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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.






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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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Top Vancouver developer teams up with former Toronto head planner for massive national project to build rental

March 14th, 2018 · No Comments

No one will ever accuse Ian Gillespie of running short of ideas.

The latest from the man who is building both Vancouver House (high-end, sold offshore, unusual building next to Granville Bridge) and, someday, a mix of social and market housing on the Stanley/New Fountain Gastown site — he has formed a non-profit that will be dedicated to building rental, tapping in to the country’s big pension funds and getting some help from CMHC (unless what as yet).

Dave Ebner’s story, with my assist, was in the Globe today.

Obviously, there’s a lot of reaction to this, since Gillespie’s company Westbank is currently best known in the city for building very expensive projects and marketing at least some of the units through the company’s overseas offices.

Just one example of the skepticism around this here

Trudeau govt reviewing request for federal funds from Ian Gillespie and Westbank to build “affordable housing.” This is outrageous. Enough w/ this privatization model, we need real public & social housing now

I should note that some have privately messaged me that Gillespie’s pitch might not be the worst idea since, if the federal government is about to pour money into housing, those who have experience building thousands of units at a fairly rapid clip might be able to do the job more efficiently than non-profits, which are just learning the development game.
Here was one analysis of the Westbank idea:
there is some speculation they may want to vertically integrate the construction and maintenance/management of the units once built. If that’s their route, they will be hiring people on the nonprofit side to start planning their submissions. There is likely an air that there will be a long surge of government investment into housing again, and existing non-profits are already overloaded. There is room to grow in this market, and it seems likely Westbank is wanting to get in on it. I expect some of their competitors may be planning similar moves.
I do wonder whether, given that there are finite housing dollars, some will worry that the more that goes to a P3-type operation, the less will be available for the longstanding non-profits. I await comments on that.
On a side note, the reason I started looking into this is I had heard that Gillespie was creating a non-profit for housing, but I had heard that it was mainly so that he could bid on a current call in Vancouver for proposals to build rental housing that will rent for less than market rates.
I see from the paperwork here below that the society was created last October. Conspiracy theorists may note that the lawyer involved, Neil Kornfeld, is the same person acting for Beedie Living on the 105 Keefer site. However, I believe that’s just because he’s seen as a go-to real-estate lawyer, rather than any real link.



Incorporation Number: Business Number: Filed Date and Time:



Last Name, First Name Middle Name:


Delivery Address:


Last Name, First Name Middle Name:


Delivery Address:


Last Name, First Name Middle Name:


Delivery Address:


78983 1914 BC0001
October 10, 2017 04:24 PM Pacific Time

Mailing Address:


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Little-known change that would have whacked housing non-profits with big new taxes gets a negotiated tweak

March 14th, 2018 · 1 Comment

We often focus on the big drivers of housing costs. But, behind those, there are many other smaller drivers — like the way your property is assessed.

This past year, housing non-profits had their properties assessed as though, any moment, their buildings could be torn down and replaced with market-condo towers.

That could never happen, for the most part, because those housing groups have legal agreements to provide units at below-market costs.

For once, however, everyone scrambled to come up with a solution that would see their assessments reduced to reflect the fact that 1. they are not going to re-develop to luxury condos, ever and 2. they are renting for below-market rates.

A good win, as I note in my story.


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Battle over Northeast False Creek plan passes first stage, but much more to come

February 15th, 2018 · 3 Comments

There are so many issues wrapped up in the Northeast False Creek plan — which is supposed to become a neighbourhood of 10-12,000 people, with a jazzy new waterfront, a new park, 1,800 units of affordable housing in the 20-per-cent requirement for same, historic redress for the Chinese, black, and Indigenous communities — it’s hard to know where to start.

The plan was approved by the Vision councillors Tuesday, with the Green Party’s Adriane Carr voting in favour of some pieces of it, but not the overall plan, and the NPA councillors more or less opposed (though voting in favour of some of the multiple amendments that emerged Tuesday.)

One of the more contentious issues is over three tall towers proposed in the plan for the foot of Georgia, which planners say should be allowed to go into one of Vancouver’s many view cones.

There’s been a lot of noise about this, although city planners insist that this has been supported by two international panels in the city over the past years and also note that the exact same thing has been allowed at the Granville and Burrard entries to the city.

For I don’t know what reason, no one seems to have objected to that when it happened, unless I missed something?

At any rate, it has provoked a debate about the value of the view cones and whether there are alternatives to these tall towers that planners could have come up with.

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Candidates to lead left coalition in Vancouver start to emerge. First up, NDP current and former MPs

February 15th, 2018 · No Comments

It’s going to be a long campaign season (election day is Oct. 20, folks) because of the very open elections that will be happening in Vancouver and elsewhere, as numerous mayors announce they won’t run again and all but two Vision incumbents on council have bailed.

So, in the ongoing saga, here’s the latest: Two candidates of the many rumoured so far publicly confirming they’re considering running to unite the left/progressive/whatever you want to call them. While they may end up not running, the interesting sub-text to all this is the fact that clearly many on the left etc side are talking in what sound like fairly non-confrontational ways about how to co-operate.

For those trying to keep up with the rumour mill, here are the other names I’ve heard for a possible mayoral run (names here do NOT mean the person has indicated any interest or willingness)

  • Liberal MP Joyce Murray, who is one of the greener reps in the Liberal Party
  • Shauna Sylvester, a big star in the enviro community for her work on getting groups to collaborate and for her fundraising at SFU for that cause
  • Tamara Vrooman, CEO of VanCity Credit Union. Seems unlikely, given the great job she has now
  • Mira Oreck, ran for NDP and lost to Jody Wilson-Raybould in federal Van-Granville riding. Now working with NDP government, married to former Vision president. I’m told this is unlikely.
  • Raymond Louie. This councillor had always been named as a possible mayoral contender but, with the near collapse of Vision, changing fundraising rules, and the need for Vision to stand back in order to work with other parties, this might be a non-starter.


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