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OPINION: Here's why 2021 is a critical year in Vancouver civic politics

Three things Vancouver's Mayor and Council should prioritize
George Affleck

Beating COVID-19 might be the number one goal for Vancouverites in 2021 – but it shouldn’t be the only one for our civic politicians.

Election day is set for October 15th, 2022, and the electioneering is already gearing up – with politicians like Mayor Kennedy Stewart and defeated ex-NPA mayoral candidate Ken Sim revving up their campaign machines.

That makes 2021 the last year for City Council to focus on actually getting stuff done before partisan politics shoves governance right out of the way.

As a resident and small business owner in Vancouver, and a former councillor, here are three things I hope Mayor and Council will roll up their sleeves to tackle while there’s still time.

1. Finish at least one plan

It’s been over two years since the previous Council, including me, approved the Broadway corridor planning process from Main Street to Arbutus. This massive undertaking covers the second-biggest employment centre in BC, and the final plan will lead to some of the biggest and densest development in Vancouver history. Offices, homes, retail – this plan covers it all. And coupled with the under-construction SkyTrain extension, the final Broadway plan will transform the city for generations to come.

Unfortunately, staff have been pulled away from focusing on the Broadway plan, for reasons I’ll explain below – and because this Council put them to work on the multi-million dollar, super-political City Plan boondoggle, which likely won’t be concluded before the next election.

Past councils managed to start and finish up to three local-area community plans in a term. In my seven years on Council, we approved plans for Marpole, the West End, the Downtown Eastside, Grandview, False Creek North, Joyce Street, and Cambie Street. The current council is on track for zero in four years.

2. Get serious about Strathcona Park

I’ll have more to say about this in a future column – but it’s clear that Kennedy Stewart and the current council have failed to address the intertwined issues of homelessness, drug addiction, healthcare and public safety. Tent cities, like the massive one in Strathcona Park, are not the solution -- and they certainly shouldn’t become permanent, as the City of Vancouver is contemplating. 

Instead, governments need to embrace all four pillars of tackling drug addiction: prevention, treatment, enforcement, and harm reduction. And each level of government needs to hold up its end. The feds need to set out an effective, long-term housing strategy with adequate public and private sector funding, and set policies related to crime and drugs. The province needs to manage the housing and provide the health care that is sorely needed. And municipalities like Vancouver need to make available the land and space needed for housing, along with quicker permitting, so we can bring our most vulnerable citizens in from the cold.

3. A motion moratorium

After only two years, the current Vancouver council has tied up City staff with an astounding near-200 motions – which is basically a work order from council staff. This record-breaking number of motions, most of them designed to get media attention and pander to councillors’ base voters, has swamped City staff with a flood of ever-changing political demands instead of focusing on key policy priorities.

Coupled with the current Council’s practice of routinely rewriting staff recommendations through convoluted amendments, staff are increasingly confused about the will of Council and what they’re supposed to do about it. If we want to make Vancouver a better place to live in 2021, councillors need to think seriously about the furious pace of motions and amendments that prevent progress on issues that matter.

When 2022 hits, the mayor and councillors elected in 2018 will ask you to vote them back in. As their employer, Vancouver voters will need to take a clear-eyed look at their track records and decide if they deserve another shot at the job. The year ahead is candidates’ last chance to put some concrete accomplishments on their job applications – and right now, their resumes need some work.

George Affleck is a former City Councillor in Vancouver, retiring from office in 2018. He is the Founder of Curve Communications, Co-host of the political podcast Unspun, and a regular contributor on CTV and CKNW. Twitter @george_affleck