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Much agreement, a few punches thrown at Vancouver politics session

November 15th, 2009 · 5 Comments

It was a pretty civilized session Saturday morning at the Wosk Centre as the Michael Geller-organized panels analyzing the past year of Vancouver politics mostly agreed with each other — including the observation that the two main political parties, Vision and NPA, have so few policy differences that they seem to be reduced to picking on personal defects as a way of scoring points.

I wasn’t there for the first session so perhaps all of the secret blogsters can post their thoughts here on the content.

I was there for the session on economics, where a very funny John Tylee of the Vancouver Economic Development Commission, before offering some interesting analysis, noted that the morning felt to him like a “slightly grumpy, slightly mellow cocktail party that’s been going on for 30 years” and that it had a slight “undercurrent or an overcurrent of partisanship.”

(For those not in the know, there were accusations and fears that it was just going to be a Vision bashing session. As it turned it, it attracted largely old-school NPA types but not completely and it was pretty moderate, as you’ll see.)

He stayed above all that, mainly talking about the economic issues, one of which I thought was the news story of the day. That’s namely that, just as we’re facing a peak-oil scenario sometime in the future, the world is also facing a peak-labour scenario. After 2010, he said, “the total labour force for all industrialized countries will start to shrink and everyone will be in competition for talent.” 

Companies know that the best time to trap talent is just before people start having families because then you get them in one place for at least 10 years before they move on. And, while Vancouver has attractions for that internationally mobile crowd, he said, it’s got a big problem: lack of affordable family housing.

On the same panel, former city councillor Gordon Price described Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson’s various green plans as “not much new here, just an acceleration of the consensus.” He should know, he was part of the group that helped form them. He said the biggest dangers of the plan were trivialization (community gardens) and inertia and the most innovative parts were efforts to help homeowners retrofit their homes through creative financing plans and the green-jobs/energy-conservation efforts.

Bob Ransford, who ran Peter Ladner’s unsuccessful campaign for mayor, commented from the audience that he thought the current council had the best relationship with the business community and the economic development commission he’d ever seen, but that their weakness was that those efforts at good relationships didn’t seem to be trickling down to staff, who were doing things the same old ways.

Then it was time for the media panel, which I moderated. I have to say, it was a bit of a hopscotch at times, as the conversation broke down into two separate areas that sort of overlapped but also sort of didn’t. One was the actual assessment of the performance of Robertson and his council. The other was the debate over the way the mainstream media and the political blogs are covering issues, with Jonathan Ross of taking on Mike Klassen at over the way citycaucus has chosen to personalize its commentary.

I don’t claim to have taken the greatest notes on some of this, as I was trying to keep the herd and myself from going over the cliff. But here were the main points of the opening statements.

Miro Cernetig at the Vancouver Sun said he wasn’t impressed by Robertson at first, but he’s seeing him evolve and put together a very tight political machine. By bringing in Ballem, he’s changed city hall to be more like a provincial ministry and he’s become kind of inaccessible, but Miro was impressed by his overall performance and gave him a B+.

Jonathan Ross, who ran the campaigns of two Vision candidates, said he’d been dubious about Vision at first, thinking it would be just an NDP operation in sheep’s clothing, but he’s been impressed by the diversity. He thought the team had done a relatively good job of the Burrard Bridge cycling lane and the Olympic village, though fouling up on HEAT shelters and the liquor bylaws.

Monte Paulsen of the Tyee offered the most thorough analysis. He started off by saying that Vision is a party that doesn’t have a natural consistency, which makes looking at their platform more important. On the four major points of their plan, he had this to say:

1. Homelessness and affordable housing. They came out of the blocks strong, but progress has largely stopped. Beyond an agreement to give developers some breaks to build affordable housing, the city hasn’t done anything very innovative.

2. Safe and inclusive communities. Nothing much here.

3. Environment and sustainability. The 10-year plan is a laundry list of things floating around.

4. Creative capital. “I can’t see any reasonable progress.” The Tyee, like many other companies in town, sees a lot of young people arrive and then decide to leave for Montreal or elsewhere because of the cost of living or the lack of real creativity.

Monte also made the point that voters will largely forget what this council did before the Olympics and will likely judge them only on post-Olympics accomplishments.

And he made the final point that he’s heard from many that they think this council is getting a pass from the media. He said that could be happening because of the disarray in traditional news media, which has left them without the resources or will to cover many issues.

Mike Klassen of citycaucus got the last work. Interestingly, he chose to focus more on general issues. He said he thinks that house prices continue to be outrageous and that this council is not really addressing that. He complimented them for working well with the province. And, like others, he said the Burrard Bridge trial was really a sideshow.

From there, lots and lots of interesting questions from the audience — some, as I said on the whole media issue, and others on the big-picture issues.

I could add much more, but I’m sure Michael will have the whole transcript plus tape up soon, no?

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