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North Van council rejects affordable-housing project: “non-profit model is untested”; “not enough to address climate change”

November 21st, 2018 · No Comments

Lots of concern and outrage across the region this week, after the surprise decision by the new District of North Vancouver council to reject the rezoning for a non-profit, affordable-housing project that included a seniors’ respite centre. Stories here and here.

The decision was striking to many for the grasping-at-straws reasoning used by some councillors, like the concern that it didn’t do enough for sustainability because it wasn’t a net-zero building (while single-family houses that are nowhere near that are built every day in the district, often entailing the demolition of something else on the site) or that the non-profit model “wasn’t proven.” That was along with the other evergreen “I support affordable housing but ..” arguments: not enough consultation, building too high, parking.

For those who missed it, here is my story on Catalyst, the non-profit company that was working with the district the last two years on this project. It’s the only non-profit developer in the region and seen by many as the kind of development company that’s desperately needed to help with the Lower Mainland’s housing disaster.

I’m also copying the story in full on the turn, for those without access to the Globe’s website.

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My intersectional, diverse, covering-all-bases voters’ guide to Vancouver council

October 19th, 2018 · No Comments

Okay, deep breath here as I try to provide some insight into candidates in one of the most complex civic elections in Vancouver’s history.

A word about the limits I’m working under, first. Usually when I do my little voting guide in the election, I can assess the performance of many of the candidates because they’ve been on the public stage at council, school board, or park board or in community groups, fighting for some kind of change.

This time, there are so many new candidates that I barely know many of them outside of what they’ve said in the last few months and their social-media presence. (Yes, I know, unrepresentative but using the information sources we have.)

Finally, this election is, more so than the others I’ve covered in 25 years at the city, about trying to sort out the ideology and identity of all the new parties and candidates. Before, we had right, left, and really left, for the most part. The question for many was a simple, almost binary choice about right or left, with some consideration given to who were the most credible candidates in those groups.

Now, people are curating much more nuanced lists, picking candidates by using many more vectors: young/experienced; male/female/other; party/independent; ethnicity; environmentalism/not; ideology, but way more fractured this time, with parties ranging from hard left to looks left but makes weird decisions to libertarian right to soft right to right mixed up with typically lefty housing policy.

For many, a simple right-left doesn’t work. The diehard COPE voters will never vote for anyone Vision, no matter what the Vancouver and District Labour Council says, seeing them as neoliberal sellouts. People inclined to support Vision in the past will be wary of voting for what they see as unreconstructed and unrealistic radicals, like COPE. On the right, the divisions are equally profound, with some seeing the traditional NPA as part of the problematic status quo, while some of those old-time NPAers are unlikely to support candidates who seem too extreme.

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NDP has some things to fix with civic-election campaign law when this is all over

October 15th, 2018 · No Comments

One of the big issues in this campaign season has been the discovery of holes and glitches in the province’s new campaign-finance law for local elections.

It turns out third parties can spend whatever they want up until 30 days before the election, independent candidates who are a team but don’t register as an official party can accept more in donations than a party, unions can pay staff to campaign among their members without any declaration of spending, and more.

For the last six months, that’s been a dominant theme, starting with this story back in April about the NPA raising money for “operating expenses,” something that was not limited until the NDP decided to amend this bit in June.

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Municipal-election drama kicks into high gear as campaigns really get going

September 12th, 2018 · No Comments

So, as everyone in Vancouver who cares anything about local politics knows, Vision Vancouver’s campaign turned into chaos this week after the surprise announcement that mayoral candidate Ian Campbell was withdrawing from the race.

As I’ve said multiple times, it’s not because the polls were showing him trailing and he was going to lose anyway. Vision insiders tell me repeatedly that he was showing up strong, tied with the NPA’s Ken Sim. He quit over a personal issue that surfaced from his past, something Vision vetters hadn’t picked up because it was buried in paper-only court docs and because charges in the eight-year-old incident had been stayed. (But someone knew and was telling local media about it, as the season of election surprises is upon us.)

So now, what to do. The first round of reporting and reaction in my Globe stories here and here. (Full text posted below)

There is a core group in Vision Vancouver that believes the party is still strong, still has a solid voter base, and, very importantly, is not able to raise money without a mayoral candidate. So there is lots of chatter about finding another mayoral candidate by Friday.

I got this email message from Andrea Reimer, who, after saying she was quitting politics altogether, is now considering running as the mayoral candidate. It illustrates the views of some in the party who believe having a candidate is key.

The last thing I thought I would be thinking about at this point in the 2018 election is running for mayor but it’s been anything but a predictable election. I supported Ian Campbell, and it’s been a hard week.

But now Vision is without a candidate and friends and colleagues have contacted me and urged me to reconsider my decision and become visions nominee for mayor.

I owe it to them, and the city and agenda I have worked hard for almost two decades now to seriously consider, so that’s what I am doing.

Vision is the best bet to stop the NPA. The internal polling is pretty clear: an independent can’t win and there is too much at stake to not take that reality seriously.

That view is, of course, frustrating to the campaign people for the two independent candidates on the left — Kennedy Stewart and Shauna Sylvester — who think that Vision is alienating the other left/progressive parties (Green, OneCity, COPE) by, as they see it, sticking to an arrogant view that it is the natural governing party.

Lots of phone calls and persuading going on as people debate whether Vision should just stay out of the race and support one of the two independents or let various Vision reps decide on their own who to support or what.

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The farewell note: A senior city-hall employee goes to work for a major developer

July 20th, 2018 · No Comments

Lots of praise for Bill Aujla, the head of real-estate services who is going off to be vice-president of real estate with the Aquilini Group.

This move, though, is raising questions for some.

From: Johnston, Sadhu
Sent: Tuesday, July 17, 2018 3:31 PM
To: All Staff (COV) – DL
Subject: Staffing Changes in City Manager’s Office

 

Greetings all,

 

I regret to announce that after six years at the helm of the Real Estate and Facilities Management Team, Bill Aujla will be leaving the City. He has contributed so much to the City during his thirteen years with us. While I am sad to say goodbye to Bill, he isn’t going far as he will be joining the Aquilini Investment Group as Vice President of Real Estate.

 

 

Bill has added immense value to the City; he was the lead on the successful negotiations with Canadian Pacific Railway for the City’s purchase of the Arbutus Corridor, and he represented the City’s interests in complex city issues, including CAC (Community Amenity Contributions) negotiations with developers. Bill has led a great variety of projects on behalf of the City, including the purchase of St. James Community Square, the development of the Killarney Seniors Centre, the seismic upgrading of the West Annex, the development of the Taylor Manor Housing Project and many others.

 

Bill also oversaw the Olympic Village development, including Canada’s first residential multi-unit Net Zero Affordable Housing Project, Habitat Island (a constructed island off the west shore of the Village), and the restoration of a heritage building (Salt Building). Additionally, Bill led the consolidation of Facilities Services, building a team, each of whom play an integral role in the everyday running of a successful department.

 

Bill Aujla has tendered his resignation effective at the end of August. He will be on vacation starting August 13. Recruitment for a new GM will begin immediately, and Lisa Prescott, Director, Strategic Operations Planning & Program Management will step-in until a new GM has been selected. Lisa has been with the City since 2010. Previous to her Director role in Real Estate and Facilities Management, she was Manager of Recreation Services in Park Board, and Manager of Performance Management and Business Transformation in FRS.

 

Gil Kelley, GM, Planning Urban Design and Sustainability, will be taking over the CAC negotiations. Over the last year we have been moving towards the transformation of the CAC program to less negotiated CACs and more fixed rates, which Gil will continue.

 

Bill leaves his department in a very strong position for the future and we sincerely thank him for his contribution and leadership during his tenure as GM.  We’ll all really miss Bill and we wish him a successful future as he progresses his career.

 

 

Best,

Sadhu

 

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Line in the sand for next election: Support new kinds of housing in single-family neighbourhoods. Or don’t.

July 10th, 2018 · No Comments

As I’ve remarked a couple of times, I’ve seen a revolution unfold in Vancouver the last couple of years — something I thought I’d never see. That revolution is powered by a new generation of people who’ve gotten interested in housing and who have made it a mission to lobby for new development as a way of making room for more people to live here.

The effects of that YIMBY movement, as it’s sometimes called, are clear in the motion that Mayor Gregor Robertson threw out a couple of weeks ago when he asked that city staff pursue even more aggressive efforts to look at incorporating everything from triplexes to stacked townhouses to small apartment buildings into the city’s single-family areas.

My story for the Globe was an effort (incomplete, missing some nuance) to see where the multiple candidates and parties, in this crowded election-year field, stand on this. Some support the idea with no caveats. (Vision, Yes Vancouver) Some support it with cautions (needs more emphasis on affordability), like One City. Some support it with even stronger cautions (can’t do this process at all the way the mayor has framed it, needs much more public consultation to make sure it doesn’t override neighbourhoods or fuel even more speculation): Green Party, ProVancouver. And others seem dead-set against it for multiple reasons. The NPA’s George Affleck, COPE.

Wherever people fall, it’s still mind-boggling to think that Vancouver can even discuss this. As many councillors can tell you, there were near riots on the west side a couple of decades ago when someone suggested subdividing a Mackenzie Heights lot to allow three houses instead of one. I started my coverage of city hall in the mid-’90s when the basement-suite battles were still going on.

The new council, which may take a year to figure out Robert’s Rules of Orders and what FSR is, likely won’t be moving on this initiative too quickly. But it’s on the table and, if it doesn’t pass in this high tide of housing concern, will likely float to shore the next time.

 

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A quiet landlord dedicated to providing low-cost housing will be remembered through house left to city

July 10th, 2018 · No Comments

I stumbled across this touching story just by prowling through Vancouver’s open bids, where I saw a call for someone to manage a house in Kitsilano to provide affordable housing.

I found out the story behind the story by talking to neighbours and reading the will of a man called Eric Pierce, who left his house to the city as part of a decades-long commitment to help regular Vancouverites be able to afford to stay here.

In a city that often seems paralyzed by the vitriolic debates over what to do about housing, nice to read about someone who just quietly did something about it.

 

 

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Vancouver’s centre-right party settles on a (surprise) winner, left agrees on council-slate numbers for parties

June 5th, 2018 · No Comments

Well, it was another exciting week in Vancouver civic politics, as the Non-Partisan Association, after weeks of roller-coaster drama, chose its mayoral candidate: the soft-spoken and unassuming-seeming Ken Sim.

That came as a surprise to everyone, including Sim himself, it seemed, on Sunday night. All the spin and whispers up to then had indicated that, once Hector Bremner and his 2,000 members were no longer in the race, Glen Chernen had the next highest numbers of sign-ups and then park-board commissioner John Coupar was next after that.

Yet Sim won with 977 votes out of 1,960 total, despite a very non-public campaign. That means either he’s got a fantastic network or the business community, which was by and large backing him, pulled out some phoning stops to get that many people out.

Here are my stories from before and after and then after again the vote.

Yesterday, as well, the Vancouver and District Labour Council and the five groups/parties on the left/centre-left came out with agreements on who will run how many candidates. (Some back and forth still going on about what the agreement means, exactly. See Pete Fry’s tweets for more.)

Aand, in other news, the group around Hector Bremner gathered at the bar in the Woodward’s building last night to rally the troops and provide an outline of the plan for the future. It is:

Week of June 11: Event Research presentation open to new party members

Week of June 18: New party is coming. Event: Policy forum

Week of June 25: Formally launch party (announce name logo, founding board, launch webpage, etc.)

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Going to spend $80,000 on rent while your kid is at university? Maybe just buy a condo, some parents decide

May 31st, 2018 · No Comments

Here in Vancouver, we’ve all heard about international parents buying property for their children while said children go to university locally. So we know that’s a thing. But I heard more than one story over the past few years about Canadian parents doing the same. In fact, one friend of a friend from Alberta bought three condos at UBC as a package deal, one for her son, one to rent, and one to use as a family drop-in place, as well as a condo in Halifax for another child at university there.

As it turns out, a small but steady stream of parents are making that same kind of decision. My story here in the Globe has two of them talking about the pros and cons of buying. (Says one father: It makes sense to buy at SFU, but not UBC, where the prices are so much higher.)

 

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Vancouver civic election shows that much is up for grabs in an unstable climate

May 14th, 2018 · No Comments

Catching up here after many weeks, where I’ve been slowed down by a combo of too much election news and killer colds and coughs.

But here we are, in what is surely one of the stranger municipal election cycles of the last 50 years. (Counting out Nanaimo here, whose problems seem to go far beyond mere civic politics.)

I keep telling those who ask that I have little sense of how all of this is going to evolve over the next six months and who will ultimately be the leading contenders among the mayoral candidates or parties. There’s still so much sorting out to do.

The tentative conclusions I have come to are that

  1. This could be an election where a mayoral candidate wins with less than 30 per cent of the vote (which would make it about 15 per cent or less of the total number of potential voters) given the potential vote-splitting on both right and left.
  2. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if we end up with a council that has no clear party majority. While developers in town are probably sweating at that possibility, in reality it won’t be that different from the typical smaller-town city council, where there are no parties and voting alignments can shift with each issue.

In the meantime, to catch up, where are we on all fronts?

  1. Squamish hereditary chief and council member Ian Campbell announced today he is running for the Vision mayoral spot. His announcement was quite a splash, with lots of supporters and lots of emphasis on the Indigenous angle. I interviewed him yesterday and my story is here. Vision’s decision to have a mayoral nomination process is the result of a struggle inside the party over what to do in this cycle, which arises from members’ very different ideas of where Vision is at. Some think the party is near dead and that it should simply acknowledge that gracefully and co-operate with the other progressive parties. Other stalwarts believe the party is still a dominant force, with a database of voters, volunteers, and a track record of knowing how to run a campaign. That group thinks that, even if Vision can’t win this time, it needs to stay alive for the next election. To do that, it needs to have a profile and be able to do some fundraising. To do THAT, it needs a mayoral candidate. As well, to that group, it looked as though Shauna Sylvester’s campaign, which looked promising, was not showing signs of momentum. And Kennedy Stewart, the other independent that party members might have supported, only started making noises about running just as Vision types had already decided to go with their own candidate
  2. Then there’s the Non-Partisan Association, which is going through its own tumult. That’s largely because the party, which only really comes alive around election time, is dealing with four internal groups: the new members and those supporting Hector Bremner, the guy who came from nowhere to win the NPA by-election, thanks to an energetic campaign that Mark Marissen was involved in; the new members and board directors who favour Glen Chernen, Vancouver’s own populist politico who has attracted attention the last few years with his efforts to expose what he sees as corrupt deals between the city and developers; and the NPA old guard, which has largely rallied around park-board commissioner John Coupar; and another NPA group — the potential donors and big-money types like Chip Wilson and Peter Armstrong — who have clustered around Ken Sim.

As the world knows, the NPA has declined to let Hector Bremner run as a mayoral candidate, for so far unspecified reasons. My story on             this here.

3. Then we have the independent “unity” candidates for the left, which include Kennedy Stewart (story here), Shauna Sylvester (story here) and possibly Patrick Condon (story here)

4. And, finally, there are the other parties, which are having a better time of it in a way because they are focused on a certain targeted mission and they don’t have ambitions to take over city council. For the Green Party, the big question is whether Adriane Carr should run for the mayor’s job and risk losing a guaranteed council seat (my bet is that she won’t with all the new contenders in the race), while OneCity and COPE are dedicating their energy to recruiting a few, not too many so as to avoid watering down their own vote, council, school board and park board candidates who can give them a presence.

Lots more to say about all of this but I’ll save it for another time. I welcome your comments on how everyone is doing.

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