Poe?

I get a lot of correspondence as an elected official. I try to read it all, and try to respond to most of it – almost all with the opening line “I’m sorry I am so late replying to this e-mail, I get a lot of correspondence as an elected official.”

There are those few letters that come in every once in a while to which I have no idea how to reply. Bravo? Thank you? Please let your care professional know you have access to the internet? I try hard to take every one seriously, but at times I feel like I’m being played. There is a name for the specific phenomenon I am talking about: the Poe.

Poe’s Law is an internet adage that says “Without a clear indication of the author’s intent, it is difficult or impossible to tell the difference between an expression of sincere extremism and a parody of extremism.”

This has been extended beyond its original intent as a characterization of religious extremism and has been applied to the wide variety of on-line crankiness. And once you recognize it (something that likely only happens to elected officials and local newspaper editors, I suspect), it changes how you view a letter like this, that we at New West Council received last week (personal info redacted out of common decency):

 We often get letters addressed to a wide reach of local and provincial elected types. The content here was, however, a curious mix: The Roman numeral date, the pejorative salutation, the way he spells “Apparatchik” correctly, but immediately uses “they’re” in place of “their”. We commonly hear…uh… unusual opinions that leave me questioning how they are even asking me to act on an issue, but in this case the ask is kind of benign if a little confused: Speak out against China doing something but let other countries do it (those other countries are allowed, as far as I know, but I digress…) So is this a slightly cranky guy venting his deeply felt convictions, or someone mocking Mayor West, and the rest of the recipients? I would have happily assumed the former, but see those two attachments to the e-mail? (ps: never open attachments to an e-mail unless your IT department has vetted them!). They are these two graphics:

OK, now I’m thinking he is having us on, so I Google the person who sent it. His name has many, many hits, mostly in the form of letters he has written to editors of local newspapers from Montreal to Spokane, often with the honorific “Rev.” added, to opine on everything from racism (he is against it), homophobia (also against), potential names of future NHL teams (interesting), pipelines (he is for them), Alberta Premiers (he is against them – past and present), and the viability of DC-Marvel crossovers. He even got a pro-Derrek Corrigan letter published a few years ago in the Burnaby Now.

So, seriously, I don’t know if the Reverend takes himself seriously, but he definitely has lots of time and opinions, and I’m not sure I have time to address them all, so I don’t think I’ll reply. But don’t let that dissuade you from writing me a letter, or asking me a question with that red ASK PAT button up there, I will try to get to it as soon as possible. If I think you are serious.

FCM 2019

The 2019 annual meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) was held in Quebec City at the end of May. I attended along with one other Councillor from New West and more than 2000 other delegates from across Canada. Here is a short version of what I saw during an action-packed three days.

Sessions:
The meat of any professional conference is the workshop sessions, where we can learn about the best practices, new ideas, and challenges of other municipalities across the country. I attended sessions all three days, including ones on the challenges and opportunities coming out of the upcoming federal election (read: funding!), the FCM National Funding Program update, 5G implementation, building diversity on our Councils, Smart City applications, and addressing affordable housing.

There was a lot there, but the last session was perhaps the most compelling, with a researcher from McGill talking about Short Term Rentals, their impact on Le Plateau neighbourhood of Montreal, and the challenges that City has run into in attempts to regulate it while their rental vacancy dips below 1%. It was compelling, and somewhat challenging…

One of these maps shows the AirBnB Listings in the Plateau neighbourhood of Montreal. the other is the *legally registered* AirBnB listings in that neighbourhood. I’ll let you figure out which is which.

Business:
These conferences also feature an AGM, where a few organizational Bylaw changes were discussed. Getting bylaw changes and annual financial reporting though with a delegation of more than 1500 people in the room was handled deftly by the table executive, using remote voting devices.

These devices were also used for voting on Resolutions. Compared to the UBCM or Lower Mainland LGA, there were very few resolutions, and most of them were aspirational asks more than specific requests for regulatory changes (cities are “creatures of the provinces”, so our regulatory interface with the federal government is slightly filtered). However, with minor amendments, all 9 resolutions were passed by the Membership.

Politics:
We had speeches from the leaders of 4 Federal Parties, all trying to sell their vision for how the Federal Government and local governments can work together – and why their success in the upcoming election is paramount to that. In the order they appeared:

The Prime Minister, unless I missed it, never referenced the leader of the Conservative Party, but at least twice directly referenced the suddenly-not-popular Doug Ford. Hard to tell if he was just trying this out because of recent news, or if this is the strategy, but the short message is: If you vote for the Conservatives, Scheer will do what Doug Ford is doing, and will cut funds to local governments for the services you need. Other than that, he attaches himself to popular mayors in the audience, promises to work closely with Cities, and not let pesky provinces get in the way (which is probably another shot at Kenney and Ford, but seems a challenge to our model of Federalism).

Scheer’s speech was a long exercise in coded words and dogwhistles, but in the end I guess they all are. He fears infrastructure funding will lead to deficits (strange thing to say to 2,000 municipal leaders looking for handouts), never mentions climate (though he does care deeply about the environment), but he hates the Carbon Tax because it “punishes innocent families”. His approach to housing is to let the market do its thing with less red tape (ugh, the market is what got us here!), and his solution to the opioid crisis is to somehow “hold China accountable..” I might say the entire thing was ugly, ignorant, and offensive, but I may betray my bias.

Jagmeet Singh was the first leader to open with a land acknowledgement, and the first to speak without a teleprompter. He had notes, but riffed off of them freely. His speech was good if unpolished. He promised a lot (pharmacare, broadband, infrastructure funding, removing barriers to post-secondary education), but to me the most telling part was that he was the only leader to link climate action to inequality and the need for a just transition away from fossil fuels. That was the message I wanted to hear (and increasingly, that is the message among people looking for climate action in Canada), and he delivered it clearly without equivocation.

Elizabeth May was the last speaker, she also opened with a land acknowledgement, and spoke without notes at all, best I could tell. Though the eldest leader, she spoke more than others about the need to listen to the youth and the duty we have to them (a very different message than the Trudeau and Scheer platitudes about “supporting families”). She spoke passionately about the Climate Emergency, and drew allusions to Dunkirk and Churchill. Though her speech lacked the substance of the other leaders, she was easily the most inspiring of the speakers.

If you want to watch the speeches yourself, you can scroll down the FCM Facebook page, where they were live streamed and are still available.

Overall:
FCM is a funny bird. It is much larger than our regional and provincial associations, and much like the Federal government, it at times seems disconnected from the day-to day. Though the message is reinforced all along that the Feds care about local government, and how local government is the order of government that has the most connection to people’s every day life, the FCM runs the risk of being too far from our everyday as to sometimes challenge me to think about local applications.

Jagmeet Singh made the comment during his Q&A that his father used to say “If the Federal government stopped working today, no-one would notice for a month, The provincial government might be missed after a week or two, but if the local government went way, you would notice almost immediately.” Water, sewer, roads, waste, parks, these things we interact with so ubiquitously that we take them for granted, and because in Canada we tend to deliver them really well, we take the system that delivers them for granted.

Part of the peculiarity of FCM is that it is a strangely rural conference. Canada has never been as urban as it is now: our biggest cities are growing fast, and our small towns are (with some notable exceptions) stagnant or hollowing out. Yet the 2,000+ delegates at FCM overwhelmingly represent smaller towns and rural areas. There are more members from Saskatchewan than from any other province, and the three Prairie Provinces have more members than Quebec and Ontario combined:Breakdown of the number of UBCM members by province, which clearly does not correlate with population.

Therefore the issues of rural areas (e.g. unmet demand for Broadband service) dominate the conversation over the issues of urban areas (e.g. unmet demand for public transit). There is a “Big Cities Mayors Caucus”, and I’m sure Naheed Nenshi gets more access to Trudeau than the Mayor of Podunk, Saskatchewan, but at the delegate level, the imbalance is palpable.

This was perhaps made more distinct by the phenomenon of organized (and no-doubt industry-sponsored) campaigns to get the “Support Fossil Fuels” message across getting larger every year. A booth handed out literally thousands of “Support Canada’s Energy” t-shirts, which was no doubt a challenge to the continued efforts at FCM to get the federal government to help local governments shoulder our disproportionate burden for greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change adaptation. We may have been at a bilingual conference in Quebec City, but Canada’s Two Solitudes are divided on different lines today than they once were:

So perhaps the most inspiring meeting of this year was an impromptu meeting organized by Rik Logtenberg, a new Councillor for Nelson BC to start a “Climate Caucus”. A group to coordinate local government calls for support in addressing the Climate Crisis. It was not part of the regular program, but was spread by word-of-mouth, and we had a packed room (standing room only!) representing a diversity of Canada. No free industry-supplied t-shirts, just people getting together to talk about shifting our thinking and supporting each other in the tough work ahead:

In the end, that is the best part of taking an opportunity like FCM – the power of networking formally and informally with elected officials across the nation that are trying and doing and sometimes failing the same way you are, so we can learn together. Scheming over beers has always been a powerful force for change.

Lower Mainland LGA 2019

Last week I attended the Lower Mainland LGA’s annual conference. You paid for me to go there*, so as per my tradition, I like to report out on some of the highlights of what I saw and what I did.

The Lower Mainland Local Government Association is an organization that brings local government elected people together from across the “Lower Mainland”. Our Membership includes every Municipality and Regional District between Hope and West Vancouver, between White Rock and Pemberton. Every year we hold a two day conference over three days, and this year it was in Harrison.

The opening session included a notable speech by the Speaker of the House. Unexpectedly, this led to some media attention. In hindsight, it was bold for the Speaker to provide a speech to a room of elected officials and frame the speech around how elected officials are hated and not trusted, mostly because they are not good leaders. As a call to arms to be better leaders, or to take the role of leadership seriously (as most of the members assembled were new) it was a puzzling approach.

In this context, where your audience’s back is up, it is easy for some questionable examples and ham-fisted allegory to be received in the worst possible light. It was unfortunate, and ultimately failed to deliver the message that the speaker was hoping to deliver. The resultant media buzz was perhaps out of scale with the event, but the knives coming out so quick might have said more about why fewer people choose to put their names forward for leadership… but I digress.


Day two began with a moderated session about the Past and Future of the regional plan, or even of Regional planning. Gordon Price began with a description of the emergency that led our region to begin regional planning (the flood of 1948), and drew a parallel and contrast to our current slow-burning apocalypse, challenging us to ask whether we are planning to deal with it. “never waste a good apocalypse”. Patricia Heintzman and Patricia Ross brought perspectives from the Sea-to-Sky and the Fraser Valley – both addressing themes of responsible planning and the future of the environment and outlines some successes and challenges at the metaphorical edges of the metropolis, while Rhiannon Bennett reminded us that the growth of the region, planned or otherwise, did not occur in a vacuum, but on lands that provided prosperity to her people for several thousand years.

This was followed by a Munk-style moderated debate featuring four elected officials on the topic of Climate Action. Nadine Nakagawa and Christine Boyle debated in favour of the motion “We need a Canadian version of the Green New Deal” against Laura Dupont and… uh, me. At the end of the hour, we essentially tied (we didn’t move anyone in the crowd one way or the other) but we did manage to have a robust discussion around the strengths of different approaches to addressing climate change, and the role local governments can play.

Day two is the day we do the AGM, and Elections for the Lower Mainland LGA, followed by our Resolutions Session, where members debate various resolutions calling in senior governments to make changes in legislation or policy to make local governments work better. There were 34 resolutions, most of them approved, some with amendments, and you will have to wait until the full report comes out on line to see what went through and how.

New Westminster sent 4 resolutions forward:

Fresh Voices #LostVotes Campaign: Therefore be it resolved that UBCM request the Province of British Columbia make the necessary changes to allow Permanent Residents to vote in municipal elections in municipalities in British Columbia.

This and a similar resolution by Port Moody were supported.

#AllOnBoard Campaign: Therefore be it resolved that the #AllonBoard Campaign be endorsed and the TransLink Mayors’ Council, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction be asked to work with the provincial government and local governments to develop a plan that will provide free public transit for minors (ages 0‐18), free transit for people living below the poverty line (as identified by market basket measure, in line with the BC poverty measures), and reduced price transit based on a sliding scale for all low‐income people regardless of their demographic profile.

This and similar resolutions by Vancouver and Port Moody were supported.

Office of a Renters Advocate: Therefore be it resolved that the LMLGA and UBCM seek support of the Provincial Government to create an Office of The Renters Advocate, to monitor and analyzes renters’ services and issues in BC, and make recommendations to government and service providers to address systemic issues caused by rental shortages, renovictions, demovictions and housing affordability.

This resolution was supported by the membership.

Support of the Indigenous Court System: Therefore be it resolved that UBCM, FCM and LMLGA lobby the Canadian Federal and Provincial Governments to fund and expand the Indigenous Court System.

This resolution was also supported by the membership. So New West was 4 for 4 on the resolution front this year!


Friday began with addresses from representatives of the three Parties in the provincial legislature. Leader Andrew Wilkinson spoke for the BC Liberal Party, Deputy Leader Jonina Campbell for the BC Greens, and Selina Robinson the (apropos) Minister of Municipal Affairs for the BC NDP.

The highlights for me on Friday were the two sessions moderated by Justin McElroy of the CBC and stuff-ranking fame.  The first had Minister Robinson, Metro Vancouver Chair Sav Dhaliwal and UBCM President Arjun Singh talking about the work of local governments (remember, most of the elected folks in the room have only been in office for 6 months), and how to work together with senior governments to get things done. The second was a panel discussion on the future of regional transportation with the Chair of the TransLink Mayors Council, the Chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District, the MLA for the Sea-To-Sky region, and ELMTOT-friendly MLA Bowinn Ma.

Overall, the Lower Mainland LGA is an opportunity for local elected people to get together and talk about the challenges we see on our communities, and the innovative ideas we are using to overcome these challenges. I got to spend time chatting with the new Mayor of Squamish about her concise new Strategic Plan (one page, straight forward, and full of easy-to-measure goals!), to ca Councillor in Abbotsford about the challenges rolling out the Abbotsforward plan, to Vancouver Councilors about their (crazy?) new Council dynamic. I got to complain and brag about New West in equal measure. It is this networking with peers and connections we make that I value most from this meeting every year.

  • *I’m on the Executive of the Lower Mainland LGA, so part of my cost of attending was covered by the organization. Also, my attendance required me to take three unpaid days off of my regular work, so MsNWimby argues that she paid a substantial part of my costs as well…

Price Talk

I was fortunate to be able to attend the taping of a Price Talks podcast. It was a real transportation policy geek fest (and, alas, a real sausage fest). Jarrett Walker is a transit planning consultant, an author, and an academic with an incredibly cosmopolitan view of urban transportation systems. He has worked on 4 continents, and can see the universal truths expressed in the great variety of built forms in cities around the world. The conversation was wide reaching, from Coriolanus to Elon Musk, from the inescapable geometric truths of urban transportation to aesthetic as a guiding principle in urban planning. There were dozens of quotable nuggets in the talk, some I will be chewing on for a long time as I think about how to apply them to my neighbourhood and community

My favourite nugget, however, was the 4-minute summary of ride hailing and its impact on communities. You can skip to 1:09 to hear this as part of the Q&A at the end of the evening, but to fully appreciate his answer, you need to hear his earlier discourses on the phenomenon of Elite Projection, and how it is the scourge of most North American transit planning.

Walker is much more profound on this topic than I can ever be, but the short definition of Elite Projection is the tendency for the most wealthiest and most influential minority in a population to think what is good or attractive to them is best for everyone. It exists throughout hierarchical decision-making, and once you open your eyes to it, it is everywhere. In urban transportation, it is manifest in Musk’s The Boring Company and in “cute streetcar stuck in traffic” approaches to urban transit world-wide. There may be a few local examples: here, here, or even here.

The heart of his argument about ride hailing is best summed up in this quote (based on his observed experience in American cities where it has rolled out):

…it has been a great way to draw out the worst aspects of elite projection, because people who can afford it have become addicted to it, [and] expect as a matter of course that it will be available… [but] like anything to do with cars, it only works as long as not many people use it.

Part of the problem is that providing mass transportation in an urban area is not a profitable business. It never has been, and never will be. Uber and Lyft are losing billions of dollars a year, their underpants-gnome business plans being propped up by venture capital silliness, while they can’t even pay living wages or provide basic workplace protections to the people doing the labour (we aren’t allowed to call them “employees”). At the same time, they cut into public transit revenues while increasing traffic congestion making those transit systems less reliable, pushing customers over to the ride-hailing industry, exacerbating the impacts. He doesn’t even touch on how ride hailing demonstrably correlates with less safe roads for people in cars, pedestrians and cyclists, but he doesn’t need to.

The warning for Vancouver is that the introduction of ride hailing could be “really terrible” for our traffic systems and our livability, for obvious reasons. The promise of ride hailing is that it reduces parking demand by increasing traffic congestion – this is not conjecture, but the demonstrated experience around North America. That is no win at all.

For you Uber fans out there, Walker does provide a clear policy recommendation about how we can make ride hailing work in our jurisdiction without externalizing these real impacts, but I guarantee Francesco Aquilini and Andrew Wilkinson ain’t going to like it…

Give it a listen, it is a great conversation:

A Night with Jarrett Walker: Building Human Transit with Shakespeare, String & Elephants in Wine Glasses

Active Transportation

I know I haven’t blogged about this week’s Council meeting yet, I haven’t had time to edit and get the post up. It’s coming, I swear. In the meantime, I want to get this out, because it has been in my outbox for a little while and it has suddenly become time sensitive.

The Provincial Government is asking the public about active transportation. I have been known to criticize the Ministry of Transportation in the past about their approach to “cycling infrastructure”, but I am going to hope that this is the start of a new approach. You have until Monday to answer their questions!

If you are too busy to write your own thing, you can go to HUB and fill in their form letter, but as an elected person, I like to receive input that brings something new – a 1000-person petition is not as powerful as 100 personal letters that each bring different nuance. So I encourage you to take a few minutes and fill in the answers yourself. If you want some inspiration, here are my answers I will submit this weekend:

Question 1: What does active transportation mean to you and how does it fit into your life?
Active transportation means healthier, safer, happier communities where youth are safe to ride a bike to school and the elderly are comfortable walking to the grocery store. It is about replacing fossil fuel dependence with transportation independence. When we build the infrastructure to support active transportation, we give more people the freedom of choice in how they move around their community, reduce their reliance on volatile international oil markets, keep more of their money in the local economy, build resiliency in our communities and connections between neighbors.

Question 2: What are some of the challenges in your every day life that prevent you from moving towards using active transportation modes? What are some of your concerns about active transportation?
As an active transportation user, and a local government decision maker, the biggest challenge I face is addressing the “gaps” in our systems that make active transportation less safe and less comfortable. I am lucky to live in a compact, dense community where most services are a short walk or bike ride away, but so many of my neighbours still feel it is unsafe to make the journey unless surrounded by two tonnes of steel, which in turn reduces the perceived safety for other community members.

Too much of our active transportation infrastructure is developed as baubles attached to the side of new automobile infrastructure. Sidewalks, crosswalks, overpasses, cycling lanes, and transit supports are evaluated in how they support or hinder adequate “Levels of Service” for automobiles, while the high LOS goals (fast, uninterrupted vehicle travel) acts to make active transportation space less safe and less comfortable. An overpass over a busy road is seen as a pedestrian amenity, when it actually serves to provide more space for automobiles to have unrestricted travel. The trade-off is usually a longer more difficult journey for a pedestrian and introduction of a new barrier for people with mobility challenges. We need to see active transportation alternatives as a solution to community livability, not as a hindrance to the flow of traffic.

Even the language of “transportation” vs. “active transportation” reinforces the idea that using your feet and your own body to move around is somehow lesser than – a secondary consideration to – using an automobile. I have to explain to people that I use transit to get to work, I use a bike to run errands, I walk to City Hall, like that is some sort of radical action instead of a rational and normal way for a person to live in on a modern urban city. Let’s switch that default, for the good of our communities, the good of our budgets, and the good of our planet.

Question 3: What is the most important action that government could take to promote active transportation? What is unique in your community or region that needs to be considered?
Of course, funding. Local governments are straining to provide services as our infrastructure ages. We receive 8% of the tax revenue in Canada, yet own more than 50% of the infrastructure. This inequity is sharpest when it comes to transportation infrastructure. Billions flow for highways and bridges that direct automobiles into our communities (with, admittedly, the requisite active transportation baubles attached), but the local improvements to help us move around within our communities are tied to expectations about “Level of Service” for those automobiles. The cycle is vicious.

My community has one of the highest active transportation mode shares in the province. New Westminster is a transit city, it is an easy city to walk in and the revolution in electric assist bicycles means that residents no longer need to be athletes to manage our hills. We have some of the lowest car ownership rates in Canada. This is not an accident, the City has a dense urban fabric that puts most services near where people live, we are concentrating our growth around these transit hubs and working to make our pedestrian spaces safer and fully accessible. Yet we are choked by through-traffic that makes all of our active transportation spaces less safe and comfortable. This load means we need to spend millions of dollars every year in maintaining our asphalt to provide the level of service through-traffic expects, while struggling to find the thousands of dollars to build better cycling, pedestrian, and transit-supporting infrastructure.

We need help making our transportation system work better for our community, but as long as that transportation funding is tied to our ability to get cars moving, to provide high automobile “levels of service”, we are putting out fires with gasoline.

Ask Pat: Omnibus edition!

I had a few Ask Pat questions in the queue, and it being Family Day Long Weekend and all, I figured I would answer them all in one fell swoop. Have a question about the City, Council, Politics, music or fashion? Hit the red button up there to the right and send it to me, and more likely than not will answer it, hopefully before you forgot you even asked it!

RK asked—

I was in Winnipeg this last Christmas for a few days, and when I visited the public market at The Forks, I saw they had craft beer/wine stall set up in the main food court area, where people could buy a drink (served in glassware) and then enjoy it at any of the tables in the market, not just a roped-off area. Are you aware if there are legal restrictions on such a business opening in the River Market? It seems like a great and space-efficient way to not only add more life to a market but also complement the existing food-service businesses. And perhaps it was just the time of day that I was there, but I didn’t notice any roaming gangs of drunkards smashing up the place or terrorizing young children.

I’m not one to speak for the River Market. They are a private business with a business model that works for them. They have been pretty successful at activating the Market Hall, and I have enjoyed many, many events there over the last few years. It is also one of our community’s great “Third Spaces” where you never know who you will meet or the conversation you are going to have when you get there.

I also may not be completely up to date on the changes to BC liquor laws as they pertain to public spaces, but I think the Market would probably be able to license the common spaces as you suggest. However, this would very likely limit their flexibility in how they operate the space, and strange things like security measures and temporary license suspensions to accommodate special events would probably be more hassle than it is worth. The owners and operators of the Market are pretty entrepreneurial and creative, so the best evidence I have that the inherent hassles make it not worth doing is the fact they are currently not doing it.

That said, have you been to Fridays on Front? There was even a Christmas Edition under the Parkade this year. There were shifts in provincial liquor laws that allowed this to happen, and it took a bit of vision to put New West at the leading edge of activating those changes. I think the Downtown BIA (with some support from the City) has done a great job demonstrating that public market spaces can have an open license for adult beverages available without chaos ensuing. I’m old enough to remember the craziness that used to come with public drinking in BC in decades past, and the cost of managing that craziness made some great events go away (I’m looking at you Seafest Vancouver Seafest, Pentiction Peachfest, White Rock Sandcastle festival). I think the attitude around beer and wine have changed as our society has matured, though the transition away from puritan prohibition-era liquor controls is a slow one.

And as of the leading edge of current regulation, there are no special event licenses envisioned for cannabis, but I’ll hold that conversation off for a future post.


JJ asks—

are you the person that sides with justin trudeau of political correctness? Jaywalking the word to be remove? Stop the left wing removement!

[Sic] Dude, if you think Justin Trudeau represents some sort of left wing of Canadian politics, we are not conversing from the same frame of reference. My disappointment in his election in 2015 was very much tempered by the knowledge that Harper was headed for a long-overdue trip to the political wilderness, but I was also disappointed that Mulcair decided to tack towards the centre and got “out lefted” by Trudeau on the campaign trail (though that was not the only NDP campaign mistake last election). Clearly people were ready to move left politically, and voted for progressive ideas like legalization of cannabis (done), electoral reform (shamefully abandoned), and feminism (the jury is out on this one). Predictably, Trudeau swung right after the election and abandoned many of the most left-progressive ideas upon which he campaigned, from climate action to reconciliation, and his record is almost indistinguishable from Harper’s Conservatives on these files. Gord Downie would be disappointed. I am becoming less and less of a Trudeau fan as time goes on, and look forward to calling him out on his failures in October, but I will not make the mistake of looking for him to my left.


FB asked—

If i find someone isn’t sorting garbage and i take a picture as proof is it violating his personal information or privacy?

I’m not a lawyer, and know better than to give legal advice. If you have a problem with how someone is managing their waste stream , and suspect that they are contaminating the recycleables or compostables, there is good reason for you to take action, because this type of contamination costs the City money, or your Strata potentially lots of money, depending on how your waste is managed. I might suggest that friendly attempts at education might get you further than surreptitious incrimination. They may just not know better, as the rules for waste sorting are sometimes complicated and constantly shifting.

If this is going into the City’s waste stream, you can contact our Engineering Operations folks at 604-526-4691 or engops@newwestcity.ca. If you are in a Strata or a rental, please let your building manager know and ask them to take action. It is their job, and they will save money in the long run if they have a well-organized waste stream that assures as much waste as possible is diverted from the landfill.


Jenni asks—

How do I find out information about previous renovations done to my home before I purchased it? The previous owner simply said that all of the work was done before they purchased the home. Is there an archive of building or renovation permits that I can search?

Hey, I actually know the answer to this one! The City has an online tool where you can search for all kind of details about the property you own, or snoop on your neighbor if that is more your thing, because permits are public information, and the City has a pretty open approach to sharing data that belongs to the public.

If you go to the City’s website, and look for “Property Inquiry” under the Online Tools section, you get a slightly-ugly but super-functional interface that allows you to get an online report that tells you all sorts of info about your property. For the fun of it, I searched for my house and found a bounty of info about my lot size, the amount of tax I pay, and even that the Business License for my consulting hussle is up to date (redacted a bit to make it one step harder for stalkers to find out where I live):

You can also get a list of all the permits for the property:
Here I can see three permit numbers: the original building permit was from 1940, my rear sundeck was built in 1987 with a valid permit, and I can see the permit I took out for my bathroom renovation project I did two years ago.

Of course, there are no permits there for the renovation of my basement that probably happened in the 1980s, or of the attic conversion that happened around the same time, or of the transition my house clearly went from knob-and-tube electrical to modern insulated wiring. It is possible that permits were not required, or the owner at the time didn’t get a permit, or the City has lost the records. This just to say that the City knows what the City knows, and you should not assume the data you get from these searches is a definitive record of the work done in your house.

How I’m voting on how we vote

Finishing up my own electoral stuff, it is time to move on to the referendum. It seems just yesterday that I was stumping for a Yes vote on a referendum plebiscite from my City Council bully pulpit – how did that one work out?

Nonetheless, I was asked about the Electoral System Referendum a few times during the election and I told people I didn’t want to get distracted while involved in my own campaign, but I would write something about it when the ballots come out. A ballot package is currently sitting on my counter, so here we go.

I am voting for proportional representation (PR) over first past the post (FPTP). The reasons for this are plentiful, and I have done a significant amount of research on this over the last few years, including during the aborted Trudeau campaign to change the federal electoral system. To keep this from expanding into a book-length blog, I am going to simplify a bit on a few key points.

The primary pro-FPTP argument that PR will bring extremists into power is a heaping pile of logical fallacy. In recent FPTP elections we have seen Doug Ford given 100% of the power to invoke the notwithstanding clause to punish his former City Council political enemies with only 40% of the vote. He says he was elected to cut taxes and slash public services when 60% of Ontario Voters voted for the exact opposite. Shortly after, the CAQ were given 100% of the power in Quebec to invoke the notwithstanding clause to pursue their anti-immigration and anti-free-expression campaign after garnering 38% of the vote. These are extremist views for Canada. A PR system may allow these voices into legislatures, but there is significantly less chance they would earn enough votes to achieve the power needed to shift policy towards those views.

Despite FPTP-supporter arguments, you will always have a locally-accountable MLA under any of the PR systems. Every system has you voting for a direct MLA representative as you do now, the difference is that all systems will give you at least one more second MLA who is also representing you. It is also likely this second MLA will be from a different party than your first MLA. Remember how during the Teacher’s Strike, all of those BC Liberal MLAs locked their office doors and refused to meet their constituents? Too often in an artificial FPTP majority, the job of that MLA is to represent the party’s interest to the community, not vice versa. When a government policy impacts your life negatively, it is important that you have someone in your community who can assure that your concern is carried to the legislature. PR provides this much better than FPTP.

Jurisdictions that use PR are more successful by almost any measure of good governance. There is a significant body of evidence from around the world about the results of different systems. Among OCED democracies, those that use some form of PR have consistently higher Human Development Index scores, have less income inequality, have stronger environmental regulation and are leading the world on addressing greenhouse gas reduction. The quality of life for their residents is higher and their electoral participation levels are higher. It is almost as if these two things go hand-in hand. This is why the PR argument is so much about “making your vote count” – it results in governments adopting policies that appeal to a broader range of voters. Who could possibly be against that?

These arguments aside, I was caused to step back and look at this situation in a different way a few months ago when I was chatting with MLA Bowinn Ma on a SkyTrain trip. Memory being what it is and she being much more nuanced and eloquent than I, we can call this a paraphrase. She pointed out that every argument for FPTP was about who would take power after the election, while every argument for PR was about how we can make more votes count. This is a simple but profound difference in vision for what we are trying to achieve through democracy. I believe the latter is a better, more hopeful vision, which is probably why I find their arguments more compelling. I hope this referendum will give us an opportunity to reach for that better vision.

The second question asks which of the three proposed PR systems I would prefer. Here is where it gets tougher. I am going to list in order of my preference, but recognize that no one system is perfect (but none are as imperfect as the current FPTP system).

Mixed Member Proportional – This is the most tried-and-true proportional representation system. In BC, it would mean our ridings would grow a little in size, and every riding would have an MLA elected by FPTP like they are today. However, ridings would be clumped together into small regions of several ridings that would have regional MLAs. You would be able to vote on that regional representatives, but the persons serving that role would not be elected by straight FPTP, but allocated to make party representation across the province match that of the overall vote. The ballot can be simple, the change in our ridings is minor, and PR is achieved. This wins in the balancing simple and easy to understand while also giving you an opportunity to vote for a great local candidate who may not be with the party of the Premier you want to see elected.

Dual Member Proportional– This is a system modified for Canada, where most ridings are merged into two ridings, with on MLA elected on the current FPTP system, and a second appointed based on electoral results in order to balance party representation across the province. This seems to be intended to simplify the ballot (you only vote once), but otherwise has no advantages I can find over MMP. You lose the ability to vote for Party A but an outstanding local candidate for Party B like you get from MMP – in other words, this forces you to choose a great local rep OR a party affiliation, but not necessarily both.

Rural-Urban Proportional– This hybrid system mixes Single Transferable Vote for the “urban” parts of BC, expanding ridings to 4-7 MLAs and a ranked ballot to allow you to vote for as many or as few as you might like, and a Mixed Member Proportional system (top) for rural ridings. I can see where this idea appears – it provides sophisticated urban political nerds like me an appealing ranked ballot, but also assures the rural ridings of the province won’t feel like they are losing their disproportional representation in Victoria. I dislike it for both of those reasons, and it being the most complicated system, I don’t think it will really be embraced by the voting public.

So put me down for Yes and MMP. I honestly would be happier with any of the three options than I am with FPTP, so the second question is really rather…uh… secondary. But please fill it out, because it is fun to fill our ranked ballots, and because I want to do everything I can to support the government having the political will to make this change.

#NWELXN18 – a wrap

I have gone through the numbers of the recent election in a couple of posts, (here, here, and here) but I did so recognizing that I was perpetuating a trope that plagues democracy in North America (and perhaps the world?) – looking at politics like it is just another a sport. Line scores and a zero-sum-game of winners and losers are the easiest and laziest way to report on elections. It leaves little room for the more important discussions we should be having during an election: the debate of ideas and values and visions for the future.

I need to say that this has been a difficult blog post to write. There are a couple of 1,500-word drafts that have been deleted, because they all fell into the mode of being an us-vs-them analysis, and were more critical than helpful. I spent most of the last three months biting my (digital) tongue and not reacting to the messages of those who would have rather they be elected than me, because I wanted to avoid being drawn into a useless spat everyone would regret. It would serve no purpose (other than a little personal catharsis) to go there now.

**That said, I feel the need to stick one of my regular caveats here where I say all of this is my opinion, not the opinion of my council or election colleagues, City Council, the City, or any rational person or organization. If you disagree with me, let me know!**

This slipped once during the campaign when I made a reference to Daniel Fontaine, in reaction to a pretty ham-fisted attempt on his part to demean me on his blog, using what I think was an appropriate amount of dismissive humour, but then following to point out how disingenuous the hit piece was:

Trust me, the hardest part for me this election was not reacting to opponents on-line. There were many drafted-then-deleted tweets. Maybe I’m growing up.

But what was this election about? Other cities had clear narratives (Surrey wanted someone to deal with crime, Burnaby was about the need for housing, Port Moody about slowing the pace of development), but what was the New Westminster election theme?

After the fact and looking at the numbers, it is easiest for me to take the message that voters are generally happy with the way the City is being run, and were not as interested in change as in some of our surrounding communities. This reflected what I heard on the doorstep during three months of doorknocking, and what I heard in a thousand small conversations I had during the election. Things are not perfect, there are definitely things we could do better, but for the most part, things are headed in the right direction, and few are interested in a big shift in direction.

In the end, our main opponents must have heard that as well, and were challenged with messaging “things are mostly OK” along with the “time for a change” idea. In the end, they fell back on the familiar and tired narrative that New Westminster is run by organized labour in a poorly-defined but somehow nefarious way. This is the same narrative that James Crosty used to no success in New West for several elections, and the old Voice New West relied upon. Like running against bike lanes in Vancouver, this campaign message is exciting to a group of people in the City and gets amplified every election by the local media, but has never been one to motivate voters to come out and create a change. New Westminster happily votes for Labour-affiliated and NDP-affiliated candidates enough to elect them, and have done so in increasing numbers in every election for the last decade or two. This is why orange signs were a cynically good idea.

To the credit of my colleagues and voters, the winning candidates never stopped talking about the important issues to New Westminster – housing, transportation, inclusion and accessibility in schools, and livability of our community. They also worked hard to knock on doors and meet people. When I look at the new names at the top of the polls – Nakagawa, Ansari, Beattie, Dhaliwal – these are the candidates I saw out there every day earning votes with shoeleather and ideas. On election-period effort alone they earned every vote they got.

There was one big difference between this election and the previous one – the remarkable shrinking of the media space. Last election there were four (4!) local newspapers a week in New Westminster, now there is one. At the risk of poking those who buy ink by the barrel, there was not a tonne of coverage in the last few weeks of the election in the lone paper standing.

Since Labour Day (when the public starts properly paying attention to the campaign), there were a few news stories that announced the new candidates as they trickled out, a couple of pieces covering NWP messaging around how unfair the entire election process was, and not a lot else. The two substantial pieces were an October 4th quote-mining review of two All-Candidates Meetings (which strangely emphasized May Day as the biggest issue), and a really excellent 2-page spread on October 11th on diversity. However, through the entire election period there were no printed candidate profiles, not a single article discussing housing policy, infrastructure needs, transportation challenges, or any of the other top issues that might have informed voters about contrasts between what different candidates were offering. The final edition before the election (October 18th) had a single opinion piece admonishing people to vote, but no other coverage of the election or issues at hand. I don’t remember being asked a single election-related question by a single reporter between Labour Day and the close of the polls.

I recognize there are limited resources and limited column inches in one edition a week, and there was more material available on-line, but even that discussion was dominated by discussing the process of the election, with paltry discussion of policy issues. The emphasis on click-baity open-question headlines on Twitter and Facebook probably just worsened partisan bickering between supporters instead of actually inform on any issue. Indeed, here is where I missed the old Tomkinson-era Tenth to the Fraser that provided a really strong and well-curated online discussion. I suspect print is still more important to a significant number of voters than on-line content, and I can’t help but feel that the Burnaby Now side of the local Black Press Glacier Media office got a lot more attention, and their election got more column inches. Perhaps their election was more exciting.

So what now? The things I tried to talk about during the election are still my priorities after the election. We need to continue to improve how the City communicates and engages the public, and I want to have a serious talk with the provincial government on reforming the Public Hearing process. We are already leading the region in affordable housing policy, but have no intention of taking our foot off the gas, and will work to get new funding and new policy levers provided by the province (such as Rental Zoning) working for us locally. On transportation, I want to push a conversation forward about changing the culture in our roads. I want us to prioritize making vulnerable road users feel safe at all times. It is time for us to grow up and talk honestly about the goals of our transportation plan, which is not the destructive (and ultimately self-defeating) goal of “getting traffic moving”. 

Of course, I am just one of 7 on Council, and finding consensus on strategic plans for the next 4 years will be the main conversation for the next couple of months. Stay tuned!

#NWelxn18 – poll-by-poll

The final election results are out, with poll-by-poll results. This gives us an opportunity to infer a bunch of things about the election. Note that this is more like reading tea leaves than defensible analysis, because anyone in the City can vote anywhere during a local election. We don’t know if the typical Queens Park Voter cast their vote at the Armoury, Glenbrook Middle School, or in an advance poll at the Lawn Bowling Club or City Hall. It is somewhat safer to assume mostly Queensborough voters voted in Queensborough, and the Pensioners’ Hall probably captured most of lower Sapperton, but where did Downtowners vote? There is a lot of fuzziness here, but here is a poll map:

Messy data doesn’t prevent me (or some other local blogger) from trying to glean insight from it.

This table shows the poll-by-poll vote for City Council. I marked the winner of each poll in dark green, the second place in medium green, and the rest of the top 6 in light green. Orange is for the 4 people who finished just below the threshold:

No surprise here that overall winner Nadine Nakagawa won the most polls with 13 – she not only won the popular vote, she won the Electoral College! She was also the only candidate to “place” (finish in the top 6) in all 20 polls. She dominated. Mary Trentadue and Daniel Fontaine each won two polls, with myself, Jaimie McEvoy and Chuck Puchmayr each winning a single poll. I had far and away the most second place polls, and all of those elected “placed” in between 18 and 20 of the 20 polls.

Team Cote candidates dominated almost every poll, except in Queensborough, and (arguably) Howay – the poll used mostly by Massey Victory Heights residents – where the New West Progressives (NWP) had a solid showing.

People paying attention to the campaign will have noticed that the NWP put a lot of effort into Queensborough, stoking some discontent around a few long-standing neighbourhood grievances, and benefiting from support of a small but vocal group of Temporary Modular Housing opponents. Team Cote members also did a lot of work in Queensborough (I personally knocked on hundreds of doors there), though we can look back now and say that the ~200 vote gap between the best NWP candidate and worst Team Cote candidate in that neighbourhood was hardly a factor in the overall election result.

For the fun of it, I looked at what percentage of their total vote each candidate received in the advance and special polls:

Interesting that Team Cote candidates received between 21% and 22% of our votes in the advance polls, NWPs around 20%, and others under 20%. I’m not sure if this relates to the relative get-out-the-advance-vote efforts, but it seems a consistent trend.

School Board data looks a lot like Council results, though perhaps a little more diffuse:

Overall winner Anita Ansari won 11 poll of the 20 polls, with Dee Beattie winning three and returning champions Mark Gifford and Mary Lalji each winning two. Queensborough resident Gurveen Dhaliwal won both polls in that neighbourhood. Beattie was second in most of the polls she didn’t win. NWP candidate Danielle Connelly didn’t win any polls outright, but did finish 2nd in three of them. Ansari was the only candidate to place in the top 7 in all polls, although Beattie only missed one (the Q’boro advance poll) as did Connelly (the Special Poll for hospitalized voters). Also note that the Team Cote candidates finished in alphabetical order – likely a coincidence, but fun to speculate about.

Mirroring the Council result, the NWP candidates did better in Queensborough than any other polling station, but also clearly had good success at the FW Howey poll in Massey Victory Heights, along with Mary Lalji. The standout among the others was Alejandro Diaz, whose success seemed to track along with Team Cote success better than the NWP, suggesting he was the most popular “6th vote” for those who voted the Team Cote ticket, where Lalji had stronger results where Team Cote did less well. Again, the Advance vote percentage closely mirrors that of Council:

I’m not going to say to much about the Mayor’s race, because it was a blowout by pretty much any measure. Cote finished with less than 70% of the vote only in two polls (Queensborough and Howey), and won more than 80% in his own neighbourhood. Nikki Binns was clearly the second most popular candidate:

Outside of the statistical analysis, I am struggling to write a piece about “what it all means”. As someone who did well in the election, I don’t want to be seen as punching down in my analysis of why others didn’t do well. I have had a lot of conversations with different people since the election, and have heard a lot of opinions about the result. I am tempted read into New Westminster bucking the general regional trend of this being a “change election”, as seen in Port Moody, Vancouver, and Burnaby as a testament to the good work this Council has done, but getting out of my bubble a bit on this will be a challenge.

Bonus chart: Since I mention the quirk of the alphabet order of the top 5 in the School Board election, I thought I would do a quick scatter chart of election results and order the names appear on the ballot. Blue is Council and red is School Board (with best fit lines and R² provided by Excel):

The Council result is close enough to random to be considered so, but you could convince me there is something going on here with the School Board ballot…

#NWELXN18 – THE TRENDS

One of the discussions during this election (and in all local elections for the last few decades) was voter turnout. Already low across the region, there was some concern that this election would see even lower than usual turnout. We don’t have official numbers yet, but I thought it would be good to compare this year to previous years.

There was some reason to suspect lower turnout this year. As charming and important as School Trustees and City Councillors are, it is really difficult for normal people and occasional voters to connect with that level of government. Occasionally, we have a candidate who is really compelling (I think of Jonina Campbell in 2011, Kelly Slade-Kerr in 2014) who drive some increased interest, but I doubt even that draws more than a couple of percent of eligible voters. Much like federal election interest is driven by the candidates for Prime Minister (sorry, Peter), the reality is that local elections often carry the weight of the Mayor’s race. And the reality is we didn’t have much of a Mayor’s race this year. Nothing against the challengers, but they all started very late and had limited campaigns (only one had lawn signs, one other had a website, and attendance at all-candidate events was spotty). I think in most people’s minds, even those who opposed him, Cote as a safe bet to win.

However, there was also a reason to suspect turnout may be higher, and that was a well-coordinated and -funded party running in opposition to the existing Mayor and Council. There is good potential for a party with strong political connections and good messaging to drive turnout, both by their own efforts, and by forcing the incumbents to get off their duffs and work to keep their jobs. I knocked on almost as many doors this year as I did in my rookie year, and direct voter engagement – actually looking at people and telling them to vote – is the proven Get Out The Vote strategy.

So how did that all work out?

A note here, I am using the unofficial voter stats released by the City for 2018, and the City’s open data number for previous elections (we don’t yet have official numbers for 2018). I am also using population stats from the BC Government website. These numbers are not “voter turnout” in any official way. New Westminster’s population is about 74,000 people. We had just under 50,000 registered voters going into the election, though some of those people may have died, moved out of the city, or otherwise not been eligible to vote this election. There were probably a fair number of people who were eligible to vote but were not registered to do so, and registered on the day of the election. Short story: numbers are complicated, and everything below is an estimate.

This graph shows the number of votes for Mayor, Council, and School Board for every election since 1990 (the first year these stats are provided by the City), alongside the population trend for the same period:

As the numbers are hard to compare on a single y-axis, I indexed all of them by dividing all of the numbers by their 1990 value to allow a closer comparison. Numbers below 1.0 are lower than the 1990 value, numbers above 1.0 are above the 1990 value:

Finally, to see how the vote numbers compare to population change, I divided the Mayor’s vote count by population, and the Council and School board votes by population *and* by dividing them by the total number of available votes (6 for school council, 7 for school board). See the above caveat about this not being “voter turnout”, but it does provide a clear indication of how voter number change when population change is removed:

In short, voter turnout dropped in the late 1990s, turned around in the early 2000’s, and took until 2014 for it to catch up to the losses of the previous decade. 2018 turnout is slightly down in 2018 for Mayor and Council, and slightly up for School Board when compared to 2014.

This does show the importance of the Mayors Race. In 1999, the Mayor was acclaimed, and the School Board and council vote turnout suffered. The 2002 Election was an exciting affair with Wayne Wright unseating the incumbent by 18 votes, resulting in a jump in voter turnout across the board. The next three elections were relatively lackluster as a popular mayor won fairly easily, and the Council and School Board vote more or less flat-lined. (the 2008 School Board jump possibly related to the Grimston Park school controversy? Or am I getting my dates mixed up?). 2014 was again an exciting mayoral race with a strong-campaigning challenger unseating a popular incumbent. And much as I would think I am responsible for the huge jump in Council votes that year, the turnout across the board (if not my lackluster 5th place finish) belies this hope.

One thing that does stand out is uptick in School Board votes this year while Mayoral and Council votes were slightly down (on a per-capita basis). I would love to hear a theory to explain this. Good candidates? The fact they are finally pouring concrete for a new High School? Or perhaps it was because no group ran a full slate, so there was seen to be more room for challengers to get onto the board? Enter your theory here.

Poll-by-poll results are yet to be released, and that is where the real fun is! I will write another piece once I get a chance to chew on them.