Enjoy summer in our spectacular city!

With August fast approaching I should let you all know that my partner Penny and I are taking our annual August staycation. This means I won’t be blogging until after Labour Day.

We already have a number of exciting items booked into our staycation schedule! What a great city to live in.

A visit to the Museum of Anthropology is always high on our list of to-dos. The feature exhibit, Amazonia: The Rights of Nature, explores the creative ideas that inspire indigenous resistance to threats facing the world’s largest rainforest.

Granville Island is also high on our list of places to go. It really is hard to believe it was only a few decades ago that this site was all industrial. A visionary who was also a longtime member of Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal cabinet — Ron Basford — saw the site’s great potential and now we have the most pedestrian-friendly venue in all of Vancouver. With Emily Carr University of Art and Design moving off the island to Great Northern Way, plans are underway to upgrade the island. Lets hope this doesn’t result in Granville Island losing any of the qualities that have made it so successful to date.

A trip to Southlands Nursery reminds us every year of this oasis within the City of Vancouver. Much like Granville Island the entire Southlands area — with its unique zoning regulations that allow for horse stables and a countryside atmosphere — demonstrates the power of what is possible in a city with the power of creative urban planning.

Have a great summer, and make sure you take time to really appreciate what a spectacular city we live in!

Posted in British Columbia, Liberal Party, Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Omar Khadr, torture & holding governments to account

Omar Khadr has been in the news recently. The federal government has agreed to an out-of-court settlement estimated to be $10.5 million. This has angered many Canadians.

It has not angered me at all. In fact, it confirms my long-standing belief that governments engaging in torture must be held accountable. Let me explain.

At the age of 15 Omar, a Canadian citizen, was in Afghanistan fighting American forces. He was engaged in a firefight at the end of which an American soldier was dead. No one knows for sure whether of not Omar was responsible for the American’s death. What little evidence there is against him is entirely circumstantial.

Omar was taken into custody by the Americans and then subjected to brutal torture over a multi-year period. Eventually, as a direct result of the torture, he “confessed” to having thrown a grenade at the American soldier who had died.

We must do everything in out power to ensure that our government is never complicit in torture.[Photo: Justin Norman, ‘Witness Against Torture’ fast for justice and march from the White House to the US Supreme Court on behalf of Guantánamo Detainees.]

Former Crown Counsel Sandy Garossino has written an excellent article about this case in the National Observer. Detail by detail, she takes apart the case against Omar and leaves the reader with no doubt that absent the “confession”, he would never have been convicted.

We must do everything in out power to ensure that our government is never complicit in torture. Even more important, confessions obtained through the use of torture must never be used to convict.

Let us not forget that Omar was a child soldier.

I had the honour and the privilege of meeting Omar Khadr just over a year ago. He is a very beautiful human being. He radiates forgiveness. And he holds no grudge against any of the people who committed the terrible acts of torture against him over so many years.

Let us also not forget that the payment to Omar is to compensate him for a lost decade of life. Canada did absolutely nothing to help bring about his freedom from Guantanamo. Had it not been for a remarkable Edmonton-based lawyer, Dennis Edney, who acted for Omar pro bono for many years, he would still be languishing in that despicable military prison.

When governments acquiesce to torture and fail to stand up for their own citizens, they must be held accountable. This out-of-court settlement sends a strong signal. Future governments will, hopefully, do a much better job.

Posted in Canadian politics, equality, justice system, law, terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The shadow of Geoff Meggs

Big news on the political front: Geoff Meggs is leaving civic politics and moving to the provincial scene, where he will be working for premier-designate, John Horgan, as chief of staff. While I have been very pleased with all of John Horgan’s other announcements so far, this one leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Many will be unfamiliar with Geoff Meggs’ past, but it’s a past worth knowing.

Years ago he held a senior position within the fishermen’s union. There, Meggs used his position to polarize two factions within the union, leading to civil war within it. Instead of building bridges, he sought to divide.

Meggs then moved on to work for then-NDP premier, Glen Clark. Once again, he used his considerable skills not to unify or build bridges but, instead, to divide. He did everything in his power to pit the green, environmental wing of the party against the labour wing. This made it very difficult for the environmental current within the provincial NDP to advance many of its objectives.

After Glen Clark left provincial politics, Larry Campbell was elected mayor of Vancouver. As a sitting city councillor of the day, I witnessed Geoff Meggs’ destructive modus operandi in his role as Campbell’s executive assistant. Meggs did everything in his power to create two camps within the COPE caucus. Every effort by others, including myself, to find common cause between the two was thwarted by Geoff Meggs.

This led to the undermining of COPE with one of the party’s factions going on to form Vision Vancouver. I don’t need to tell readers familiar with civic politics that Vision Vancouver is very developer friendly. Geoff Meggs, of course, aligned himself with this faction.

It is no secret that Geoff Meggs and Vision Vancouver have a warm, mutually-beneficial relationship with developers. Pictured here are Meggs, the Trump family, Joo Kim Tiah (Holborn Group) and George Wong (Magnum Projects) at the Trump Tower site.

So it is that I see dark clouds on the horizon with regard to the newly formed NDP-Green alliance. I predict that Meggs will do everything in his power to undermine this potentially very positive arrangement.

I hope I am wrong, but a word of warning to Green leader Andrew Weaver: Keep your eye on Geoff Meggs, for he is a very destructive force.

Posted in affordable housing, British Columbia, COPE, Elections - British Columbia, influence peddling, NDP, Trumpism, US politics, Vancouver, Vision Vancouver | Tagged | 2 Comments

City Hall delays; The most vulnerable pay

In my May 26 blog, I forcefully advocated a cost-effective solution for when the City of Vancouver is faced with a slum landlord providing unsafe accommodations to its tenants. The solution: that the City perform all necessary repairs, then simply charge the owner for this cost by placing a lien on the property at the land title office.

Balmoral Hotel, Vancouver.

Within days of my blog, the Balmoral Hotel was in the news again. Owned by one of the province’s most notorious slum landlords, the Balmoral has suffered absolutely atrocious conditions for many years. One local reporter, Larry Pynn, was investigating and reporting on the deplorable “third world” conditions there — and city hall’s failure to act — as far back as 1992!

Vision Vancouver, holding a majority on City Council, has simply sat on the sidelines for more than a decade. They took no action. No action, that is, until the situation had become so dire that the building was literally at risk of collapse. Finally, they acted but it was too late to protect the tenants, many of whom had lived in the Balmoral for years. The City obtained an order evicting all of them due to concerns that the building is at risk of collapse.

If only the City had acted years earlier! Tenants have now been dispersed into many different places of accommodation. Neighbourhood networks built up over years have come to an end and, once again, we’re losing many SRO units.

When will Vision Vancouver learn that the time to act is before it is time to evict civil society’s most vulnerable tenants?

Posted in affordable housing, homelessness, influence peddling, National Housing Strategy, Vision Vancouver | Tagged | 2 Comments

NDP-Greens’ take on pro rep: the great transformer

With the results now finally in for the Courtney-Comox riding, it’s official — Christy Clark and the provincial Liberals failed in their attempt to obtain a majority. Better yet, BC’s NDP and Greens have entered into an agreement to bring down the Liberals. If all goes according to plan, we are about to witness some truly historic and very positive changes in the political landscape — changes that will be transformational.

The NDP and Greens have agreed to change the way in which we elect our provincial government. Our current first-past-the-post system is a divisive one that results in very little space for political currents outside the narrow range of “mid-point” politics. By “mid-point” politics I mean the lowest common denominator. With the system we have now, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, for political parties to advance leading edge ideas that are not already accepted as bread and butter issues.

With a move to proportional representation, I predict the birth of a number of new, smaller political parties. Some might reflexively respond that this is a bad thing, but I would suggest quite the contrary.

A buffet of many smaller parties increases the likelihood that we can finally vote for a party as opposed to voting against a party we don’t want. This happens when a variety of parties exist, creating a better chance that individuals will find one that best represents their belief system.

Many smaller parties working together in the legislative assembly will also change the way politics is done in Victoria. Parties will be forced to work with each other and not against each other, and consensus will become the name of the game.

Apart from promising the electorate a new and better way of electing our provincial government, the NDP-Green agreement also commits to many additional and important objectives — stopping the Kinder Morgan pipeline and beefing up environmental assessment processes; increasing transit funding; rethinking the Site C dam and Massey tunnel project; new childcare spaces; and more.

But from my point of view, the change promised for our electoral system is more important than all of the other commitments combined. This is because a move to pro rep will benefit all of us for generations to come.

Posted in BC Liberals, British Columbia, Elections - British Columbia, Liberal Party, NDP, People Power, proportional representation, Site C Dam, transportation, Vancouver | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The nightmare of SRO conditions can be solved in an instant

With income assistance rates frozen for over 10 years now, welfare recipients have a very small amount available for rent. With the province of BC providing a single person on welfare with only $610 a month, SRO landlords are very limited in what they can charge for rent. So they use the low rental revenue as a pretext for not being able to provide proper maintenance and upkeep. (If you don’t know what it’s really like inside an SRO, check out the recent excellent article in the Vancouver Sun by Denise Ryan here. It’s a nightmare!)

Here’s one major reason for the problem. The purchase price paid for SRO buildings is far too high. Once purchased, typically with a small down payment, the mortgage payments consume most, if not all, of the limited rental revenue. This leaves little, if any, money for much-needed maintenance and repairs.

The City of Vancouver could remedy this problem in an instant. It has the legal authority to perform all necessary maintenance and upkeep and put the costs on the SRO title as a charge. If the City were to start doing this on a regular basis, it would send what economists call a signal to the marketplace. Purchasers of SRO buildings would factor in the future cost of all necessary maintenance and upkeep costs, which would mean they would only be willing to pay a lower price. Purchasers would simply not be prepared to pay a price that would result in inevitable yearly losses.

With a lower purchase price, the mortgage taken out would be smaller and therefore the mortgage payments would also be smaller, leaving more money for maintenance and upkeep.

Don’t let it be said again by SRO owners that with SRO rents so low they don’t have money left over to pay for much-needed maintenance and upkeep. By paying too much for the SRO building in the first place, they are the authors of their own problem.

Posted in affordable housing, BC Liberals, British Columbia, City Hall, economy, equality, homelessness, National Housing Strategy, Planning, social justice, Vancouver, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t shoot the messengers

Edward Snowden is a household name — he’s a whistleblower who so profoundly upset the very powerful that he was forced to flee his home country.

What we tend to forget is that in almost all bureaucracies and governments, big and small, there’s the need for anyone who sees wrongdoing in her or his workplace to speak out about it.

88_whistleblower-2Bureaucracies, even the best, by their very nature tend to create a party line. Critical thinking is not encouraged. In the long run, this can have a devastating impact on the vitality of the organization. More importantly, a “party line mentality” makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for the proverbial whistleblower to speak out. This is unfortunately the case even when it is not only in the best interests of the bureaucracy or organization in question, it’s also in the best interests of those being served, including society as a whole.

CBC Radio’s Ideas recently did a program on this topic. Called “Don’t Shoot the Messenger”, you can find it here.

All of the above brings me to Vancouver City Councillor Adriane Carr’s recent whistleblower protection motion. Before we take a moment to look at its details, it’s important to acknowledge the fact that all of Vancouver’s citizens are better served when each and every person working for the City of Vancouver can speak out and speak up without any fear of retribution.

Ironically, an environment that protects whistleblowers actually reduces the likelihood and need for it as those tempted to abuse power will think twice before doing since they know that their colleagues will not be fearful of speaking out.

Councillor Carr’s motion asks for a review of whistleblower protection for city staff with an eye to provide things like independent investigations of any alleged wrongdoings; guaranteed anonymity if a whistleblower chooses to be anonymous; and protection for whistleblowers from reprisals.

Her motion arose after recent an investigative news report of a controversial land swap deal involving the city losing out on $65-million worth of land and the city waiving development cost levies.

I was hoping support for this motion would be a slam dunk, but unfortunately the Vision-majority Council voted to refer it back to staff, which could mean delaying it up to several years. Let’s keep out fingers crossed that it will ultimately receive the total support of Council that it deserves and is not dealt with in a partisan manner.

Posted in British Columbia, civil disobedience, Green Party, Vancouver | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Hanging by a thread

Takabisha_roller_coaster

[Photo Alex Brogan CC Attribution 3.0 Unported]

Wow! What a night it was! And it ain’t over yet!

I’ve witnessed many election night roller coasters but nothing quite like last night.

I went to sleep last night dreaming of proportional representation, big money out of politics (union and business donations alike), no Kinder Morgan pipeline, no Site C dam, and no Massey bridge.

I woke up, and after hearing the latest news, I’m not quite so euphoric. When I went to bed the Liberals were at 42 seats — 2 seats shy of a majority and tied with the NDP, also at 42 seats, with the Greens holding 3. However, in the middle of the night Vancouver-False Creek flipped from NDP to Liberal, moving the Liberals from 42 seats up to 43 and the NDP down to 41.

All is not lost, however, as even with 41 seats the NDP could command a majority of the legislation assembly if John Horgan can work out an arrangement with Andrew Weaver and the Greens (41 + 3 = 44 seats, which is a majority). It gets slightly worse, however, as the riding of Courtenay-Comox is in the in NDP column but hanging by the thinnest thread — just 9 votes!

The absentee ballots in this riding have yet to be counted and will include all votes from the local military base, CFB Comox. The Liberal candidate, Jim Benninger, is a former base commander. If the absentee votes break ever so slightly in favour of Benninger, the Liberals will move up one more from 43 to 44 seats, and we will be facing another Liberal term.

Fingers crossed that last night’s dream comes true and today’s worries are exaggerated. Only time will tell.

Posted in BC Liberals, British Columbia, Elections - British Columbia, Green Party, Liberal Party, NDP, proportional representation | Comments Off on Hanging by a thread

When orange is the new green

Yellow Blue Colours Colour Dandelion Green OrangeWe’re just over halfway through the provincial election campaign and the outcome is more uncertain than any previous election — more uncertain because we are no longer talking about just two parties. Let me explain.

Since the collapse in 1972 of the provincial Liberal and Conservative parties in the aftermath of the Dave Barrett NDP election victory, election campaigns in BC have focused on only two parties — the left-of-centre NDP and one incarnation or another of the free enterprise vote, either the Socreds (Social Credit Party) or the current iteration of the BC “Liberals”. In this election we now have a third viable option: BC’s Green Party.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting for a moment that Andrew Weaver and the provincial Greens have any chance of winning the election. For that matter, they certainly will not even form the official opposition. However, if the NDP win the election capturing more seats than the Liberals but lose a number of their current seats on Vancouver Island, where the Greens are currently polling ahead of both the NDP and the Liberals, then we may very well end up with the dream scenario I blogged about April 19 — an NDP minority with the Greens holding a balance of power!

In Europe, most, if not all of the Green parties run in coalition with left-of-centre parties — a so-called red/green alliance. From my point of view this would be ideal. The NDP could certainly be moved to a more progressive position on a number of environmental issues. The Green Party could certainly be moved to a more progressive position on a number of labour issues. An NDP/Green coalition — an orange/green alliance — might just result in the best of both worlds.

Today, Germany stands at the forefront of nations moving from conventional carbon-based energy to renewable energy. Analysts from all points of the political spectrum give the German Green Party credit for this. At the same time, speaking from a personal perspective, I have not always been happy with the foreign policy decisions of the German Green Party.

If we had proportional representation in BC we could predict with some sense of confidence that this election will produce the first ever NDP minority with the Greens holding the balance of power. As we don’t have pro rep, it’s impossible to predict. That makes voting more important than ever, so be sure your voice is heard May 9. (For information on how and where to vote, go to Elections BC.)

In the meantime, what we do know is this: The likelihood of an orange/green coalition government in Victoria is growing stronger by the day!

Posted in Elections - British Columbia, Green Party, Liberal Party, NDP, People Power, proportional representation, Vancouver | Comments Off on When orange is the new green

Double or nothing: Garbage collection vs. city councillors?

City council salaries are in the news again!

The Vancouver Courier’s Mike Howell, in one of his recent 12th and Cambie columns, notes that all city councillors but one are earning more than $100,000 per year, and that’s before any additional remuneration they collect, say, for chairing other committees such as ones tied to Metro Vancouver. This reminds me of a number of interesting conversations that have occurred over the years about the work of a city councillor.

Many years ago when my hero, Harry Rankin, was on city council, the topic of councillor salaries came up for debate. Council was once again deciding whether or not to award itself a pay raise — clearly a conflict of interest if there ever was one. Those debating in favour of the pay raise argued that the time it was taking city councillors to carry out their duties had doubled and, therefore, a commensurate pay raise was more than appropriate.

Harry Rankin would have none of it. To start, he was recognized by folks from all parts of the political spectrum as being by far the most efficient member of council. He had no difficulty staying on top of all of his council duties along with his very busy law practice.

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Our garbage collection workers make half the salary of city councillors, but who could we manage without longer? [Photo: qousqous CC by 2.0]

Harry’s take was to ask his fellow council members how long a factory owner would keep his workers when they admitted it was taking them twice as long to complete their jobs. Workers who suggested they had become half as efficient, he argued, wouldn’t be awarded a pay raise — they would be fired! As I’m sure you can guess, the councillors of the day awarded themselves a hefty pay raise anyway, but Harry’s argument has always stayed with me.

Readers of this blog who know anything about my politics will be surprised to learn of my compliments to former NPA Mayor Gordon Campbell. During his administration he decided it was time to put an end, once and for all, to city councillors regularly deciding how large their pay raise should be.

In fact, he decided they should not have a say at all in setting their pay rates. Instead, it should be equivalent to the amount earned by the average person employed at the City of Vancouver as measured by Statistics Canada. Such an egalitarian idea coming from such a right-wing mayor! Campbell’s proposal was approved by council, with Councillor Rankin’s strong support.

I was pleased that for many post-Campbell years, this egalitarian approach was followed by successive city councils.

When I was on council, partway through my second term (2002-05), COPE had a comfortable majority with the mayor and 8 of the 10 councillors belonging to the party. Some of the then-COPE councillors, who subsequently left COPE and formed Vision Vancouver, were terribly dissatisfied with the salary they were earning. One day a new and notably small pay raise kicked in for City Hall staff, including the secretarial support staff for city council.

I can still recall (with a smile) the discussion I had with Councillor Tim Stevenson. He was quite upset that his secretary was getting this small raise and yet he was, as he stated, “significantly underpaid”.

I asked him what his choice would be if we raised the salary of city council secretaries to match that of councillors: Would he become a secretary or remain a city councillor? He looked bewildered and replied, why a city councillor of course! Who would ever want to be a secretary!?

I didn’t respond but the question stands: Why should any position that rewards those who hold it with power and prestige also receive more and more money at the behest of those who hold that position?

I’m sad to say that just a few years ago council finally did away with former Mayor Campbell’s egalitarian approach, replacing it with a system for salaries allegedly based on comparisons with other cities and adjusted for population size, budgets and more.

Before signing off, I’ll leave you with one more thought about council salaries, this one from my significant other, Penny Parry. She asked me the other day how long Vancouver would be able to manage without garbage collection workers, and how long it could manage without Tim Stevenson and the Vision Vancouver majority on city council. It reminded me that councillors are paid roughly double the amount paid to the people who collect our garbage every week.

 

Posted in COPE, equality, fiscal responsibility, Harry Rankin, Vancouver, Vision Vancouver | 1 Comment