Voting For

My regular readers (Hi Mom!) will not be shocked to find out I have a bias this Federal Election. Still, there are some people who follow me on social media or read this blog hoping to read about City Council stuff who get angry that I sully that with politics. Some feel that I need to bury my partisan opinions not that I am elected and pretend I support everyone’s ideas equally. If you fall in this camp, I respectfully disagree, and suggest you might want to skip this post and go on to another one where I am ranting about bike lanes or climate change or housing or some other “non-political” subject.

This election has had some holding their nose, but I feel fortunate that I have someone and something to vote for in this election. I have not always been a strong supporter of the NDP (a point one of the campaign managers in this election tried to make hay with when he was running against me in the Muni election – strangely not recognizing it undermined his own narrative that I was a hopeless partisan hack, but I digress…) but I have become a stronger one with each passing year.

At the Federal level, I was inspired by the strength, vision, and positivity of Jack Layton. I appreciate that it was Tom Mulcair who served as Judge, Jury and Executioner on the corruption of the Harper government and opened up the gap that Trudeau was ultimately more effective at filling in 2015. I can debate at length (and have!) the direction the NDP Campaign went that election, but the principles of the party, including speaking out strongly against the Hijab ban, stood in contrast to the alleged progressiveness of the Liberals, who predictably swerved back to the Right once elected. I have had the opportunity to meet, eat, and ride bikes with Jagmeet Singh, and am always amazed at his grace, his firmness of vision, and the intensity with which he listens. He sees people as good, and sees Canada as a force for good, and wants to see that vision realized. Dude is the real deal.

Fortunately, here in New West we are represented by Peter Julian, and it is easy for me to support him as well. He has a well-deserved reputation as one of the hardest working MPs. His busy Constituency Office here in New West has helped thousands of people address everyday problems with the federal government. He has spent more than a decade running seminars to help people with disabilities and other barriers assure they receive the benefits to which they are entitled in their income tax filings. Representing one of the most culturally diverse ridings in Canada, Peter has learned to greet constituents in dozens of languages (some put the count at 50) because he feels it is important that every resident of this riding feel welcome here. In Ottawa he is bringing forward issues that matter to this constituency, most recently including the Canadian Green New Deal bill he brought to Parliament, hoping we can begin to justly and fairly transition away from a fossil-fuel reliant economy.

I’ve got at least 1,000 more words about the other local candidates that I wrote a few times and deleted, because I am trying really hard to avoid negativity here. Perhaps I can sum it all up wondering where these people were before the election. Other parties parachuting in candidates with zero name recognition and no history working on issues in this community, only to have them avoid all candidates events and play duck-and weave with voters, will assure this remains an “NDP stronghold”. I see no effort by another party to develop a following, or even identify local leaders to carry their brand. Based on the last 5 years in this riding, it appears the NDP are the only party to take New Westminster seriously. After the election other parties will no doubt lament the NDP is unfair or too strong in New West, blaming voters for the work the parties and candidates themselves simply didn’t do to earn their votes.

No federal platform is perfect. There are things in the NDP platform I would like to see them push further on, and things I am critical of (e.g.: electric car subsidies are not great climate policy). Their housing plan is ambitious, and realistically relies less on incentivizing the market (which if done poorly only pushes prices up and is ultimately a better policy area for provincial and local governments) and instead emphasizes doing what Canadian governments did successfully in the decades between WW2 and Brian Mulroney: investing in subsidized housing to provide supply at the lowest parts of the affordability scale. The NDP Climate Plan pushes the edge of possibility (as it is now too late for half-measures) and rightfully centers the marginalized and those displaced by the inevitable economic shift. Their platform more holistically addresses Truth & Reconciliation than any other federal platform. The time for universal pharmacare and sliding-scale dental coverage is now, and will get our health care program up to speed with those provided in advanced European economies while ultimately saving the government and employers money. And we will pay for the (short-term) cost by taking the subsidies away from the companies that are using them to nuke our climate, and by charging more tax to very wealthy people. And, of course, the type of social investments the NDP are talking about are the type that actually grow an economy, not the type that the wealthy can squirrel away in the Caymans…

There is stuff in here for me to vote for, and lots of it.

So I count myself lucky. No holding my nose and no ill-informed strategic hedge betting. A local candidate who walks the walk and does the work, a federal leader I believe in, and a platform I can support. I voted NDP at the Advance Poll last Sunday morning and was enthusiastic in doing it, and on Monday I will be spending my time Getting out the Vote and thinking of a better Canada.

Climate Emergency

One of the big topics we discussed at Council last week was a report from staff entitled “Response to Climate Emergency”. This policy-rich, wonky, but still preliminary report had its profile raised by a variety of delegates coming to speak to Council, urging aggressive climate action. That many of the delegates represented generations of people who will be around and most impacted by the climate crisis was not lost to anyone in the room.

If you want to read the report, it is here (because of the way our Council agendas work, you need to scroll down to page 81 of that big, ugly agenda package). I want to summarize some of what is in there, and talk a little about what I see as the risks and opportunities ahead. When we declared a Climate Emergency, we were asking our staff to show us the tools we could apply if we want to act like it is an emergency and shift our emissions towards the Paris targets. Now it is up to Council to give them the authorization and resources to use those tools.

When New Westminster (or any local government) talks about greenhouse gas emissions, we talk about two types of emissions. “Corporate” emissions are those created by the City of New Westminster as a corporation – the diesel in our garbage trucks, the gasoline in our police cars, and the fossil gas used to heat water in the Canada Games Pool or City Hall. This is managed through a Corporate Energy and Emissions Reduction Strategy or CEERS. For the sake of shorthand, that is currently about 4,000 Tonnes (CO2equivilent) per year. “Community” emissions are all of the other emissions created in our community – the gas you burn in your car, the gas you use to heat your house, the emissions from the garbage that you and your neighbors toss out, etc. These are managed through a Community Energy and Emissions Plan or CEEP. And again in shorthand they amount to more than 200,000 Tonnes (CO2equivelent) per year.

When Council supported the Climate Emergency resolution, it included the targets we want to hit for emissions reductions to align with the commitments that Canada made in Paris, and with the global objective of keeping anthropogenic climate change under 1.5C. This means reducing our emissions by 45% by 2030, 60% by 2040, and 100% by 2050. These targets are for both our Corporate and Community emissions.

Clearly, the City has more control over its corporate emissions. The two biggest changes will be in re-imagining our fleet and renovating our buildings. We can accelerate the shift to low- and zero-emission vehicles as technology advances. Passenger vehicles are easy, but electric backhoes are an emergent technology, and the various energy demands of fire trucks are probably going to require some form of low-carbon liquid fuels for some time. The limits on us here are both the significant up-front capital cost of cutting-edge low-emission technology, and the ability to build charging infrastructure. Rapidly adopting low- and zero-carbon building standards for our new buildings (including the replacement for the Canada Games Pool) will be vital here, but retro-fitting some of our older building stock is something that needs to be approached in consideration of the life cycles of the buildings – when do we renovate and when do we replace?

Addressing these big two aggressively will allow us some time to deal with the category of “others”. This work will require us to challenge some service delivery assumptions through an emissions and climate justice lens. Are the aesthetic values of our (admittedly spectacular) annual gardens and groomed green grass lawns something we can continue to afford, or will we move to more perennial, native and xeriscaped natural areas? How will we provide emergency power to flood control pumps without diesel generators? Can we plant enough trees to offset embedded carbon in our concrete sidewalks?

Those longer-term details aside, corporate emissions are mostly fleet and buildings, where the only thing slowing progress is our willingness to commit budget to it, and the public tolerance for tax increases or debt spending in the short term to save money in the long term.

Community emissions are a much harder nut to crack. Part of this is because the measurement of community emissions, by their diffuse nature, are more difficult. Another part is that a local government has no legal authority to (for example) start taking away Major Road Network capacity for cars and trucks, or to regulate the type of fuel regional delivery vehicles use.

We do have a lot of control over how new buildings are built, through powers given by the Provincial “Step Code” provisions in the Building Code. A City can require that more energy efficient building be built, recognizing that this may somewhat increase the upfront cost of construction. We can also relax the energy efficiency part in exchange for requiring that space and water heating and cooking appliances be zero carbon, which may actually offset the cost increase and still achieve the emissions reductions goals. The retrofit of existing buildings will rely somewhat on Provincial and Federal incentives (that pretty much every political party is promising this election), but we may want to look at the City of Vancouver model and ask ourselves at what point should we regulate that no more new fossil gas appliances are allowed?

Shifting our transportation realm will be the hard one. The future of personal mobility is clearly electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and shared vehicles. Somehow the Techno-optimists selling this dream fail to see what those words add up to: clean, reliable public transit. Yes, we are going to have to look at electrification of our private vehicle fleets, and getting chargers for electric vehicles into existing multi-family buildings is an economic and logistical barrier to complete adoption, but ultimately we need to reduce the number of motorized private vehicles moving through our City, because that is the only way we can make the use of alternatives safer, more comfortable, and more efficient.

Denser housing, more green spaces, better waste management built on the foundation of reducing wasteful products, and distributed energy systems linked by a smarter electricity grid – these are things we can build in the City that will get us to near-zero carbon. We can layer on resiliency of our systems and food security decoupled from fossil-fuel powered transglobal supply chains, but that is another couple of blog posts. If you are not getting the hint here, we are talking about transforming much of how we live our lives, because how we have lived our lives up to now is how we ended up in this emergency despite decades of seeing it coming.

The barrier to community emissions reductions is less about money and more about community drive / tolerance for change. Every time we (for example) take away 5 parking spots on 8th Street to provide a transit queue-jumping lane, it will be described by automobile reliant neighbours as the greatest indignity this Council ever imposed on residents. Building a separated bike lane network so our residents can safely and securely use emerging zero-carbon transportation technology like e-assist bikes and electric scooters will be vilified as causing “traffic chaos”, and opponents will somehow forget that “traffic chaos” has been the operating mode of New Westminster roads for 50+ years.

The questions will be: Do we have the political will to do what must be done? Will our residents and businesses, who overwhelmingly believe that climate action is necessary, be there to support the actions that may cause them some personal inconvenience, or challenge their assumptions about how their current practice impacts the community’s emissions profile?

The delegates who came to Council asked us to act, and I threw it back at them: they need to act. As helpful as constant reminders of the need to do this work are, we need to bring the rest of the community on board as well. We passed the Climate Emergency declaration, and now we have a toolbox we are ready to open. To some in our community still mired in denial, that toolbox looks like the Ark of the Covenant from the first Indiana Jones movie. How will we shift that perception?

Shit is about to get real. We need climate champions in this community to turn their attention towards educating and motivating their neighbours – the residents, business and voters of this community – that these actions are necessary and good. Political courage only takes us to the next election, real leadership needs to come from the community. Let’s get to work.

Ears and Hearts

One challenging part about this job is that you are always learning, at least if you are doing it right. Politics and policy making are complex things. Despite North American media’s lamentable fascination with covering them like they cover sports – scores kept and hot takes and winners and losers – the reality is that there are never clear winners or losers. Politics is never (and should never be) a zero-sum game, and the simpler your answer the more wrong it probably is.

For people doing the work of elected official, there is rarely time for self-reflection. Worse, if we continue the zero-sum sports analogy model of politics, there is nothing to be gained from reflection. Make a decision and move on, hunker down if challenged. But if you are in this to make change, to build a better community or a better world, some decisions stick with you, and cost you as much sleep after you make them as they did before. I’m not saying it’s healthy.

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the Begbie Statue since casting one of the minority votes against having the statue removed from a its eponymous square. I have also had numerous discussions and read a lot of correspondence on the topic. Since this story resulted more than a dozen TV news reports and the same number of newspaper stories across the province, I even received the benefit of kudos for “taking a stand” from people all over the country.

Problem was, not a single one of them actually knew why I voted the way I did, or even cared to find out. My process concerns and desire for better policy guidance was not noted, they just presumed I was on “their team” in this us vs. them zero-win battle and that my brave stand against the forces of political correctness (ugh) was appreciated. These were hard e-mails to read, and near impossible to reply to. I also talked to people who did not agree with the way I voted, and I have to say they were generally much more aware of my actual concerns, and most expressed appreciation for my attempt to have a fuller understanding of the issue. The difference between the two “camps” was stark.

In the last few months, I have had to read some lamentable commentary on the topic in the dead tree media. Recently, some blow-hard named Douglas Todd was quick to infer intentions in writing without ever taking the time to contact anyone on our Council of from the Tŝilhqot’in to discuss the issue. Not surprisingly, this self-proclaimed expert got the entire argument wrong. I also got to enjoy a recent gaslighting attempt by New Westminster’s own Minister of Absurd Apologetics. I have to admit that reading those commentaries provided real value to me, because they helped me to understand the issues a little better. By beating away at strawmen to provide Facebook clicks for their Postmedia Oberherren, they helped me to better frame my understanding of what my Council colleagues were striving for in the removal of the statue.

It would be wrong for me to overstate the influence these conservative white guys, comfortably shouting from their money-hemorrhaging big media platforms, had on me. Their expressed opinions may have convinced me I had to write this piece, but it wasn’t them that changed my mind. That happened weeks ago around the time that I attended the ceremony where members of the Tŝilhqot’in National Government came down to honour and remember the members of their family that were unjustly killed in New Westminster.

It was then that I started to understand that this is not about the person cast in bronze, and it is not about ancient history. This is about the place, and it is about the now.

Begbie square is a place where the current justice system manifests our continued unjust treatment of Indigenous people. The place where the statue stood overlooked that entrance in a way the statue of Lady Justice did not – not with a blindfold offering balance, but with a Stetson and a pipe, on a pedestal above and staring down on those who would enter. The statue also looked over the old court house yard across Carnarvon Street, figuratively Lording over the very place where the family of the Tŝilhqot’in were killed. You do not have to oppose the idea of there being statues of Judge Begbie displayed in New Westminster or elsewhere to agree that perhaps this one place is the single least appropriate for this symbol. To place it there perpetuates the affront for which our Federal and Provincial governments have already expressed remorse.

Through this lens, it doesn’t matter if Judge Begbie was a racist or he was an ahead-of-his-time defender of the rights of Indigenous peoples (this is where Douglas Todd goes so wrong). The statue that just happens to carry Begbie’s countenance is (as expressed by the plaque on the statue) a representation of a colonial justice system that “brought order” through injustice, standing over where a most egregious injustice took place, and at a place where the impacts of structural injustice still take place today. That could not stand, and should not stand. To claim we are “erasing history” is a silly distraction; removing it acknowledges history.

I expressed concern during our Council deliberations about whether we had really done the work to remove the statue. I did not feel we had consulted with the community, with the Tŝilhqot’in, with the Qayqayt and other nations about this act. As we were only beginning our community’s Truth and Reconciliation journey, I was concerned the outcome of an action seen by many as provocative was getting us off on the wrong foot, and would close ears and hearts before the conversation started.

Then the Tŝilhqot’in honoured us by sharing their commemoration with us, and were able to tell us their stories about what this injustice meant to them as a people, the pivotal impact the loss of those leaders had on their community, how their quest to know where the remains of their family are. The true story of this place was related to me in a way it had not before. These are not my stories to tell, but after hearing them and recognizing that this is not ancient history to them, but something that they still experience today, I was lead to reconsider the importance of the symbol of the statue and of the place.

I suppose I err too often in pondering over process and policy and not enough about the importance of action. Even when I was a “rabble rouser” about town, I was always trying to think of how we can creatively and cajolingly make change happen through system shift instead of just showing up at Council guns cocked demanding change. Sometimes it worked, but that is probably a reflection of my privilege more than any kind of superpower I may have. Reconciliation is going to be a different experience, and it will challenge all of us to think about our assumptions, our processes, and our privilege.

It is clear to me now that that removing the statue was the right thing to do, perhaps I just wasn’t brave enough to agree that the time was now. I was wrong, the time was overdue.

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.