Hey, Vancouver – you’re going to vote, right? Here’s why – and how – I’ll be casting my ballot.

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 10.10.13 AM I grew up in a politically active household – largely thanks to my Mom. She ran for school trustee in the early 70’s when we lived in Richmond, and throughout my youth I also spent a lot of time in campaign offices where she was often volunteering to help a local candidate. Later on, I spent 11 years living in the US – and while it was a great experience and I made some lifelong friends, I had a newfound sense of political isolation, being unable to vote in either local or Canadian elections. (Though in retrospect, perhaps I could have in fact cast a ballot as a Canadian abroad, but it never occurred to me to investigate that!). Meanwhile, my political awareness was being further sharpened by art school, and by living in the San Francisco Bay Area, surrounded by activism and leftist outrage at the then-current Reagan/Bush regime. Once I moved back to Vancouver in 1994, I leapt at my first chance to register and vote. Today, thanks in part to this personal history,  I firmly believe in the importance of engaging in the political process, and the power that elected officials have to affect our lives in so many ways. While I haven’t followed my Mom’s lead on seeking any public office – yet – I do feel it’s essential to, at the very least, make a reasonably informed choice in every election. And certainly, the idea of not voting is unthinkable to me. It’s a baseline minimum of citizen engagement. Beyond voting, I’m convinced of the importance of getting involved however you can – be it volunteering, putting up a sign, or writing on social media about the issues you care about. Thus, this blog post. Here we are, looking at a civic election on Saturday, November 15. And I think it’s worth pointing out that, while federal and provincial elections get the lion’s share of publicity and attention, it really is true that the municipal level of politics is the one that most directly affects us – from garbage and recycling pickup, all the way to how our city looks and operates. So, it’s a good time to speak out and speak up – since the decisions made by those we elect on the 15th will affect us and our city for years to come. Turns out that Vancouver has a great site for getting an overview of all the candidates: Plan Your Vote. It’s a simple and clear site that lets you look at each candidate’s statement and mark your favourites. Then you can easily find your nearest voting place, and – best of all – print out your selections AND get email reminders and a listing for your calendar. Brilliant – every election should have something like this, but particularly a civic one, where we’re asked to elect 27 different candidates! But, sorry to say, it’s not enough. There’s more to this than just reading the candidates’ statements. Now, I must admit, I’m a little compulsive about voting. (OK, maybe not just voting!) But I do find it daunting sometimes to make a final choice, due to my urge for it to be a truly informed one. I mean, you’re talking about someone who had to read every single VIFF synopsis before deciding what to go see (even though I only ended up attending a single screening anyway). Also, I’m all too aware that in politics, it’s awfully hard sometimes to get past the rhetoric and determine what’s really going on – or who is really responsible. The truth, as always, is usually somewhere between the extremes you get in the media. So it often has to come down to my perceptions – I like to think a fairly informed perception, but perception nonetheless. Luckily, I got a lot more politically involved over the last few years in a couple of issues of personal importance to me, and in the course of doing so, I got a much clearer view of how things really work at City Hall. The impression, sadly, was not an entirely pleasant one. And so, all that said… my opinion is: Vision’s majority should not continue. I’ll be supporting Adriane Carr and the amazing team of Greens, giving some love to COPE and the Cedar Party, and as for Gregor… I would be OK if he returned to his happy planet. From the start, Vision Vancouver was perceived as being the pro-business side of a split in the formerly united, but internally contentious, lefties of COPE. After the NPA self-destructed in the 2008 election, Gregor Robertson and Vision triumphed with the Mayor’s seat and a majority on council, and the hope was that their progressive legacy would remain a strong factor. But, despite bike lanes, “Greenest City” goals, and many positive achievements over two terms, it became increasingly clear that something’s very wrong. Neighbourhoods feel ignored in the civic planning process. The development steamroller seems unstoppable. The densification juggernaut begun under Sam Sullivan’s NPA regime has only sped up under Vision. And heritage has taken an irreversible beating. The NPA was regarded as cool to heritage issues, so it’s incredible to me that under Vision we’ve lost far more of it to the wrecker’s ball. The Ridge Theatre was only the most egregious of many other losses that have torn the fabric of the city forever. It’s heritage that is my pet issue, and frankly, Vision lost me years ago when they killed the Pantages Theatre revitalization project. I assisted City Opera Vancouver conductor Charles Barber in his tireless effort to not just save this one-of-a-kind piece of architectural and cultural history – the last remaining of a historical North America-wide chain – but to make it the hub of a cultural renaissance on the Downtown Eastside. The Pantages Theatre Society put in a remarkably wide-ranging, comprehensive effort with a detailed business plan, got cultural and community groups on board – and was working with one of the most enlightened developers around, who had his patience tested by City Hall at every turn. Letters of support in the hundreds were hand-delivered (with me assisting, dressed in an elf costume) to Gregor Robertson and council. In the end, after being presented with a solid plan, strong community support and a great vision… Council asked for a further study. Wait, what? The window of viability closed while City Hall awaited more paperwork and twiddled their thumbs. Finally, the Pantages became so unstable due to vandalization and decay that it had to be demolished. In the end, there’s no other way to put it – it’s the Vision council’s inaction that led to the death of the Pantages and a missed opportunity for a beleaguered community. Big fail, Gregor. More recently, I spoke – and sang – at City Hall in support of the threatened Hollywood Theatre. In so doing, I got an eye-opening close-up peek at the procedures, and personalities, inside the council chamber. While several councillors seemed earnestly engaged with questions, there was a palpably dismissive attitude from many others. Most memorable was Geoff Meggs, who it must be said came across as haughty and dismissive in the extreme. I can still see him questioning one woman who had waited patiently to speak. Before she could even begin, he asked her brusquely who she represented, seeming to question the validity of her comments if she was not heading some sanctioned community group. He lost any chance of my vote that day, and personally, I don’t think he deserves yours. Finally, despite every councillor earnestly pledging their support for heritage and for the Hollywood – and despite their own plans indicating the need to bolster mid-size cultural spaces – Vision has so far taken the same cool, hands-off approach to this threatened theatre that they did with the Pantages. Like the Pantages, there is also a deeply researched and costed business plan that has been put forward by the Hollywood Theatre Coalition. But so far, council considers it just a private affair with no civic interest whatever – despite the fact that a drop in the multi-billion-dollar bucket that is the Property Endowment Fund would allow them to be a viable purchaser. Vision’s whole approach to density and development has been almost as high-handed as councillor Meggs’ questioning of that speaker. When I moved here in 1993, CityPlan was the approach being taken to neighbourhood consultation on development and growth options. It seemed like a remarkably ground-up, consultative approach and was just one of the many things that impressed me about Vancouver in comparison with the Bay Area, where I had spent the previous 11 years. Under Vision, we may have community consultation of some sort, but there’s nothing that even attempts the comprehensive framework that CityPlan aimed at. Instead, it’s a series of seemingly isolated interactions that seem to bear little relation to what eventually gets decided. Even though I supported it, the optics were terrible when, after a long public hearing on bike lanes, with dozens of impassioned public speakers, construction crews swung into action the next morning. So, what options do we have? For starters, let’s make Vancouver a truly green city…. by voting Green! Adriane Carr, who I’ve known and supported for years, has done great work on council since being elected in 2011 (including sponsoring a motion in support of protecting the Hollywood Theatre), and if Cleta Brown and Peter Fry can join her there, we’ll have a trio of truly upstanding champions. I like everything the Greens stand for, and am truly excited at the prospect of them building a greater presence on Council as well as the Park and School boards. My progressive leanings put me squarely in COPE territory as well. You want diversity? You can’t beat COPE, which instituted a specific policy for the first time this year that there be a First Nations (indigenous) candidate for each board and the majority of candidates be female. As well, I’m on board with most of their policies. So their candidates, including Audrey Siegl, Tim Louis, and Gayle Gavin will definitely be getting some of my support. One non-option for me, with one exception (see below), is the NPA. I haven’t forgotten their anti-progressive, pro-development legacy – or their fighting tooth-and-nail against any accommodation of a wider bike area on the Burrard Bridge. (It was so vindicating to see that their doomsday traffic scenarios did not come true when Vision finally acted early on to add the bike lanes there.) Despite their protestations to the contrary, I don’t see evidence that the NPA has changed much and, as a progressive, I do not want to see them returned to the dominance they had for so many years. Frankly, I believe the blog commentator who said he’d attended a meeting of the “new” NPA and, to paraphrase him, said of the supporters there: “man, what a room full of white male business types.” Even a simple glance at their website shows that the NPA has the highest percentage of candidates who are middle-aged white males. Not to denigrate their undoubtedly sterling credentials, but they simply don’t look like the diverse and multicultural Vancouver I know and love. That said, I will support Penny Noble in her run for School Board – I met her via the Save the Hollywood group and was impressed with her determination and integrity. Another candidate I’m fortunate enough to know personally – and this can vouch for her character and smarts – is the Cedar Party’s Charlene Gunn, with whom I’ve performed in The Broadway Chorus. She’s exactly the kind of person we need to have on council. When it comes to mayor, I don’t have a good option between the two leading candidates. Thus my vote will go either to COPE’s Meena Wong, or Bob Kasting – the independent who made what I thought was a great impression at the mayoral debate on November 4, speaking the most common sense of anyone at the table. I hope that, even if Gregor remains in the mayor’s chair, he faces a mixed council with no clear majority. This is actually one of the best possible assurances of a robust and productive government at any level. It means there has to be some give-and-take, and no one group will always get their way or drive policy. Remember, some of the most beloved federal institutions such as universal health care came out of minority governments.

Whether you agree with any of the above or not, I encourage you to please get out and vote on the 15th (or at one of the advance polls – check Plan Your Vote for details). These folks are going to make big decisions about your city, and many aspects of your daily life. Don’t you want to have something to do with who gets elected?

Thanks to Neal Jennings for the post thumbnail image and Vancouver.ca for the Plan Your Vote screen shot.

2 thoughts on “Hey, Vancouver – you’re going to vote, right? Here’s why – and how – I’ll be casting my ballot.

  1. Thanks. Agreed with most everything, especially about Vision Vancouver. Dismissive, arrogant and insular. not my kind of people.

  2. Hey Adam – Thanks for your thoughtful commentary. I fear the NPA’s pro-pipelines stance, myself, and know they would be every bit as insular and development-juggernauty as Vision. I will be supporting them because they made Greenest City a priority, but agree with you on sending a message by choosing s more diverse set of candidates in the mix.

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