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The Bula election lawn-sign count: It’s not 2011 any more — but a surprise along Point Grey Rd

November 8th, 2014 · 4 Comments

As some of you may remember, I spent a day driving around Vancouver just before the 2011 election to do a lawn-sign count because I wanted to get some read, beyond polls and spin, of the public mood.

There have been studies indicating that lawn signs are an indication of public engagement and sentiment, so I haven’t completely gone off my rocker.

Last time, I counted 224 signs: 119 for Vision/COPE, then joined, 90 for the NPA, and 10 for “other” as I drove a big rectangle around Vancouver.

That was not too far off the final vote split (Vision, 59 per cent; NPA, 41 per cent). My route was: Rupert 1st to 63rd; along 54th/57th to Ontario; along 49th and SW Marine to Dunbar, down Dunbar to 10th, across 10th/12th to Burrard, across 16th Burrard to Main; across 12th from Main back to Rupert.

I drove exactly the same route this time and found fewer signs (only 186, compared to the previous 224) and a big difference in the split. Looks like, in my completely unscientific read, that voter turnout will be down and the race is extremely close. (For fun, I also drove every block around the closed off Point Grey bike route — see at the bottom for results)

This time:

Vision: 76

NPA: 71

Other: 37. That included 22 for Ken Denike and Sophia Woo, 7 for Vancouver First, 7 for COPE, 2 for Public Education Project, 2 for RJ Aquino/OneCity, 2 for Cedar Party and 2 for someone named Mercedes Wong.

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Gregor Robertson: Progressive, green, not a troll, fighting for his political life. What went wrong?

November 8th, 2014 · 18 Comments

My Saturday story in the Globe.

Vancouver’s mayor is a pescatarian, bike-riding advocate for all things green, pleasantly low-key and good-looking – a central-casting choice for his role.

Gregor Robertson has spent his past two terms working on issues such as reducing homelessness, lobbying for a rapid-transit subway on Broadway and building a new tech-oriented economy.

His council has committed $275-million in the past three years to create low-cost housing and brought in an incentive program that has developers building new guaranteed-rental apartments at a pace the city has not seen in decades.On paper, the 50-year-old mayor should be a shoo-in for a third term next Saturday, just as he was three years ago.

But Mr. Robertson’s candidates are warning their supporters the gap between the mayor and his closest rival, the NPA’s Kirk LaPointe, is dangerously small.


That’s even though Mr. LaPointe, who has no experience in civic activities, has offered few ideas and no plan of action on the biggest issues – housing, homelessness, transit – and has stuck mainly to saying the city needs a more open government and a new conversation with its residents.

Vision’s slim margin is also a factor of voters splitting off to other parties.

Those include the long-standing left-wing party COPE, and its mayoral candidate Meena Wong, which broke away from a coalition with Vision Vancouver; the Green Party, which is positioning itself as a middle-of-the-road balance-of-power party; OneCity, a breakaway from COPE; the Cedar Party, which achieved fame by filing lawsuits and asking for police investigations related to Vision; and the undefinable Vancouver First.

Vision’s council candidates, and the mayor himself, are routinely booed or heckled at debates and community meetings.

Polls from the past year have shown that Vancouver residents think their council has done a poor job of handling growth and development, engaging with citizens, and combatting homelessness.

Even one of Vision’s biggest backers, former NDP premier Mike Harcourt, is exasperated.

“I’m probably going to support the Vision slate, but I’ve been chewing them out for a while,” he said this week.

He still believes they deserve credit as one of the most activist, progressive governments among North American cities.

But he adds that, in their drive to change things quickly, they handled some important issues badly. And they exacerbated that with the way they talked to residents.

“Their bedside manner is terrible. They’re tone-deaf with the public.”

It’s not just that.

There are questions about whether Mr. Robertson overpromised by vowing to end street homelessness by 2015 and trying to tackle an issue as complex as housing affordability.

And there are other questions about whether he responded quickly or sensitively enough to people’s fear about changes they believe are altering their neighbourhoods. For some, foreign investment and the destruction of the city’s older houses are the threat. For others, it’s the new wave of high-rise development that has moved from downtown to areas that used to be all single-family homes and low-rise apartments.

Insights West pollster Mario Canseco says another factor is that the young generation that helped Vision sweep to power six years ago is older now. They still care about the environment and creating a less car-dominated city but worry how they’ll buy a place to live or create a decent life for themselves here.

The Vision Vancouver party created in 2005 was a civic version of a federal Liberal party, a centrist operation with a strong green overlay.

For the previous 80 years, city council battles were a fight

etween the hard right, which got business support and won, and the hard left, which got union support and lost, except for a few brief periods of coalitions.

Vision attracted donations from business, labour and the general public, raising enough to put it on an equal footing with the NPA. Both parties now raise more than $2-million apiece in the election year.

Vision’s money-raising success eventually led to profound suspicion about the impact of big money on council decisions.

Faced with all this, Mr. Robertson and his team have run a tightly scripted campaign, regularly saying the city needs an experienced council with a clear agenda to make progress on major issues.

The themes the mayor has hammered: affordable housing, especially for the younger generation; better transit; and, in a constant reminder of the green values that have been his calling card, opposition to twinning the Kinder Morgan pipeline that carries oil from Alberta and to a big increase in oil-tanker traffic.

Mr. Robertson acknowledges he and his team have rubbed some people the wrong way.

He also said he believes a quiet majority – people who do not hang out on Twitter or come to the polarized and hostile community debates – supports what he has done.

He says he’ll try harder to communicate and provide information.

But he also sounds like he is not prepared to make any fundamental change.

“I’ve been ambitious about tackling our city’s toughest challenges,” the mayor told The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau this week.

“If I err on the side of going too fast, too far, I’d rather that than be an idle mayor. I want to get things done, and that usually means not everyone is happy with the result.”

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Are there any housing solutions possible for Vancouver? NPA, Vision, Green, COPE offer very different ones

November 7th, 2014 · 21 Comments

Lots of people smarter than me think it’s almost impossible to tackle housing affordability issues in a city like Vancouver. The house prices in certain pockets are so out of whack that it’s hard to imagine that any level of income increase or city subsidy would bring them down.

But mayoral candidates, of course, can’t say that. They have to say something on the topic (well, most of them do).

And I do think there are alternatives around, as long as everyone understands that there is no way to reduce the cost of a current $2 million house to $600,000 or create a breand-new $850-a-month apartment without a very significant level of subsidy. The city can create more alternatives, in between the $300,000 one-bedroom condo and the $1-million house.

We can’t make land or construction cost less, but we can create two- and three-bedroom townhouses or apartments for those families who are willing to trade less space for the advantage of being in the city. (A trade-off that many are willing to make, if they can find the product.) Cities can give density bonuses in order to get things from developers. Or they can simply set certain requirements for developers.

I got to sit in on a meeting with the three major mayoral candidates and Adriane Carr from the Green Party the last two weeks and heard a few more details. (I also looked at COPE’s extensive plan, though not all, as some links aren’t working.)

I wrote a story on three of them (the three we’d done to that point), but they really seem to boil down to this:

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TEAM now says people who want to vote against developer-backed parties should ditch small independents, got for COPE, Green, NPAindependent Kasting, go for COPE

November 7th, 2014 · 1 Comment

TEAM, the party formed mainly by people put off by the NPA’s campaign last time, is now advising people not to go for the smaller parties and independents they had originally endorsed as the best options.

Bill McCreery has just put out this news release advising people to go for the more viable options instead. They are now recommending people vote COPE’s Meena Wong for mayor, along with two other COPE councillors; all three Green candidates; and three NPA candidates.

His explanation in the release below.



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Campaign contributor lists from big parties to come … soon

November 5th, 2014 · 5 Comments

After being grilled for a while at a recent Globe Vancouver bureau interview, NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe called back after the meeting to say the party would release contributor lists after all. (Story here.)

That set off a domino effect with all the other parties.

The smaller ones have rushed to get their lists out. Greens, OneCity, and COPE produced theirs in the order listed.

Vision promised to have a list out by the end of the weekend, but then decided to delay — some party strategist must have realized at the last minute that they’d just get hammered all week and the media would have moved on by the time the NPA came out with theirs.

So now we’re waiting to see what they’ll reveal.

As regular readers of this blog know, I posted about the NPA’s fundraising dinner last May, when the NPA kindly emailed me the list of who had bought tables.

Vision declined to do the same for the fundraising dinner they held last week, so I had to do the tedious job of walking around to every one of the 110 tables.

Interestingly, there were relatively few mayor developers there. No Walls, Concord Pacific, Westbank (his company rarely shows up any time), Aquilini, etc. Instead, smaller companies like Bastion and Edgar Development (?) were there, along with some unusual entrants, like Beedie Group, Concert Properties, Bentall Kennedy. PCI (of Marine Gateway fame) did have a table, not for the first time.

But they were in the minority, with a mix of other table buyers like Brightlight Pictures (who didn’t actually shop up to the dinner), the marijuana dispensary operation MedPot (they did show up and looked really cheery), the taxi drivers, Buster’s Towing, and a mix of ethnic “friends of” tables — Latinos, Filipinos, Jewish, etc.

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Seattle’s requirements for reporting city campaign donations are to die for. But do they produce cheaper elections? No

November 3rd, 2014 · 5 Comments

I got to go to Seattle once to write about the way they monitor and regulate campaign financing for their municipal elections. It brought tears to my eyes and will to all you poli nerds out there. Here’s a link to their elections site, where you can click on any of their ward-type races, the mayoral race, or any ballot measure and see who contributed what. It looks to me like contributions are reported on a more than once-a-week basis, to judge from the reports just from the last week.

So Seattle voters going into an election know exactly who contributed to a candidate’s campaign, and especially who contributed right up to the last few days. The city also has a $700 donation limit and no party system.

One surprising thing. It doesn’t seem to make elections any cheaper. I looked at last year, when citizens elected a mayor and a group of councillors, and at 2011, when the other set of council candidates ran for election.

Between the two years, and subtracting the money spent by people campaign for district attorney and a ballot measure, the various campaigns spent $5.1 million among them. That’s about the same as the two major parties spent here (Vision, $2.2 million in the centralized fundraising system they have; NPA, $2.8 million, counting both the party and candidates).

I remember people writing about how Vancouver spent X times as much per vote as Barack Obama did to get elected. But, seems to me, Barack got to work with economies of scale and the advantage of clearly identified parties that voters have figured out by election day.

Cities are like boutique operations, where campaigners have to spend a lot more to win their elections where only 150,000 to 200,000 people vote, at most. (Seattle, with almost the same population as Vancouver, gets out about 200,000 for its elections, around 50 per cent turnout. Vancouver gets around 150,000, 34 per cent.)

And funny how the $700 cap on donations doesn’t seem to reduce the amount of raising and spending. I await the explanations from my worthy audience here.


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Week of the attacks: Vision’s fuzzy Chevron policy, NPA LaPointe’s UBC address

November 2nd, 2014 · 26 Comments

Things definitely heated up in the Vancouver election last week, starting with the debate at Christ Church cathedral Sunday where the NPA’s Kirk LaPointe got Mayor Gregor Robertson on the ropes over what exactly was promised (or not) to one of Vision’s union donors. The NPA was thrilled to play the video all week of the mayor looking and acting like he’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. (Told you guys the karma thing was going to come around.)

Vision hit back later in the week with a radio ad jabbing at one of LaPointe’s weak spots. (Story here.)

And I just want you to remember one thing, kids. If Vision decides to do a radio or Facebook or TV ad on some negative thing about their opponent(s), it’s because that negative thing is showing up in the message, surveys, focus groups and other public-transmission devices the party uses to stay hyper-attuned to the fluctuations of groupthink.

So when they went out with this radio ad earlier in the week, a pretend conversation among two women complaining about a guy who doesn’t even pay taxes in the city being in the running to decide on what taxes Vancouverites will pay, you can bet they are replaying a common theme they heard.

We smart people here on this blog may discount the residency thing. but we don’t think like regular people.

Then, next dust-up: whether the Vancouver school board, headed by Visionista Patti Bacchus, is right or wrong to disallow a Chevron-sponsored program in the district that would allow teachers to apply for money for classroom materials.

I have to say, I stay out of school board stuff these days (five years on the beat in the late ’80s, early ’90s was enough for me), and so I find myself in the same position as any average civics watcher in this one, with no special knowledge.

It’s been a wild game of ping-pong all week, with Bacchus and the mayor sounding like the last defenders of corporate-free classrooms, while their critics are posting pictures of the mayor standing in front of giant Bell logos for some corporate-sponsored event. Every time I go on Twitter, I find myself swayed to one side and then another. Sure glad I’m not so lost on other issues.

This is the most complete story I’ve seen on the issue. But funny how it popped up briefly last March, again in May, then disappeared from view until now. You’ve got to love elections.

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Battle for Vancouver council shows a tight fight between Vision, Greens at bottom of list

October 31st, 2014 · 10 Comments

Yes, I know, polls. But they remain, as imperfect as they inevitably are, a good way for us to understand what is going on with campaigns beyond the spin and headlines.

This Justason poll, which I wrote about here, is the first attempt to get online panelists to look at something resembling a ballot to make their 10 choices for council, so it’s more accurate than just asking people whether they will support COPE or Greens or Vision or NPA.

It doesn’t account, of course, for variables like — who will actually get their voters out to the polls in the real world. But, still, thought-provoking.

Here is the Justason release on the council candidates and also her earlier poll on the mayoral race.

This poll was done between Oct. 12 and 18, so any pollster or civic reporter would expect these numbers to be changing significantly in the next few weeks.

But it’s hard to see the numbers changing a lot for the new NPA candidates for council, who all fell well below the 10th-place mark for council. They are getting no push from the party in any of the advertising, which is entirely focused on mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe and the party name. They are out at community meetings in force, but speaking, as far as I can tell, to people who have already made up their minds. And, although they appear at NPA news conferences, they rarely get to speak and sometimes don’t even get introduced by name.

That’s in sharp contrast to the way Vision has been pushing new candidate Niki Sharma, who is front and centre in news conferences with the mayor, on stage at the fundraisers, and frequently mentioned in news releases.


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Robertson stumbles as he tries to answer LaPointe question about union deal

October 27th, 2014 · 46 Comments

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson can be forceful about the issues he has convictions on, but something I’ve noticed over the years is how poorly he handles questions where he thinks he might be accused of doing something wrong but he isn’t quite sure.

That was on display full force Sunday, when the mayor was asked about the audio recording made at a union meeting recently, where Geoff Meggs assured union leaders that the mayor had re-committed to a position of not contracting out any new services. Later, after Meggs and three other members of the Vision team had left, the union talked about who it would support with campaign-finance donations. Vision was the big winner, although COPE, OneCity and PEP (the last two being COPE breakaways), got some too.

Bob Mackin got the audio recording, presumably from a CUPE 1004 member, which you can listen to here and here. (Can’t imagine who that union member might have been, ha ha — see previous stories on CUPE 1004.)

The mayor could have come up with a number of reasonable-sounding arguments and even a counter-attack –i.e. was the NPA planning to privatize city services? A red herring, but, hey, that’s what campaigns are all about.

Instead, he flopped and floundered. He tried to turn the argument to the NPA’s detail-free platform. (People started jeering.) He implied, both in the debate and the scrum afterwards, that somehow Meggs was down there on his own doing some kind of freelance policy improvisation. He didn’t even seem to know that it’s been his own party’s longstanding policy not to add to what is already contracted out. He said there was no iron-clad commitment on that. (My story here.)

Robertson “clarified” all of that this morning. In the meantime, the NPA went out in full force this morning, talking about a corrupt union deal, while other anti-Vision types have been on the phone to me suggesting this is a criminal act of influence peddling.

For those wondering what it takes to be charged with actual influence peddling, a couple of examples here and here.






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This week in the Vancouver civic election campaign 2011

October 25th, 2014 · No Comments

A look back in history:

Oct. 20

Mayor Gregor Robertson pledged Wednesday a Vision Vancouver council will institute a moratorium on expanded gambling in the city if reelected on Nov. 19.

Saying citizens had made it clear they don’t favour destination casinos, Robertson said his council “would ignore” any future studies that support the expansion of gambling in Vancouver for as long as they are in power.

Robertson made his announcement – the first announcement his party has made in advance of the Nov. 19 civic election – against the backdrop of BC Place.

Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun

Oct. 25

Vancouver’s two major political parties will launch similar but divergent economic platforms Tuesday for the Nov. 19 civic election, heavy on the reduction of red tape and the creation of a business-friendly environment.

Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Non-Partisan Association mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton both say their platforms will focus on job growth, and they’re using a Vancouver Board of Trade debate, the first major debate of the election, to highlight their plans.

Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun

Oct. 26

Protesters camping out on the grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery for a second week are likely headed for a showdown with the city and Mayor Gregor Robertson less than a month before he goes to the polls to try to keep his job.

“Once it starts to look less like a temporary five-day protest and more like a permanent encampment, the mayor will have no choice but to move in,” said University of Victoria political science professor emeritus Norman Ruff.

“The mayor was likely hoping the situation would resolve itself, but that looks more and more unlikely,” said Ruff.

Meanwhile, Occupy Vancouver protesters spilled into the mayoral debate at Simon Fraser University’s downtown campus Tuesday night.

Susan Lazaruk, The Proince

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