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Low-key Robertson campaigning on Sunday: kids, seniors, cops, Occupy Vancouver

October 23rd, 2011 · 91 Comments

Strategists keep telling me this is going to be a “technical” election — one that’s one by mobilizing the ground troops to get out the vote — and, after today, I believe it.

The second Mayor Gregor Robertson platform announcement took place in an east-side park to the sounds of kids playing soccer and autumn leaves falling to the ground. He promised more childcare spaces, more help from the city for seniors by training city workers to recognize signs of dementia, and more cops.

Plus he delivered a more or less “Keep calm and carry on” message about Occupy Vancouver.

I’m glad I went to the news conference, mainly because I got to ride my bike up on a gorgeous fall day through east-side neighbourhoods that startled me with their charm. (I went up St. Catherine’s and Prince Edward, just east of Fraser, then back down Prince Andrew.)

Anyone who thinks this is only an executive city should walk down these streets on a day like today, where there were people out taking care of their gardens, walking their dogs, and, in one case, holding a pre-Halloween party in a front yard with extravagant costumes for the kids on their street.

It was also a surprise to end up cycling with the mayor a few blocks on my way back from the news conference, where we chatted about his events for the day (Van Dusen opening, something at the Roundhouse, something else I can’t remember) and what’s ahead for the next three years (no more big change, but consolidating what’s been set in place now that some ‘proof of concept’ tests have been tried out).

But mostly the new conference was a snore, leading me to think that there aren’t going to be any issues that will motivate more than the dedicated 30 per cent to vote Nov. 19.

Yeah, nice to get childcare spaces. Nice about the attention paid to seniors. (Apparently this was inspired by an event in Toronto where a woman with dementia got ticketed for having some tree cut down in her yard and, after several appeals, the city’s ombudsperson ruled city staff needed training in dealing with older people with possible cognitive problems.) But nothing that will get people stampeding to the polls.

And the announcement about 30 new polices officers? When you deconstructed that (as we liked to say back in my communications grad-student days), it was the mayor saying they are going to hire 30 officers whose positions had gone unfilled for the last several years in the city budget-squeezing efforts. It’s not 30 new authorized positions.

So that left the only news of the day as What Will The Mayor DO About Those Vagrants Down Occupying The Vancouver Art Gallery?

I’m not dismissive of this issue.

I think it will be a test for Mr. Robertson, along with mayors in the other 1,200 cities where this is happening, of how they manage to steer that line between those who think the little varmints should just be run off the property (preferably with shotguns) and those who think they are noble freedom fighters who should be allowed to turn the art gallery wood-chip field into a provincial campground until world capitalism collapses.

Dealing with these protests is going to take a unique combination of tact, discussion, and enforcement, tolerance for free expression and intolerance for intrusion on other people’s right to use the city, from mayors and police forces everywhere. This council has, if anything, had more criticism about its tendency to go overboard on enforcement (Olympic protest signs in condo windows; Falun Gong demos in front of the Chinese consulate) than the other way.

And it’s not enough to say, “Just make them go.” (When people say that, it reminds of all the advice that childless people like to give us breeders when we’ve had our troubles with teens, i.e. “Just throw him/her out of the house.” Yes, very helpful.)

So Mr. Robertson’s efforts to steer the right line was the most interesting part of the media scrum. What he had to say?

“The protest will end, it definitely is going to come to a close … but the cities that have gone in swinging have created havoc. I want this to end when the protesters have had their say.”

“I’m following the advice of police and city staff, who manage 300 protests a year. [They] say that intervening physically is not a good step. It will really depend on the behaviour of the protesters, how peaceful and compliant they are with city bylaws.”

He also called the statements from his challenger, the NPA’s Suzanne Anton, “inflammatory.” (Not sure which ones he means, as she’s made several.)

In answer to the question, why were they allowed to set up tents in the first place?

The tents were set up while there are a crowd of four or five thousand there on the weekend and, “staff and the VPD decided it was not a safe situation to wade in and prevent the tents from being set up. And because it is not on city land, the bylaws we have for sidewalks and parks don’t apply.”

“The encampent has certainly grown and there are increasing concerns about safety and health. It’s treading on a thin line.”

Personally, I’ve decided the only fair way to evaluate Mr. Robertson and Ms. Anton on this is something that we’ve become all too familiar with: the reality show. Each should get 20 protesters, chosen at random, to try to talk into leaving the camp. Whoever is first at convincing all 20 to leave gets to be mayor.



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