Shauna Sylvester: A Trojan horse for Vision?

Does it really appear that Vision Vancouver will not be running a mayoral candidate in this fall’s municipal election?

With Vision Vancouver’s deadline for individuals seeking the party’s mayoral nomination now passed — and nobody having declared an intent — it would appear at first glance that Vision will not be running a mayoral candidate. However, we need to look a little deeper.

Longtime Vision member Shauna Sylvester recently announced her intention to run for mayor in this fall’s municipal election. She announced that she would be running as an independent candidate seeking the support of all left, progressive forces.

But Shauna’s ongoing relationship with Vision Vancouver has gone largely unreported by the media. They have instead focused on her roles in environmentalism and sustainability and as head of SFU’s Centre for Dialogue, avoiding the fact that she is, indeed, a longtime card-carrying member of Vision and has been a regular attendee at Vision’s annual general meetings.

From left: Former Vision Chief of Staff Mike Magee, Shauna Sylvester, and Gregor Robertson at Vision’s last AGM in January. [Photo credit Maryse Zeidler/CBC]

At Vision’s most recent AGM, Shauna was photographed next to Vision Vancouver heavyweight Mike Magee — the former Chief of Staff for Vision’s Mayor Gregor Robertson. The same Mike Magee who, at one time, held the controversial role of “Special Advisor to the Mayor” — a role investigated by City Hall staff following a motion made by Green Councillor Adriane Carr; a role dubbed by some as “paid lobbyist”, and one paid for by Vancouver taxpayers. Mike headed the mayor’s office for eight years and was also key in the civic election campaigns of both the mayor and his Vision party.

I see Shauna Sylvester’s mayoral bid as anything but independent.

She is a Vision placeholder.

I’m hoping that over the next few weeks we will see the emergence of other, more credible, independent mayoral candidates.

One such name I’ve heard bandied about is that of Patrick Condon, professor of urban design at UBC’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Patrick has more than 25 years of experience in sustainable urban design.

Now Patrick would be a unity candidate in the true spirit of the term, and is definitely somebody I could get behind.

Posted in affordable housing, City Hall, gentrification, Green Party, Vancouver, Vancouver election, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Vision’s falling star and no pockets to put it in

 

Vision Vancouver’s struggles continue to mount.

Last fall’s by-election was a complete disaster for Vision Vancouver. Their candidate, Diego Cardona, came a distant fifth.

Over the month that followed, all but two of Vision’s incumbent city councillors announced they would not be running for re-election in this fall’s municipal election.

Then Vision Vancouver’s Mayor Gregor Robertson said that he, too, would not be running for re-election.

And so the search began for a mayoral candidate. In fact, most of the people who indicated some kind of interest in running as a mayoral unity candidate representing a number of traditionally left-of-centre parties have formally announced they are not interested.

NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert announced he would not run. Likewise, the federal NDP’s Libby Davies and Don Davies as well as Vancity’s CEO Tamara Vrooman have all stated they will not run for mayor.

As far as I know, not a single soul has declared an interest in running as mayor under the Vision banner.

Will 2018 bring the end of Vision Vancouver?

Many have suggested that Vision is similar in some ways to TEAM — The Electors’ Action Movement, a Vancouver political party started in 1968 that Harry Rankin once described as a kinder, gentler version of the NPA.

TEAM was like a falling star — they came on strong, then disappeared fast. I predict Vision is about to do the same — implode!

Posted in affordable housing, COPE, developers, Vancouver, Vancouver election, Vision Vancouver | Leave a comment

A little technology, a lot of independence

With the recent passing of world-renowned physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, there have been many very interesting interviews on CBC Radio over the last few days. One of them was Tuesday, March 20 on The Current.

Anna Maria Tremonti interviewed Gary Birch, the Executive Director of the BC-based Neil Squire Society. For more than 30 years, this society has been the only national not-for-profit organization in Canada empowering Canadians with disabilities through the use of computer-based assistive technologies, R&D and employment programs. Their motto is “a little technology, a lot of independence.” CBC Radio has also been working with the society to make broadcasts more accessible to all.

The interview focused on Professor Hawking’s use of technology and the unfortunate reality that many Canadians with disabilities are unable to access the assistive technology they require to live full and productive lives.

Stephen Hawking was very fortunate — he was extremely well connected. The latest updates to his speech synthesizer were performed by a team of technologists from Intel. One of them flew from the US to Cambridge to spend a full week with Professor Hawking. This must have been a very expensive upgrade.

Most disabled Canadians lack the financial resources of Professor Hawking. Now would be a great time for the federal government to create a national technology fund for Canadians for disabilities.

The money required for such an initiative should be seen as an investment as opposed to an expense. An investment that will help to ensure disabled Canadians are full, contributing members of society.

Technology is the key that will open the door.

 

Posted in accessibility, Canadian politics, disability justice, equality, social justice, solidarity | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

No vision for Vision in progressive alliance

On Sunday, March 11, the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) held a meeting to begin looking at what an alliance of progressive parties might look like in the upcoming October 2018 municipal election.

The event was very well attended — in fact, it was the largest turnout for a COPE meeting in quite some time. Over 150 people were there in spite of the gloriously beautiful weather.

A number of organizations and political parties were invited to sit on the presenting panels, including Jean Swanson, Pete Fry of the Vancouver Greens, Ishmam Bhuiyan from Kitchen on a Mission, Christine Boyle and Alison Atkinson from OneCity, and Derrick O’Keefe from Vancouver Tenants Union.

I am very pleased to note that Vision Vancouver was not invited.

Jean Swanson spoke eloquently at the meeting.

One of the items that came up for discussion was whether or not Vision should be part of the united progressive alliance. I’m pleased to note that Jean Swanson spoke strongly against this and her comments generated strong applause.

If we look back over Vision Vancouver’s last ten years in office, we see the record of a developer-backed party. They received millions of dollars in election donations from developers over the years. I’ve been quoted in the past and it’s worth repeating again that Vision Vancouver is basically the NPA with bike lanes.

The two individuals representing OneCity spoke in favour of Vision forming part of the future alliance. Their argument, and I am paraphrasing here, is that while OneCity does not support many of the decisions Vision has made on city council, nevertheless there are lots of good people who vote for Vision.

I found this argument wanting. Using such logic, one might observe that there are many good people who voted for Christy Clark and the provincial Liberals. But surely this would not mean that progressive organizations would invite the provincial Liberals to be part of a progressive alliance.

Any party should be assessed by its voting records. At the end of the day, all that politicians can do is vote, so we must determine whether or not we support a particular politician or party by analysing their voting record.

Overall, though, I am cautiously optimistic that we will witness the coming together of many progressive municipal parties and organizations in the run up to the October 2018 election. And I am adamantly opposed to Vision Vancouver being invited to be part of any such cooperative effort.

Watch the archived livestream of the event

Facebook event page

[All photos courtesy of the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE)]

Posted in affordable housing, City Hall, COPE, developers, gentrification, Green Party, homelessness, People Power, social justice, solidarity, Vancouver, Vancouver election, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting to first base with basic income

It’s been two weeks since the provincial budget was released. Many of you may be unaware of the fact that the new budget contained $4 million to “test the feasibility” of a guaranteed basic income for all British Columbians.

The basic income movement has been around for many decades. In the 1970s, the federal government under Pierre Trudeau initiated a pilot project in a small town on the prairies in which everybody was guaranteed a basic minimum income. (It’s been so long I had to look up the name of the town — it’s Mincome, Manitoba if you also want to look it up to see what happened!) Bottom line: The results were very positive. Lower crime rates. Less reliance on social services. Less cost to government as it eliminated the bureaucracy that supports conventional welfare.

The basic income movement has become much stronger as of late, which is no doubt due, at least in part, to the ever-widening gap between upper income earners and the rest of us.

In three Ontario communities, a pilot project kicked off last year to provide an unconditional income to people struggling on poverty-level welfare payments or with low income wages.

The basic income movement was recently successful in having this initiative put to a referendum in Switzerland. Although the vote ultimately failed, more than 40 percent of Swiss voters were in support of making it a nationwide policy.

As technology and automation continue to take over larger and larger swaths of the workforce, many futurists are predicting that within the next few decades, only a minority of the population will be working. Even Elon Musk has stated that universal basic income will be needed as robots take over jobs.

The devil, of course, will be in the details as the concept is explored here. How much should a guaranteed basic income be? Would the implementation of a basic income be coupled with defunding of provincial agencies such as BC Housing? What social programs would be eliminated?

I am very excited by the possibility of British Columbia implementing a guaranteed basic income for all. At the same time, I’m also wary that such a policy might be used by organizations such as the Fraser Institute to successfully argue for the elimination of much-needed social programs. Done the wrong way, a guaranteed basic income could actually end up putting BC’s poorest individuals in an even worse position.

Let’s keep an eye on this issue, and steer it in a positive direction.

[Infographic courtesy of the Green Party of Canada]

Posted in British Columbia, Canadian politics, economy, education, equality, fiscal responsibility, social justice, Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Calling the federal budget “progressive” doesn’t make it so

Many have suggested that Tuesday’s federal budget was a progressive one. I am not so sure. While it contained many welcome initiatives, such as improved parental leave and significant increases in funding for indigenous issues, I was very disappointed to see three critical items omitted.

First on the list is a national childcare program. I was hoping to see an announcement modelled on Quebec’s childcare system. No matter how progressive the changes to parental leave, if we don’t have an adequate childcare program, a disproportionate number of women are still affected negatively. BC recently announced some significant improvements to our childcare program here — improvements that could have been extended much further with federal funding.

Another glaring omission in the federal budget was housing. We have a national housing crisis, but this was not always the case. In decades past, the federal government, primarily through CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, a Crown corporation started after World War II to help returning veterans find affordable housing), funded the creation of tens of thousands of residential housing units. Many of these were through a program that helped cooperatives turn plans into reality. My point is this: Housing is a very manageable issue. All that’s required is adequate commitment, something sorely lacking in the recently announced federal budget.

The third glaring omission? Climate change — the defining issue of our time. Without adequately addressing climate change all other issues become moot. There was absolutely no mention of climate change in the budget. To start, how about funding for a national program to assist homeowners make their homes more energy efficient? Initiatives like this were nowhere to be seen.

A government truly committed to meeting Canada’s international commitments on climate change would have laid out a detailed plan in this week’s federal budget. I’m sad to note this is not the case.

With three such important issues not receiving attention — childcare, housing and climate change — is it really possible to describe the federal budget as progressive? I think not.

Posted in Canadian politics, climate change, economy, equality, fiscal responsibility, Liberal Party, National Housing Strategy, social justice | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Thanks for the memories!

Last Thursday, February 15, COPE held a tribute for me as I step away from the front line of civic politics and COPE’s executive after more than 30 years. It was a night I will never forget.

I want to share some of my reactions to that special night and extend my deep appreciation to so many people.

First, a huge thank you to Connie Hubbs and the great COPE team around her who did such a fabulous job organizing an event that meant so much to me. It was held at Fraserview Banquet Hall — one of my favourites — and the food was absolutely fabulous.

I’d also like to thank all the wonderful people who came out. Those who told stories about my past reminded me of some of the great adventures I’m proud to have been part of over the past 30-some years.

Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union, representing HandyDART workers, described my involvement in the creation of this door-to-door, shared ride service for passengers with disabilities who can’t use conventional public transit without assistance. It brought back memories when I was in first year law at UBC and having a great time lobbying the Urban Transit Authority (now TransLink) for the creation of the service so many of us now take for granted.

Those of you who read my blog on a regular basis know what a hero Harry Rankin was and still is to me. He wrote the letter that got me into law school and hired me as an articling law student, which launched my career. His son, Phil Rankin, delivered a great speech, and I was so touched by the way he described qualities that Harry and I share.

Many people spoke so eloquently but, unfortunately, I can’t review them all here. Suffice to say the speeches went on for just over an hour and a half and I was moved by each and every one of them.

But I can’t end without noting that all of my office staff not only came to the event but spoke as well. I was very touched. It’s only through their support over the past three decades that I’ve been able to spend so much time at my law office on other files, like COPE.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that my partner Penny has been my political advisor throughout these many years. We’ve been together since 1982, and I could not have accomplished half of what I’ve done without her incredible support.

All of the people who attended the tribute reminded me of the amazing support I’ve had over the decades. They also reminded me of something very important: Social movements are never successful because of one person alone. They’re achieved by teams of people working together.

Here are some images from the wonderful night! (Do you have photos to share? If so please share them on the Facebook ‘Tribute to Tim’ event page.)

***UPDATE: The Redeye Collective on Vancouver Coop Radio has posted an interview Ian Mass did with me. I enjoyed it very much. Listen to it here!

Members of the ATU

Phil Rankin, son of my mentor Harry Rankin

Fmr. Vancouver City Councillor Dr. Fred Bass and a refreshing bottle of ‘COPE Classic’

Housing activist Jean Swanson

My amazing and indefatigable staff

Dave Myles, my first-ever client

My partner Penny Parry

COPE Co-chair Connie Hubbs, Daryl Morgan, and Penny Penny

Connie Hubbs emceeing up a storm

Jeannie Kamins

Tina Anderson

Suzanne Dahlin

Lyn Stewart

Former COPE Treasurer Paul Houle

Smiles from Jamie Lee Hamilton and Pete Fry at the curry buffet

Gail Davidson and Renee Rodin strike a pose

We’re all ears

Sid Chow Tan

Pummy Kaur

Phil Rankin and Mel Lehan

Mel Lehan addressing the room

Thanks again everyone for coming out and making such a fantastic night!

Posted in COPE, events, HandyDART, Harry Rankin, Labour, Vancouver | Tagged | 1 Comment

Put the right pressure in the right place for affordable housing

Hogan’s Alley in 1969: 232 and 240 Union Street, at Main. City of Vancouver Archives, Ref COV-S168-: CVA 203-43

Housing in general and housing affordability in particular continue to grab attention in Vancouver.

In the case of the development of Northeast False Creek, the City of Vancouver owns two blocks on Main Street near Chinatown and Hogan’s Alley that it expropriated in the ’60s for the Georgia Street viaducts.

If ever there were a perfect place and opportunity for the city to build affordable/social housing, surely this would be it. Hogan’s Alley Society is calling on the city to build 100 percent rental housing on this site, with 70 percent of the units earmarked for non-market housing. This would provide much-needed affordable housing in one of Vancouver’s poorest neighbourhoods.

With Vision Vancouver currently holding a majority on city council, I’m not optimistic that the proposal put forward by the society will be acted on by the city’s administration. I would, however, be much more positive if we had a Green/COPE majority at 12th and Cambie.

On another housing front, several metro area cities are looking at the idea of a “locals first” policy when it comes to selling or pre-selling new condo developments. West Vancouver has recently been toying with the concept. The City of Port Moody and the District of North Vancouver have already directed their staff to look at policies along these lines, as has the City of Vancouver.

But I’m not sure “locals first” strategies will have the desired effect. What is needed, instead, is a requirement that all developments over a certain size make one-third of the units available on a rent-geared-to-income basis whereby the renter would never pay more than 30 percent of his or her income on rent.

When it comes to housing, let’s do everything we can to keep putting pressure where it belongs — on Vision Vancouver. Housing affordability is a basic human right and is not something we should leave to the marketplace.

Hogan’s Alley in 1973: The former Union Laundry at 274 Union Street. City of Vancouver Archives, Ref COV-S168-: CVA 203-65

Posted in affordable housing, City Hall, developers, economy, gentrification, homelessness, Planning, racism, seniors, viaducts, Vision Vancouver | Tagged | Leave a comment

Reading politico tea leaves

 

Kerry Jang announced the other day that he will not be seeking re-election this fall. This brings the total number of Vision Vancouver council members not running for re-election to five, including Mayor Gregor Robertson.

The only two remaining Vision members of city council, Raymond Louie and Heather Deal, have yet to announce their plans. What does this tell us?

Vision Vancouver is in big trouble. In the recent by-election, the party’s candidate, Diego Cardona, came in fifth. Its primary source of funding at election time, money from big developers, is no longer available with the new regulations brought in by the province banning donations from corporations and unions.

The decision by so many Vision Vancouver council members not to seek re-election tells us that Vision’s troubles are very real. It reminds me of an election many years ago.

In the lead up to the 1993 municipal election, COPE had five city councillors — just one short of a majority. One of the five, Libby Davies, announced she would run for mayor. All of the remaining four COPE councillors decided not to seek re-election. Libby Davie’s campaign for mayor turned out to be a disaster, partly because of all the COPE members not running. At the time, she was at the top of the polls. Philip Owen was at the bottom, but he won the mayor’s seat by a landslide.

We’ll never know whether the four COPE councillors decided not to seek re-election because they could see the writing on the wall — COPE was in trouble — or it was actually their decision not to run again that so mortally wounded the party.

But back to today. I suspect that we now have a situation where Vision Vancouver council members are deciding not to run again because they recognize the fact that Vision is going to do very poorly this fall. However, their decisions not to run make Vision’s bad situation even worse. With so few incumbents running, Vision is left even weaker.

Will Raymond Louie announce his candidacy for mayor? If so, Heather Deal will be the lone remaining Vision councillor, and even she has yet to announce her plans.

For people who watch 12th and Cambie, these are exciting times. This kind of tumult rarely occurs! It may open the door to a new and different majority on city council — a Green/COPE one.

Posted in affordable housing, City Hall, COPE, developers, Green Party, Vancouver, Vancouver election, Vision Vancouver | 1 Comment

Gregor Robertson: 10 years of disappointments

A week ago, Mayor Gregor Robertson announced that he would not be seeking re-election this fall. So now is the time to reflect on what his 10 years in office have meant.

I’ll tell you up front that I do not look back with any degree of fondness at Gregor Robertson’s time as mayor of Vancouver. Here are a few examples that explain why.

When a developer wishes to apply to city council to rezone a piece of property, a public hearing is convened, giving members of the public, both supporters and opponents of the project, the opportunity to speak to council about the application. Prior to Gregor Robertson being elected mayor, city councillors could only vote yea or nay on a developer’s rezoning application if they had been present at the public hearing. This made sense as delegations from the public assumed their comments would be taken into consideration.

But Mayor Gregor Robertson changed all this. Partway through his tenure on council, he changed the public hearing bylaw to make it no longer a requirement for city councillors to be present throughout the public hearing if they wished to vote on the developer’s application.

It’s now quite common to witness members of Mayor Robertson’s party, Vision Vancouver, absent themselves from large portions of public hearings, and yet still vote on these developers’ applications. I should also note that rarely, if ever, does the mayor or his party vote against developers seeking to rezone their properties at public hearings.

Another example: Prior to Gregor Robertson being elected mayor, it was not uncommon for city council of the day to reduce or eliminate development cost levies if a developer agreed to provide a certain amount of social housing within the proposed project. This “carrot on a stick” approach resulted in much-needed social housing at no cost to taxpayers.

But Mayor Robertson changed the definition of social housing to include rental housing at market rates. It’s now quite common for a developer to avoid paying development cost levies simply by including rental housing at market rates, which does nothing to provide much-needed affordable housing.

In addition, I’d like to point out that Vision Vancouver’s campaigns under Mayor Gregor Robertson were bankrolled by developers every election throughout the past 10 years.

To underscore all of this, we have more homeless people on our streets today than when he first ran for mayor in 2008 on a platform that promised to bring homelessness to an end.

We have a perfect example of his failure in this regard from this week’s public hearing regarding a 2016 rezoning proposal at 58 W. Hastings. Activists brought to the public hearing a written promise actually signed by the mayor that 100 percent of the project would be “welfare/pension-rate community-controlled housing”, also known as shelter rate housing. The reality today is that only one-third of the project is at shelter rates. Another broken promise.

With the exception of a few positive environmental initiatives — such as all the improvements for cycling in the city — Mayor Gregor Robertson has implemented an agenda very similar to that of the Non-Partisan Association, which has always supported businesses and developers at the expense of neighbourhoods and the average citizen. Ergo my well-known expression: Vision Vancouver is the NPA, only with bike lanes.

With the mayor’s departure coupled with those of Vision councillors Geoff Meggs, Andrea Reimer and Tim Stevenson, one could say that Vision Vancouver’s days are numbered — and that we’re about to witness a sea change at 12th and Cambie in this fall’s municipal election.

I, for one, am keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll see a Green/COPE majority and finally enjoy a positive change that puts neighbourhood needs ahead of the wishes of big developers.

 

Posted in affordable housing, British Columbia, Canadian politics, City Hall, COPE, developers, gentrification, Green Party, homelessness, influence peddling, NPA, People Power, Vancouver, Vancouver election, Vancouver Park Board, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gregor Robertson: 10 years of disappointments