This fall marks the unofficial start of another two years in office for Mayor Kennedy Stewart and 10 councillors who were elected in October 2018.
Though housing, homelessness, development and drug addiction have been predictable topics debated in the chamber at city hall, none of the elected officials predicted they would be governing in face masks and holding virtual council meetings.
Or be facing a revenue loss to the operating budget of $124 million.
But here they are.
To understand their reality and assess council’s performance over the last two years, Glacier Media emailed the same set of seven questions to each councillor in an exercise aimed at giving residents insight to politicians’ accomplishments, challenges and how much of a property tax hike might be coming in next year’s budget.
Each councillor was also asked to rate the mayor’s performance; Glacier Media has requested an interview with Stewart about his first two years in office, which is likely to occur next week, with a story to be posted on this website.
In the meantime, the following is a rundown of the questions to the councillors, followed by their answers.
Some of the answers have been condensed and edited for clarity and space.
What has been your biggest accomplishment in the first half of your four-year term?
Independent Coun. Rebecca Bligh: Bridge-building. Under a party banner and now as an independent, working across party lines has opened up a variety of opportunities for problem solving and consensus building. In a minority government finding consensus on common ground has allowed us to take significant steps forward on a number of important issues. Standing up for inclusion, for the rights of trans and non-binary people, and support for the LGBTQ2+ community across the city, which has been a cornerstone of my advocacy over my term and will continue to be over its remainder.
OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle: I’m most proud of the leadership role I’ve played in Vancouver’s climate emergency response. Ramping up the city’s climate action in line with the science, and with a focus on justice and equity, is important work that will make Vancouver more livable for many generations. Our plan has been a model for local governments across the country, from Halifax to Hamilton to West Vancouver.
I am also proud of the consistent support I’ve shown for strengthened tenant protections and for more secure rental housing in every neighbourhood, including getting a motion passed on permitting modular and low-income housing in all single-family neighbourhoods.
And I’ve pushed for a stronger equity lens at every turn, from more diversity on city advisory committees, to better engaging First Nations, Urban Indigenous, and newcomer communities in the city-wide plan, to fully funding an anti-Black racism strategy, to translating public health materials during COVID.
Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr: The Council COVID Recovery Committee, which my motion established and whose work I shepherded, involved all councillors in what I believe was the most collaborative and consensus-building process of this council to date, grappling with the pandemic that will undoubtedly change Vancouver forever.
Our goal was to seek information to inform the best possible recovery plan for our city. We brought in MPs and MLAs, economists, small business representatives and experts on green and just recovery measures, including how the city’s recovery plans can simultaneously tackle our housing, homelessness and climate crises.
They presented 148 recommendations, which we assessed and 41 of which we supported by near-consensus. In the end, we directed staff to immediately incorporate these top 41 recommendations into the City’s COVID recovery program and other workstreams, including advocacy with senior governments. Now my goal is to ensure these recommendations are implemented.
NPA Coun. Lisa Dominato: When I ran for public office, I committed to principled decision making, to bring people together, to avoid hyper partisanship and to fulfil my sworn duty as an elected official to act in the best interest of the public. I have been steadfast in this approach.
One of my biggest accomplishments has been advocating on behalf of residents and organizations, and delivering positive outcomes such as more diverse housing options, increased government transparency, pro-small business policies, shared and safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists, and engaging senior levels of government for help with homelessness, mental health and addictions.
NPA Coun. Melissa De Genova: Putting affordable housing first in line for delivery is something I am proud of. In particular, the SHORT Pilot Program came from my motions. Now a permanent program, it cuts time, and in turn lowers costs for the most affordable housing in Vancouver, social housing and rental housing.
Green Party Coun. Pete Fry: The renters’ office, slower safer streets, Prior Street, adding animal welfare to our procurement policy and the fireworks ban are all commitments I had made to myself and big accomplishments for me personally. But I think some of my biggest accomplishments have been fixing problems for regular everyday residents.
Early in the job I got an email from a group home for disabled adults. Adjacent to their home, the city-owned bus shelter was old, wooden, rotting and had to be removed.But because it was a low use bus route there were no plans to replace the shelter.
Thing is, for these folks — many in wheelchairs — that shelter was critical. They’d been trying to no avail for months to replace the shelter. Winter was coming and they were in a bureaucratic limbo. They managed to get through to me and I was able to fix it in a matter of weeks. Sometimes the little things are big accomplishments, depending on what side of the table you’re sitting.
NPA Coun. Colleen Hardwick: Advancing the process of establishing the Office of the Auditor General for the City of Vancouver has been my biggest accomplishment in the first half of our term, although it has not yet been completed. Note: “AGs play a unique role in public sector accountability. They have a common purpose; to provide citizens with independent assurance and objective information about whether governments are appropriately stewarding public money, resources are being spent as intended, and public services are being effectively delivered.”
This initiative has taken longer and been made more complicated than it might have been. I hope by the time you ask this question next year, that the set-up of the Auditor General office will be underway and that by the end of this term, the office will be fully operational.
NPA Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung: I’m proud of consistently standing up for small business. They are the economic engine of our city and the heart of our neighbourhoods. We were able to shift two per cent of the tax allocation to ensure an equitable split between residents and businesses as a partial relief measure.
We wait for changes from the Province to be able to have split classification so that businesses can be taxed on their actual use, not their development potential use. I’m also glad to have been able to work with our restaurants that we love so much in our city to bring forward the Expedited Patio Program to try to help them survive through COVID-19 and the huge challenges it brought for the sector.
COPE Coun. Jean Swanson: Keeping city hall focused on the needs of people who are homeless, who are poor, and who are renters. For example, my motion that the city consider shifting funding out of the police budget and into community-led services passed unanimously after hundreds of residents spoke in support. That was an attempt to be useful to the Black Lives Matter movement, and to sex workers, people who are homeless, people with mental illness, and people who use drugs
Green Party Coun. Michael Wiebe: That I have been able to work collectively with others to improve the long-term health of our city including moving a new Watershed Strategy, an 11 per cent reallocation of street space, a Greenway Strategy, making water a human right, localizing the climate emergency, creation of a 10-year ecosystem strategy, and more.
How has the pandemic affected or changed your 2018 campaign goals?
Bligh: The pandemic has forced us to focus on municipal issues in a more specific and strategic way. Given the budgetary constraints that COVID-19 has presented for the entire city of Vancouver, we have to focus on what we are spending and why. Therefore our broad policy initiatives need a better business case to rationalize city spending, while ensuring we are supporting those in our marginalized communities that struggle most.
Boyle: If anything, the pandemic has made those goals more relevant than ever. Unquestionably, the pandemic has changed all sorts of things. It’s put enormous additional pressure on the city budget, and at the same time highlighted and exacerbated existing inequalities across the city. I campaigned with OneCity Vancouver on building a more inclusive and vibrant city, tackling the climate emergency, amplifying racialized and underrepresented voices, and creating more affordable housing options in every neighbourhood.
As the economy struggles to recover from COVID, now is the worst possible time to cut services or to slow down action on other emergencies. Overdose deaths continue to rise, forest fires made worse by climate change have made our air quality among the worst in the world, and thousands of people have nowhere to sleep or to pee but outside. I will continue to advocate and move policy forward on all of these issues, as part of our COVID recovery, and as part of continuing to make a difference on the issues people told OneCity matter most to them.
Carr: A comprehensive city-wide plan for an affordable, livable city, co-created with residents, is still a key goal and was my first motion in this term, unanimously adopted by council in December of 2018. But it has been delayed because of COVID and the fact that everything about engaging with the public has changed. I’m now working on how we best collaborate with residents in a COVID-safe way. Another 2018 campaign goal was speeding up permitting, especially for small businesses. COVID made this a priority and permitting happened amazingly fast for outdoor patios, for example.
Another goal was to ramp up both the building of new affordable housing and the energy retrofitting of older buildings, including deeply affordable rental apartment buildings. I’ve been pushing hard for provincial and federal COVID recovery stimulus funding for both of these goals, as well as for trades training programs in building retrofits to create new jobs, including for youth and those who have permanently lost their jobs due to COVID.
Dominato: I continue to be committed to the values and priorities I ran on. The shift for me lies in needing to increase our focus on small business and arts/culture sectors by cutting red tape, delivering truly citizen-centered services, creating vibrant public spaces, and responding to the amplified issues of housing insecurity, systemic inequities, mental health, addictions, and public safety that our residents are grappling with.
De Genova: The pandemic brought focus to the importance of childcare. Without it, even the most essential workers are not able to work and economic recovery is not possible.
Fry: It might be too soon to say, but in many respects the pandemic has accelerated and highlighted some of those goals: speeding up permits, complete communities, slower safer streets, supports for small business, climate emergency, city-wide plan. If I were to parse my campaign goals into a single point around livability, I think the pandemic underscores the relevance of most of those goals.
Hardwick: The pandemic has emphasized the core goals stated on my 2018 campaign website: financial accountability (more than ever, we need to dissect the current operating and capital budgets and reprioritize); public consultation (the public trust has been seriously confounded during the pandemic, with the absence of in-person public hearings and open houses and Webex council meetings); city-wide plan (the re-branded ‘Vancouver Plan’ has headed in a direction inconsistent with the neighbourhood-based approach I campaigned on); attainable housing (the Speculation Tax and Empty Homes Tax had already pointed to the fact that much of our housing capacity had been sold to non-residents, driven by rampant market speculation); and transit (at the same time the pandemic has revealed the weakness of our mass transit systems, the City and Province are resolute on spending money we do not have on a subway we do not need).
One thing is for sure: we need to press the pause button. Continuing down the same path with pre-COVID policies is a folly and is highly dangerous fiscally.
Kirby-Yung: I came onto my first term on council in late 2018 knowing there was a huge need to refocus on the basics of delivering core city services like street maintenance and sanitation, as well as streamline permitting processes to be more nimble and responsive to small business and to doing business with the city overall. We were already seeing the decline in cleanliness and livability starting in neighbourhoods.
I was also keenly aware that what’s being done in the Downtown Eastside has just been perpetuating the status quo and not moving people forward in their lives and beyond their addictions and mental health challenges. There’s a huge gap there. COVID has exacerbated and highlighted those issues. So the issues remain the same, but I hope with a much greater sense of urgency for council to address and make more significant change faster than might have been possible before COVID.
Swanson: We still need a rent freeze and a mansion tax (or some sort of progressive tax based on who can most afford to pay). Having been on council for almost two years, I know more than ever that the city desperately needs a fair revenue source if we are going to be able to provide what our residents need.
A rent freeze would have two parts: stopping the annual allowable increase, which will be 1.4 per cent next year, and, more importantly, stopping the ability of landlords to raise rents as much as they like when tenants leave. In short order, our affordable housing stock is soon lost. I’m hoping the city will be able to stop these increases for single-room-occupancy hotels at least. If we don’t, we’ll push more people into homelessness.
Wiebe: It has showcased the importance of our campaign goals and the need to work collectively with others to implement them. It also demonstrated the need to be bold, which is why I’ve moved that we will decolonize Vancouver and move to a well-being budget process recognizing the injustices of this city.
All of you ran for office to make Vancouver a more affordable place to live. Please provide some examples of how you’ve done that (no blaming senior governments here).
Bligh: I am curious about how other councillors will answer this question. Unaffordability or affordability is an ambiguous word without context. The growing gulf between cost of living and minimum wage or even average salaries across many sectors is problematic in the city of Vancouver. I would love to hear from your readers on what they feel council could do to make the city more affordable. My email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Boyle: I have consistently supported important investments in public services like libraries, tenant supports, public and active transportation, and public washrooms, as well as grants to community and arts organizations. For residents most squeezed by the affordability crisis, these services are essential and a lifeline.
I have also consistently voted in favour of moderate and middle-income housing in every part of Vancouver, pushed for stronger tenant protections and advocated for an aggressive increase in supportive and non-market housing. More than 50 per cent of Vancouver residents are renters. Continuing to strengthen tenant rights while increasing rental and non-market housing options matters in ensuring renters can afford to call this city home.
Carr: I finally succeeded in getting some city housing programs to base affordability on paying no more than 30 per cent of gross household income on rent (the standard federal and provincial governments’ definition). That includes the current MIRHPP (Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Program), which, until I amended it, had defined affordable rents as 80 per cent of market rent.
That amounted to $1,650 a month, which is unaffordable for most renters whose median household income is about $50,000 a year, which means they should be paying about $1,250 a month on rent. I’ve moved motions to make it easier to legalize and build secondary suites, which provide more rental housing and make home ownership more affordable.
I amended recommendations to protect existing rentals in C2 zones. I’ve voted for development projects when they include truly affordable housing, unless the cost to residents in terms of foregone Community Amenity Contribution dollars is egregiously high. An example is the foregone $70 million in CACs for the development near Thurlow on Nelson, which “bought” 113 units of social housing, only 34 of which will actually be rent-geared-to-income, with the rest being market rate rentals. Seventy million dollars is $16 million more than the cost to build a new Marpole Community Centre, with an outdoor pool.
I’ve also helped formulate strong recommendations on housing affordability through my appointment to a Union of B.C. Municipalities Special Committee on Climate Action; specifically a partnership with the provincial and federal governments to build 100,000 zero emission, wood-constructed new affordable housing units and 500,000 low-carbon building retrofits over the next 10 years. Coming up this fall will get a report back on our Housing Vancouver city-wide strategy that should be a game-changer.
Dominato: I ran on a platform to enable a range of housing choices, including social, rental and family-oriented housing. I’ve consistently supported housing development projects that offer people more choices and affordability. I also supported tax measures and regulatory changes to reduce costs for small businesses, and argued vigorously and voted against the proposed eight per cent property tax increase last year.
De Genova: See answer to the first question.
Fry: It’s hard not to draw senior governments into this as B.C. cities simply aren’t resourced to build affordable housing. But I think pushing back on some of the dominant narratives around “affordable” housing (and my specific amendment to stop using that term disconnected from local incomes), the (previous) lack of vacancy control for taxpayer subsidized rental housing, and a new strengthened tenant relocation policy have all helped. I think we are seeing some shifts as industry responds to those expectations, but we still have a long way to go.
Hardwick: A root cause of Vancouver’s affordability crisis has been the acceleration of inflationary land lift caused by the relentless rezoning of property in the city over the last decade in particular. Every time you up-zone a piece of property, it inflates that value of the land, by definition. Multiply this hundreds of times, it makes things exponentially worse. We have seen exponential property assessment increases as a direct result.
And yet, we continue to pour fuel on an already explosive situation. Why has the city enabled excessive rezoning? Because it wants the money generated from development to fund its ever-expanding mandate.
By its own admission, the city already had 30,000 new dwelling units in the pipeline in 2017, which would be sufficient to accommodate population growth over the decade according to the longform census and regional growth strategy.
And yet, they continue to promote the supply shortage narrative to promote development. Some examples of how I have done that? Voting against constant excessive rezoning which contributes to inflationary land lift. Voting against the destruction of existing affordable housing; as the most affordable housing has already been built, by definition.
I have also pushed for transparent access to housing data from the city. My “Recalibrating the Housing Vancouver Strategy Post Covid-19” motion was intended to shine a light on the actual situation. Sadly, the memo received did not have the requested data attached. Finally, affordability is not just about housing. It’s about everything: parking, dog licences, you name it! The city is continually looking for “new revenue streams” to fund its expanding mandate. Ultimately, the city needs to dial back its expansionism to make the city more affordable.
Kirby-Yung: Approving more rental projects as quickly as we can is one piece given that 52 per cent of the city are renters and that will only continue to grow. Shifting the focus away from strata is important. Inclusionary zoning to require that 20 per cent of units in rental projects be at affordable levels should continue to be tweaked to see how maximum affordability on those units can be achieved.
I’ve voted for those projects as its progressive improvement that in my view moves us forward as we continue to examine policies and how they can be better. I’d like to also see the city expedite making city-owned sites available for affordable housing by doing a master request for proposals for a number of sites in one go to non-profit partners, and facilitate letting the non-profits take the lead vs the city and use their expertise in delivering needed homes.
Swanson: Pushing for better renter protection, for free transit for children and lower income people; trying constantly to get more housing for people earning under $50K and people who are homeless.
Wiebe: Worked with staff on updating the permitting and licensing changes needed to make housing more affordable, modified key affordable housing policies, and will continue to support policy to complete our communities including an upcoming motion on increasing the circularity of the city.
How would you rate Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s performance?
Bligh: No response.
Boyle: Mayor Stewart has worked very hard to extract badly needed funding from senior levels of government. I applaud these efforts. There is no doubt that from housing, to the opioid crisis, to small business support and COVID recovery, we need cooperation (and real financial contributions) from all levels of government. However, on housing it’s clear that the federal government has not taken the depth of the housing and homelessness crisis in Vancouver and across B.C. seriously.
The lack of federal support for affordable housing in Vancouver, over many decades, has made the situation here worse. I’m glad to see Mayor Stewart continue to fight for this funding, but it’s not enough. COVID is revealing just how bad our housing crisis is — and making it worse.
While we plead for funding from senior governments, we as a local government need to think outside the box, expanding the role that we play in acquiring land, and working with non-profits to build significantly more public, co-op and non-market housing across Vancouver. We should continue to lobby for senior government support. We also need to approach the housing crisis with innovative new strategies locally.
Carr: I’d give him a B. He has worked diligently on his main promises – to get more federal and provincial funding and support for housing, and to address homelessness and the opioid crisis. Thank goodness the provincial government has stepped up to the plate and partnered with the city far more than I’ve seen in my two last terms on council in the delivery of really decent modular housing with supportive social services.
But we’ve all heard the news about the paltry few dollars the federal government has allocated to B.C. and Vancouver to date for housing compared to Ontario and Toronto. That’s not the mayor’s fault. It’s also not his fault that the prime minister has not budged on decriminalizing hard drugs, despite the evidence that that’s the key to getting doctors to prescribe the safe supply of drugs needed in order to replace the deadly, contaminated street supply and criminal dealers.
So far, the mayor has worked largely as a loner (maybe that’s what being an independent mayor means). But I’m hoping he will work more collaboratively in the last half of this term.
Dominato: As I said when Glacier Media asked the question after our first year in office, and I will say again, I’m focused on carrying out my role and serving residents in the interest of the greater good, which necessitates working with a multi-party council, including the mayor. I have no interest in rating the mayor – voters will hold the mayor and all councillors accountable in the next election in 2022.
De Genova: I understand he is a busy guy, but he tends to duck on some of the tough issues.
Fry: He could do a better job of leaning in and working with council, though I realize that’s tricky for an independent mayor dealing with such a disparate group of councillors. He’s not a flamboyant mayor, and I think some people think he’s not present as a result – but I see the work he puts in and think he’s doing a good job.
Hardwick: No response.
Kirby-Yung: I have a different philosophy from the mayor. He self-identified as Vancouver’s chief lobbyist and primarily has spent his time on asks from other levels of government. Of course we do need investment in key areas like housing.
But for me, I’d like to see a lot more focus on the running of the city and our own services, on getting our own house in order. Streamlining our processes to get housing built faster, making it easier for small businesses to get what they need from the city more quickly, and cleaning up the streets and our neighbourhoods.
Swanson: As I said last year when I responded to questions from Glacier Media, I don’t agree with his support for any and all rental housing, even if it’s too expensive for local residents. Building more and more high-end housing leads to gentrification of neighbourhoods and actually reduces affordability.
It’s been a big disappointment to me that the mayor has yet to fulfil his promise that the last election would be the last for our at-large voting system. But, the mayor did put forward a resolution on stopping police street checks.
Wiebe: The mayor is working hard to get the funding needed for the city as he continues to work on new ways to support council.
Homeless encampments such as the one at Strathcona Park appear to be here to stay. Is it time to create a sanctioned site in Vancouver? Please explain your answer.
Bligh: This has been an extremely complex issue over the summer and I am pleased that council was able to pass emergency relief measures for our unsheltered this week. I had been working with Councillor Wiebe to introduce temporary disaster relief shelters with a strategy that supports those facing housing insecurity who are currently living in tent cities, while protecting public realm and park safety for all residents. We worked with the council to include these essential measures in the emergency motion brought forward by the mayor this week.
Although we continue to look to senior government to support large scale supportive housing in the future, the situation at Strathcona Park requires immediate emergency action now. I am pleased the amended motion passed Monday which included our additions that are immediately actionable with council support. Doing nothing is not an option.
Boyle: We desperately need significantly more temporary and permanent shelter-rate housing, to give people the space and support to stabilize their health and get back on their feet. This housing needs to include family-sized units, and cultural supports. Vancouverites can help by increasing pressure on the federal government to come to the table and be part of funding real and meaningful solutions.
A sanctioned camp site isn’t a long-term solution. But in the meantime, yes, we can and should be providing washrooms, harm reduction, and health supports to keep unsheltered residents alive. I’d rather this short-term measure include inviting folks into hotel rooms and other indoor spaces. But if we can’t make that happen, then we at minimum need to provide health and sanitation services for those who have no choice but to sleep outside.
Carr: Yes. Sanctioned sites are being established in cities like Portland and San Francisco in the face of rising homelessness and the need for COVID-safe social distancing. It’s a temporary measure and important to keep them small scale. The real solution to homelessness is enough decent, secure, affordable housing along with needed social supports and services.
De Genova: No. Allowing permanent encampments will simply make Vancouver the epicentre of homelessness in the Lower Mainland. The experts, including police, fire, B.C. Housing and our own city-led housing and homelessness outreach teams, have all warned that encampments put already vulnerable people in situations of risk to their health and safety. There needs to be a regional solution. Vancouver does not have the resources needed to respond alone.
Dominato: The status quo is not an option. I believe we need to add low barrier temporary emergency shelters across the Lower Mainland, urge the province to expedite the promised Vancouver navigation centre with wraparound social services, expedite permanent housing, and develop a Metro Vancouver-wide strategy. This must be underpinned by an urgent, intentional cross-jurisdiction strategy to address mental health and addiction in our communities. I have written the premier asking him to lead a cross-jurisdiction task force on these matters and am hopeful others on council will get behind this initiative.
Fry: We need a new approach. In the absence of purpose-built housing, a sanctioned site is the only logical way we can triage encampments of unsheltered people. I don’t think the organic or activist-led occupation of parks is working for anyone. So we need to treat the confluence of COVID, overdose crisis and homelessness like the disaster it is.
And just as we would for a flood, earthquake or natural disaster, deploy resources to safely shelter folks and provide wraparound supports in an appropriately managed way. But this has to be approached as a regional problem, a national crisis – this is not Vancouver’s alone to manage.
Hardwick: Encampments do not belong in parks and housing the homeless is beyond the scope of the City of Vancouver. That said, more and better options need to be explored and implemented on a regional scale. This has to be a collaborative three-level of governments approach. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this complex problem.
The demographics of homelessness are diverse and complicated. The needs of people with mental health and addictions issues are different from those who have lost their homes and jobs as a result of the pandemic. Hearing from the homeless themselves is key to shaping a range of solutions.
Ultimately, we need full time housing but urgently need to find short-term solutions as winter approaches. For example, the idea of building tiny homes on parking lots instead of people living in tents would work well for people who have been evicted in their neighbourhoods, for whatever reason, and there are many.
There may well be city buildings and land that can be made available but the city is not in a position to operate them, and will need to work in tandem, particularly with provincial authorities.
Kirby-Yung: Right now, the residents of Strathcona are looking for immediate relief. And the weather is getting colder for people in the camp. The fastest short-term option I see is for a ramped up, much expanded winter shelter strategy working with BC Housing. It’s a model they support and I believe will fund. I also support the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ call to senior governments to acquire existing buildings that are for sale including rental buildings and hotels, and convert them ASAP for affordable housing as it’s faster than building new.
Swanson: A better plan would be to lease hotels rooms and offer them to folks at the park. Many hotel rooms are now empty because of the pandemic. If these were used, hotel owners and hotel workers would also benefit. If homeless people were housed in hotels with private washrooms, it would help prevent the spread of COVID. I’ve talked to people camping in the park.
I think many would also accept a sanctioned site if it was peer-run, Indigenous-led, trauma-informed, culturally safe, community-supported and government-resourced with washrooms, running water, shower trailers, electricity, warming tents etc. Those are realistic terms. Already, they now have 171 volunteers doing laundry, health checks, providing food. The key is to respect their desire for alternatives that they see as better than what they have.
Wiebe: Yes, I have brought multiple motions forward looking at alternative options to improve the housing solutions for people experiencing homelessness.
Glacier Media asked this question of you after your first year on the job: We’ve lost count of the number of motions introduced by council, or the number of amendments to the amendments, the recesses during a meeting and the hours — sometimes days — it takes to get to a decision. Is this good governance?
Bligh: Unfortunately this is the reality of what it takes in a minority government to form consensus. Councillors have a number of priorities they are seeking support for. We have to be open to working on these priorities and addressing municipal issues in a variety of ways. That said, the high number of motions that are moved by councillors are problematic. Working together relies on individual councillors self-managing how their contribution could be impeding the broader work of council.
Boyle: Often the length of time this council takes is because councillors go into meetings with truly open minds on issues, and we listen to speakers, debate the issue, and try to find shared ground to move forward. Historically, the majority party has been able to make decisions ahead of time, and instead this council has decided on issues in public.
In these cases, yes, I think it has been good governance. Sometimes, however, the length of council meetings has had more to do with grandstanding, ego, process-gone-amok, and political games. In these cases, it hasn’t been good governance, it has caused significant delays for speakers waiting their turn, and delays on urgent action. These situations are frustrating and embarrassing, and councillors need to take responsibility for their role in them.
Carr: No, but neither is the ramming through of decisions by a majority council like in my previous two terms. There’s a trade-off that needs to be balanced between more efficient meetings, which could be facilitated by councillors working in the back halls of city hall testing out and modifying their motions and amendments based on feedback prior to landing on the floor of council – and the transparency of letting it all hang out in the public forum of a council meeting.
In terms of recesses, points of order, etc., the efficiency of council meetings would be greatly improved if every councillor did their homework, sent questions to staff and read their answers beforehand, drafted and checked out amendments in advance instead of on the floor of council, and restrained themselves from having to speak to every issue.
De Genova: Democracy is messy sometimes.
Dominato: No. Mayor, council and city staff could improve the governance framework by adhering to commonly adopted principles of oversight and operations.
Fry: It’s messy and takes too long, and I would go so far as to say the process is not efficient, but I think it is good governance. If you look at many of the academic-defined elements of good governance — transparency, responsiveness, consensus-oriented, participatory and accountable — I think we check those boxes. We work hard, and more often than not come to something close to consensus that pretty fairly represents the diverse views Vancouverites elected us to represent. We need to find efficiencies in how we discourse, work, and manage our collective time for sure though.
Hardwick: Personally, I have put forward a minimal number of motions. If I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed. Say something once, why say it again? (Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer”).
Kirby-Yung: Focus is important. All councillors need to be aware of that. When we bring a motion, is it within our mandate? Is it addressing a pressing issue? Can we afford to do it? Does it take away from other work? We need to ask ourselves these questions. With respect to the meetings, same thing. There’s a lot of power in sometimes simply voting against something if it’s not right or not a priority right now, versus trying to rewrite on the floor.
Key amendments are OK. Now that we’re in a pandemic, focus and efficiency are more important than ever. I will say there are times when it’s important for good dialogue to happen in the public eye and I don’t want to see genuine debate shut down.
Swanson: If you’ve watched or listened to council meetings over the past two years, you’ll know that I speak only when I have something important to say about the issue at hand. I try to say it as clearly and briefly as I can. I don’t make many procedural requests, such as points of order. I have made amendments if I think they are critical to what is being decided. I can’t control the others on council. I do get frustrated with all the procedural stuff.
Wiebe: Yes and no. Yes, it is important to spend time to listen to the public and have good debate including lots of amendments to ensure good governing policy is created. No, for the fact that lots of the motions could wait to be amendments to staff reports and too many are prescriptive in nature and don’t allow for the public, stakeholders or staff to be included in their creation.
Looking ahead to December when you will debate next year’s budget, how high of a property tax increase are you willing to allow to balance the budget?
Bligh: We have a pressing need to maintain the city’s operations and delivery of services over the next year in light of the countless pandemic related pressures. But it is unreasonable to expect residents and businesses to bear the burden of further year over year increases in property taxes, especially in light of the pandemic that is negatively impacting affordability and financial security everywhere.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already had a negative impact on our budget outlook for this cycle, and municipalities are provincially mandated to balance their budgets. Our next budget must prioritize affordability for residents/businesses including the needs of our most vulnerable communities, while staying in our lane and responding to the economic pressures of the pandemic.
Boyle: My first budget priority is that we adequately fund the services and investments needed to support residents and small businesses through the COVID pandemic, and support a just and green recovery for all. Given the financial limits that local governments face, in not being able to run a deficit and relying heavily on the blunt instrument of a flat property tax (something I believe the provincial government should allow us to change), this council will inevitably have to make some hard financial decisions.
Under these constraints, if we want to avoid dramatically slashing services, property taxes are going to need to increase. In the short term, it matters that we don’t cut corners now in ways that create even larger costs down the road. In the long term, local governments need more progressive and nuanced revenue tools, including a progressive property tax and/or a tax on publicly created increases in land value, so that we can adequately address the many issues facing cities these days.
Carr: Although staff have projected a property tax increase of seven per cent to hold to the same service levels, I supported the preparation of a five per cent tax increase budget for council’s consideration based on the fact that a lot of Vancouver residents and businesses are hurting badly with lower and insecure incomes due to COVID.
I understand that a five per cent tax increase could mean some cuts to current services and/or staff. Those have to be very carefully considered. I believe, for example, that the city needs to ramp up, not decrease, our commitments to tackle the housing and climate emergencies. COVID recovery stimulus packages from the federal and provincial governments could be extremely helpful.
De Genova: You can’t be serious about dealing with affordability and constantly raise taxes. Now more than ever we need to focus on funding core services including water, sewers, road and sidewalk maintenance, sanitation, public safety (fire and police), funding to parks, and zoning and development. We can also have a role in helping non-profit organizations and community services too, through expediting services and recognizing benefits.
Dominato: I’m committed to fiscal responsibility and keeping taxes reasonable, while still ensuring we deliver quality services for residents. I will consider the budget holistically when we have a better sense of revenue changes, capital recalibration, and federal support measures. It’s extremely important to have transparent budgeting and allow for flexibility in these rapidly complex times.
Fry: We’re still a few months away and a lot can and will change. The number that has been floating around is a five per cent cap and that matches my comfort level.
Hardwick: Affordability is our number one issue in Vancouver. The people who pay property taxes in this city have been pushed to the limit by the pandemic. Increasing property taxes would add insult to injury. Similarly, renters who help shoulder the burden of property taxes, would likewise be negatively affected. And then there are the small businesses and storefronts that are shuttering due to financial pressure from property taxes.
The city needs to seriously and emergently address the current budgets and seek, diligently, to find decreased expenditures, cut backs, if need be, and tighten their belt wherever possible. It can and has to be done. Even before the pandemic, I would not have voted for a property tax increase.
As stated above, the city’s budget needs a radical rethink. The scope creep, and resultant increase in staff headcount has to be reconsidered. The City of Vancouver is, after all, a local government, and should not take on more financial demands than can reasonably be supported on the land between Boundary Road and the University Endowment Lands.
Kirby-Yung: Council voted earlier this year to give staff direction to come back with no more than a five per cent increase. With people worried about job stability and businesses hanging on by a thread, I think we need to keep an increase as reasonable as we can. Closer to the cost of living would be more ideal.
Swanson: I’m eager to restore services that have been cut because of COVID and to get laid-off workers back to their jobs. It’s also important to advance work on affordable housing, equity issues and climate change that are important to me and most Vancouverites. Vancouver has one of the lowest property tax rates in the country, so I know there’s some room there.
As well, we can shift budgets so this council’s priorities are funded. It’s important, when there is a recession like now, not to cut spending that will make things worse. That said, I like to be reasonable with increases and will have to see the specifics of the budget recommendations that staff bring forward.
Wiebe: Currently we’ve asked staff for options based around a five per cent increase and I will review in detail the options brought to us in the fall.