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The stories behind the mayor’s F bomb

July 12th, 2010 · 65 Comments

Because I clearly have no life, I took the trouble to listen to the whole hour and 40 minutes of the Thursday night meeting about the West End housing controversy that led to the mayor’s much-reported remarks today. It’s worth a listen, in order to puncture some of the little spin bubbles going on.

Here’s what I observed.

1. The mayor has defended himself by saying the remarks came at the end of a long, difficult night and everyone was tired. Not so sure about that. Yes, it was a long meeting, but not the longest on record. Certainly not as long as the 5 a.m. budget meeting that happened under Sam Sullivan a few years ago. On the actual issue of forming a mayor’s advisory committee, the last item on the agenda, there were only seven speakers. They kept to their five minutes and they were mostly fairly civilized. I’ve seen way worse at council. In fact, one very quiet spoken woman made a simple case for better communication. (Her name is uncatchable on the video.)  “I think the trust has been broken. We want to re-establish that trust. You have a vision. We’d like to contribute to that vision in a meaningful way.”

2. The West End Neighbours group has complained about the mayor’s appalling lack of respect for them. I would note that this is a group that has made repeatedly implied that the Vision councillors are being bought off by developers (an accusation that’s actually libellous, for anyone who cares, but I guess it doesn’t matter because that accusation gets tossed around so frequently). Chief spokesman Randy Helten inferred that again at the meeting, darkly mentioning the $650,000 that developers gave candidates in the last election. The group’s members also say they don’t trust anything the city does, that they think the city will just cherry-pick favourable candidates for the mayor’s advisory committee (the topic under discussion for the night), that developers are just going to rip the city off, and any number of other less than civil or evidence-based allegations. Raymond Louie, at the end of the meeting, said he would appreciate it if people in the gallery didn’t make motions indicating that they were cutting people’s throat. Talk about lack of respect.

3. Heather Deal, when she called me to also apologize about the remarks, said that some of the high feelings had arisen because of anti-renter comments that had come out during the evening. But when I listened, I only heard two people suggesting that the city’s advisory committee was going to be too pro-renter. (The mayor’s recommendation was that the committee should have 12 people who represent the demographics of the community, which he pointed out was 80 per cent renters.) Yes, those remarks were bordering on “creme de la creme” arguments, as they suggested that renters could give 30 days notice any time and move on, but condo owners had a real investment in the community. Rather insulting to renters who have lived in the West End for 20 or 30 years, and certainly open to a reality check about how committed owners are to their communities. But not as rabid as I’ve heard at other meetings. 

4. The mayor doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on who people are in the community. When he asked whether the speakers were “NPA hacks,” he clearly had no idea that Carol Walker was a former COPE candidate, that Randy Helten is a regular apolitical guy who works on sustainability issues, that Tiko Kerr (whose statement was read by a friend) is an artist is more likely to support protests over the loss of social housing than go to NPA fundraisers, or that Ned Jacobs (son of the noted urban theorist Jane Jacobs) is also about as far from the NPA as you can get without falling off the edge of the planet.

5. Everyone is acting as though the mayor’s remarks showed that the fix was in, that the Vision council is unwilling to listen to West End Neighbours. Well, actually, the council had already voted on the motion that WEN was opposing, so the accidentally recorded remarks only added an unpleasant topping to the reality that WEN’s opposition had been unsuccessful.

6. People are also carrying on as though Vision bulldozed through some horrible motion that will forever extinguish any West Ender’s ability to talk about housing issues or voice an opinion on city plans. The mayor’s advisory committee is going to be formed will be made up of 12 people.

For sure, strategically, they’re not going to appoint 12 people from WEN, any more than they would appoint the 12 opponents to anything as the sole members of an advisory committee. And I have no doubt that this move is strategically designed to provide a platform for people who have differing opinions from the WEN group. 

But I also have no doubt that there are spots reserved for a number of WEN members on the committee. And, although Mr. Helten said there was no promise of transparency or accountability, Robertson did say, in public and on the record, that he expects this group to hold public meetings, to make its own decisions about how to do public consultation, and to be as open as possible. “It’s probably not perfect but we are staying true to our intent to do something innovative to engage the community.”

There, now you’ll all have to listen to the item yourselves to find out if I missed anything (which I surely did).

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