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Shaughnessy residents grill Ladner and the NPA

October 26th, 2008 · 17 Comments

Finally, some Vancouver council candidates in this year’s election got a chance to tell the public a bit about themselves on Friday when the Shaughnessy Heights Property Owners Association had their local campaign get-together. Three councillors from each party, along with the mayoral candidates, got to have a say, along with one independent who made the SHPOA’s rigorous cut. (They made independents submit statements in advance to ensure that they weren’t wingnuts — though that isn’t quite how they put it.)

The mayoral candidates also got to have their usual say, which I won’t repeat. Instead, I’ll focus on what was new and different about this event, which attracted about 200 people — or “real people,” as we media scrubs like to call them, to distinguish them from the placard-waving supporters who dominated the first two debates.

So, new and different?

1. Both mayoral candidates, Peter Ladner and Gregor Robertson, used the occasion to steal from each other’s playbooks. Peter made his usual stump speech (I have experience and you need that when the world is imploding), but kicked off by saying that he was offering “leadership and action.” Uh, isn’t that two of the three words on all those blue and green Vision signs around town, not to mention the mantra that Gregor has been chanting since early September? Yes, indeed, a break-and-enter in plain sight.

Countering that, Gregor didn’t steal from the NPA’s platform but he did steal a trick Peter has been using along with going through his usual stump speech (Are you better off now after three years of the NPA?) My media companion, Allen Garr, noted in a column last week that Peter starts every debate he’s at by mentioning some kind of link he has with the group or the neighbourhood associated with the debate. It’s a subtle way of underlining what he’s been saying overtly for a while, that he has deep roots in the community and Gregor just got here on the bus five minutes ago. He did it again Friday by mentioning that he’d been at the Greek festival in the same building recently, that his mother lived nearby, that he himself had rented an apartment near Arbutus Village, etc. etc. (Oddly, unless I missed something, he didn’t overly stress the fact that actually he grew up in Shaughnessy.)

But this time, Gregor tried to do the same. He mentioned that his great-uncle Bruce and wife Jean lived in Shaughnessy and Christmas at their house every year was a treasured occasion for his family (who lived in North Van). He talked about going out with his kids on bike races around the Crescent, something they do frequently since he lives nearby at 23rd and Oak, and mentioned that one of his teens is attending Prince of Wales across the road from the Hellenic Centre where the debate was held.

It’s interesting to see how both campaigns have taken what they believe is working from their opponent’s campaign and appropriated it.

2. The second interesting part of the night was the way all of the issues were narrowly focused on a few things that apparently this group cared about passionately, namely:

– council’s recent decision to allow townhouses to be built on the lower part of the historic McRae House (the University Women’s Club house) in order to ensure the developer didn’t tear it down

– planned new development at Arbutus Village

– general veiled discontent with EcoDensity (framed as a “do you believe in CityPlan and the Visioning process” question) and the possible intrusion of laneway housing.

Interestingly, Peter took a few boos and catcalls as he defended his party’s decisions on those issues and he stuck to his guns, even getting a bit sharp with the crowd at one point. When asked “How do you know staff are not being wined and dined” by people involved with the McRae House decision, he snapped: “I really resent that question. That is not in any way what happened.” (To his credit, he also answered the question. Gregor misunderstood it and went into the Vision Vancouver spiel about needing campaign-finance reform.)

Several times, Peter said that being a leader requires making tough decisions and that he made them after carefully weighing the pros and cons. Gregor, on the other hand, made much more appeasing statements to the crowd, saying that the Arbutus Village development was “at this point only a framework and there’s opportunity for discussion,” while Peter said it was a project the city needed to go ahead with.

In a sign that someone has been doing his homework, Gregor noted in his opening speech that he was “disappointed” in the McRae House decision and that the city needs to work hard to protect sites like that, which are “a heritage gateway” to Shaughnessy.

On laneway housing, Peter said he’s a supporter of the concept while Gregor, again, underlined the “we’ll let you decide” theme. “I am a supporter but it’s all about how you do it. It can’t be forced. It’s got to be about respecting the neighbourhood.”

Again, on the CityPlan question, Peter defended the current planning process, which is all about figuring out how to comfortably absorb density throughout the city. “We have lots of Visions, but no plan that says where the next 300,000 people are going to go.”

Gregor again focused on the individual neighbourhoods. They each need their own plan so they can not be overwhelmed by a glut of sudden development, the way Fairview was when old three-storey apartments started being torn down and replaced by upscale towers. And, he added, playing to exactly what that crowd wanted to hear, “I’m concerned about neighbourhoods being overridden by EcoDensity, my sense is that it could over-write what a neighbourhood wants.”

So I started off this post by mentioning that council candidates finally got their say. What did they do with it? A brief rundown.

Kanman Wong, NPA: Insite is not a solution to drug problems; treatment is the solution. Second point was that the city needs more community centres.

Leanore Copeland, NPA: I spent three years in Ottawa, I know how to get gets done. I’m on all kinds of boards. The 2010 Olympics really matter.

Suzanne Anton, NPA: We have a lot of people coming to Vancouver — where are we going to put them? We need to figure that out. At the same time, we have to preserve our heritage. Also — the Kerrisdale community centre is ready for renewal. How about an arts centre there? Plus she defended the McRae House decision

Steve Wansleeben, Independent: The vacancy rate is near zero. You need to raise licence fees for landlords. Also, for elections, the voting age should be lowered to 16.

David Cadman, COPE: I rented near here once at 14th and Cypress. I’m disappointed at what the NPA council did to Southeast False Creek, because our individual neighbourhoods need to look like our city as a whole. The NPA’s taxes have gone through the roof. We are the only party that doesn’t take money from developers. (Applause for that.)

Ellen Woodsworth, COPE: I’m worried this beautiful city is falling into crisis. People feel like the city no longer listens. After I lost in 2005, I realized i needed to really listen o the community and stand up against the disintegration.

Heather Deal, Vision: Southeast False Creek could have worked if people had been allowed to come together and provide creative solutions. Project Civil City was misguided. The NPA keeps turning down good ideas, like having a mental-health advocate.

Geoff Meggs, Vision: One of the projects that will transform this city is Woodward’s and we haven’t seen that kind of creativty repeated. Homelessness is a moral issue and it’s hard to believe the city couldn’t come up with something so that thousands of people aren’t sleeping on the street. On affordable housing, if you work in this city, you should be able to live in it.

George Chow, Vision: There need to be limits on campaign donations and spending to make sure no one group has undue influence. We need more patrol officers on our streets. I support historical neighbourhoods like Shaughnessy. Yes, we have to make hard decisions, but we have to make wise decisions.

And on those wise words, I left for the night.

Another debate tonight about arts, 7 p.m. at the Arts Club.

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