Power + expense accounts = Moral drift

plecas-reportThe report by BC’s Speaker of the House, Darryl Plecas, was released Jan. 21st to the legislative committee looking into the alleged misdeeds of Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz and clerk Craig James. Sadly, it confirms what many in the legislature already knew and most people rightly suspect: That an atmosphere of entitlement is created in the minds of many as soon as they are in a position of social power and have access to an expense account.

You have to read it to believe it: Truckloads of expensive liquor. A very expensive wood-splitter. Luxurious, lengthy overseas excursions. And the list goes on. But one item that particularly stood out for me was a so-called retirement allowance in excess of $300,000 — this for an individual who already has a very generous pension plan.

The Plecas report prompts me to ask a philosophical question: Why does it appear to be the case that so many individuals lose their moral compass as soon as they have access to an expense account along with some sort of power?

All this reminds me of something that happened repeatedly during my six years on Vancouver city council. The city clerk would annually publish a report listing all expense reimbursements for each city councillor. At the risk of giving the impression that I’m tooting my own horn, I was always the only city councillor with “nil” adjacent to my name.

I felt that as we were already generously paid, and since councillors were spending taxpayers’ money, I didn’t need to be reimbursed for any expenses. This would infuriate some of my fellow city councillors, one of whom complained directly that my failing to submit reimbursement requests for myself made him look bad to voters.

When I was chair of Vancity credit union’s board of directors, as was the norm, I was given a corporate credit card to be used for any business-related expenses. I didn’t use it once throughout my two-year term! I felt that if I took someone out for lunch, even in my capacity as chair, this was an expense I should be willing to cover myself.

The public expects those in a position of power to act in a selfless manner. As a society, we must work to eradicate perqs. This is especially true given the tough financial situation so many people find themselves in.

Posted in BC Liberals, British Columbia, economy, fiscal responsibility, NDP, Vancouver | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Imagining a different Vancouver with Kennedy Stewart


I was reading Mike Howell’s interview with Mayor Kennedy Stewart in the January 7 Courier, and I was struck by the extent to which our new mayor appears to be genuinely interested in collaboration with all members of Vancouver city council, no matter what their party is.

The interview got me thinking about how differently things would have unfolded after COPE’s historic victory in 2002 if our mayoral candidate had not been the divisive and combative Larry Campbell, but instead someone with the positive temperament of our current mayor.

COPE would have remained united. Vision Vancouver would never have come to be.

For those of you who don’t know, or perhaps don’t remember, in 2002, Vancouverites elected COPE’s mayoral candidate, Larry Campbell, along with COPE candidates to eight of the 10 city council seats.

The nine COPE council members quickly divided into two camps: COPE “Lite” made up of Larry Campbell and councillors Jim Green, Raymond Louis and Tim Stephenson; and COPE “Classic” made up of councillors Fred Bass, David Cadman, Anne Roberts, Ellen Wordsworth and myself. COPE Classic adhered to longstanding COPE policies like following an election platform determined democratically by the party’s membership. However, COPE Lite councillors voted contrary to COPE’s election platform at times, and even espoused accepting developer and casino donations — which COPE’s policies prohibit.

The COPE Lite faction, while only a minority of four within the nine-member COPE caucus, was able to have its motions passed due to the support of the two remaining members of council — the NPA’s Sam Sullivan and Peter Ladner.

One of the first and most divisive issues to come up was the expansion of gambling in Vancouver. Former Mayor Philip Owen had been firm: Gambling, particularly slot machines, were not welcome within city limits. Larry Campbell, however, reversed all that and opened the city up to casinos.

An application by the Great Canadian Gaming Corp. for slot machines at the Hastings race track was one of the first to be approved. As soon as Larry Campbell’s three-year term as mayor was up, he accepted an appointment to the Gaming Corp.’s board of directors, where he has remained to this day. (According to an earlier report by Global News, now-Senator Larry Campbell has received more than $800,000 in cash and about $2.1 million in shares for his role on the board.)

I suspect that if Kennedy Stewart had been COPE’s mayoral candidate in 2002, instead of Larry Campbell, he would have been elected and he also would have supported COPE’s original platform of a casino-free Vancouver.

In 2005, towards the end of Larry Campbell’s term, COPE Lite left COPE and, with multi-million-dollar funding from the development sector, officially became Vision Vancouver. In 2008, 2011 and 2014, Vision outspent all other political rivals, and won each of those elections. What a different city we would be living in today had Vision never existed!

While we’ll never know for sure, I will venture to say that if Kennedy Stewart had been COPE’s mayoral candidate back in 2002, the culture at city hall would also have been much more positive over the past 16 years. Not only that, the people of Vancouver would be enjoying a fairer and more equitable city today, along with zoning prioritising affordable housing over profits.

Posted in affordable housing, Canadian politics, City Hall, COPE, developers, gentrification, influence peddling, NPA, Vancouver, Vancouver election, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Here’s to a progressive and ferocious 2019!

Happy New Year, everyone! May your New Year’s resolutions be successful. In keeping with the season, here are a few of my wishes for 2019.

Progress on the basic income frontfists-rgb.png

Last summer, the provincial government appointed a three-person panel of experts to look at the viability of guaranteed basic income in BC. CBC Radio brought the issue forward again for the New Year. You can read to their report here. For those of you who are unfamiliar with basic income, it has long been proposed as a way to get rid of our antiquated welfare system.

The idea is that every adult who qualifies would be guaranteed a basic minimum income, with no conditions attached. Some suggestions are for $15,000 to $20,000 a year. This would replace the different social assistance payments some people now receive.

The idea to investigate basic income for BC was a stipulation from the provincial Green Party’s Andrew Weaver before he supported the NDP. If it goes ahead, plans right now are that the first pilot project would not start until 2020. I strongly encourage you to submit your input to the government’s Basic Income Committee; they need to know that there is support for basic income, and that it is urgently needed.

Basic income has been proven to be a much more beneficial approach, starting with doing away with all the entanglements of the current archaic welfare system we have. So my wish for 2019 is that the basic income pilot project proceeds this year — one year ahead of schedule.

That the Greens and NDP keep working together in Victoria

This is a model that is working and delivering tangible benefits to the people of BC on many levels. Overall, it has been a breath of fresh air compared to the previous Liberal government.

When this alliance was first proposed, a lot of people were afraid it wouldn’t work, but the two parties have proven otherwise — like the example above regarding basic income. This successful two-party relationship is a good example of the kinds of benefits we would witness when proportional representation becomes reality (see below).

So my wish for 2019 is that this Green/NDP relationship continues to be productive, for it demonstrates how parties, when they work together, can achieve real progressive change.

Progress on the pro rep front

Many, many of us in BC were very disappointed with last year’s referendum outcome, which saw 60% of voters supporting keeping the antiquated first-past-the-post voting system. However, all is not lost!

Prince Edward Island is holding its own referendum in 2019 or 2020 on proportional representation. As well, Vancouver’s new mayor, Kennedy Stewart, ran on a platform of doing away with Vancouver’s outdated, at-large system for the next municipal election in 2022.

So my wish for 2019 is that people in jurisdictions across Canada, including the folks in PEI, keep pushing for fairer voting systems.

Super progress on the climate file

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which the Green Party’s Andrew Weaver used to be part of, recently released a report with very grim news. Our climate change situation is much worse than what scientists had previously estimated.

We now have 12 years, at most, to make major progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 45% below 2010 levels.

So my wish for 2019 is that the federal Liberal government releases an updated action plan on climate change, with a 2020 target of a 45% reduction in Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions over 2010 levels.

Here’s to a progressive and ferocious 2019!

newyear-3617504_1280Further reading:

Getting to first base with basic income

Why 100 CEOs are asking Doug Ford to bring back basic income

Submit input to the Basic Income Committee

My backgrounder on proportional representation

Posted in British Columbia, Canadian politics, City Hall, climate change, economy, Elections - British Columbia, Elections Canada, electoral reform, Green Party, NDP, proportional representation, social justice, sustainability, Vancouver | Tagged , , | Leave a comment