Campaign on

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.

Maybe.

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 diversity

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”.

UBCM 2017 – Day 3+1/2

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.

UBCM 2017- Day 2

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?

UBCM 2017- Day 1

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.

UBCM17 – Day 0

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:

link to source.

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.

This happened…

I was lucky to be able to join Jagmeet Singh on a small group bike ride around downtown Vancouver yesterday, as part of his whistle-stop on the west coast going into next week’s NDP leadership vote.

Although many Canadians only know Singh from the strange racist thing that happened at one of his campaign events last week*, I have been aware of his work as one of the brightest lights in Ontario politics for a couple of years, but recognized his national potential (admittedly late to the story) after his appearance on Sook-Yin Lee’s podcast last year.

My take-away from the ride is that Singh, in person, did not disappoint or surprise. He was affable, sincere, and charming. He seemed to be balancing the strangeness of being suddenly-recognizable in a City he hardly knew. It was fun during the bike ride to watch as pedestrians and other cyclists did the double-take and smiled or pointed when they recognized him (or to quote one woman I rode by slowly:”Oh My God, is that him!?”). The ride participants talked to him about very Vancouver issues – the housing crisis, the opioid crisis, the decade-of-BCLiberal-rule-crisis – and he seemed to know the right questions to ask, which in his current position and given the setting, is much better than acting like he has all the answers. He was clearly enjoying the conversations, pausing only occasionally to look out from the Sea Wall and remark at how much beauty there was in this City (jaded Vancouverites: “Meh”).

And, for the record: nice three piece suit, tie, polished shoes, and an upright Brompton with a well-worn Brooks. He hardly broke a sweat.

I’m looking forward to putting his name on my ballot next week.

*a couple of weeks ago, some friends and I were lamenting the NDP leadership race wasn’t getting the media attention the Conservative one did. It was suggested (half-jokingly) that this is because the race lacked the batshit racist craziness of the CPC race. Is that irony?

Post-Election Idea #3

The recounts are on and hopefully the brokering will soon pass the competing press conferences and social media channels stage. I am now wholly convinced none of the Provincial leaders read this blog, so I’m barging ahead with spitballing a few big ideas that would make for a better provincial government. After Electoral Reform and Climate Change, I now want to talk about our regionalism problem:

Idea 3: Ministry of Regional Unity
This election has, once again, perpetuated a Two Solitudes impression about British Columbia. Ridings that touch salt water almost all went NDP, those without tidewater almost all went Liberal (and those who can see the Saanich Peninsula went Green, but let’s put that aside for a bit).

As a person whose job it is to make a city in the Lower Mainland work better, I was pretty clear in my biases, so feel no need to extend my earlier gripe about Sam Sullivan into a wider one about how the BC Liberals seemed to not just ignore the Lower Mainland, but treat it with a bit of distain. Sometimes it seemed like policy decisions were made to specifically piss off the Urban Elites of Greater Vancouver. At the same time, John Horgan was criticized for not spending enough of the campaign North of 50, or reaching out to the recourse communities of the interior that used to be the NDP bread and butter.

Regardless of causes or coincidence, the idea of battling regions in a province as economically and physically tied together as BC does nothing to help advance anyone’s interests. Much of the economy of the Lower Mainland is tied to resource extraction, agriculture, and energy drawn from the interior, and almost every service the interior receives from government (health care, schools, roads, etc.) is heavily subsidized by the taxes of residents and businesses of the Lower Mainland. However, neither of those should be political fodder: the province is a confederation of interests that should work together to raise the quality of all of our lives.

So when a premier suggests that people in Prince George shouldn’t pay through their taxes for the Port Mann Bridge, it is an intentional attempt to drive a wedge between the regions. When Vancouver mentions that more people work in high tech industries in the Lower Mainland than all resource extraction in the interior, it similarly creates a category of “them” that leads inevitably to “othering” their problems. And don’t get me started on the whole topic of The Gateway.

This regional divide needs to be addressed as a potential to grow the province and get it working better, instead of a convenient political wedge to divide the province. People in Vancouver have to realize that gas and ore and timber and fruit from the interior are important to the provincial economy, and that people in the interior lack many of the services we take for granted – high-speed internet, reasonable access to healthcare, public transit. People in the interior need to understand that the lower mainland is the real economic driver of the province, and that making that economic machine work better through transportation investment or affordable housing actually helps pay for the services they do have access to.

I suggest we need someone from the provincial government to talk about the stresses that are specific to regions, and to work with the other ministries to help bring regional voices to the table and make the confederation work better. They could work with the local government organizations (LMLGA, SILGA, NCLGA, etc.) to bring their concerns to Government, and with the UBCM to balance needs. The name I’ve given it might be too Utopian for 21st century post-growth politics, but a person needs to do this job.

Perhaps more importantly, they can explain to the Premier why telling Millennials who cannot afford a place to live in Vancouver to “Move to Fort St. John” when that region has double the unemployment rate of Metro Vancouver may not make either place happy…

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Post-election Idea #2

The recounts and brokering are still ongoing, and I’m doubly assured none of the provincial leaders read this blog, so I’m going to continue spitballing big ideas that make for interesting conversation, and would support (in my mind) a strong Green-NDP alliance that could rule for a full term. After dispatching electoral reform, I present another vision for the province’s future:

Idea 2: Ministry of Energy and Climate Change

The science on climate change is clear. The causes are known, the implications are serious, and a wide suite of potential policy solutions have been developed and debated. Yet little progress is being made outside of select northern European countries. Under Gordon Campbell, BC was looking to take a lead on this file, but that leadership has slowly eroded for a decade. What now?

For too many reasons related to policy implementation, we need to stop thinking about climate change as an environmental issue, to be managed under the Ministry of Environment. Fundamentally, climate change is an economics issue. The impacts of it come with economic costs and the policies needed to combat its cause are economic policies. At the same time, the Ministry of Energy And Mines marries together two policy areas that will become less aligned as we work towards a post-carbon economy, as our federal government is suggesting is our goal.

Energy and Mines is currently without a Minister. Bill Bennet retired going into this election, and the Legislature will need to sit to put another Minister in place. I would argue that the file is large enough to split into two ministries.

I am one of those people who thinks the fact we had one of the largest environmental spills in Canada’s history on this Minister of Mines’ watch should have been a resignation-level event (and the fact no charges were laid in the spill raises questions about the competence of the Minister of Environment, but I digress). This event shook public confidence in the safety of our mines, just as Environmental Assessments to support new mining projects are ongoing and four new mining projects are pushing forward. The whims of the global metals market and speculative investment have always driven the pace of development in BC mining, but returning public confidence in the industry and its oversight should be job #1 for the Minister of Mines, and could be a full time job.

By taking the “Energy” part of the file out and placeing that new ministry in charge of Climate Change policy, the province can leverage its greatest advantage when it comes to sustainable energy policy and technology development: BC Hydro.

Hydro has a solid grid, and oodles of energy storage capacity in the existing dams across the province (I’m going to avoid wading into the Site C issue here). BC’s electricity is plentiful, cheap, and provides a significant boost to provincial revenues through cross-border sales. We also have a massive potential for solar, wind, geothermal, and other alternative energy production. The storage afforded us by large-reservoir dams connected to an integrated grid also provides the “battery” we need to make these less-consistent power sources viable and reliable through pumped water storage. BC Hydro also has an incredible reservoir of human talent in power technology (through Powertech), managing energy markets (through Powerex), and forecasting demand (through the BCUC). To be world leaders in sustainable energy, BC needs an integrated and coordinated effort that looks at our entire energy regime – from how we power our cars to how we provide cost-competitive power to industry and manage residential rates. Coordinating these efforts under a single ministry would facilitate this process.

And yes, managing our domestic supply of hydrocarbons is also a fundamental part of that long-term planning. The mandate of the Ministry of Mines (facilitating the safe extraction of resources to supply markets domestic and international) is harder to reconcile with long-term planning for a de-carbonization of our energy supply.

Most importantly, BC can again look to be leading the country on climate change policy, which will help keep the Greens on side through what might be rocky political days ahead.

Post-Election Idea #1

The recounts and brokering are ongoing, and I’m pretty sure none of the Provincial leaders read this blog, so I’m just going to spitball a few big ideas that make for interesting conversation and would support (in my mind) a strong Green-NDP alliance that could rule for a full term. I’ll put these out in a couple of short posts.

Idea 1: Andrew Weaver as Minister of Electoral Reform.

If anyone is interested in the stability of a true coalition, it could be forged by giving Weaver an interesting cabinet post. Environment is an obvious choice, but I think he wold quickly run into conflict, and would perhaps prefer to be “holding their feet to the fire” on that file instead of being the one getting burned. I suggest a better place for him would be leading the move to get big money out of politics and reforming the voting system.  These are two goals Horgan made clear were also his priorities during the election, making it their point of connection.

Placing Weaver in charge of a non-partisan commission to develop and support the promised referendum on a better voting system should shore up support across for the proposal once presented. We really don’t know what that looks like now, but no-one is more motivated to make some form of proportional representation work than the Greens (with all due respect to the alleged SoCred resurgence).

Reforming party fundraising is also something that was at the centre of both Weaver’s and Horgan’s campaigns. Weaver is the one leader who walked the walk on this during the campaign (ending his own Party’s corporate fundraising six months before the writ dropped), and as such may be in the best position to develop new guidelines. It will be interesting to see how donation limits, tax credits, and third-party campaigning will be managed during this conversation, as there are some potentially thorny constitutional issues related to what some would consider a restriction of free speech.

For any progress to be made on these files, the government will need a couple of years of stability, which will require the Greens to commit to supporting the NDP on budgets and other matters of confidence. This may require a commitment on expanding the carbon tax and health and education funding, issues that will likely be fought strongly by the Liberals. However, I would love to read this tweet by John Horgan from the day after the election as a bit of pre-negotiation:horgan