Vancouver 2008 Civic Election


In just over 24 hours, the Vancouver 2008 Civic Election morphed from snooze-a-thon to full-fledged mud wrestling match. Reporters, bloggers, opposition candidates and politicos scurry around asking questions like: Where is Estelle Lo? Why won’t Judy Rogers speak? Why weren’t taxpayers consulted? How big is the risk in the City’s assumption of the Millennium project? But no question is being asked more than this one: How can Peter Ladner manage a straight face when he chastises the public for wanting that consultation and warns that even the public discussion of this deal puts it in jeopardy?

Ladner’s ploy is so transparent, it makes Gregor Robertson’s TransLink flip-flop – which came across like something a seven-year-old might come up with – look like a master plan. Ladner’s assertion that he would rather lose the election that put this Olympic bailout deal in jeopardy is such a backhanded threat and election jab all in one, it’s astounding.

Let me get this straight, Peter: you will fall on your Mayoral campaign sword to defend the City’s right the negotiate in secrecy, outside the scrutiny of the taxpayers on the hook for this money, and if it somehow doesn’t work, it will be our fault, not Council’s? Hmmm, Estelle Lo seems to believe something’s rotten at Cambie and 12th, can she be wrong if she would rather maintain her professional reputation than back a process that wasn’t above-board? Actions speak louder than words, Peter and your words ring hollow and self-serving.

The Vision Vancouver councilors are all saying they were not briefed on the full extent of the City’s risk in this deal – which could be written off to political posturing if not for the missing-in-action Lo, who was also missing for the crucial meeting where the supposedly false numbers and/or points were presented to Council, the same meeting where all councilors voted unanimously to accept the terms of the deal. Vision’s assertion that they were not given full disclosure starts to look pretty plausible.

Consider also (jeez, I’m starting to use “also” like Sarah Palin, I promise I won’t end sentences with it) the seeming lack of political guidance surrounding Robertson’s TransLink gaffe of last week – does anyone really believe that Vision crafted this strategy where they were duped into voting for a Millennium deal by being fed false information as an election scheme? It certainly runs counter to the bumbling and missteps that have plagued their election to date and I just don’t believe they are capable of it. Face it, folks: the Vision councilors were frozen out as they claim, there’s no other reasonable explanation.

David Berner has it right – Peter Ladner’s mayoral bid is finished, and not because this deal is necessarily a bad one. He is done because of the cloak of secrecy and the arrogant Big Brother spiel preaching that excluding the public from knowing the details of these negotiations was the only way to get the deal done. Seems to me the Millennium group must understand that the City acts for the taxpayers and decisions must be subject to their consultation. We never got the chance.

Ladner made an analogy on CBC of a couple negotiating a mortgage and not letting the bank in on what their issues were – while I would agree that we taxpayers are definitely the bank in this scenario, unlike Ladner’s example, there is no other game in town and no other group of taxpayers to shop this deal to, unlike the couple who can go to another bank if they aren’t approved or don’t like the deal – we are it, Peter, and we are entitled to a say. Vancouver taxpayers should be very wary of voting in another Mayor who is a pawn of Gordon Campbell and the VANOC gang and who doesn’t believe the people have any say over this money.

The people might have actually approved this deal if it had been presented and sold to them in a democratic manner. It’s Ladner’s sleazy ways that are doing him in, he can’t be trusted and his indignant blaming of people asking questions and his petulant insistence this scrutiny might sink the deal is ludicrous. Can you say “deflection”?

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Gregor, Gregor, Gregor…we really want to vote for you, but you’re making it damn hard.

Robertson’s Vancouver mayoral campaign needs a platform, it needs an issue, maybe two, that defines his candidacy and tells us who he is and what he would do and how he would be different from Peter Ladner. His missteps, although minor in essence, expose a deeply concerning lack of focus and conviction. First, he floats the idea – one largely regarded as legally impossible – to force landlords to rent out vacant strata condo units to help house the homeless, then flip flops when it becomes apparent the concept isn’t feasible.

Which brings us to the 2-fare SkyTrain boner Robertson pulled this week: Robertson received a $173 ticket for mistakenly buying an inadequate fare ticket and, when it became public, announced he was outraged at the amount he called an affront to the poor and vowed he would be taking the matter to court in December to bring attention to the injustice. Immediately, critics pounced on the story, charging Robertson was only making fighting the ticket a political issue because he was caught with an unpaid fine. For several days, his campaign veered dangerously off-track and the debate raged over whether he should have just paid the fine and moved on. It appeared Robertson’s campaign was so lacking a foundation that he tossed this line out in the water to see if maybe this could or would be the soapbox he’d been searching for.

Enter someone with some PR or political savvy to inject some sense into Robertson’s floundering run for mayor and the befuddled candidate paid the fine, decided against the court fight, apologized and cited the need to move on. Could Gregor not have worked this all out in his own head when he got the ticket – the receipt of which is not, as many seem wont to suggest, some sort of indication of low moral substance or underlying criminality on par with, say, giving an addict money to buy drugs and driving them to do it? Come on, people.

He has also come out with several half-baked ideas intended to solve homelessness and other local problems, but can’t give specifics on the cost and how the city would fund them – an ominous thread that seems to run through his presentation of new initiatives each time he raises one. Vancouver taxpayers still remembering the long garbage strike of 2007 and recent tax hikes wonder how the City will fund Robertson’s plans if he doesn’t even know – this does not exactly inspire the voters’ confidence when choosing a new mayor. We want to elect the good-looking, bike-riding, soccer-playing, business-building, socially-progressive, stick-up-for-Cambie-Street father of four, but is he up for the job?

Remember the Federal Election? Substitute “Anyone But Harper” for “Anyone But Ladner” and you sum up the feeling of many Vancouverites uneasy with the idea of electing a candidate who supported the vast majority of soon-to-be-sunset-riding Mayor Sam Sullivan’s wide-ranging and often bizarre initiatives, but only long enough to put himself in position to stab Sullivan in the back and deep six any future in politics (we hope). One can argue we don’t know or haven’t seen who Ladner is, either – is he the conservative, BC Liberal-linked, Olympic bedfellow, Machiavellian Sullivan-ite or the new and improved politico willing to revisit the Burrard Street bike lanes and achieve a homelessness solution that is respectful and supportive to all stakeholders? We just don’t know. All we do know is Ladner has proposed a tax freeze and many voters vote with their wallets, often to their detriment.

Gregor, here’s some advice: you will win if you get on Ladner about his knowledge of the City’s Property Endowment Fund and the use of that money to prop up the floundering Olympic Village project without public knowledge. Ask how this got approved and what likely scapegoat and fall girl Estelle Lo’s resignation means. Stay off TransLink or you’ll have the likes of venomous bullies such as Porvincial Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon on your back, making sure you don’t step on his carefully guarded turf. You obviously struck a nerve with him, but leave that dragon to sleep for now.

Use the gift you’ve been given today because we really want to vote for you.

Canadians long calling for Electoral Reform may finally have some support after millions of dollars have been squandered on an election that produced another minority government, no change in Canada’s leadership and no indication of a more effective House of Commons.

Tuesday’s Federal Election proved that the winning party – Stephen Harper’s Conservatives – do not represent the will of the majority of voters. The Conservatives captured just 37% of the popular vote while the combination of Liberal, NDP and Green voters represented 51% of Canadian ballots, indicating Canada suffers from the Ralph Nader Effect: a fatal splitting of the left of centre vote that allows the right wing party to win. Ironically, many suspect Nader’s 2008 US presidential candidacy will actually help Democrat Barack Obama rather than splitting the traditional left, but historically, Nader’s runs for the presidency have hurt the left and many blame him for the 2000 and 2004 Democratic losses.

So, what are the options in democracy where diverse parties and ideologies are encouraged? Countries such as the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Australia adopted the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system and swear by it, but in North America, the vote counting and transfer system that sounds a little too much like a disease you might get from sleeping around at rave parties has failed to catch on. People like the concept of their vote counting even if their first choice candidate isn’t in first place, but it is complex enough that Joe Six Pack won’t be a fan, much less understand it. Check out this BC-produced video explaining how it works far better than anything else I’ve seen.

bc-stv-full.swf

While this system makes sense and the most use of one’s vote, there is another option to consider – one that has worked pretty well for Stephen Harper: amalgamation of the left. Recognizing the potentially fatal split developing among Canada’s right wing parties in the early 2000s, in 2003, Harper manged to bring together the Reform Party of Canada faithful – who had recently morphed into the too-radical-for-even-most-right-wingers Canadian Alliance Party – to form the Conservative Party currently in power in Canada. Some of the Progressive Conservatives of old – a decidedly more centerist party than the Conservatives – came along for Harper’s ride, but many feared Harper’s neo-con agenda, choosing to either leave politics or join the Liberal Party of Canada.

Say what you want about Stephen Harper, but this was a masterstroke for him – and arguably rang the death knell for the Canada we love – enabling the right to attain governing party status in a predominantly socially progressive country. If the Liberals, the New Democrats and the Greens could forge such an alliance, they would be elected and free to advance an agenda of social responsibility, fiscal conservatism and environmental action.

This election carried with it more talk about leadership or the lack of it than any in recent memory. If the Stephane Dions, Jack Laytons and Elizabeth Mays of the country put aside their own egos and pride and called for a national convention of socially and environmentally progressive parties, perhaps they could forge a similar alliance and pull Canada out of the ditch Stephen Harper has pushed us into.

Time will tell, but that’s the kind of Green Shift we could all get behind.

The truth is finally out – Judy Rogers runs the show in Vancouver and will long after the election dust settles in November. At first blush, Frances Bula’s Vancouver Magazine piece presents an in depth, illuminating bio of the woman long acknowledged by insiders to wield almost d-word-like power in civic politics, but her style is far from dictatorial.

She does much of her work in what some would see as a classic woman’s style: she believes in partnerships and collaboration. “The city can’t make any change by itself,” she says. That’s why she put together the Vancouver Agreement, the three-government effort to salvage the Downtown Eastside. And when that stopped working, she called on people like Dobell and former attorney general Geoff Plant. To get things done, she believes, you need links to “people who are strategically placed to make things happen.”

However, upon closer examination, this “news” outing Rogers’ status and role should strike fear in the hearts of voters, taxpayers and anyone purporting to believe in democratic process – and cause downright panic in the annals of City Hall, begging the question: Are Vancouver civic elections a sham? Consider this from Bula’s piece:

Over her nine years, there has been a strong undercurrent of unease in each of the three council regimes about how much power Rogers holds, power that seems to have expanded as she’s filled the vacuums created by rookie and dysfunctional city councils. People in both political camps murmur about the bureaucratic culture Rogers presides over at City Hall that seems to see politicians as the “temporary help” whose flighty ideas need to be headed off at the pass or allowed to drift off into never-never land.

The Mayor and Council are not intended to be merely “the public face of civic politics”, they are there because of the process through which voters elect them – all under the erroneous assumption that their decisions impact the civic landscape, literally and figuratively. Make no mistake, over the years, Rogers has worn many costumes: horse whisperer to Larry Campbell’s bucking bronco, cautious tour guide to Phillip Owen and most-recently, hang-wringing puppeteer to the Sam Sullivan regime – and it was a regime because as an individual, Sullivan came so close so many times to deep-six-ing his own office through his blunders, only his gang of handlers kept the truth of his incompetence from the public and saved his administration from a premature trip to the toilet – and she is poised to assume a new as yet undetermined incarnation alongside either Peter Ladner or Gregor Robertson.

So as the city prepares to elect yet another new mayor (the third in a row), it’s no surprise that there are many conversations on both sides of the political fence along the lines of, What are we going to do about Judy? Because it’s clear that getting to the throne at City Hall this November will be only half the battle. Then there’s dealing with the power beyond the throne.

Perhaps the public’s new awareness of Rogers’ omnipotence will create barely a ripple, due in large part to the fact that she is damned good at what she does. There seems to be little suggestion from anyone on the inside – love or hate her – that Rogers has done anything but carefully consider and weigh her decisions with the gravity of a judge on a death penalty case; she is extremely hard to find fault with. Perhaps no one has a problem with her as the financial, social, developmental and environmental compass guiding the city through the murky waters of increasing homelessness, high property crime, unparalleled drug trade, the Olympics, Civil City, the future of Eco-Density and the threat of big box development, but one would think the citizens would want these decisions exposed to the light of due process and transparency.

Missing in Bula’s piece is any mention of the challenge to end homelessness. Rogers and the rest of City Hall may find this issue on their doorstep far sooner than later – perhaps even before the new Mayor and Council are elected – and the smart money says this may press Rogers into action to create a plan that works for all the stakeholders. If anyone is up to the task, it sounds like it’s her.

Here’s a newsflash: Tim Louis doesn’t like the arrangement Vision Vancouver struck with COPE and he wants COPE members to vote no in tomorrow’s meeting to ratify the deal. This is vintage Louis: nitpicking, whining and dividing – here comes another 2003 council flashback. In his YouTube video outlining his reasons, Louis states the obvious when he says this election will be one of the most difficult in COPE’s history.

While he seems to grasp the reality of the COPE challenge, Louis fails to accept that COPE is essentially dead in this city. Larry Campbell’s 2002 victory under the COPE banner was just that: Larry Campbell’s victory. COPE merely succeeded by association – the man could have run as a Cling-On and won – and the party’s steady demise from that point is well-documented; the only reason there are any quality candidates running for COPE in this election is mathematical – they need to find a way to scramble in around all those Vision candidates.

In Louis’ dream world, he would see COPE run five candidates in each of the races for Council, School Board and Park Board, as well as a Mayoral candidate. Mayoral candidate? Who would that sacrificial lamb be, exactly? The mind boggles at all the possibilities. Word is the only sticking point for the many hopefuls is agreement on style and color of the Che Guevera t-shirts.

In reality, Vision is merely placating COPE, giving them their due in the form of a nice thanks-for-coming-out pat on the back under the pretext of a negotiation and vote. Louis’ rapidly deteriorating crew should be genuflecting to Vision for even acknowledging them as a party when their membership numbers are so embarrassingly low. COPE gives Vision nothing, brings nothing to the election, but if Vision unceremoniously dumped them, the negative bully optics would harm Vision with the voters, not to mention further divide an already fractured left.

Louis does not seem to realize his public whining only serves to weaken the prospects for any candidate perceived as left of centre – COPE, Vision or otherwise – and one would think Louis would want to see those people succeed rather than further splinter the voting left, banging his tired drum about process. Louis needs to move on – he is ineffective, has zero leadership ability and only brings a divisive, negative partisan energy to City Hall. Haven’t we had enough of that?

The Vancouver party system no longer fits with today’s complex and diverse candidates and the pressure to fit into a party ideology detracts from their ability to present themselves fully to the voting public.

The embarrassment of candidate riches in this election presents voters with an unprecedented number of quality candidates drawing from a deep well of experience from which the City of Vancouver will benefit for years to come. We have an exceedingly interesting scenario playing out whereby many of the candidates for the tradionally center-right (and inaccurately-named) Non-Partisan Association (NPA), the left-leaning Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE), and the center-left Vision Vancouver do not fit neatly into the ideologies once touted by those parties.

The announcement of architect and social housing planner Michael Geller’s entry in the election under the NPA banner is, by his own admission, something that surprises those who know him well who would have expected him to run for Vision Vancouver, or even COPE. Geller chose the NPA because he feels there is room for someone with his eclectic experience and he didn’t feel he could win a nomination – a refreshingly humble and likely wrong assertion – to the Vision roster given their full slate of qualified candidates.

City Council candidate Michael Geller

City Council candidate Michael Geller

If you look at the bios of many of the announced candidates seeking party nominations, it’s easy to see that the majority could run under any one of the two or three parties and have something to offer that falls within those ideologies. Disappointingly, the party system hamstrings candidates into having to toe the given party line to varying degrees or dumb down their rhetoric in order to win a nomination, so the voting public never sees the real candidate. Granted, that is the case with most politicians, but why not encourage transparency where it can be fostered in even small ways?

The first order of business for the new civic government should be to scrap the current partisan system in favour of an open race or possibly the implementation of a ward system where candidates run in a specified neighborhood and represent the interests of that neighborhood in addition to their duties to the city at large, much like the provincial and federal processes. The ward system engenders a sense of responsibility and accountability to voters whom many elected officials seem to conveniently forget are also citizens and taxpayers.

Viewing the decisions of the current civic government these past three years through this lens of increased accountability to neighborhoods would create some fascinating outcomes. Perhaps the votes on big box stores, Eco-density (where is the trademark symbol when you need it?), social housing at the 2010 Olympic Village and even the outcome of the 2007 civic workers’ strike would have been significantly different under a ward system where councilors answered more directly to their constituents.

Such a system would also serve to reduce the potential for distracting and misconstrued events such as the Jamie Lee Hamilton debacle. Hamilton could simply run as an independent – an option still open to her under the current system – and avoid the need for anyone’s rubber stamp of validation.

Non-Partisan Association wannabe Jamie Lee Hamilton cries bigotry as the party declines her application for a Park Board spot, claiming NPA officials cited her lifestyle as the reason for her exclusion from their inner circle. While discrimination against the gender queer in society is obviously a serious problem, in Hamilton’s case, the assertion seems off base.

Jamie Lee Hamilton

Jamie Lee Hamilton

In classic Jamie Lee Hamilton style, she refuses to focus on the real issues of her chronic unsuitability for board and council work and instead goes on the offensive, playing the sex trade and gender cards whenever her own flaws limit her prospects. Her opportunistic, pot-stirring ways are the stuff of legend in the local activist scene, which is why she was trolling in NPA ponds for a nomination in the first place; no other party was willing to take the good – Hamilton’s arguably soft heart and desire to help her community – with the bad: poor human relations skills and the dogged pursuit and defamation of anyone perceived as an enemy.

Similar scenarios played out when Hamilton ran afoul of fellow board members of Grandma’s House and later, the Vancouver Pride Society. Grandma’s House – the Downtown Eastside brothel she ran in the late 1990s – fell apart amid allegations of missing funds and infighting among board members, spelling the end for the house that was already in tough against NIMBY neighbors threatening to call police and City Hall.

If anyone needs evidence of the real reasons the NPA passed on Hamilton’s expertise, take note of her public torching of COPE council candidate Ellen Woodsworth on Hamilton’s blog a couple of weeks before the NPA dropped her. Who knows what the seemingly lovely, competent and unassuming Woodsworth did to anger Hurricane Jamie Lee, but Hamilton’s petty, unprofessional, vitriol spews out whenever someone crosses her and no party wants a piece of that. Maybe it’s because Woodsworth is a lesbian….in Hamilton Land, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Every time she wrongly cries trans or sex trade bias, she makes it that much harder for someone in those communities to file a legitimate grievance and she diminishes the community’s credibility.

The hyper-litigious Hamilton promises to file a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal in a mass email sent out after her meetings with the NPA, as is Hamilton’s way. Understandably, the NPA would rather leave her off the ballot then risk her potential public missives every time something occurs in a Park Board meeting she doesn’t agree with.

There are few roads tougher than that of aboriginal, post-op, male-to-female transsexual sex trade worker and community activist. Hamilton’s mere physical survival is laudable and she champions many in her community. She must be viewed with compassion and sensitivity, but if her problems stem from poor self-esteem and a difficult life, she can only be forgiven for so long if she wants to remain in the public eye and hold public office. She cannot continue to waste the time of fellow board or council members. In public office, wasted time translates into wasted tax dollars.

The NPA showed her grace and respect by giving her an ear, but they undoubtedly saw her baggage and lack of self-awareness as a liability and never took her seriously as a candidate. In fairness, they did the only thing they could and now have to face the accusations of bigotry as they head into the election in what will ultimately prove to be nothing more than another minor Hamilton distraction that marks every civic election.

She could be such a positive role model – someone worthy of City Hall – but rather than build consensus and rally the marginalized, she goes off like Gloria Gaynor on speed, dukes up, ready to bash the bully, reducing the concern in question as one coming to the forefront “only because I’m a sex worker” or “only because I’m trans-gendered”.

These are tired accusations and the support Hamilton enjoys from the LGBT community – one finally coming into its own and no longer in need of just any queer-identified person to step into a role model position – is waning fast. To continue to support the bias-shrieking Hamilton is to undermine the credibility of a LGBT community that has fought long and hard to earn just that.

Politics are not for the thin-skinned or the easily-offended. If Jamie Lee Hamilton could harness some of the energy and heart she used to drop women’s shoes on the steps of City Hall to draw attention to the growing number of missing women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and stop fighting petty battles or striving for a spot on a political party that wouldn’t value her, maybe people could take her seriously as someone with something tangible to offer and not merely a bad tri-annual Vancouver civic election punchline.

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