CHATBOX is your chance to eavesdrop on Gordon Price and Sandy James Planner as they joust over our region’s features and foibles. Please feel free to comment and join the conversation.
Sandy: Well Gordon, we’ve sure seen some big changes at City Hall this week! But remember when Gregor Robertson became Mayor in 2009 and brought in the Vision machine to dominate City Hall for ten years, and then Vision-lite with Kennedy Stewart for four years? They did tons of tweaking and some pretty high profile firing to advance their new agenda. They also made substantial changes to city hall management, and added in many positions, including an expanded communications staff.
Gordon: Yes, both a big change – first Chinese-Canadian mayor and the power of the Asian/immigrant vote – but also, a reaction to change, whether to new plans like Broadway or to the social/woke policies of the Progressive Left. The communities that will be listened to with new awareness won’t be so much by neighbourhood but by ethnicity and values. Stewart and the Left didn’t know how to respond to the values of the Chinese community, particularly with respect to drugs, crime, and school liaison officers and honour courses.
Sandy: In the past two administrations, from 2009 to 2022, staff were no longer allowed to talk directly to the public; enquiries on public comment went straight to PR handlers. I don’t see it as woke. I think in the last 14 years there has been a lot of blurring of what is provincial, federal and municipal responsibility. Some of the previous policies, which were good, focussed on Vancouver (like climate change), but that would have been helpful for a more regional focus, but that was not of great interest to the previous council. Things like accessibility, transportation, affordability, and climate need to be tackled at broader regional scale. I am hopeful this Mayor and Council will do that.
Safety and security for all residents in all neighbourhoods and in the central core of the city is key. That was top of the agenda for this municipal party and is what they were voted in for.
Gordon: I had predicted that housing would not be the determinant issue for most people. Public order was the key concern (thanks to Global TV for running that loop of random attacks every night), so Sim’s Gordon Campbell-esque strategy was to appeal both to the traditional Right (more policing!) and to the Centre Left (mental health nurses). That’s what gets you a Council majority.
Sandy: It is interesting to look at what the ABC Party is proposing for Broadway. They are looking at what many suggested should be done with that plan, and that is focussing growth around the stations, and ensuring that existing affordable rental accommodation is retained.
Gordon: Well, my guess is that the Broadway and Vancouver Plans will also be downscaled for a slower rate of change, while still prioritizing rental housing
Sandy: So there may be a more prudent, thoughtful approach for addressing neighbourhoods.
Gordon: Exactly right. That was ostensibly Hardwick’s issue, and if she was a more appealing politician, she might have created momentum. Instead, it’s now ABC’s opportunity.
Sandy: But I think the first thing they will be doing is looking at how the downtown is functioning, how businesses are being accessed. Secondly they will be reviewing the voluminous amount of planning produced in the final gasping year of the previous Council, and deciphering what can be done with the Broadway and Vancouver Plans. Recognizing neighbourhoods. That probably is a good place to start for defining growth areas.
Gordon: The new Council is in the ideal position of not having to refight the Broadway and Vancouver Plans, but now it can turn to the actual zoning and be free to modify them however they wish.
Sandy: I am hopeful this will be a more accessible Council and City in every way. Despite what Stewart and Robertson said, City Hall became harder to access and to deal with. Time for communities to be allowed input at city hall once again. Time to get faster permit processes (which might mean more staff, and more staff allowed to approve with discretion).
Gordon: It also sets up the political opportunity of a lifetime for Christine Boyle, who is now the de facto leader of the Left (sorry Adrienne Carr).
Sandy: So what changes do you see at City hall Planning and in the Park Board? Do you think there will be an amalgamation of the Park Board into city services? That is what Ken Sim said he would do at the outset and then changed.
Gordon: Well, I was amazed that the first announcement out of the gate this week by the ABC Park Board was the ‘removal’ of the Stanley Park bike lane. One of the rules of politics is to not refight battles already fought. They’ve given the ‘All-Powerful Bike Lobby’ and its allies a new lease on life, and an issue that involves territory and new technologies. ABC didn’t need to do it that way, and they shouldn’t have kicked things off on an unnecessarily divisive tone.
andy: Me too – I was surprised about the immediate announcement of taking out the bike lane. Stanley Park gets over half of its users from the immediate dense vicinity. It could easily become known as an international destination for bikers and walkers. A surprisingly regressive and thoughtless throwaway of a great amenity. Not to mention, people that actually want to have exercise in parks, not just drive through them. Such a 19th century idea, right?
The other interesting thing is the School Board, which also is dominated by new ABC trustees. There has been some discussion about the disconnect between city processes and the Board regarding new schools. There are no new schools planned for the Plaza of Nations site and the Senakw site. The school board is assuming that those units will not be housing children. We saw the catch-up that needed to happen when a second False Creek School on the North Shore was not built.
Gordon: Ah, Senakw. The consequences of that development and relations with Indigenous developers was the one big issue no one anywhere on the political spectrum wanted to talk about. So they have left it all to after the election, when the realities will start to become apparent, like ten thousand people with only 400 or so parking spaces, and no serious transit yet. That’s bound to hit home soon.
Sandy: I think one of the things that has been really lacking is Vancouver’s input and place at the Metro Vancouver regional government table. The whole discussion about the road tax should have been how to replace the tax that is on gasoline ,when everyone goes to electric vehicles. That money funds our transit! So it’s not up to Vancouver to set up barricades in the downtown and create paywalls of where you can go, but it is about working with the region and transit and Metro Vancouver to work through the best way to recapture the gas tax. Or do we just acquiesce and have that funded directly through car insurance, via the Province?
Gordon: The road tax was never a serious possibility (the NDP provincially had ruled it out), but it was a great (and cynical) issue to stir people up. And boy, did that work. But Sim has, like the NDP, boxed himself in. As you say, that gas tax must be replaced, and there’s only really one place to find that money: property tax.
Sandy: I don’t think it has to come out of property tax. Let’s ding the vehicle owners. If you live in Metro Vancouver it comes off your ICBC insurance at ten dollars a year or so. There’s a lack of equity to put it on property tax. Get the vehicle owners. Done.
Gordon: So the gas tax will be replaced with a tax as toxic as the gas tax? How well received will that be when Sim asks the Province to take him and the region off the hook?
Sandy: It’s just the way to go. You drive in the 21st century with your own private vehicle, you pay.
Gordon: That is so politically tone deaf!
Sandy: It may be tone deaf but it is accurate. So Gordon … overall … are you excited about the changes that will be happening with the new Mayor and Council? Was it really time for a new direction?
Gordon: Actually, yes, I’m very excited. It’s so 1986 – just like when I was elected in with the Campbell NPA sweep. We were able to do things (like development cost charges, climate change and green initiatives, child care) that no one expected, and only we could, because we couldn’t be outflanked. Sim is in exactly that position now: he’s one of the most powerful politicians in the region, with a strong majority team, able to undertake initiatives that could surprise all. And that is something only he can do.
Have they made any provision to increase jail space to accommodate all the criminals the new police officers are going to catch.
I think ABC will learn very quickly there’s a difference between campaigning and actually governing. And because they have a majority, they also cannot blame anybody else for the policy failures they are surely going to rack up.
Most of what they talked about is outside of their power to change after all.