Tag Archives: vancouver politics

Vancouver enters the age of the open city

A few hours ago, Vancouver’s city government posted the agenda to a council meeting next week in which this motion will be read:


Open Data, Open Standards and Open Source
MOVER: Councillor Andrea Reimer
SECONDER: Councillor

WHEREAS the City of Vancouver is committed to bringing the community into City Hall by engaging citizens, and soliciting their ideas, input and creative energy;

WHEREAS municipalities across Canada have an opportunity to dramatically lower their costs by collectively sharing and supporting software they use and create;

WHEREAS the total value of public data is maximized when provided for free or where necessary only a minimal cost of distribution;

WHEREAS when data is shared freely, citizens are enabled to use and re-purpose it to help create a more economically vibrant and environmentally sustainable city;

WHEREAS Vancouver needs to look for opportunities for creating economic activity and partnership with the creative tech sector;

WHEREAS the adoption of open standards improves transparency, access to city information by citizens and businesses and improved coordination and efficiencies across municipal boundaries and with federal and provincial partners;

WHEREAS the Integrated Cadastral Information Society (ICIS) is a not-for-profit society created as a partnership between local government, provincial government and major utility companies in British Columbia to share and integrate spatial data to which 94% of BC local governments are members but Vancouver is not;

WHEREAS digital innovation can enhance citizen communications, support the brand of the city as creative and innovative, improve service delivery, support citizens to self-organize and solve their own problems, and create a stronger sense of civic engagement, community, and pride;

WHEREAS the City of Vancouver has incredible resources of data and information, and has recently been awarded the Best City Archive of the World.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of Vancouver endorses the principles of:

  • Open and Accessible Data – the City of Vancouver will freely share with citizens, businesses and other jurisdictions the greatest amount of data possible while respecting privacy and security concerns;
  • Open Standards – the City of Vancouver will move as quickly as possible to adopt prevailing open standards for data, documents, maps, and other formats of media;
  • Open Source Software – the City of Vancouver, when replacing existing software or considering new applications, will place open source software on an equal footing with commercial systems during procurement cycles; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT in pursuit of open data the City of Vancouver will:

  • Identify immediate opportunities to distribute more of its data;
  • Index, publish and syndicate its data to the internet using prevailing open standards, interfaces and formats;
  • Develop appropriate agreements to share its data with the Integrated Cadastral Information Society (ICIS) and encourage the ICIS to in turn share its data with the public at large
  • Develop a plan to digitize and freely distribute suitable archival data to the public;
  • Ensure that data supplied to the City by third parties (developers, contractors, consultants) are unlicensed, in a prevailing open standard format, and not copyrighted except if otherwise prevented by legal considerations;
  • License any software applications developed by the City of Vancouver such that they may be used by other municipalities, businesses, and the public without restriction.

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED THAT the City Manager be tasked with developing an action plan for implementation of the above.

A number of us having been working hard getting this motion into place. While several cities, like Portland, Washington DC, and Toronto, have pursued some of the ideas outlined in this motion, none have codified or been as comprehensive and explicit in their intention.

I certainly see this motion as the cornerstone to transforming Vancouver into a open city, or as my friend Surman puts it, a city that thinks like the web.

At a high level, the goal behind this motion is to enable citizens to create, grow and control the virtual manifestation of their city so that they can in turn better influence the real physical city.

In practice, I believe this motion will foster several outcomes, including:

1. New services and applications: That as data is opened up, shared and has  APIs published for it, our citizen coders will create web based applications that will make their lives – and the lives of other citizens – easier, more efficient, and more pleasant.

2. Tapping into the long tail of public policy analysis: As more and more Vancouverites look over the city’s data, maps and other pieces of information citizens will notice inefficiencies, problems and other issues that could save money, improve services and generally make for a stronger better city.

3. Create new businesses and attract talent: As the city shares more data and uses more open source software new businesses that create services out of this data and that support this software will spring up. More generally, I think this motion, over time could attract talent to Vancouver. Paul Graham once said that great programmers want great tools and interesting challenges. We are giving them both. The challenge of improving the community in which they live and the tools and data to help make it better.

For those interested in appearing before City Council to support this motion, details can be found here. The council meeting is this Tuesday, May 19th at 2pm, PST. You can also watch the proceedings live.

For those interested in writing a letter in support of the motion, send your letter here.

Twittering the Vancouver Election

For those living in Vancouver, or interested in Vancouver politics, the CBC will be hosting a debate tomorrow between Vision Vancouver Mayoralty candidate Gregor Robertson and his NPA counterpart.

For those listening in on or attending the debate, the CBC is interested in hearing your immediate thoughts and feedback via twitter – simply tag your tweet: #cbcmayorsdebate and the CBC may pick it up. Thoughtful comments about Gregor, concerns about the city, or respectfully expressed concerns about NPA spin are particularly appreciated.

For those interested in the debate it is taking place tomorrow, Wednesday, November 12, from 7:30 – 9:00 p.m. at the SFU’s Segal Graduate School of Business, 500 Granville St.. It will also be broadcast live on CBC Radio One (690AM) in Vancouver and streamed live over “the interweb” at cbc.ca/bc.

If you are a vision supporter – we are in crunch time. Please do vote!  Also consider donating some money or volunteering for our e-day get out the vote initiative and, to have fun, get yourself on “the map!”

David Beers on Vancouver Eating its Young

David Beers published a piece entitled “Why Does Vancouver Eat its Young?” in yesterday’s Globe and Mail. I agree with David’s sentiment, Vancouver does eat its young. Moreover, and many of his points are valid (e.g. the NPA’s closure of the Child and Youth Advocate office). But I chaffed at the partisan perspective of a news editor who founded a newspaper because he didn’t like the partisan perspective of other BC newspapers. I like the Tyee and even publish there, but its hard to not grow tired of its relentlessly partisan approach (Raif Mair, a balanced newspaper does not make) and its simplistic view of BC politics: Liberal=bad, NDP=good (or at least, not bad). While the investigative journalism is needed and deeply appreciated, I’m often left wondering if the Tyee is simply trying to become a left-wing version of “The Sun.”All the more so since it is funded by a silent, and secret, partner – rumored to be the BC Federation of Labour.

Take for example his op-ed. Both the provincial NDP and the BC Liberals have invested in social housing (the Liberals may be late to the game, but they’ve stumped up some serious cash). But neither has a track record of addressing affordable housing – the issue that could help Rachel, the op-ed’s protagonist.

In addition to the partisan swipes, the piece is premised on some highly problematic analysis and is factually wrong. Nowhere is this better illustrated than Beers choice of Montreal as a viable alternative to Vancouver. For an article whose theme is how Baby Boomers are shifting problems and costs on to young people, choosing Montreal as a positive counter example is, at best, questionable.

Montreal is a fun city to live in – I know, I’ve lived there. It has a vibrant arts scene and great nightlife. It is not however a utopia or sustainable policy alternative.

Montreal – and the province of Quebec – has the largest debt/per capita and deficit/per capita in the country (it ranks second highest in dept/gdp ratio) Despite having the highest tax rate in the country, Quebec is about to leave the next generation a whopping $117billion(!!!) debt, and a $2.1billon deficit (in 2005). If there is one place in the country that is mortgaging its young to satisfy the needs of Boomers, it is Montreal. Why? Because almost all this money goes into operational spending. Little is invested into infrastructure for the future. This is a city and province where, literally, bridges fall on citizens and universities place mesh nets around buildings to prevent crumbling cement from falling on students. Quebec’s tuitions may be low, but its universities are bankrupt.

Montreal is also not a homeowners’ paradise. It has one of the lowest rates of home ownership in Canada: only 50% percent of Montrealers own their home vs. 61% of Vancouverites. While public policy – such as the adoption of row houses – helps depress rents, one reason rental apartments remain easy to find is that an astonishing 200,000 people (11% of the population) left the city between 1971 and 1981. That loss still impacts the city today. It has yet to recapture it’s 1971 population peak of 1,960,000. Indeed, three and a half decades later it is still shy by 100,000. Not only has the city yet to recover demographically, it only recently climbed out of the referendum induced recession which saw jobs – for the young and old – dry up. This is a dramatic price to pay for affordability and it offers little in policy guidance to Vancouver’s city planners. (In contrast, Vancouver has grown by an astounding 35% since 1971)

Beers’ sentiment is right. Vancouver is not affordable. But is scoring cheap political points off the issue really the role for a newspaper editor? Especially one that is seeking to reframe the debate in British Columbia? There is a lot that can be done to tackle this issue… something I’ll dive into tomorrow while discussion the solution oriented speech Larry Beasley’s gave at the Imagine Vancouver conference this past weekend.

Carole Taylor and Vision Vancouver

There are some rumors floating through the blogosphere that BC Finance Minister Carole Taylor is interested in running for Mayor.

It is an interesting development since it is unclear with whom Taylor would run. Most observers would probably argue her natural home would be with the NPA. If Mayor Sullivan succeeds in securing incumbency protection for NPA candidates then nothing short of an open party revolt will bring him down. And then, even if it does, his rumored war chest could mean he could run as an independent.

What then is Taylor to do? One possibility that shouldn’t be ignored is taking a run at the Mayoralty nomination with Vision Vancouver. Clearly many in the party that would find supporting a former Liberal MLA an anathema. But then this would be a test of Vision. It would need to ask itself, is it merely the NDP’s arm in Vancouver politics, or is it a broader based progressive party that seeks to attract progressives on both the right and left of the spectrum? If, it is the former, than it will continue to split the vote with COPE and will likely never recapture the success it achieved under the moderate (and at times right leaning) Larry Campbell.

Indeed, in a worse case scenario where Carole Taylor runs unopposed as the NPA candidate, she would probably clean house. Not only would Vision lose the opportunity to win back the Mayor’s seat, it would almost certainly not pick up any new councilor seats and could conceivably lose some.

But a Vision slate with Taylor at the fore could be powerful. The only question is, could the party foster a coherent agenda between its right and left wing progressives wings? I genuinely don’t know – but it is a possibility worth at least exploring.

For those within Vision who won’t even entertain Taylor because of her alleged conservative pedigree miss a more intriguing narrative. Take a closer look at the BC Liberals track record after Taylor joined. After her arrival the BC Liberals moved left on:

  • first nations issues (from the insulting “referendum” to Campbell becoming the First Nations emissary to Stephen Harper)
  • the environment (BC is now the only jurisdiction seriously tackling climate change in Canada)
  • the unions (from almost out right war with health care workers to labour peace through a series of negotiations lead by Taylor)
  • homelessness (from cutting programs to buying up SRO’s across the downtown eastside)

This is not an argument in favour of Carole Taylor, only an assertion that Vision would be wise to sit down with her, engage her, and determine if there is sufficient common ground for a closer relationship. What is clear is that this election will be a defining one for Vision. It will need to prove that it is more than just Larry’s creation and can survive on its own. A strong Mayoral candidate – like a Carole Taylor or a Gregor Robertson – will be essential.

the strike that never was…?

Job actions just aren’t what they used to be.

Here we are in the middle of summer and the pools and library’s are all closed, plus the garbage isn’t being picked up. Interestingly I haven’t read about throngs of Vancouverites complaining (are they? has anybody heard?). Indeed, many businesses and condo associations seem to have private garbage pick up which may explain why.

So far it Vancouverites appear to be blaming neither the union nor city hall. Rather, most Vancouverites simply don’t seem to care. Perhaps what the strike reveals more than anything is that, aside from Police, Fire Department and Public Transport (none of whom are involved in this strike) municipal government services don’t seem to touch the day to day lives of most Vancouverites. That’s a sobering thought for the state of “public services” It certainly isn’t a winning outcome for either City Hall or the union.

That said, the union had better be careful. Mayor Sullivan appears to finally be under lock and key, so the union can no longer rely on his public blunders to boost their case. Indeed, the news stories seem increasingly focused on their blunders: First they expressed outrage at volunteers who pick up the trash after public events. Then they blocked cars from entering a private members club, because that club was offering to dispose of their garbage for $5 a bag. As picket boy documents quite well, what could have been a positive story quickly turned ugly.

If the emerging narrative becomes the union against the city’s citizens, it’s the union that will come out looking bad.

Either way, the optics aren’t good when 240 lb men are pushing around private citizens… regardless of how wealthy they may be.

Why Cambie St. Should have been packed up.

* first up – apologies for no post yesterday. It was a holiday in BC. Sometime later this week I’ll describe in greater detail my ridiculously BC-like day of island hoping, sea kayaking and BBQing. And to complete the leftcoast feel, a Smart Car was involved too.<!–

Second up… The Canada Line, the new subway being constructed between Richmond, the airport and Vancouver. The damage the construction has caused to businesses along the Cambie street corridor has been getting an increasing amount of buzz in the press. The whole situation is a fabulous lesson in urban planning and civic policy-making – one that sadly the press has not articulate.

For those out east who are not familiar with the Canada Line or its construction, it looks something like this:

cambie 2

Photo by Stephen Rees, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Sadly, these photos fail to do the situation justice. To put it bluntly, when there is a two story deep hole outside, traffic is at a stand still, the street is unpassable, and there is the endless sound of construction, people tend to stay away. This, needless to say, has made life difficult for the numerous businesses that populate the Cambie St. corridor.

As one can imagine, several businesses (most notably the restaurant Tomato) have moved, several others are complaining. The local MLA – Gregor Robertson – has even introducing a private member’s bill to provide affected businesses with direct financial support.

But is the construction responsible for the death of the Cambie st. businesses? Perhaps. But it is an inevitable death. And this is why the current public policy has so dramatically failed these businesses.

I’ve noted with interest that while businesses complain loudly about the construction and its impact, it is hard to find landowners who complain. One would think that the loss of tenants – and subsequent rental income – this would have generated a fuss. But it hasn’t.

Why? Because the landlords know that once the line is complete most of the Cambie corridor (currently composed of relatively low density commercial buildings) is going to be completely redeveloped. Higher density commercial and, more importantly, condos, are going to be common place along Cambie. Consequently, there is a good chance that if the construction hadn’t kicked these businesses out, their landlords would have in the ensuing rush to redevelop.

Thus the whole notion that Cambie businesses could be kept open was a mirage – a failure to look at the longer term implications of the Subway. Rather than waste time on a failed “Business is Open along the Canada Line” campaign (This is not a communication problem, advertising is not going to bring people to Cambie, only an end to the construction will) local businesses should have been offered money to move location and cover some of their transition costs. While this would have been painful for everyone involved, it would have been less painful then seeing their business dry up and having to move on their own dime.

I’m in favour of the Canada Line. I think it is great for the city. But that doesn’t mean that the Cambie St. businesses should have been left out to dry. The help they received wasn’t the help they needed. sadly, this is probably because giving them the help they needed wasn’t what they wanted to hear, or what politicians wanted to tell them…

* Aug 8th: The Vancouver Sun published this editorial piece on the same day as this post that provides a parallel but different perspective.

If a tree falls in the forest…

If a debate happens in city council, and nobody is around to report on it, does it have an impact?

Last Thursday I noticed that the Toronto edition of the National Post had front page coverage of Toronto’s city council meeting.

Front Page – with a giant picture to boot!

I’m trying to remember the last time a council issue was the lead cover story in the Vancouver Sun… How about the last time there was a photo of a council meeting?

Sadly – from what I can tell – neither The Sun, nor The Province, nor anyone else, have a single reporter exclusively dedicated to Vancouver city hall and municipal politics (if I’m wrong about this please send me a note – who is it?). This is akin to the Globe or National Post failing to assign someone to cover Parliament Hill. Vaughn Palmer does an excellent job covering the BC legislature for The Sun – so why not have someone do the same for municipal politics?

The lack of coverage fosters a city whose political and policy ideas are often unheard and poorly debated, whose municipal scandals go unquestioned and unpublicized and whose council members and mayor go unscrutinized.

Maybe The Sun may feel it simply isn’t profitable to have such a column. I understand (although doubt it). But this function is so important, some solution must be found. Maybe the Vancouver Foundation or some other agency could endow a reporter to cover the City Hall beat.

Or maybe… the Sun should consider outsourcing the role.

Sounds crazy? Admittedly it’s hardly ideal. But a news website in Pasadena, California, recently hired an Indian journalist to cover local politics. The journalist can watch local council meetings over the internet (the same could be done in Vancouver), many documents are available through the city’s website (as they are in Vancouver), and as the editor of the news web site noted “Whether you’re at a desk in Pasadena or a desk in Mumbai, you’re still just a phone call or e-mail away from the interview.” It’s not my favoured solution, but it is better than nothing.

Vancouverites often claim they’re not jealous of Toronto, but maybe we should be. With the Globe, the National Post and the Toronto Star writing regularly about the city’s politics I know I’m feeling envious.

Addition 11:20am PST – David Beers, editor of The Tyee, has emailed me to say: “Was surprised to see you single us out as one who is stingy on coverage of Vancouver city hall. In fact we do have one reporter who has been dogging the issue of homeless housing, covering city council sessions and often the byline on a cover story. Check out Monte Paulsen’s work.”

It is true, the Tyee has more in depth coverage of city hall than anybody else in town… all to glad to be called out on the oversight and hope readers will check out Paulsen’s work. Also, to be fair, the Georgia Straigt does a review of city councilors and talks about municipal politics, but it doesn’t have consistent reporting on the subject.

Sam Suillivan: Public Policy or Personal Gain?

Imagine if, while sitting as Foreign Minister, Lloyd Axworthy had decided to not only place the new concept of “Human Security” at the heart of the Ministry’s agenda but had also decided to trade mark the term – under his personal name.

Clearly the opposition members would have a field day… highlighting how the Minister was using his office for personal gain – using his political influence to create a brand that ultimately he owned the rights to.

Sadly, this hypothetical example is all too real here in my home town of Vancouver. Our Mayor, Sam Sullivan, has personally trade-marked “ecodensity” a term he’s been using to describe the municipal government’s a new initiative to reducie Vancouver’s environmental impact by creating a more compact city. As a few legal experts have noted, this is something that would normally be trademarked by the city’s lawyers… oddly it wasn’t. If that wasn’t enough it was again the mayor, and not the city or its staff, that registered the domain name ecodensity.ca.

None of the Mayor’s gaffe’s – like taking 30 item long priority list to a meeting with the Prime Minister (you should take a list of 3 items and you’ll probably get to talk about one) and then refusing to share anything about the discussion with taxpayers (who footed the bill) – have been so heavy so as to cost him an election, cumulatively however this errors will start to take their toll.

Fortunately for the Mayor, no one is really paying attention to municipal politics in Vancouver.

Vision Vancouver Policy Conference

For those living in Vancouver and interested in progressive politics at the municipal level, Vision Vancouver is hosting a day long policy conference on Saturday June 9th at BCIT’s downtown campus.

The plan is to have three panels, one on “A Liveable City,” one on “Housing Affordability,” and one on “Cultural Communities.” Vision councilors will be on hand through out the day and available for some formal Q&A at the end of the day. In addition, I will be giving a short lunchtime talk on the challenges of progressive politics in the 21st century.

If you are interested in reserve a spot (and free lunch) RSVP at conference@votevision.ca

Two steps (or should I say decades?) back on homelessness

(Small note: For those less interested in Vancouver and looking for a national story check out my man Taylor’s take on Simpson’s Globe and Mail piece and why Iggy’s policy development process lead to such a strong outcome.)

As for me, I’m feeling frustrated about Mayor Sam Suillivan’s poll on Vancouverites municipal priorities. For anyone who hasn’t visited Vancouver in the last year there is no doubt that homelessness is the number one issue – an observation confirmed by the city’s residents. No big surprise, given the rising cost of housing and a sharply declining number of available low-cost rooms in single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels (those most affordable to low-income residents).

The challenge for the mayor (beyond actually solving the problem) is that it is hard to take his concern seriously. We need only recall that, after taking office, his second act was to reduce the amount of social housing that would be part of the Olympic village development. Moreover, during the debate over Project Civil City he voted down a proposed amendment to include the Minister for Housing on the Mayor’s Civil City Leadership Council. If you were concerned about homelessness and were putting together a team to tackle it, it would seem sensible that you’d want to pull together the relevant stakeholders – especially those with access to resources beyond the meager ones available to the city.

Vancouver is now preparing for the 2010 Winter Olympics without an effective homelessness strategy. Sadly, precedent does not look good. In the lead up to the 1986 World Exposition Vancouver managed a similar problem by simply expelling the homeless from the relevant areas. While the city was ‘clean’ for Expo ’86 the long term consequence was the radicalization of civic politics and damaged relations between city hall and the city’s most at-risk citizens. Combine this municipal approach with a Federal Government intent on treating drug addiction and homelessness as a legal and not a social challenge and you have the recipe for disaster. Be prepared for a new effort to ‘sanitize’ Vancouver – an effort that will almost certainly fray or destroy the social and support networks that help at risk communities and push the problem out to the surrounding communities of the GVRD.

[tags]Vancouver, Vancouver politics, Sam Suillivan, homelessness, social housing, 2010 Olympics[/tags]