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

LMLGA 2017

The day after the election that isn’t over yet, most of your City Council carpooled up to Harrison Hot Springs to attend the annual meeting of the Lower Mainland Local Government Association. It was a packed 2-1/2 days, but here’s my quick summary of what we got up to while representing New Westminster.

The LMLGA is an “area association” that operates under the umbrella of the Union of BC Municipalities, and acts as an advocacy, information sharing, and collaboration forum for a large area, stretching from Boston Bar and Pemberton to the US border, including all of the communities of the lower Fraser Valley and Howe Sound. It represents a large, diverse region comprising dense urban centres, resort municipalities, and the majority of BC’s farms. For an organization centered around Greater Vancouver, it has a strong and effective presence from the Fraser Valley and Howe Sound regions, which makes for an interesting rural/urban mix.

The meeting has three components: the typical convention-type workshops and networking sessions, the Resolutions Session where the membership votes on advocacy issues, and the AGM with all the budget-approving and electing-officers fun.


I attended several workshop sessions, but two stood out for me, both which will probably blow up into stand-along blog posts:

“Running a City like a Business” was a discussion of this oft-used, but poorly understood phrase. The discussion seemed to revolve around the idea that local governments are not “customer focused” enough, which presumes that business hold a lock on customer service (ahem… United Airlines). The discussion seemed to also focus too much (IMO) on delivering Economic Development service, which boiled down to (and I paraphrase) “treating businesses in a business-like manner is good for businesses”, which seemed like a banal argument.

What I found more interesting was the discussion of how cities manage risk, compared to your typical business. As a rule, local governments are incredibly risk adverse, and have a structural resistance (throughout Councils, Staff, lawyers, and their policies) to trying something new just to see if it works. There was also some thought-provoking ideas around how slow Cities are to evaluate their performance and course-correct – something an effective business needs to be constantly doing to remain effective. I think everyone recognizes there are good reasons why these two characteristics exist (think about the effort we put into public consultation), but at times we may use this conservatism as accepted practice when perhaps a more dynamic approach to change would work.

“FCM–RAC Proximity Initiative” was a wide-ranging dissuasion of proximity issues between rails and communities, and between port-related industrial activity and other land uses. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Rail Association of Canada have created a set of development guidelines that local governments may use to reduce the noise, vibration, and safety impacts of rail operations on nearby residential development. Not many cities have yet picked up these guidelines, but they are a useful guide that deserve a closer look. At some point soon I am going to write a ranting blog post about working with the railways, but that would take us pretty far off the rails (1) today, but I will summarize by saying that being a good neighbour sometimes requires more action than strictly following the letter of the law, and good neighbours meet each other half way.

There were 27 resolutions debated at the meeting, and the majority of them passed. They ranged from asking the BC Government to change the building code to require outdoor fire sprinklers on balconies for 4-story wood-frame residential buildings (passed) to a request that the province start up a Municipal Lobbyist Registry to provide transparency and accountability at the local government level that already exists for the provincial and federal level (also passed).


The three most hotly-contested resolutions were remarkably diverse topics:

Criminal Records Checks for Local Government Elected Officials This resolution called on the Provincial Government to make criminal record checks part of the nomination process for those seeking local government office, reasoning that many people volunteering or working for local governments are required to provide these checks, but us elected types have no such duty. The arguments against wondered what problem we are trying to solve, raised privacy issues, and suggestions that this would create a barrier to participation in electoral politics for those with minor offences or those who had long-ago served their debt to society. The resolution failed.

Varied taxation rate for the Residential Class Currently, all residential properties within a local government taxation zone have the same “mil rate”, and inequitable increases in assessed property values results in unequal taxation – essentially people in apartments pay less into the system than those in single family detached homes, though they consume the same amount of the things taxes are meant to pay for – roads, fire, police, parks, etc. This resolution called for a split of residential tax classes to “single family” and “multi-family” – much like Industrial zoning is currently divided between “light” and “heavy” industry. The counter argument was that this created unforeseen complications, and that unequal representation may result in this being used to incentivize single family houses at the cost of denser land uses. The resolution failed.

Right to Dry The request was for a change to the Strata Act to make it illegal for Strata to forbid the drying of clothes on balconies of strata buildings. This was a surprisingly controversial issue not because of a fiery debate (some spoke of it as an energy saving measure, others didn’t want to take rights away from Stratas) but because of the long process of having a standing head count vote, including a proxy voting controversy(!), that ended with the resolution losing in a tie vote. Such is democracy.


Finally, the AGM went smoothly, with the new executive including a wordy and swarthy new City Councillor for the City of New Westminster as the newest Officer at Large. Because I have so much free time…

larrycurlymoe

E Day +1

What a crazy Tuesday night.

Since I already declared my biases and my opinion that active participation in democracy requires more than voting, it should surprise no-one that I spent a very long Election Day knocking on doors to Get Out the Vote in a potentially close riding. I was then, like many others, up until the wee hours trying to glean every bit of information out of what I was seeing on the TeeVee. It was exasperating, exciting, exhausting.

The only thing we know at this point is what we don’t know about how this is all going to play out. But I don’t know a lot, so I may as well write my thoughts.

For the NDP, it is hard to not feel like this is a win, if not as big a win as they would have liked. Based on the direction of polls in the last week and the apparent campaign strength of the Liberals, getting close enough to force the Liberals to put their hubris away is a positive result. As critical as some people (including myself) were of parts of the NDP campaign, the benefit of hindsight may suggest they knew exactly where to put their resources, and where the wins had to come. With essentially the same vote as last election, they are within a whiff majority. Because of the wonders of gerrymandering, it was assumed by some that the NDP would need to poll 3-5 points ahead of the Liberals to get a majority of seats, and the strategy of concentrating on “winnable” ridings and holding what they had instead of spreading themselves too thin almost paid off.

For the Greens, there is good news, if unrealized hopes. The (potential) hung parliament puts them in a position of delicate power, and only time will tell if Weaver is nuanced enough to wield it effectively. However, if their goal was 4 seats and Official Party Status, they have fallen short, and may again struggle to put together the resources they need between elections to be as strong a voice as the electorate is suggesting they want. There was some excellent campaign work by some local teams (including here in New West), and that will probably pay long-term benefits electorally, but they still have much work to do before they are ready to run a true province-wide campaign and escape the stigma of being thought of as potential spoilers for other “more likely to win” parties.

As always, their best bet is still supporting the introduction of some form of proportional representation, only now, they have a clear pathway to get that done.

Christy Clark put on a brave face in her “victory” speech, but she was a loser here. Going in, she had every reason to believe this would be a great election. The “Economy” (within the narrow confines of how she defines it) is going great, they had by far the most campaign money available to them, and an almost unlimited amount of pre-election taxpayer dollars to get their message out. They had the endorsement of all major media outlets, the polls were going their way… it was their campaign to lose.

Regardless of who holds the balance of power after the recounts and brokering are done, the Premier has lost a lot of her inner circle. Suzanne Anton, Amrik Virk, Peter Fassbender, Naomi Yamamoto. The Holy Trinity of DeJong, Polak and Coleman will hold up her right flank, and it seems Wilkinson is a natural to replace Fassbender as the Minister of Taking Out the Garbage, but there is no doubt her inner circle is damaged.

The best she can hope for right now is that final counts flip her a riding or two, and she takes a razor-thin majority into the house. If this happens, we will see a very different Liberal Party, because they will need to be all present for every vote (no sick leave, no vacations, and dear God, no-one die!) and may even, to make passing legislation work, need to work across the aisle and collaborate a bit to avoid chaos. Of course, the same applies if the NDP string together a razor-thin majority or cobble together a coalition. Or we could all be doing this again in September when the current budget runs out.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We really don’t know what the next couple of weeks will bring, but it should be an interesting lesson in civics.

Voting for…

I have written a few things about this election, and recognize that (perhaps reflecting our social media environment) much of it is about what I am voting against. This post I’m going to avoid all of that and speak only about what I am voting for have already voted for.

I voted for change. Real change that can start on May 10th.

I voted for a leader that works with a team and speaks with people. One of my first impressions of John Horgan at a rally last year was that he called attention to his team. He talked less about himself and more about the accomplishments of David Eby, of Melanie Mark, of Judy Darcy. A good manager (and really, that’s what a Party Leader is) is one who gives his team the tools they need to get their work done, and supports them in that work. In watching his interactions with his team, that is exactly the kind of guy John Horgan is. He also speaks to – and listens to – people, no deposit required. He does not turn away from a dissenting voice, whether giving a heckler at a public event a chance to speak his peace, or following up with a party supporter like me when he makes a campaign promise I don’t support. I want my province and its government to be well managed, and John Horgan seems to me to be the kind of manager I would work for.

I voted for a balanced and costed platform that doesn’t over promise, but delivers solutions to critical issues on a realistic timeline. Real change includes a long-overdue coordinated provincial approach to day care that will ultimately result in a universal $10/day plan. Real change means turning electricity planning and rate forecasting back to the BCUC, the independent agency of subject experts working specifically to keep politicians from milking BC Hydro for short-term benefit. Real change means investing in health care to bring residential care up to the government’s own established standards. Real change means a respectful and accountable approach to Truth and Reconciliation that goes beyond lip service. Real change is attainable, starting next week. Time to stop putting it off.

I voted for a stronger democracy. We need campaign finance reform, reducing the influence of corporations and unions on the way our province is run, and reducing the cost of elections by reducing the money available for all of those noisy attack ads. We also need electoral reform, so that a vote for the party you want is more meaningful even if your party cannot form a majority. These changes can be delivered in the next term, moving BC from the “wild west” of elections to a modern, functional democracy.

I voted for a party that will support our region by putting our region’s biggest issues at the front of their platform. The Mayor’s Council (a diverse group of NDP, Liberal, and Conservative politicians) have made a clear choice this election, endorsing the NDP approach to regional transportation, including supporting the 10-year vision for transportation investment. I cannot help but believe that our affordable housing file will be better managed under David Eby, who has been the most passionate and pragmatic political voice on this issue for the last 4 years. The opioid crisis needs to be treated as the public health emergency it is, not with sympathy and naloxone, but with the resources needed to save lives and get people out of the cycle of addiction.

I voted for a party that will represent the diversity of British Columbia. The NDP are running a group of candidates across the province that represent the diversity of the Province. We also need a party that will measure our economic success not by increases in wealth for the most fortunate, but by how that wealth invests in the future of the province. A minimum wage that provides dignity, removing punitive cuts to those with disabilities, investing the seismic upgrading of schools, returning to the business of supportive housing… the list goes on. We are a rich province, we will continue to be a rich province because of our wealth of resources (natural and human) and our fortunate location in the evolving world. It is time we started acting like a wealthy province and invest in our people.

I voted for a great MLA. Judy Darcy is someone I am proud to support. She works hard, she works collaboratively, and she treats all people with respect. She is loud when she has to be, and is quietly collaborative when that approach is needed. She is supremely optimistic about her city, about her province, and about the positive role of government. I have seen her work hard in New Westminster, and speak loudly in Victoria. She has brought positive initiatives to New Westminster, even while in opposition. I know she will work just as hard for us when she is in government, and New Westminster will have a voice in Victoria that will be heard.

Most importantly, I voted. Please get out there and vote for the result you want to see.

The cost of everything

For regular readers of this blog (Hi Mom!) and my social media feeds, my biases this election have been made pretty clear. I have gone on at length over the last couple of years about the public policy reasons I think we need a change in Victoria, from transportation to affordable housing to regional planning and climate/energy policy. Six years into this, my initial hopes that the Liberals under Christy Clark would surprise everyone and govern to the centre have been dashed. Then tossed under the wheels of a bus. A bus recently set on fire.

To quote another notable Conservative leader, “An election is no time to discuss serious issues”, and a myriad of public policy issues in this province are clearly too serious for our major media outlets to give them headline treatment. However, the fact this following headline is not the biggest (or only) issue in this election suggests our democracy is not as healthy as we would like:

headline

We are at the point where even the most ardent of Christy Clark supporters are not bothering to battle the perception that she, and the party she leads, is corrupt. The recent strategy to paint their opposition as similarly (if not equally) corrupt is evidence of this: they cannot deny their own record or the public perception, they just hope to splash around enough mud that everyone looks dirty.

There is no point going through the exhaustive list of ethical issues this government has faced. From the illegal stripping of teachers contracts that was defended for 12 years all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada before they had to admit they were wrong (although, they never admitted they were wrong) to the shady sale of BC Rail and resultant police investigation and hush-money scandal broken by a guy who is now a Liberal Candidate(!). There are the number of blatantly false statements on the record regarding RCMP investigations, one resulting in a death. We had triple deleting of e-mails, “Quick Wins”, a Party ED indicted for corruption in Ontario., we had Bloy, Virk, Grayden, and Boessenkool. The list goes on.

When is the last time you saw a televised debate where the moderator was comfortable reading a list of ethical failures and asking the leader of a governing party, straight out: After all this, how can we trust you? Clark’s answer was, in essence, “it doesn’t matter“. That alone should lose an election.

All this aside (and that is a lot to toss aside), Clark cannot escape the public’s realization that she is bought and paid for, that decisions being made are based on donation received by her party, and by herself though a tidy little fundraising dividend (that is also resulting in a police investigation). It may be the oldest axiom in politics that you “got to dance with them that brung you”, and there are varying levels of truth to that idea. I’m an elected official, I received donations from people, companies, and unions towards my campaign. I know how sensitive is the suggestion those donations come with strings, and do everything in my power to avoid conflict of interest.

However, rarely in government are these strings so laid bare as with the current BC Liberal Party. The recent report by Dermod Travis connects the dots between the donations given to the BC Liberals and the variety of benefits afforded to those who are in the Millionaires Club. From avoiding charges in the biggest environmental spill in Canada’s history to sweetheart infrastructure deals and continued access to target bears at $30,000 a pop. It is banal to read through, and it is easy to see why Clark is not even trying to mount a defense.

None of this, I note, is policy related. Nothing here is directly linked to the serious job of governance. If defeated, Christy Clark will potentially have no governance legacy at all, except a closet full of skeletons that have long since spilled out and filled the room.

But, electorally, what does it mean?

Here we are with 10 days to go, the polls show the election is still too close to call. The Postmedia Newspapers of Note are dutifully reporting BC Liberal talking points in attempt to paint the opposition as angry or creepy; social media bubbles are keeping all but the most trolly of us away from hearing different opinions, and everyone is wondering if the Greens will be spoilers, and if so, for whom? Somehow the idea of re-electing what is (according to media from New York to Los Angeles) a fossil-fuel embedded kleptocracy of the first order, is not out of the realm of possibility. Not only is this not front page, it is hardly a story at all. We are so saturated in corruption, that we have lost our sensitivity to it.

I think this government deserves relegation to the penalty box for a bunch of public policy reasons. I am more bothered by the idea that a government, so demonstrably crooked that they won’t even bother denying it anymore, actually thinks that doesn’t matter to the electorate. What really keeps me up at night, though, is that they may be right. As someone who (perhaps naively) works every day to further better public policy and the democratic process, I don’t even know what that means.

Narrative

Elections are about campaigns, and campaigns are about narratives.

This is what makes the silly little story of Christy Clark and her posse ducking out of the Sun Run after the start-line Photo-Op interesting.

Photo-Ops are as much a part of a modern campaign as fundraising and debates. Showing up for a big public event like the Sun Run seems like a smart idea: Get a number, don some running gear, look like you’re part of the crowd, be relatable. Ducking out of an event after the photo-op is also not a surprising a move, so why was this duck-out a big deal for Christy Clark?

Because it fits the narrative that the opposition NDP have sucessfully placed around Christy Clark: she can’t be trusted, she’s crooked, she’s an opportunist and a cheater.

Showing up for a running race with your race gear, then diving out of the race before the end doesn’t smell genuine – it seems a bit like you’re cheating. You want people to think you put in an effort, you got photographed apparently putting in the effort, but you didn’t actually put in the effort. You lied to those people you were trying to relate to. Its sneaky in a way donning the hardhat at a construction site isn’t. It feels dishonest. It fits the narrative.

However, if there is a more interesting story coming out of the Sun Run Photo-op, it has to do with this photo:
samsunrun

Sam Sullivan has a tradition of showing up near the end of the Sun Run and sending high fives and encouragement to the runners as they go by. It’s a way for him to participate in the biggest annual event within his riding, and he has done it for years. Sure, it is Photo-op, but it connects with people, it feels genuine, and therefore it’s pretty cool. So it is perhaps apropos that Christy Clark didn’t bother to run far enough this year to share a high five or photo with Sam Sullivan. This, unfortunately for Sam, fits the narrative of his invisibility and ineffectiveness as an MLA.

I don’t think there’s another MLA in the province that has been as disappointing as Sam Sullivan. Love or hate his politics, this man was a champion for his City, with a vision for a more livable Vancouver, and an understanding of its role in the region. A politician with his resume (the former mayor of the biggest city in the province!) and his passion would be expected to have a prominent seat at the table in any provincial caucus. Instead, the most common hashtag used in the social media around his work has been #InvisibleSam. In the Christy Clark caucus, as in Cristy Clark’s British Columbia, there are winners and losers. Sam, along with the the smart and competent Moira Stilwell, also from Vancouver, is definitely on the wrong side of that equation. As a result, Sam has sat silently on the back bench during the public transit and transportation boondoggles, has been invisible during the overdose crisis, has been missing during the housing crisis. All of these issues that are so important to his riding, that disproportionately impact the City for which he served as mayor, that threaten his own vision for that City, are the issues he failed to meaningfully adress.

I don’t feel good picking on Sam about this. I’m sure he is as frustrated about this situation as any of us, because I do believe he cares about Vancouver, and I know he understands the public policy that can make his City better. However, this is about the leadership of Liberals, and the inability push good public policy forward within a Caucus system that is based on punishment and reward and appeasing donors. That is the narrative of Sam. At least Stilwell has the guts and the dignity to get out when she can, and call this government what it is:

moira

Fortunately, in this election Sam is running against Morgane Oger, a passionate advocate for education in a riding where BC Liberal failure on that file has resulted in a school deficit, even as the neighbourhood booms with an influx of young families and professionals – the type of mixed-use higher-density family-friendly development that Sam Sullivan himself supported when he was Mayor. It seems he cannot (or will not) speak out from his MLA seat, even as his government chooses to undermine the vision he helped create for his City. Morgane is running from behind, in a riding that will be tough to win, but if you are in Vancouver I hope you can find a way to help her get a seat in Victoria. She has a long history of speaking out for what is important to her and her community, and False Creek (and the rest of Vancouver) could use some of that right now.

How can we expect Sam to now speak up for his community, when he can’t even get a photo-op high-five from his own Premier?

Regional Vision(s)

With a busy schedule at the city, and so much election-related angst and chatter and tension and fluff, I found a way to be inspired and challenged in the most positive way on Thursday.

The City Program at Simon Fraser University and the SFU Centre for Dialogue hosted a constructive dialogue on the topic of the Regional Plan, or more on the very topic of regional planning in a Metro Vancouver context. The guiding questions for a compelling 4 hour conversation were:

Is this vision of “Cities in a Sea of Green” still appropriate? Will it sustain us for the next half century? What are the issues our vision must address if it is going to continue to serve the region?

In the room were about two dozen regional leaders from academia, activists and community conversation leaders, planners new and old, and a couple of elected types, both new and old. I would love to list resumes, and attribute quotes (there were many great quotable moments), but the program was run under Chatham House Rule, in order to facilitate freer dialogue. There will be reporting out via the City Program, but what that looks like probably depends on where this new dialogue leads.

In as short a summary as I can muster, my read of the feeling in the room was that the vision and the resultant Regional Plans have served the region well, even as the populations rise, the economy boomed and busted, our economic drivers shifted, and public transit replaced freeways as the ideal connector between city centres. However, there are many flaws in its applicaiton, and many of the current crises challenging the region (affordability, transportation, increasing social alienation) have at least partial connections to the vision itself. The consideration of keeping this vision or developing a new one needs to be measured against its ability to adress our new pressures. There was a broad consensus that this is the time for the Region to be having this conversation, as the pressures right now feel large enough to shift the region in pretty fundamantal ways. I was driven to think about our beautiful, admired, and unique region as being on a precipice.

Instead of trying to summarize the entire diverse conversation here, I would like to touch on just a few points that really hit me.

The conversation we prefaced by a report by a small group of grad students from SFU that looked at the history of regional planning in Greater Vancouver, and the pressures on the current plan:

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The historic timeline was interesting. A few burgeoning communities collaborating on water and sewer systems in the first half of the last century prefaced an initial dabbling in regional landuse planning driven by the disastrous flood of 1948, but the first comprehensive regional growth strategy emerged in 1966 (where the vision “Cities in a Sea of Green” was first codified). This vision was still of town centers (Vancouver, Surrey, New Westminster, Langley, etc. separated by greenspace and agricultural lands, tied together by freeways, as was the ethos of the day.

The complex history since this time has involved complex relationships between the province and the local government leaders – and there were great forward moves (The 1973 establishment of the ALR, formation of the GVRD, the 1975 Livable Region Plan and 1996 Livable Region Strategic Plan, the 1998 formation of TransLink) and equally important slips backwards (Bill 9 in 1983, which abolished the regional planning function, the 2007 stripping of local governance of TransLink). Tried as I might, I couldn’t correlate the emphasis on regional planning with anything (resource industry boom-bust cycles, global economic shifts, housing prices, Canucks playoff runs) except with the name of the party forming government in Victoria.

That is part of a larger theme that became common: any plans made by the region for the region exists in a larger context of federal and provincial politics and how larger forces look at the purpose of our region.

It was noted that when Simon Fraser introduced the idea of the river that bears his name to the European colonist social media, there were more than 20,000 people living along its banks between Musqueam and Kwantlen. In a very literal sense, he was the first Gateway project planner. His goal was to push a route for hinterland commerce through to the coast, occasionally stopping to seek the permission of the people living there, but not overly concerned with whether that permission was granted. Two hundred years later, the Gateway has other leaders, but the mandate is little changed. As such, the story of the region can be told as a long series of carpet-baggers pushing past the locals for profit. The livability of the region, the ecology that supports it, the local food web and cultural values of the residents are no more important now to the National Enterprise of getting hinterland resources to tidewater than they were in 1808.

It would be ridiculous to equate our current planning frictions the centuries of cultural genocide that took place in North America; the point is only that the fundamental pressures have had similar vectors for a couple of centuries, even at massively shifting scales. There is no reason to asume that founding narrative will change now, and the best laid local and regional plans will fail if the important decisions that shape the region (Port Mann and Massey Bridges spring immediately to mind) are driven by different people working on a completely different plan.

In the end, the strongest feeling I had coming out of this event was (I sure hope @MsNWimby isn’t reading this) a desire to go back to school. To be sitting in a dialogue with people much smarter than me, bringing disciplines together and sharing compelling ideas that force me to shift my own assumptions about a topic so close to my heart was the most fun I have had in a few years.

Why can’t Facebook be like this?