Frances Bula header image 2

As the year draws to a close, opinions and debates flourish

December 31st, 2008 · 14 Comments

Don’t ask me why, but I’m spending my leisure time these days reading Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone,” (yes, I know, several years late) a thoughtful and heavily documented analysis of the decline of civic engagement in American society since the 1950s. As we’ve become a more individualistic society, Putnam argues, our participation in political parties (real participation, as opposed to sending cheques), churches, work associations and bowling leagues has plummeted.

Reading that makes me grateful all the more for the people who choose to engage in civic life — some of them by debating the issues of the day through this blog. And that group is certainly active.

For those of you who have missed the conversations in the comments section, the back and forth between Tom Durrie, who fought to save the York Theatre on Commercial Drive, Michael Geller, who worries about the impact of that save on the city’s heritage density bank, and others is tremendously informative.

The more recent go-round is about the Non-Partisan Association’s recent meeting to elect 11 new directors, which turned into a tussle between two camps inside the party. There are lots of comments on that piece of politics.

One correction I should note is that my previous post implied that Manjot Hallen was a Conservative, because he was part of the apparently Tory-organized slate. Several people have written to point out that Manjot is an Ignatieff Liberal (as opposed to a Rae Liberal or …).

However, the fact remains that there was a slate organized and, although the slate included some Liberals, the organizing was done by a group of Tory and/or Sam Sullivan loyalists. (And to respond to Marko Dekovic’s message — no one said Marko was at the meeting. The dark whispering from the non-Tory faction was that he had helped organize the slate prior to the meeting.)

I admit it’s all a bit difficult for outsiders (and even me) to understand, since Bob Ransford has been affiliated with the Conservative party and yet Conservatives organized to make sure he wasn’t elected, while some Libs were included on the Tory slate. In spite of all that, there’s no doubt there’s some kind of real struggle for power going on between two factions, even though many of us can’t figure out what the point of it is.

Perhaps we’ll figure it out over the next few months, especially since I’m sure the other faction will be doing some serious organizing over the next few months to ensure they win the next vote for the five empty director spots that come up in April.

Finally, one more comment that you may have missed comes in from Michael Phillips, who had this to say about former Sullivan chief of staff Daniel Fontaine’s recent appearance on the CBC. In the interest of fairness, I’m also linking to what Daniel actually said so you can judge for yourselves whether he was guilty of the crimes Michael accuses him of.

“…pointing out absurdities if the arguments aren’t sharp…”

Hmmm…how about the absurdity of arguing that that the difficulty we are all having commuting and walking through the snow and ice in Vancouver right now is in any way the fault of Gregor Robertson and city council ( Dec 30).

“Ok Andrea, you dig out the Drive! Cadman, you want more responsibility? Grab a shovel!
Anton, I told you to put chains on all the bus tires! Don’t tell me its not municipal jurisdiction, get out there! If anyone needs me, leave a message with Maria, I’ll be pushing the B-Line around all day.”

Give me a break. The reason it’s so hard to get around is because a lot of snow fell and because this is Vancouver and we don’t have a lot of snow plows. Yes, we temporarily need more snow equipment during the olympics, although I should hope that Vanoc thought of that a while ago. Now if the City refused to pay snow clearing staff overtime because of the depleted contingency fund, that would be news. If this upstart City Caucus blog wants to be taken seriously they can’t just throw slush like this and hope it will freeze.

Sad to see that the CBC participated in such a tactless hit job.

“So how do you think the new city government is handling this problem Daniel Fontaine, former chief-of-staff to the previous mayor from
the other rival party?” “Badly!”

Despite laughing out loud when Mr. Fontaine was introduced as “one Vancouver resident” distinguished only by possessing “his blog” I was compelled to write this:

“I’m very sorry that my first letter to the CBC is a complaint, I usually am very proud of your network’s quality and objectivity. However, the next time a “resident” is selected to make local commentary about a situation which might reflect on the level of competancy of Vancouver’s mayor and council, perhaps the CBC could select someone who was not the former chief-of-staff to the previous mayor
who held power under a rival political party to that of the current mayor and council majority. This was not commentary, it was a hit job
by one party on another, and a news program shouldn’t allow itself to be used so easily for such purposes. If the CBC was bent on voicing Mr. Fontaine’s opinions it should have introduced the guest as the former chief-of-staff to the recently defeated mayor, in which case people would have treated his words with the mounds of snow-salt they deserve. I’m thinking of going to the ombudsman for the lack of disclosure on this one actually, please respond.”

Categories: Uncategorized

  • spartikus

    Michael Philips comment is indeed a good one, because it raises a number of issues. In no particular order…

    1. Blogging communities are prominent in some countries, and less so in others. The question is why? Population size and internet access play a role but, and this seems trite, I also believe blogging affords the opportunity to fill a void for those who feel the more traditional forms of media aren’t adequately covering their point of view. Blogging is big in Iran, for example, for reasons which are obvious (and Iranian bloggers take significant personal risks). Certain bloggers have become quite widely read and influential in the United States. And I believe that’s because the post 9-11 conventional media in that country, with some notable exceptions, became stenographers for only one point of view. There is a reason why progressive side of the blogosphere is much more influential than the conservative one in that country. Blogging in Canada is less prominent not simply because we are a smaller country, but because the media here still covers a wide or wider variety of voices than in the aforementioned places. Does City Caucus represent a group in this community that is truly voiceless? It’s absurd to think so.

    2. I don’t think City Caucus, or the CBC for that matter, fully get what “blogs” represents. Yes, yes…the medium is the message and all that, but I think they’ve, er, mistaken the medium for the message. It’s truly great, democratic, and empowering that anyone can start a blog and potentially reach a broad audience – but it does not follow that you deserve a mass audience by virture of simply being “a blogger”. Quality of content still counts.

    3. It’s a significant problem in general that “talking heads” aren’t correctly identified (see here for a more serious example), and I hope Mr. Philips does write a complaint to the ombudsman.

    4. There’s nothing wrong with being proudly partisan, but if City Caucus doesn’t up the quality of their arguments, their audience will simply be the base of the NPA and will always remain so.

  • A. G. Tsakumis


    With all dues respect, you may have confused the issue at the outset by suggesting that there was also a Grit slate that favourved Ladnerites.

    This is simply untrue. Melissa’s slate was probably more Melissa putting her stamp on her tenure (which I really don’t mind at all)…

    Manjot Hallen was included on that slate for the reasons I hve outlined here, in detail: Support Sam, or be one degree off and you’re on. Leung and Davis being the only other marquee names, and they were included to knock off Ransford.

    The fact you say that you are confused about this because Bob is a Tory is, well, confusing to me.

    What part of the ultra right-wing nutjobs that currently run the Tories in Vancouver and B.C. wanted Bob’s blood because he ran Peter’s campaign??? IS this so tough to understand?

    The wingnuts do not want anyone around who shows any kind of compassion towards anyone else. They attacked my ON CHRISTMAS EVE LAST YEAR, for being supportive of Carole Taylor for Mayor.

    These are doctrinaire fools who do incredible damage to their party by acting like such idiots. They are vengeful and vindictive. They aren’t nice folks.

    If the Tories were ever to get a majority, these same morons would be scheming to “kill fag marriage” (a direct quote) or “stop murdering the unborn” (more idiocy).

    Besides, I don’t know what Marko Dekovic is bitching about…TWO of his henchmen confirmed for me that there was a slate that he helped spearhead.

    “C’mon Alex…you know what it’s like budy, you know what’s it like…Bob didn’t support Sam…you know what it’s like”

    Yeah, I sure do…there are limits to how hard to hit in politics–because someone is always out there ready to sucker punch your sorry ass if you’re dumb enough to act like that.

    There is always an honour among combatants–but with the local Tory cabal, they just use you to get a plum job and then forget the guys that got you there.

    Ransford and I come from a different era. And maybe we don’t need to (shamelessly) use the people’s money to advance our cause either.

    I’d rather be poor and have my principles intact because I’d still be wealthier than the clowns now complaining that they got caught.

  • Happy New Year

    I concur with your review of Robert Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone. Putnam’s stark – and yet, at the end of the day – optimistic assessment of the loss of community in the U.S., and the potential for it to be rebuilt (and all the good reasons to want that anywhere) inspired me to get involved in my community at a basic level again – one person, one moment at a time.

    In making new friends. In shopping at local shops. In knowing (or at least, introducing myself to) my neighbours again. In smiling at and making eye contact with random strangers. In noticing my neighbourhood and the little things about it again (like the perfectly decent furniture that could be sold or donated but ends up in West Side alleys every moving day each month to get picked up by the garbage man – who’s doing a story on that, by the way…?). In wanting the kind of community where I know the people who live next to me, and that would make my neighbourhood safer and me happier.

    Happy reading…

  • Vickie

    Robt Putnam’s academic work on social capital that lead to Bowling Alone is better explored in Making Democracy Work. It’s not a breeze to read, but the content made the hair stand up on my neck when I read it back in the early 90s. His longitudinal studies of a range of factors in the regions of Italy show a correlation between higher/stronger social capital and such things as efficient local governments, economic stability, lower crime, etc. What amazes me now is how little we use that information to guide our priorities in government spending. More police won’t yield lower crime, etc. Investing in places and programs that support people in coming together is good governance and an important part of a sound economic strategy.

  • Ouch

    For a good laugh, I highly recommend listening to the archive of citycaucus maestro Mike Klassen on the Bill Good show today getting slapped around. Possibly the most pathetic attempt to score political points in a long time. My favorite part was when he said that the city could get a lot of value out of high-priced, state of the art snow plows being used once or twice a year for many years.

    And that the city should go around dumping massive piles of salt on roads for citizens to go scavenge and scatter themselves.

    At first it didn’t make any sense, and then I repeated the citycaucus mantra: “these guys thought Sam Sullivan did a good job.”

  • Snowbound with 20 cans

    And Toronto debates their sidewalks
    Linkname: | GTA | Icy sidewalks: Some pay, others don’t

    I’m surprised that those so ready to declaim the closure of two lanes
    on the six-lane Burrard bridge are silent on their privilege
    to make far west 41st a 2-lane street as they park their SUVs
    on on the street rather than put their delicate tires upon
    ice next to the pile pushing cars from the sidewalk.
    What was a 6-lane street quickly becomes 2 lanes as third cars
    are left embedded in the parking lane freezer.

    And Larch north of 41st is now truly one lane and no turn
    taking with the lane of parked cars now a metre from the snow
    encrusted curb.

    Peasants take buses, and only animals walk according to
    Kerrisdale attitudes.

  • A. G. Tsakumis


    If you ever worked with Klassen, like I have, you’d understand why his blog is affectionately referred to in knowing circles as “Dumb and Dumber”.

    You want embarrassment? You should have heard him speak in such partisan terms at the NPA AGM that I couldn’t laugh hard enough after I went for a smoke break (I had a half of a Partagas Series D left from earlier, that I was afraid would dry out and I already knew that both Leung and Ransford would speak well)

    How this charlatan and his cohort expect anyone to take them seriously is beyond me. The writing isn’t even that good. And next to zero comments.

    He was on with Bill???

    I guess they were short on real guests.

  • I’m late to the discussion, but to those who DON’T understand the rationale for actually having better tools to adapt to climatic changes, I’d recommend (without tooting much my own horn) to read some stuff on adaptation to climate change (I just published a post on the topic). We focus too much on mitigation, too little on adaptation (this response is in response to the text you included in the post, Frances).

    And yes, having an emergency preparedness response toolkit to deal with snow IS part of the job of the municipal government.

  • Michael Phillips

    Thanks Frances for drawing attention to my post. Happy new year to you and to all who are reading this!

  • Mr Phillips–

    I, for one, sure hope you let us know what the Ceeb has to say if and when they ‘respond’ .



  • George T Baker

    We used to have similar problems in Ottawa. Everyone would freak out and start blaming the city/capitalism/god for our predicament. In Vancouver we’ll throw global warming in for good measure. Society would crumble to the ground until someone got on the CBC and stated “It’s just snow folks.” Luckily for us the CBC has no credibility now.

    Either way, whatever we do, let’s get on the Internet and blame something. And whatever we do, let’s not shovel the snow ourselves.

  • Jane Bouey

    I just got back from Calgary where their sidestreets are not plowed either. The big difference between there and here, is that the vast majority of their citizens have snow tires and know how to drive in the snow.

  • LP

    Great comment George!

    “And whatever we do, let’s not shovel the snow ourselves.”

    Other than the elderly and disabled, who are understandably excused, it has amazed me that so many cars remain covered in snow, unmoved now since the 23rd at least.

    Yet people complain. Perhaps more should get off their ass, pick up a shovel and do something other than complain, eh!

  • Pie-in-the-sky

    The lower mainland would rather have pine beetles than a shovelful of snow.