Have you seen the most recent poll by Vancouver-based Justason Market Intelligence (Public trust in municipal organizations down since last election - May 1, 2014)? The results are deeply disturbing: they show that people's trust in municipal institutions including City Council, the Police, Park Board and School Board have plummeted since the last election to the lowest results ever recorded by Justason since they began asking the question in 2010. Trust in City Council has taken the worst tumble of them all, going from a 62% trust rating just before the last election to a record-low 34% today. Have a look:
Of course, considering the way the Vision-dominated Council has been treating Vancouver's citizens over the past couple of years, is it any wonder that trust has collapsed to an all-time low? Trust goes both ways, and lately City Hall has shown very little trust in Vancouver citizens' ability to exercise their democratic right to have a real say over the kind of city they want to live in. From controversial development plans to battles over bike lanes, the Vision Council's modus operandi has been one of imposition, not of collaboration. Its culture has been one of "we know best", and an unwillingness to incorporate helpful suggestions from the people their decisions affect the most.
Little wonder, then, that there has been an erosion of trust in civic institutions.
Last Wednesday's Council debate on Councillor Carr's motion calling for a plebscite on Kinder Morgan provides a ready illustration of the games being played at City Hall. As an official Commentator in the National Energy Board (NEB)'s Kinder Morgan hearings, Councillor Adriane Carr could see first hand that the NEB would not give Vancouver citizens a fair forum in which to voice their concerns over Kinder Morgan's plans for a 7-fold expansion of bitumen exports by supertanker right past Vancouver every day via the Burrard Inlet. Hundreds of citizens who applied to have their voices heard by the NEB were rejected, and furthermore the NEB has declared that oral cross-examination of the company and its experts would not be permitted, in a perversion of the principles of natural justice that Canadians take for granted.
In April, the city of Kitimat - the proposed terminus of Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline and the BC community most likely to see jobs resulting from the pipeline should it be built - held a referendum in which, despite millions of dollars worth of campaigning by Enbridge, 58.4% of voters voted to reject the pipeline proposal. Inspired by Kitimat's example, Councillor Carr put forward a motion in City Council calling on Vancouver to hold its own plebiscite on Kinder Morgan at the same time as the civic elections in November 2014, arming Vancouver with a strong democratic mandate to present Vancouver's opposition to Kinder Morgan's plans during the NEB hearings.
Disappointingly, Vision councillors rejected Carr's motion, voting to replace it instead with a much weaker strike-and-replace motion advanced by Councillor Reimer merely calling on the federal government (yes, the Harper government!) to make the NEB hearings fairer. In rejecting a plebiscite on Kinder Morgan, Vision councillors expressed fears that "big money" from the oil industry would flow into Vancouver and ultimately accomplish what it failed to do even in a place like Kitimat - persuade Vancouverites to give a nod to Kinder Morgan. Councillor Stevenson put his whole cynicism on display by calling a plebscite a "dangerous tool" with which he would be loathe to trust the citizens of Vancouver. Judging by his words, one cannot help but wonder whether Stevenson thinks it is a good idea to hold elections at all.
Ironically, this decision follows on the heels of another decision by Council two weeks ago (April 30) NOT to take action to stem the influence of Big Money on politics in Vancouver. On April 30th, Vision and NPA Councillors collectively voted against Councillor Carr's motion calling on Council to do what the provincial government failed to do in the recently passed Local Elections Campaign Financing Act: namely, adopt a set of campaign spending and donation limits that all parties and candidates would be urged to adopt (voluntarily in this case, since the provincial government has refused to grant Vancouver the powers to set its own enforceable campaign finance rules). Council has repeatedly called for the provincial government to legislate campaign finance limits in order to come to grips with the no-holds-barred elections spending and donations that has turned Vancouver's civic elections into some of the most expensive on a per capita basis in the world (more than $40 per vote was spent by all parties and candidates in the 2011 civic elections); it was therefore highly discouraging but also very revealing that both Vision and NPA Councillors, whose parties collectively created the worrisome campaign finance situation in Vancouver, declined to do what is in their power to restrain the influence of big money on local politics when presented with the opportunity to do so.
Saying one thing and doing quite another is a never-fail recipe for distrust.
Does anyone else think it's time for a new political culture in Vancouver?