At the May 24 Public Hearing at City Hall, during the Council debate after all the speakers had been heard (almost all being opposed) and public comments had been closed on the third and final item of the night—a development proposal for 3365 Commercial Drive—I left Council Chambers, followed by the three NPA Councillors, leaving the meeting without quorum prior to a final vote on the matter. Why did I do this?
To explain the context: this meeting was an unusual one. For the first time in my four-and-a-half years on Council, Vision Vancouver did not have the majority vote in the room. Only 3 of 7 Vision members of Council were there. The Mayor, along with Coucillors Reimer, Jang and Meggs, were absent. This meant that Vision couldn’t push through a development proposal as they always do.
The speakers ended about 9:30 pm. Chair Louie closed public comments, which actually ends the public hearing on the item. (Note: the City of Vancouver website states that the Public Hearing of May 24 is completed.) He then invited staff and the applicant to give summary statements, and Councillors to ask final questions.
Unusual actions by Chair Louie (including prompting Clr Stevenson to ask questions when no-one was left on the queue) raised alarm bells that he might try to abort the meeting by allowing it to run beyond the 10 pm deadline by which time, if there is no motion to extend the meeting, it automatically ends. If that happened, and the debate on the motion had not yet commenced, the meeting could end up being reconvened at a later date with Vision’s majority back in attendance. At about 9:40 pm I raised a point of order asking if a motion to extend the meeting was in order. Chair Louie said “no”, there was plenty of time. Clr De Genova asked the same question numerous times, the last one at 9:58 pm. Although Chair Louie finally did entertain a motion to extend the meeting, the games he played could hardly be called good democracy.
Shortly after 10 pm, Clr Deal moved the staff recommendations to proceed with the project. That began Council’s debate which leads to our vote on it. Clr Deal spoke first in favour, I spoke against, and then Clr Stevenson moved to refer the item to staff for more information (specifically related to the loss of mature trees), with a report back in one month.
I requested a ruling on whether Clr Stevenson’s referral motion was in order.
The Chair, in making a procedural ruling, usually does so on the advice of the City Clerk. Chair Louie might have received advice, but he certainly did not make that publicly transparent. I am assuming he did not receive it, because after conferring with the staffperson present from the City Clerk’s office, he then asked for advice from the planner present. The planner said he could not give advice as he was not an expert in rules of procedure, and suggested that Chair Louie ask the City Clerk. Chair Louie again conferred with the clerk present, then ruled that Clr Stevenson's referral motion was in order.
That’s what triggered my decision to leave.
I’ve tried before to refer a motion at public hearing to staff after debate on the motion had started (on the Rize Alliance project in Mt. Pleasant). I was ruled out of order. Here’s the link to the video clip: https://youtu.be/SDOvMbaWsjo
In the Rize Alliance project debate, it was Clr Louie who first challenged my motion as being out of order. Then the Mayor, after conferring with the City Clerk and City Manager, ruled it out of order, stating that Council is “charged with either accepting or denying the matter in a public hearing….We need to make a decision: yes or no.”
Many times citizens have come to a Public Hearing requesting that Council refer the development proposal back to staff for more work. I’ve been hampered by the inability to move a motion to make this happen.
Clr Louie argued, at the tail end of the press conference that I held on May 25 with the NPA Councillors to explain what happened at the May 24 Public Hearing, that Clr Stevenson’s referral motion was in order because it was only seeking advice from staff which, he said, many of our referral motions from Public Hearings have done, not more public consultation as my referral motions tend to do. Clr Louie was actually diverting attention from the core issue: which is that previous referral motions from Public Hearings happened BEFORE debate on the motion had commenced. They were not referral motions for more information, they were actually referrals to upcoming Council meetings for the debate and decision on the matter, which happened to leave time in between for some more information to be provided to Council from staff. At the May 24 Public Hearing, debate had already commenced on 3365 Commercial Drive.
Procedurely, that makes a world of difference. After debate has started, a referral motion is not in order.
Debate had started at the Public Hearing on the Rize proposal. Debate had started at the Public Hearing on 3365 Commercial Drive. Just as my referral motion on the Rize proposal was ruled out of order, Clr Stevenson’s referral motion should have been ruled out of order, too.
What I saw at the May 24 Public Hearing was discriminatory favouritism: one set of rules favouring a Vision Councillor vs. a different set of rules for me. I chose to leave because I felt it would be the strongest possible action to draw attention to the prejudicial application of rules by the Chair.
Fair and transparent application of rules is, I believe, fundamental to democracy. I will always stand up for fair treatment and equal application of rules - whether it be to individual Councillors, individual citizens, or any group within our society.
One final and critical point: when I decided to leave the meeting, I was working on information given to me that after debate starts on an item at public hearing, and if quorum is then lost, the meeting is considered "suspended" for lack of quorum. When the meeting is reconvened, the debate continues and only those Councillors in attendance at the original meeting can participate in the continued debate and decision. This is different from a situation when an item, prior to debate starting, is sent to a future council meeting for debate and decision. Under that circumstance, those Councillors not present at the Public Hearing can view the videotape of the public submissions and then join in the debate and decision.
The information I’d received meant that my leaving the meeting would not jeopardize an eventual vote taking place under the same conditions as on May 24, i.e., only the same 7 Councillors participating.
Because the public input/public hearing on 3365 Commercial Drive has ended, and Council’s debate on the issue has commenced, the only question is, why is it taking so long for the City Clerk to publicly announce the date for the completion of our debate and final vote.
City of Vancouver Councillor