Vision-run public hearings: From bad to worse

Tuesday night the City of Vancouver held a Public Hearing on a controversial rezoning application for a Cressey development at East 18th and Commercial Drive in the Cedar Cottage area. Many citizens took time out of their busy schedules to attend the Public Hearing, which was chaired by Raymond Louie, one of Vision Vancouver’s councillors.

As people who have paid attention to the way public hearings are conducted by Vision Vancouver will know, these vitally important steps in the rezoning process have become more and more undemocratic over the last few years. Tuesday night was no exception. In fact, the hearing became so unfair and undemocratic that the Green Party’s Adriane Carr and all the NPA councillors felt they had no option other than to walk out, forcing an abrupt halt to proceedings.

Apparently, it was one of the few hearings where a majority of Vision Vancouver councillors weren’t present so, theoretically speaking, the Green and NPA councillors could have carried the vote. But Councillor Louie took to such underhanded techniques as chair — like favouring his Vision colleagues, even inviting Vision Councillor Tim Stephenson to try and delay the meeting — that walking out was the only suitable response.

Communicating with the people who elected you has always been part of the job. Does this really merit a paycheque increase for our Mayor and Council?

Vision Vancouver has made public hearings incredibly undemocratic. Councillors can vote no matter how little of a hearing they attend.

A number of years ago Vision Vancouver decided to change the procedure bylaw governing public hearings. Up to that point, it had always been necessary for city councillors to be present at the entire public hearing in order to vote “yea” or “nay” at the end of it. But this was far too onerous for many Vision Vancouver councillors, who didn’t appreciate the fact that they were forced to sit through the entire public hearing — which could sometimes last days — before voting in favour of their developer friends.

The bylaw was therefore changed to permit a member of City Council to vote at the end of the public hearing no matter how little of it they attended. The only requirement specified in the new bylaw was that councillors were to be briefed by the city clerk as to what happened in their absence.

Imagine for a moment you are a party to a lawsuit. You attend court at the beginning of the trial, and there is no judge present! However, the court clerk tries to reassure you by telling you the judge will only be allowed to render a judgment, in your favour or against you, after reviewing the clerk’s notes and being briefed by the clerk!

I’m aware of no other municipal jurisdiction in all of Canada where a public hearing can be decided in this manner. Bad enough that Vision Vancouver always votes in favour of the applicant developer without regard to citizens’ input provided over the course of the hearing. Even worse that Vision Vancouver councillors are no longer present for most of the public hearing!

Contrast Vision Vancouver’s voting record at public hearings with the voting record of the Green’s Adriane Carr, who appears to genuinely appreciate the comments, advice and input provided by citizen delegations. She then votes based on the evidence before her. This is how a public hearing, which is in fact a quasi-judicial process, should be conducted.

When City Council moves into a public hearing, they become a court of sorts. On occasion in Canada, when a councillor has indicated that before a public hearing his or her mind is already made up one way or the other, the entire public hearing outcome has been overturned by our courts. This makes clear just how important proper procedure is.

As my hero, mentor and long-time former city councillor, Harry Rankin, often said, City Council’s single most powerful ability is its ability to rezone property. By increasing the density permitted, Council literally turns dirt into gold.

Speaking of dirt, there seems to be so much of it around 12th and Cambie these days it’s time for a house cleaning.

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It’s time for a house cleaning at Vancouver City Hall.

Posted in City Hall, Harry Rankin, influence peddling, Planning, Vancouver, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

A third option for more justice

On Tuesday we learned that Jian Ghomeshi’s last outstanding criminal charge of sexual assault was dropped by the Ontario Crown Counsel. Mr. Ghomeshi entered into a peace bond that will last for a period of one year, and apologized in court to his victim — Kathryn Borel, a former associate producer on CBC Radio’s Q. The developments came after his recent acquittal of numerous similar charges.

All of the above reminded me of a thought-provoking passage in Rankin’s Law, the autobiography of one of my heroes and a Vancouver giant, Harry Rankin. In it he points out one important difference between Canadian and Scottish law.

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Scottish rape crisis centres maintain that the ‘three verdict system’ benefits victims. The “not proven” verdict helps preserve the accuser’s credibility, since it means the jury does not disbelieve them despite lacking sufficient evidence for conviction.

Here in Canada, the courts have only two options for verdicts — guilty or not guilty. In order to deliver a guilty verdict, the court must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. This, of course, results in an individual being found not guilty even if the court believes the accused is probably guilty but the court hasn’t been convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.

By contrast, in Scottish law there are three possible verdicts: guilty, not guilty, and not proven. This third option, as Harry points out, “… allows for those cases where the prosecution has not proved beyond a reasonable doubt the accused is guilty as charged, even though he [or she] is certainly not innocent.”

Wouldn’t Jian Ghomeshi’s victims have been much better served if this third option —not proven — was available to the courts? It would have sent a very clear message to all that the victims were believed, but that belief just did not meet the very high level of proof required by Canada’s judicial system.

When the evidence presented is not sufficient to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt but is more than sufficient to establish guilt on a balance of probabilities, then the accused must be acquitted. But at the same time, we should also be able to validate the reality of the situation and acknowledge victims’ trauma.

This case is a perfect example where it would be fairer to be able to deliver a “not proven” verdict. By adding this third option, we would start moving away from a legal system and toward what Harry preferred and we all deserve — a justice system.

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

Connecting the dots on the Fort McMurray catastrophe

My sincere condolences go to the tens of thousands of people so profoundly affected by the fires in and around Fort McMurray, Alberta. I do not ever recall such a large population evacuated due to fire in Alberta, BC, or anywhere in Canada for that matter. Fort McMurray’s population of 80,000+ is no small hamlet or village. The logistics involved in evacuating the entire city in mere hours are literally mind-boggling.

The evacuation trauma aside, the destruction is truly unparalleled. Reports are that 80% of some neighbourhoods in Fort McMurray have been completely destroyed by fire. Imagine, if you can, that one moment you leave for work in the morning and just hours later you learn that your entire home and all of your personal possessions are gone forever.

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The terrible events in Fort McMurray will become more common if we do not try to address the root causes.

At the same time, I must say I am also troubled by the way this human tragedy has been covered by news media so far. Seldom is there any mention of the root cause of this catastrophe.

Temperatures have been breaking all historical records so far this year, not just in Alberta, but British Columbia as well. In Vancouver in late April and early May, we’ve seen temperatures we normally experience at the peak of summer in July and August. Across BC in early April, 59 temperature records were broken in two days alone. In northern BC and Alberta conditions are tinder dry. Fire experts say that around Fort McMurray the dead, dry vegetation from winter has been fuelling the fire since it’s too early for the emergent leaves of spring to have even started yet — and yet it’s hot and dry enough to cause a conflagration of this magnitude. Temperatures reached over 30° C the early days of the mass evacuation and humidity has been as low as 0%.

Do you see where I am going with this…? CLIMATE CHANGE.

Climate change is upon us. Not in a theoretical way but in real life, just as the world’s scientific community has been telling us would happen for decades now: Climate change causes, amongst other crises, more and more extreme weather events. Not to make light of this disaster, but I also can’t help but note the terrible irony at play here, namely that it is carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels that are a huge factor in climate change — the very kind of carbon emissions intrinsically linked to the tar sands Fort McMurray is famous for.

In my opinion, the only fact that makes this tragedy even worse than it is is that — other than Green Party leader, Elizabeth May — our spokespeople and news media are failing us by not linking cause and effect. How can society draw the right conclusions and take the right steps as long as our leaders and media remain deliberately silent?

What has been taking place in the last 24 hours in Fort McMurray pales in comparison to what is just around the corner with sea levels predicted to rise many feet over the next few decades, possibly as much as ten feet. But let’s take a brief look at what happens with a rise of only three feet.

Twenty million — yes, 20 million — people living in Bangladesh alone will not be temporarily pushed out of their homes, as in Fort McMurray. They will be permanently displaced. Today’s refugee crisis in the Middle East will pale in comparison. Can you imagine 20 million Bangladeshi refugees fleeing their homes and trying to find a safe haven in Europe?

Bangladesh happens to be the flattest nation on Earth. So besides the 20 million citizens being permanently displaced by a three-foot rise in oceans, THE ENTIRE NATION will be under water during extreme, episodic weather events such as cyclones, which, as I mentioned earlier, will only become more extreme and happen more often in the future.

So let’s not allow the pain and suffering being experienced by Fort McMurray’s citizens be in vain. Instead, let this terrible tragedy be a wake-up call to us all that we are moving at breakneck speed towards a point of no return. We must all immediately and dramatically reduce and then eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. To do otherwise sentences all of the planet’s inhabitants to a catastrophic future.

Tim Louis is a long-time lawyer and community activist, and a former Vancouver City Councillor.

Posted in British Columbia, Canadian politics, climate change, economy, sustainability | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

City Hall’s secret cash machine

top secret stampDid you know that our Vision-Vancouver-dominated City Council has a Bid Committee that operates in secret? Council gave it authority to award contracts of any size without going out to tender whenever Council is on summer break. The Bid Committee — composed of City Hall bureaucrats (namely the city manager, director of finance, and voting department heads) — can also award contracts of up to $2 million in value at any time.

That added up to 39 contracts worth a whopping $95,477,574 awarded in secret in 2015 alone. (You can find this info in the City of Vancouver’s 2015 Procurement Report online here.)

The Bid Committee takes no minutes. Its meetings are not public. So the people of Vancouver have no ability to watch the meetings in progress or even read about the proceedings after the fact in the form of minutes to understand how the decisions are made.

This whole shady process was brought to light recently in a very good article Bob Mackin wrote for Business in Vancouver. What makes a bad situation even worse is the fact that this secret committee is awarding very substantial contracts to close “friends” of Vision Vancouver, such as Bob Ransford, who has worked as a Vision Vancouver strategist and lobbyist. The Bid Committee secretly decided to award Ransford the $90,000-contract to manage the “Yes” campaign in last year’s TransLink referendum on behalf of Metro Vancouver mayors. To make matters even worse, these kinds of contracts to “friends” are being awarded without being tendered — in short, without any competition.

When the party in power at City Hall has the ability to award lucrative contracts to its “friends” or anyone in secret without minutes and without tendering, corruption is not a theoretical risk — it’s reality.

No one disputes the fact that bids with a value under a certain modest amount could be awarded by such a Bid Committee rather than having the contract come to Council for approval.

However, any such committee must hold its meetings in the open for all to see.  It must also keep a written record of all proceedings, including how decisions are made, which the public can access. To do anything else moves Vancouver ever closer to the double “Mayor Daley” corruption legacy in Chicago.

 

Posted in City Hall, fiscal responsibility, influence peddling, Transit, TransLink, Vancouver, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

A true hero’s tale

Tuesday night I had the honour and privilege of speaking at an event celebrating the freedom of one of the “Cuban Five” heroes, Gerardo Hernández.

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Gerardo Hernández, one of the Cuban Five. The beautiful blanket he is wearing was a gift from First Nations hosts.

You might ask, who are the Cuban Five heroes? Let me tell you. (And let me give you a heads up. What you’re about to read is a long story, but it’s worth it.)

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Me sharing the stage with Tamara Hansen, Gerardo Hernández, and Javier Dómokos Ruiz (Cuban Consul General.

Although Western media has given it very little coverage, Cuba has been the victim of numerous terrorist attacks beginning in the 1960s and only recently coming to an end. In fact, the world’s first civilian airliner blown up by a terrorist was Cubana flight 455. Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban exile and former CIA agent, was convicted of involvement. This terrorist bragged about his evil act, which killed 73 innocent people, yet he continues to live in freedom in Florida today.

In 1990, the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba lost its economic lifeline. With the economic strangulation of the American blockade, Cuba had come to rely on the Soviet Union for its very survival. Many, including Cuba’s friends, predicted the end of the Cuban revolution at this time. However, Cubans and their collective government are remarkably resilient and always determined to find a solution to the problems they confront. In this case, tourism was identified as the option with the best chance of surviving the dire consequences of the Soviet Union’s end.

Cuba’s economy collapsed during this time, its GDP shrinking more than Canada’s did during the Great Depression. Yet not a single teacher or health care worker was laid off. Eventually, the economy began to grow again as tourism took off, and Cubans began to see a light at the end of the tunnel. The revolution would survive the Soviet Union collapse with the continued American economic blockade after all.

Sadly, this infuriated the anti-Cuba terrorists located mainly in Florida, who began planting bombs in Cuban hotels to try to bring the nation’s burgeoning tourism industry to a catastrophic end. Tourists began losing their lives, including a Canadian. Once again, Cuba faced a catastrophe.

It was at this point that five heroic men volunteered to leave Cuba and, on behalf of the Cuban government, infiltrate the terrorists in Florida. Over the ensuing years, they literally saved countless innocent lives to say nothing of saving the Cuban revolution. Using highly sophisticated communication devices, they would provide advance warning to Cuban authorities, who would proactively thwart terrorist attack after terrorist attack.

The five Cubans also learned of a plan by the terrorists to shift their intentions away from Cuban hotels to airlines, but not just Cuban airlines — they planned to blow up American planes transporting tourists from Latin America to Cuba. The Cuban government was so concerned about the horrific loss of life that would result should the terrorists succeed that they alerted the FBI, who accepted Cuba’s invitation to fly to Havana and receive boxes and boxes of surveillance information collected by the five Cubans.

When the FBI team returned to Florida with the intention of arresting the terrorists, they provided all of the info to higher-ups. As unbelievable as what I am about to say may be, the higher-ups not only decided not to arrest the terrorists, but decided instead to arrest the five undercover Cubans. They were arrested in 1998, put in solitary confinement, and charged criminally with many offences including spying.

Now imagine this parallel universe for a moment: Prior to the 9-11 attacks, five Americans volunteer and infiltrate Al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, where the majority of the 9-11 hijackers are based. The Americans do so without the permission or consent of the Saudi government. But their willingness to risk their lives results in American authorities stopping the attacks before they occur. The US authorities turn all the information over to the Saudi government, which promptly arrests not the terrorists but the five American volunteers! That’s essentially what happened to the Cuban Five.

The Cuban Five were tried before a jury in Miami, Florida in 2001. Their lawyer asked for a change of venue on the basis that it would be impossible for anyone associated with the Cuban government to obtain a fair trial in Miami. Even the Unabomber was granted his request for a change of venue for his jury trial. But the Miami judge rejected the request out of hand, and the five Cubans were all convicted and sentenced to extremely long prison terms.

Gerardo was sentenced to two life terms plus 15 years. One of America’s pre-eminent defence lawyers, Leonard Weinglass — known for his civil rights work and clients like Daniel Ellsberg, Angela Davis and the Chicago Seven — mounted a superb appeal based on numerous factors, including the judge’s refusal to grant the five Cubans a change of venue.

The appeal was successful! The Appeal Court ruled that the refusal to grant the change of venue denied the Cuban Five any prospect of obtaining a fair trial. This was the first time in American jurisprudence that an accused had ever successfully appealed a conviction on the basis of the trial judge’s refusal to grant a change of venue.

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Gerardo Hernández addressing the Vancouver crowd on Tuesday.

I still remember celebrating this fantastic news. There was justice in this world, after all! But I’m sad to say I celebrated far too quickly, for one step higher up the appeals’ ladder, the American justice department appealed this decision. The conviction was reinstated.

For 16 years Gerardo remained in jail, much of it in solitary confinement. I should point out, too, that the five Cubans had been separated from each other on the day of their arrest. Each was imprisoned in a different jail in a different state in order to make it impossible for Mr. Weinglass to ever meet with them collectively, and to make any individual meeting with them a multi-day ordeal, flying from state to state to state.

Worldwide, a campaign developed to free the Cuban Five. The Free the Cuban 5 Committee here in Vancouver held monthly pickets at the American consulate for many years. I’m embarrassed to say I did not attend nearly enough of these pickets, but I did go to a number of them. Also, I devoted my law firms’ 25th anniversary event to the Free the Cuban Five campaign. We had over 200 people attend at Fraserview Hall, where the then Cuban consul general gave an inspiring speech.

In the meantime, Pope Francis, one of the most progressive and enlightened popes the Roman Catholic church has had for decades, began working behind the scenes to bring about a reconciliation between Cuba and the US. Secret negotiations were held between the highest echelons of the Cuban government and the Obama administration. Raúl Castro, now president of Cuba, insisted that no progress in these negotiations would ever be possible without the freedom of the Cuban Five. Eventually, Obama agreed to their release.

In December 2014, the remaining three of the Cuban Five still imprisoned were released, including Gerardo Hernández. (Two of the five had been released earlier because they received shorter sentences.)

On December 4, 2014, Gerardo, completely unaware of the Cuban/American agreement that had been reached, was transferred to another prison and placed in solitary confinement. Twelve days later, he was moved to yet another prison, where he was united with his two Cuban colleagues, whom he hadn’t seen in 12 years. Naturally, he started to wonder what on Earth was happening.

The three, still heavily manacled at wrists and ankles, were led into a room with a number of prison officials. On the desk sat a computer screen with a direct video feed to Cuba. Soon a Cuban official appeared on the monitor, delivering the unbelievable news to these three heroic men — after 16 years in prison, they would be freed December 17.

Gerardo, having been in solitary confinement for the last 12 days, had to whisper to one of his colleagues, “What is the date today?” December 16 came the answer. Just one more day to freedom!

The following day all three were flown back to a hero’s welcome in Havana. Finally they were free!

• • •

I think this story tells us a couple of things.

For one, the Cuban revolution has remained so strong because of its commitment to building a society based on values, convictions and principles. This island nation takes what little resources are available and focuses on Cuban quality of life. Their infant infant mortality is now lower than the US’s. Cuban life expectancy is 79.4 years, slightly higher than America’s, and their literacy rate is 99.7%, one of the highest in the world. America’s is about 86%.

Point two is, from the very start of their unjust imprisonment, the Cuban Five were offered immediate freedom, fame and unimaginable wealth on one condition — that they renounce their commitment to the principles above. Without exception, and without hesitation, each and every one of these five Cuban heroes rejected out of hand the possibility of ever doing so.

This tells us a great deal about the foundations of Cuban society. What other society in our world today would produce individuals who are so totally and selflessly committed to it?

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Gerardo, thank you for your work, and the hug!

Also, thanks to Glenda Bartosh for all the photos in this story.

Posted in cuba, Vancouver | Tagged | 2 Comments

Has TransLink turned the corner?

Tim at Translink Mar 30 2016

Many of us who care about the future of HandyDART came out to address the Translink board last week.

On Wednesday, March 30, a number of HandyDART users spoke to the TransLink board at their monthly meeting in New Westminster. Together with HandyDART drivers, we were lobbying TransLink to bring HandyDART service in-house.

Whereas conventional public transit is operated by TransLink through a number of wholly owned subsidiaries — Coast Mountain Bus Company operates the Seabus and almost all of the region’s buses; British Columbia Rapid Transit Company operates two of the three SkyTrain lines and the West Coast Express — when it comes to HandyDART, TransLink does something quite different. It puts the service out to tender.

Way back in the early 1980s when a number of us were lobbying the then Urban Transit Authority for a HandyDART service, we urged that this service be operated in-house. We convinced the UTA to create HandyDART but we were unsuccessful in arguing that it should be operated by the transit authority as a wholly owned subsidiary like all the other transit services.

In my presentation to TransLink board (you can watch a video of it here), I pointed out that the current operator, MV Transportation, is receiving approximately $70 million a year to operate HandyDART. If they are making a profit of even 5%, then $3.5 million a year is leaving the region and ending up in Dallas, Texas, where MVT is based. If TransLink could operate HandyDART at the same operating cost that MVT does then — at no cost to taxpayers — $3.5 million a year, hypothetically, would be available to raise service levels.

As one of the two co-chairs of the HandyDART Riders’ Alliance (HRA), I asked the TransLink board to consider conducting a public sector comparator. This is a process in which government hires someone with expertise to determine what is the best “bang for the buck” delivery model for a particular service — contracting in or contracting out.

I also suggested that even if the public sector comparator indicates that TransLink would get more bang for its buck bringing HandyDART into the TransLink family, it should still proceed with its planned request for proposals for HandyDART, but with a twist. TransLink would create a wholly owned HandyDART subsidiary, which would submit a bid to the procurement department along with any interested private sector companies. (I also requested that the RFP include meaningful input from HandyDART workers and users.) Only if the bid from the wholly owned subsidiary was chosen on its merit would HandyDART finally come in-house.

If we keep our fingers crossed and TransLink proceeds with the HRA’s creative proposal, we can look forward to a much better HandyDART with higher service levels, all at no cost to the taxpayer — a perfect win-win.

Posted in accessibility, fiscal responsibility, HandyDART, Transit, TransLink, Vancouver | Leave a comment

City council: rewarding inefficiency

City council’s pay was in the news recently — city councillors will receive a whopping $9,000 annual raise, moving their salaries to roughly $80,000 a year.

Communicating with the people who elected you has always been part of the job. Does this really merit a paycheque increase for our Mayor and Council?

Communicating with the people who elected you has always been part of the job. Vancouver City Councillors gave themselves a raise for taking longer to do the same work — if only the rest of us were this lucky.

Allowing people to give themselves a raise for taking longer to do the same job doesn’t make much sense.

Remember, this raise was approved by the councillors themselves. When was the last time you got to decide the amount of your own pay raise?

Folks who know my politics are aware of the fact that I’m no fan of Gordon Campbell. He was a very right wing premier and, before that, defeated my hero Harry Rankin in the 1986 mayoral election.

However, even Gordon Campbell did some good things. In one such initiative during his term as Vancouver’s mayor, he brought in a policy whereby city council salaries were tied to the salary of the average Vancouver worker. In doing this, Gordon Campbell made a public statement about social inequality and I applaud him for it. The current city council seems to be making a different public statement – the exact meaning of this I will leave to the reader. If we really are serious about addressing income inequality we should be tying as many occupational salaries as possible to the average as we can. Every time we do so we chip away at income inequality.

On another point, every time city councils — including Vancouver’s — debate the need for a pay raise, they always argue that the job is taking much more time than it used to. This all reminds me of a pre-Campbell incident when city council was debating a pay raise for itself. This was many years ago when Harry Rankin was on council. One of the arguments put forward by a number of the NPA councillors was the fact that apparently city councillors were spending much more time on council business than they had been previously and, therefore, they deserved a commensurate pay raise.

Harry stood up and quickly demolished this argument. He pointed out that if a factory worker came to the boss and said it was now taking twice as long to do her or his job, the boss would not asap double the workers salary but almost certainly terminate the worker for lack of efficiency. Needless to say, Harry voted against the pay raise.

One more thought that occurs to me. Perhaps a much more relevant indicator for determining salary levels of city councillors would be citizen satisfaction with council’s willingness and interest in listening to neighbourhoods, the folks the councillors work for! Every time Vision Vancouver votes in favour of a tower over the wishes of the citizens, councillor salaries would be automatically reduced by 5 per cent. Very quickly we would eliminate councillor salaries entirely!

Posted in City Hall, fiscal responsibility, Harry Rankin, Vancouver, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Lots of cake to go around

marieThe provincial government’s decision to raise income assistance rates for people with disabilities with one hand then reduce those rates with the other has been in the news lately.

Before the changes were announced, anybody forced to live on the paltry amount of $906 a month (a rate frozen since 2007) also received a free bus pass every month. While some individuals did not benefit from the free pass — for instance, if they lived in a part of the province that did not have public transit — the overwhelming majority did.

Then the provincial government, with great fanfare, announced a raise of $77 a month in the income assistance rate people with disabilities would receive. However, at the same time it also announced the elimination of the free monthly bus pass. So a disabled person receiving income assistance will now have to pay out of their own pockets $52 per month for his or her bus pass. Net these two amounts and the real increase is only $25 a month.

Now put this “raise” in context:

Stephen Hume wrote a great column in the March 7 Vancouver Sun on the topic, where, in part, he lists the price tags on some of the perks our MLAs and cabinet ministers enjoy. How about this? A cabinet minister gets a car allowance of $650 a month, or about two thirds of the total monthly living allowance for someone on disability assistance. And it’s safe to say that a backbencher gets more in per diem reimbursements at the legislature’s subsidized restaurant during the 20-day sitting of the legislature than “…your neediest person with disabilities receives to pay for the basic necessities of life for a month.”

Marie Antoinette would be proud.

Posted in accessibility, BC Liberals, British Columbia, equality, HandyDART, social justice, Transit, TransLink, transportation | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Arbutus Corridor: Making housing out of thin air

At long last there is some very significant progress on the Arbutus Corridor.

Just last week the City of Vancouver and CP Rail, the owner of the land, reached an agreement. CP will sell this 9-km rail corridor, stretching from Marpole to south False Creek, to the city for $55 million.

Many years ago the rail line supported passenger trains (the last one ran in 1954) as well as trains carrying freight bound for industrial sites along the route and around False Creek. It’s high time we put public transit back into this corridor. However, with a combination of political leadership and architectural ingenuity we can deliver much more.

Panorama of Tim's Sept. 4th press conference at the Arbutus Corridor

Panorama of the Arbutus Corridor, Sept. 4th 2014. (Press conference the day I announced my bid for City Council.)

When I was first elected to the board for Vancouver City Savings Credit Union our head office was located at 10th and Cambie. When we had outgrown this space, some very creative minds came up with the idea of building our new head office over top of the Skytrain station at Main Street.

Sometimes the obvious just needs to be pointed out. The current plan for the Arbutus Corridor indicates that it could one day carry a light rail passenger service, so there would be a lot of unused airspace over top of any stations or the track itself.

Let’s work together to ensure that a significant amount of affordable housing is constructed making use of that space. The city has already paid for the land so this housing will be massively cheaper than it would be elsewhere. The only cost will be the cost of the housing itself and not the cost of the land under it, which, in Vancouver, is the major driver of high housing prices.

While I’m disappointed that CP is being paid anything for this corridor, given the fact that the company was given the land for free in the first place, I am nevertheless very excited envisioning the great potential this purchase has now created.

Posted in affordable housing, Arbutus Corridor, Canadian politics, City Hall, economy, LRT, Planning, social justice, Transit, transportation, Vancouver | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Growing quality, not quantity

With the Globe 2016 conference happening in Vancouver, politicians and leaders from some of the world’s biggest businesses are coming together to try and address “sustainable business” — in other words, how to continue to grow their businesses and the economy while doing so in an environmentally sustainable way.

The implied goal — indefinite, continued economic growth to be accomplished sustainably — presupposes that it’s even achievable in the first place.

The simple fact of the matter is that it is impossible for per capita GDP output worldwide to ever reach the current GDP in the West without bringing planet Earth and its ecosystems to a complete collapse. The only long-term environmentally sustainable solution is to not grow GDP in developed nations but to do the opposite — shrink GDP!

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Birds killed as a result of oil from the Exxon Valdez spill. Alaska’s GDP spiked in 1989 because economists included disaster clean-up activity. (Photo courtesy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council)

When talking about GDP I’m often reminded of the economic impact of the Exxon Valdez catastrophic oil spill. Even after the best environmental efforts were made to clean up Prince William Sound, permanent damage remained. It’s unlikely this pristine natural ecosystem will ever return to its former health.

But here’s the kicker — Alaska’s GDP in 1989, the year of the spill, actually spiked. This is because economists, when measuring GDP, include all remunerative activities of goods and services produced. Every single dollar spent by Exxon hiring folks to clean up this disaster was added to the GDP.

If tomorrow 90% of all car owners in Metro Vancouver got rid of their cars and took public transit, the environment would obviously be far better off. Arguably, so would our quality of life as streets became much more pedestrian-friendly and quieter. However, because people would now be spending less (public transit is much cheaper than owning your own vehicle), at the end of the year the GDP number would significantly drop.

The point I’m trying to make is that it is long past the time for us to abandon our fixation on GDP growth for the sake of growth. Instead, we should also be paying attention to much more important metrics such as the GPI (Genuine Progress Indicator) based on the work of New Zealand’s Marilyn Waring, who researched biases in the UN’s System of National Accounts; the GNH (Gross National Happiness index) started in Bhutan and now adopted in other countries like South Korea; or the GHI (Green and Happiness Index) Thailand uses.

The World Wildlife Fund ranks nations according to the size of each country’s environmental footprint calibrated to their GDP. In other words, it’s not just measuring a nation’s environmental footprint. Obviously the US, with an economy massively larger than Cuba’s, would have a larger environmental footprint. So instead, WWF measures each nation’s environmental footprint per unit of economic output.

Bottom line: Cuba, even after we adjust for its much smaller economy, has a smaller environmental footprint than the US. In fact, Cuba ranks at the very top of this indicator — this small island nation’s environmental footprint per unit of economic output is smaller than every other nation on the planet.

But back to Globe. Clean technology or not, rather than attempting to achieve a goal that is unachievable, here’s a better purpose. Participants should work toward a world in which developed nations embark upon a fundamental shift away from quantity (namely, economic output for the sake of economic output) to quality — quality of life and with it a reduction in GDP.

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