My prediction: This won’t be the last we hear from Jean Swanson


The byelection results for the one seat open on Vancouver’s city council are in. As feared, the NPA candidate, Hector Bremner, won as a result of the progressive vote being split. To my disappointment, this means that my favourite city councillor, Adriane Carr, must continue without anyone on council to second her motions so they can be debated. But to my pleasant surprise, Jean Swanson did very well, coming in second.

COPE decided not to run a candidate and, instead, endorsed Jean as a unity candidate. Had either Vision Vancouver or One City done the same and stood behind Jean, she would have won. Jean obtained 10,263 votes, placing her short of victory. The One City candidate obtained 6,327 votes, well ahead of the Vision candidate, who only obtained 5,411 votes. Add either of these vote totals to Jean’s and she would have comfortably defeated Hector.

What lessons can we learn from this byelection? Clearly, Jean’s campaign was the most energetic. By speaking directly to the issue of housing she was able to mobilize a volunteer base throughout the entire city. I was particularly attracted to her mansion tax proposal.

The last time an independent candidate did better than Jean did and actually won an election in Vancouver was when Carole Taylor was successful in 1986. My crystal ball tells me that this byelection will not be the last time we will hear from Jean. Perhaps she will run again in one year in the 2018 general election; perhaps she and her supporters will create a new party.

Only time will tell.


Posted in affordable housing, City Hall, COPE, Green Party, homelessness, NPA, People Power, social justice, Vancouver, Vancouver election, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Vancouverites, get out and vote!

Today, October 4, is the first of two advance voting days for the Vancouver by-election October 14 to elect one new council member and nine school board members. The second advance poll will be held October 10. Both advance polls are located at City Hall. Of course, regular voting day is Saturday, October 14 and you’ll have to check where your nearest polling station is.

The by-election for a new council member was caused by the resignation of Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs, who accepted a position with the newly elected provincial NDP.

Many may wonder why it’s important to vote in this by-election. I am reminded of longtime city councillor, Harry Rankin. At one point in his 12th run for a seat on council, he was declared elected. He went to bed not realizing there was still one more poll yet to be counted. The poll happened to be in a conservative area of the city.

As Harry was sleeping, he flipped from being just barely elected to runner-up. He lost the election by a mere handful of votes! If just a few more Harry supporters had come out to vote he would have been elected. In the end, all turned out well as Harry was finally elected in his next try, but the moral of the story of the story is that every vote counts.

In this by-election, I see two strong contenders: Jean Swanson, who is running as an independent with the support of COPE, and Pete Fry with the Green Party.

Hopefully, Vision Vancouver will not secure another seat on council. The current Vision-dominated council has been very pro-developer. They have given the developers pretty much everything they asked for while little has been done to address the housing crisis. A defeat of Vision would send a very strong message to 12th and Cambie.

Both Jean Swanson and Pete Fry have offered creative planks in their election platform to address the housing crisis. I am particularly attracted to Jean’s proposal for a mansion tax, which would see property taxes increased on properties worth more than $5 million and the monies raised used for much-needed affordable housing.

It’s a beautiful day today. Get out and vote!


Click here for more info about where and how to vote in the Vancouver 2017 by-election.

Visit COPE for more information on COPE candidate Diana Day (for School Board) and COPE-endorsed Independent candidate Jean Swanson (for City Council).



Posted in affordable housing, Canadian politics, City Hall, COPE, Green Party, Harry Rankin, NPA, People Power, Vancouver, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Vancouverites, get out and vote!

If you can afford a mansion, you can afford more property taxes

Jean Swanson, one of the candidates in this fall’s by-election for Vancouver City Council, has recently proposed a mansion tax. Under her proposal, property taxes would be tiered in much the same way that income tax is tiered — the lower your property value, the lower your property tax rate would be.

In making her point, Jean made her announcement in front of Lululemon founder Chip Wilson’s $76-million home in Point Grey. The mansion tax would see the owners of homes valued at $5 million and up to $10 million pay an additional 1 percent in property taxes. For homes worth $10 million or more, owners would pay an additional 2 percent. In Chip’s case, for instance, she says it would mean paying an additional $1.7 million over the $195,000 in property taxes he’s already paid.

The revenue generated by this additional mansion tax, which she estimates to be about $174 million annually, would be used to help address the crisis of homelessness in Vancouver.

Jean’s proposal seems to have captured the imagination of many civic watchers, including me: It’s a doable idea. It makes sense. It would only affect a small percentage of Vancouver’s homeowners.

If we can tier income tax, why can’t we do the same thing for property taxes? As a society, we accept the idea that those with higher income should have their income taxed at a higher rate. Most would be strongly opposed to a flat tax on income. But we currently have a flat tax on property. Whether you own a postage-stamp-sized $200,000 condo or a sprawling, 10-bedroom property worth tens of millions of dollars, your property is now taxed at the same rate.

Let’s hope Jean’s idea catches fire. Regardless of who wins the municipal by-election, it would be great to witness her proposal implemented at 12th and Cambie.

Posted in affordable housing, City Hall, COPE, homelessness, National Housing Strategy, social justice, Vancouver, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Three cheers for regulating campaign donations!

During the recent provincial election campaign both the NDP and the Green Party made strong commitments to electoral financial reform.

Tuesday, the NDP came through with a bill that will go a long way towards creating a level playing field in that regard during provincial elections.

The legislation tabled by the NDP will eliminate all corporate and union donations. Donations from individuals will be capped at $1,200 per year. On a transitional basis, political parties will be entitled to a modest payment from the provincial government based on the number of votes they obtained in the previous provincial election.

I’m very pleased with this legislation! Removing corporate and union donations from the political landscape will go a long way towards democratizing provincial elections. Here’s how.

As a candidate for any election, if you can’t get your message out through blanket advertising, then the only other effective way to do so is through town hall or all-candidates meetings. So when you don’t have a huge war chest stuffed with corporate and union donations to finance carpet-bomb advertising, you are forced to meet with the public. The beneficiary is democracy.

Let me offer you an example of that. In the month leading up to Toronto’s most recent municipal election there were literally hundreds of all-candidates meetings. This is most certainly attributable to the fact that spending by politicians seeking election is highly regulated and capped in Ontario. This contrasts with Vancouver where the number of all-candidates meetings leading up to our most recent municipal election were few and far between. In Vancouver, developers literally purchase the outcome of an election.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the legislation tabled by the NDP will be used by the provincial government as a template to take the next step — regulating financial donations and the subsequent financial expenditures of politicians seeking municipal office.

Posted in British Columbia, Canadian politics, Elections - British Columbia, equality, NDP, People Power, Vancouver | Tagged | 1 Comment

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win

Have you seen the recent video of NDP leadership hopeful Jagmeet Singh responding to a racist heckler?

The video I’m referring to has gone viral. In it, Jagmeet is confronted by a very loud and clearly agitated woman demonstrator at a rally of his supporters in Brampton — one of the rallies he calls “JagMeet & Greet”. She walks right up to him and begins to yell at him about his support for sharia (Islamic) law and the Muslim Brotherhood. The irony is that Jagmeet Singh is a practising Sikh, not a Muslim.

Jagmeet could have responded with anger or defensiveness. Instead, he pulled a page from the playbook of Mahatma Gandhi (by the way, the title of this blog is a quote from Gandhi). Jagmeet calmly diffused the situation. Remarkably, he defended her rights to express her opinion, pointing out that “we don’t want hatred to ruin a positive event”, and urging the audience to show “love and courage”, which is his campaign theme.

It’s too early to tell but it is quite possible that this incident may become a galvanizing point in the NDP leadership campaign. It looks like Jagmeet has already signed up more new NDP members than any of his other three competitors, and he has received the most top NDP leadership endorsements.

Jagmeet Singh offers a level of enthusiasm and youthfulness not present in the other candidates. His response to the heckler is indicative of a different type of leader — one who has the courage to give voice to ideas we need more of, and the ability to squelch negativity with positivity. I might add this is totally the opposite of what we see south of the border.

I, for one, will be very excited if the NDP elect Jagmeet Singh as their new leader.

Posted in Canadian politics, NDP, racism | Tagged , | Comments Off on First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win

Fair play would go a long way at ICBC

ICBC rates are set to jump again — this time by 6.4 percent. This follows the insurance corporation’s largest annual loss ever — a loss caused in large part when BC’s previous Liberal government withdrew massive amounts of money from the corporation and put the money into provincial coffers.

Will the rate increase fix the problem? I think not. Much more needs to be done.

As a lawyer practising in the field of personal injury, much of my bread and butter comes from ICBC cases. Too often, ICBC unnecessarily delays the settlement of files. Too often, ICBC is unwilling to offer my clients fair settlement for their injury. As a result, many years ago, I instituted a policy of starting a lawsuit on behalf of my clients on the day I am retained.

The sooner I can nail down a trial date, the better for my client. But this would not be necessary if ICBC had a practice of offering fair settlement without the prospect of being forced to go to trial.

Let’s hope that with a new government in office in Victoria, the winds of change will blow through the corporate head office at ICBC, and they will take a first step in cutting costs and increasing revenue by offering fair compensation without needing to be forced to go to trial.

UPDATE: I was interviewed on this topic recently on CTV — you can see the article and video here.


Posted in BC Liberals, British Columbia, economy, fiscal responsibility, justice system, law, NDP, transportation | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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!

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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.

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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 | 3 Comments