Part of having a collaborative approach on Council that extends to working with senior governments, we split up responsibilities for these meetings among the Council Members attending UBCM, with the Mayor taking the lead at most meetings. I was able to take part in meetings regarding transportation topics, on the future of childcare in New West and the provincial role in supporting it, and on several community energy and emission reduction initiatives.
Several members of New West Council and a few of our planning staff also had a sit-down meeting with representatives of AirBnB. Clearly, AirBnB are working all levels of government in Canada to assure their business model is not regulated out of existence, and (unlike Uber), this is an area where Local Governments can exercise some regulatory control, through Zoning and Business Licensing. They came prepared to talk to any city who would listen, including providing local stats. In New Westminster (according to AirBnB, there are 130 active hosts, with the average host opening a room for 54 nights a year, for a total length of stay of between 4 and 5 days. The case they were making is that AirBnB contributes to the local economy (guests frequent local restaurants, pubs, and stores) and make housing more affordable for some people, by providing a “mortgage helper”.
We were pretty frank with AirBnB, we are concerned about the impact on our affordable housing stock, about violations of our business license and zoning laws, and about some livability concerns expressed by community members. We had a good discussion about other jurisdictions (such as Nelson and Tofino) and the strengths and weaknesses of their attempts at regulating this platform. It should be no surprise that some concerns that AirBnb raise about different regulatory models are very different that the concerns we hear in some parts of the community. There is also, I think, a bit of a disconnect between AirBnB’s interest in operating within a better regulatory framework, and the limits they put on how they could help local government with that framework- often citing (debatable) privacy issues.
This is a topic I am interested in, and am not getting a lot of traction in my calls for the City to take a more proactive approach. I think there is a role for supporting expanded BnBs in our community (Really, AirBnB is just a platform, not the core business), especially as we have so few Hotel Rooms, no “Hotel Tax” to support our Tourism efforts, and so many heritage and cultural aspects that should make us a popular destination. But with our rental vacancy rate below 0.5%, renovictions burgeoning on crisis, and so many challenges maintaining our affordable housing stock, the answers here are not easy.
Wednesday was also the first day of Resolutions for UBCM 2017 – but I’ll talk about those in a follow-up post.
The afternoon saw several “Provincial Cabinet Town Halls” which were an interesting model for engagement by the new government. There were four Panels (Health and Safety; Investing in People; Infrastructure and Economic Development; and Job, Resources, and Green Communities), each headed by 5 or 6 members of the new Provincial Cabinet. They gave a brief intro to their Mandate Letters, and where they see their files helping Local Government, then the floor was opened in a Town all style for us to grill them on any topic we liked.
I attended the Jobs, Etc. session, where the Ministers of Agriculture, Energy & Mines, FLNROrd, Environment, and Jobs&Trade were in attendance. The introductory conversations were pretty high-level, with Minister Popham clearly excited about protecting the ALR, Minister Mungall equally excited about the future of mining and green energy in the province, and Minister Donaldson proud of the provincial response to the wildfires of the summer (and giving significant props to his predecessor John Rustad for working hard to not let the transition impact firefighting efforts).
Questions given to the Ministers were wide-reaching, including yet another visit from the same Mayor from a certain agriculture-focused municipality clutching pearls over marijuana taking over prime farmland already overwrought with freeways and million-square-foot factory greenhouses (though she didn’t put it that way), to concerns about the future of northeast BC’s ample natural gas resources.
On that final point, I recognized a place where our senior governments are sending mixed messages. Where the Federal Government (in defending the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion) is saying downstream greenhouse gas emissions of pipeline products are not our problem, because they are burned elsewhere, the BC Government (including, alas, the new government) are insisting that we need to support LNG because it will reduce overall emissions in the downstream by offsetting coal in the target markets. Am I the only one who sees the contradiction here?
This is part 2 on my reporting out on what I did at the 2017 UBCM conference. Part 1 is here.
Tuesday, September 26, was the first day of the UBCM 2017 conference, and it started early for me with the British Columbia Municipal Climate Leadership Council breakfast. This is an annual opportunity to sit down with the Council members and provincial leaders (those laser-eyed folks pictured above) to share good news about what local governments are doing, and to find opportunities for partnerships across communities and with senior governments to meet the Province’s climate goals.
For my part, I was able to talk briefly about how our new OCP integrates climate change mitigation and adaptation, about developing plans for our District Energy Utility, about the Urban Solar Garden Project and the small research project we are working on with BCIT to expand curb-side EV charging opportunities. I also heard about similar things in other communities, and from the province about their plans to renew the Climate Leadership Team and a commitment to a renewed Climate Action Charter that was the source of much criticism at this same meeting a year ago. Again, much to feel optimistic about, but still early days of policy development for the new Government.
This was followed by the Community Forums part of the Convention. These are semi-plenary sessions where we are divided up into small, medium, and large communities. At 70,000+ residents, New Westminster is part of the Large Urban Communities forum.
The session began with a panel on Transportation, Moving Commuters in Today’s Urban Environment. Councillor Kerry Jang from Vancouver chaired a panel consisting of Dr. Anthony Perl from SFU’s Urban Studies Program, and the CEOs of both TransLink and BC Transit. (yes, another all-male panel).
Dr. Perl started by showing a series of automobile ads with the same theme: “Buy Now, Pay later!”, and contrasted that with how we market transportation investment – we always ask for a new tax or other funding sources, on the promise that some new service will come later. No wonder we lose referendums. Aside from this, his main message seemed to be that we need to stop thinking more transportation spending means better transportation, when we need better transportation spending.
MORE ≠ BETTER. BETTER = BETTER.
This was followed by TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond essentially saying that TransLink is doing better, at least in passenger counts. Ridership on the system was up 4.5% in 2016, and is up 6.1% so far in 2017, which is *way* faster than growth being observed in other urban areas around North America. This after a period starting in 2010 when service hours per capita and rides per capita was actually dropping. Some of this turn-around is due to the sometimes painful route optimization process that saw service hours cut but more emphasis on higher-ridership routes. However, more of it may be related to the Compass Card, and changing the way people pay for Transit use.
For anyone who took SkyTrain to and from the conference like I did every day, this measureable surge in ridership is not a surprise, nor is it making the system more comfortable, and Desmond was quick point out that managing overcrowding is now a priority, both in improving SkyTrain service and in the larger projects like Broadway SkyTrain. As is typical of any Desmond conversation about TransLink, he finished by reminding us that we need to start planning past the current Mayor’s Council 10-year plan, and have a serious discussion about mobility pricing as a stable capital funding source.
Manuel Achadinha , the CEO of BC Transit, is less familiar to those of us living in the TransLink service area, but BC Transit provides service to Vancouver Island, the Fraser Valley, and the vast interior of the province, where most communities with more than 10,000 residents have some level of public transit service. His talk was mostly on the topic of using technology to collect transit data, and to make service better. Ultimately, what Transit users really want is Frequency and Reliability – technology cannot replace these, but can make them more achievable.
During the Q&A session, there were questions about integrating service and technology between BC Transit and TransLink, and from the answers, it sounded like this was not on anyone’s workplan. Local Government representatives from Fraser Valley communities and the Sea-to-Sky corridor are anxious to see some better integration happen. Connecting Squamish and Whistler to TransLink’s core service area, and inter-community connections between Greater Vancouver and growing Fraser Valley town centres like Abbotsford and Chilliwack seems to be on neither agencies’ radar, but will be a major topic for the Lower Mainland Local Government Association this year.
The Panel wrapped with a short presentation from Selena Robinson, the new Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing (and Minister responsible for Translink). Again, she had little new policy to announce, and it was clear she was the most-in-demand Minister at UBCM. However, she did reiterate her and her Government’s support for the Mayor’s Council 10-Year Plan, and to providing the promised 40% funding for every phase of the plan.
The second half of the Forum was a Panel called BC Kids – Changing Demographics and Needs of Urban Families with Dr. Bonnie Henry, Deputy Provincial Health Officer, Sharon Gregson of the Coalition of Child Care Advocates, Chris Bone from the City of Prince George, and the Minister of State for Child Care Katrina Chen. (Hey! An all-female Panel!)
Dr. Henry tweaked us to some demographics and trends in BC in relation to children. They are 20% of BCs population, up to 25% in some communities. But it was her deeper dive into how health indicators vary across the province that show some of the geographic gaps in health services for youth. A comprehensive ongoing survey of children’s health is compiled at ChildHealthIndicatorsBC.ca.
Gregson provided the background behind the 10aDay.ca campaign to bring affordable accessible childcare to British Columbia. This research provided the basis for the new Government’s Child Care Plan – a solution that is much more complex than the speaking points commonly heard during the Election. The current situation is dire – there are 364,000 mothers in the workforce in the Province, with 570,000 children between the ages of 0-12, but there are currently fewer than 106,000 licensed day care spaces. It costs too much to put a child in daycare or many working parents, yet most daycare workers are not paid enough to put their own children in daycare. The system, if that’s what you call the current situation, isn’t working.
Fixing this situation will require more spaces to be built, and it will mean training a new generation of daycare workers. It also means setting up a structure to administer both a fair payment system ($10 a day is a catchy slogan, but in reality the cost would be adapted according to a family’s income and the type of care needed) and a fair wage system to build the professionalism of child care.
The promise is there, the delivery will take time. This is starting to sound like a theme.
Finally, I attended an afternoon policy session on the Water Sustainability Act that unfortunately missed the mark somewhat. The presenters were from the two Ministries responsible for the WSA (Environment and FLNRO), and were clearly highly knowledgeable about the topic, but I felt they didn’t really understand who their audience was, or what information about the WSA as actually valuable to Local Government elected types.
The WSA came into force more than a year ago, but there has been a notable paucity of policy and regulation development to support the goals of the WSA, especially as it relates to the empowerment of (or downloading to?) Local Governments with the ability to develop Water Management Plans and better manage the protection of community water assets. This is not news. People working in environmental protection have been patiently waiting for the WSA to be put to practice, and aside from new regulation around well drilling, the wait goes on.
The annual UBCM Conference was in Vancouver last week, and I attended for only the second time in my term as a City Councillor. I reported here, here, and here on my impressions from last year, but I was among those going into this year with different expectations, what with a fresh new provincial government, and one that has emphasized the importance of working with Local Governments. Indeed, I expect many local government types had expectations going in they were unrealistically high, but let’s see where this went.
I will drag this out across a few blog posts, as it was a jammed week. I’ll try to keep it concise, though this may get pretty wonkish for some regular readers. There was a lot to learn this year, and since the citizens of New Westminster pay my registration, I think it is important to report out so you know what you got for that money.
Monday is a bit of a pre-conference day, as the conference in earnest begins on Tuesday, but I attended two education sessions on Monday, and am glad I did.
The morning session was on Cannabis Regulations from a Local Government Perspective. There were presentations from the new Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall, and Sukhbir Manhas, a Lawyer specializing in Municipal Law who put the legal framework in perspective. This was followed by a Panel Discussion with four Mayors from around the Province and a bit of a Q & A session.
It is clear that marijuana for recreational consumption will be legal federally in July of 2018. We also know that the federal government will be responsible for the regulation of production of marijuana, and the provinces will be responsible for regulating wholesale and retail distribution of product, regulating consumption, and for enforcement. It is not clear what role Local Governments will play, except in that we are “Creatures of the Province”, and will be given our roles either through direct regulation or by a local desire to fill a regulatory gap left by provincial action.
It was an interesting session, with a lot of topics discussed, but short version is that the Minister made the commitment to open public consultation and to engaging Local Governments in a constructive way to address our concerns. There will clearly be economic impacts of any regulation. But the Minister was warned by other jurisdictions with which he has been consulting (including Washington State and Colorado) that revenue generation cannot be the driver of regulation, or the important public policy implications can fall by the wayside while short-term costs of setting up the regulatory regime are often underestimated. There will be revenue, but perhaps the message is that we shouldn’t be in a rush to spend it until we understand its character.
Dr. Kendall gave us some interesting perspectives about the public health implications of different policy directions – what age is the right age to permit cannabis use? What to do about public smoking rules, and what to do with multi-unit buildings? How to manage edibles? How do we provide the right price-quality-convenience balance that we effectively cut organized crime out of the supply chain? Legislation must balance these out if we wish to have the best public health outcomes. He presented this compelling graph:
In short, if your interest is in managing public health impacts, a well-regulated market is better than a completely unregulated market (like cigarettes used to be) or blanket prohibition (like Cannabis is now) – but finding that middle is the delicate balance we need to strive for. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health have provided some pretty good guidelines, and research in existing and potential policy tools, but we have yet to see what advice the federal government will be taking.
Mr. Minhas and the Mayors’ Panel both discussed some of the challenges and opportunities for local governments coming out of this, and the importance of us coordinating with the province prior to next July. We need to be ready for the inevitable change that is coming, if only so we are ready to address the inevitable community concerns in areas that Local Governments have jurisdiction – land use, business regulation, and nuisance management. Our tools are limited, but are most effective if we get ahead of the curve.
Unfortunately, there is lots of evidence, especially from the Q&A session, that this is an area where many local government attitudes lag far behind the progressive public policy work of other jurisdictions and even public perception. From the lame Cheech & Chong joke that opened the session to one long-serving Mayor of an certain agriculture-intensive Lower Mainland Municipality expressing fear that her City will become the “Pot Capital of BC” (causing me to question if she would feel that worried if it became the Craft Brewing Capital of BC, or the Winery Capital of BC?), it is clear that attitudes about cannabis will not change as quickly as the regulation of it will – which suggests some difficult conversations ahead.
My second session on Monday was on Green Innovation and new Environmental Policies. We had a presentations from Jonathan Wilkinson, the Parliamentary Secretary to the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and from George Heyman, the new provincial Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. They talked mostly of senior governments’ commitment to meeting the Paris Agreement goals to reduce emissions, and both acknowledged the role local governments will need to play to meet those goals.
A statistic oft repeated during UBCM was that local governments in Canada are responsible for about 66% of infrastructure, create about 50% of all emissions, but only receive about 6% of all tax revenue. This results in some pretty obvious math: if we want to reduce emissions, we need to update that infrastructure, which is going to cost money.
Which brought us to the topic of grants. There were some details on the Federal Build Canada Infrastructure Fund, and the process being developed through the Provincial Government to make these funds available to local governments. These funds may be applicable to help us fund a few projects in New Westminster where we are planning to reduce the emissions by updating our infrastructure (Canada Games Pool is our single largest emission source) or wish to shift the community to lower-carbon energy sources (The proposed District Energy Utility for Sapperton would replace gas-fired boilers for and expanded RCH and could provide ample carbon-free baseload heat for dozens of high-density residential and commercial developments).
This was followed by Panels on actions that some Local Governments are taking to reduce emissions or modernize their energy supply – from embedding energy sustainability in their OCP (done!) to helping strata complexes bring electric vehicle charging on-line, to implementing the Step Code to promote more energy efficient buildings.
Actually, there was a lot of talk about electricity and the transportation sector, from private cars to transit to heavy trucks. Some question whether the advances in vehicles are too fast compared to our ability to provide the infrastructure to support the shift. According to BC Hydro, if all of the 2.4 Million light-duty vehicles in British Columbia could be replaced with EVs today, and it would only result in a 19% increase in base load. As EV charging predominantly happens when other loads on the system are not high, (i.e. at night), this is less of a problem at the generation end than some may have you believe. On a per-year basis, the average Tesla uses about half the electricity as the average hot tub. Let that sink in for a bit.
The reality is we cannot build the plugs for all these vehicles fast enough for it to become a problem in the short term.
I also learned this: EV or PEV or ZEV or CEV = PHEV + BEV.
In the electric car world, that’s a funny joke.
Finally, I want to note that today’s two sessions were informative, but I couldn’t help but notice I saw 23 presenters and panelists over the two sessions. Five of them were female, while two others were visible minorities.