Saturday, November 19, 2011

Will it be 'independents night' in Vancouver?

One of the most vicious election campaigns in recent memory ends Nov. 19.

The Scotsman who wore a kilt to his 2008 swearing-in isn't taking the high road. Mayor Gregor Robertson originally pledged that Vision Vancouver would stay positive, but the party switched its strategy in the middle of the final week when the Non-Partisan Association closed the gap to within the margin of error according to some polling.

This is remarkable, because Vision Vancouver's own in-house polling claimed Robertson had 78 percent approval of Vancouverites at mid-term and he looked unbeatable. In Robertson's corner is Joel Solomon, the left-wing bagman from Tennessee whose intricate finances were deftly deconstructed by Vivian Krause. She calls her blog Fair Questions and reasonably wonders if the Vision Vancouver funding via various U.S. charitable foundations is legal. I discovered that the juice company Robertson co-founded moved out of Vancouver, therefore questioning the credibility of his spin that Vision Vancouver has attracted investment.

The NPA went straight for the Juice Man's jugular from the beginning, highlighting his party's backyard chickens, front-yard wheatfields, $500,000 Occupy Vancouver campsite, the million-dollar Stanley Cup riot, empty bike lanes… Let's just say Robertson provided his opponents a bounty of low-hanging fruit from which to make juice. The NPA's campaign chairman is Peter Armstrong, the Rocky Mountaineer tourist railway boss. His company got headlines for the wrong reason when replacement workers were hired because of a strike.

Vision Vancouver focussed on NPA candidate Jason Lamarche and his "Date Matrix" from his college days early in the campaign. COPE took aim at wannabe Mayor Suzanne Anton's unauthorized campaign pamphlet photograph with two Filipino-Canadian children late in the campaign. Anton quickly said sorry.

Robertson did more damage to his own cause by not acting decisively to strike a balance between the rights of Occupy Vancouver to protest with the bylaws that reasonably regulate public space. The three-day B.C. Supreme Court hearing on the city's application to tear down the Occupy Vancouver protest camp ended Nov. 18 with the city getting the court order it wanted (but didn't really need). Occupy Vancouver's pro bono lawyers Michael McCubbin and Jason Gratl scored some key points against city hall. Robertson's pet project is solving homelessness, but the court heard that the city's homeless shelters are both scarce and dangerous!

Robertson was mayor during the 2011 Stanley Cup riot. Now he faces the real possibility of a Grey Cup-week riot if Occupy Vancouver squatters resist the 2 p.m. Nov. 21 deadline to remove tents and structures from the Vancouver Art Gallery's north plaza.

Occupy Vancouver protested both NPA and Vision Vancouver campaign offices on the afternoon of Nov. 18, after calling into question the two parties' finances. Neither came clean on who's paying their bills by Occupy Vancouver's Nov. 17 deadline. They aren't required to during the campaign, but they really should. It comes down to the old maxim that he (or she) who pays the piper, calls the tune. Voters should have been able to know who the tune callers are of the two big parties before they go to the ballot box.

In 2008, Vision Vancouver spent $2,502,566 and its ally COPE $346,730. NPA spent $2,1101,229.

You'll have to wait to find out what the NPA and Vision Vancouver spent for their 2011 campaigns. But Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver disclosed $37,965 in donations.

NSV, led by mayoral candidate and West End Neighbours' present Randy Helten, endorsed COPE's R.J. Aquino, Tim Louis and Ellen Woodsworth, Green's Adriane Carr, independent Sandy Garossino and NPA's Bill McCreery for council along with its own slate of Nicole Benson, Marie Kerchum, Terry Martin and Elizabeth Murphy.

Helten got fed up with Vision Vancouver's pandering to developers and ignorance of neighbourhood issues, so he formed his own party. If it's as close as many believe, Helten could be the spoiler if he can draw 1,500 or more votes. I'll be watching Carr and Garossino's numbers closely. Carr is the veteran candidate of provincial and federal battles for the Greens. Garossino rose to prominence as the leader of the Vancouver Not Vegas coalition that defeated the Paragon Gaming/B.C. Pavilion Corporation bid to build Western Canada's biggest casino connected to B.C. Place Stadium.

A city council with Carr and Garossino would certainly keep Vision Vancouver and the NPA honest for the next three years. Helten would be more valuable as a councillor, but he seems to have a vision to grown NSV into the city's third party and his name on the top of the NSV slate is an attention-getter.

Speaking of Occupy Vancouver, that's where you can often find mayoral candidate Darrell "Saxmaniac" Zimmerman and council candidates Lauren (Rent is Crazy High) Gill and Chris Shaw of De-Growth. While John Furlong was boosting the Olympics for the better part of a decade, Shaw was the well-researched critic and the media's go-to-guy who a VANOC reality-check who risked his own privacy -- police spied on him -- to exercise his right to dissent.

It takes all kinds to run for office. Gerry McGuire of Vancouver Citizens Voice. Gölök Zoltan Buday has the most umlauts of any candidate and is running for the fifth time. He's "lusting" for power, that is Liberty, Unity, Sature and Trust. Dubgee is a fab rapper with the most creative mayoral campaign.

The moral of the story is that you don't need to vote for a candidate from one of the big parties. You have a choice. Whatever you do, get out and vote. It's your right.

Here's all you need to know about the City of Vancouver election.

By the way, if you notice any voting irregularities (broken machines, people voting twice, campaign signs too close to polling stations), report to 3-1-1 and then email me.


I'm watching out for Alexa Loo in Richmond and Larry Anschell in White Rock.

Loo is the Olympic snowboarder, running for Richmond city council. Mayoral candidate Anschell is an accomplished recording producer and engineer who has worked with Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nickelback and Sarah McLachlan.

And, in the Olympic resort municipality of Whistler, will Ken Melamed win re-election or will the Olympic Village asphalt scandal bring him down? Will Whistlerites tell the incumbent to hit the asphalt? Under Melamed, Whistler was ranked second worst in municipal spending in B.C. by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Election day in British Columbia. Get out and vote. Then getcha popcorn ready!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Three more years?

Since 2008, it has been the best and cheapest place in Vancouver to witness tragedy and comedy. The seats are new and comfy and there is even “free” wifi.

I’m talking about Vancouver city hall, at Cambie and 12th. Government is not supposed to be so entertaining. But that’s how it has been under Vision Vancouver's management.

In my 21-year career, no single government I have followed has dealt with so much upheaval in such a short amount of time. Governing an Olympic city before, during and after the Games has proven harder than Vision Vancouver ever imagined. On Nov. 19, it will be up to the voters to decide whether Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver-dominated city council should be rewarded.

Robertson overcame an unpaid SkyTrain ticket and rode the Olympic Village financing scandal to victory in the 2008 election. His administration has been anything but the moderate, business-like one that was promised. At a time of global and local socio-economic upheaval demanding no-frills, cost-conscious government, Vision Vancouver has made bike lanes and chicken coops priorities. I haven’t seen any rogue roosters on the streets yet, but I found evidence that helmet and safety bylaws are not being properly enforced.

It all seemed to unwind for Vision Vancouver just before the Olympics, with the firing of chief electrician Ark Tsisserev for nothing more than cost-cutting. The original spin was that Tsisserev had retired or quit. Instead, his lawyer threatened a wrongful dismissal lawsuit and the city changed its tune. Ark floated away with a nice golden parachute.

Tsisserev had red-flagged concerns about safety at Olympic sites, including the Olympic Village. During the Games, a barrier collapsed at the City of Vancouver’s David Lam Park live site when the crowd surged. I found out later that city hall knew there were serious safety concerns because: A) none of the officials had not figured out the maximum capacity of the site and B) the emergency exits were locked and nobody knew where to find the key!

So 19 people were injured and nine hospitalized on Feb. 16, 2010 in the worst crowd control incident of the Olympics. There are at least two lawsuits against the city. One girl’s flesh was ripped from her leg in the melee.

After the Games, more chaos with city hall oversight and infrastructure.

It’s lucky nobody was killed in a demolition gone-wrong on Hornby Street or a hazardous materials incident on Nelson Street at the old B.C. Hydro building, now the Electra apartments and offices. Both incidents exposed city hall regulatory shortcomings. There were sinkholes in South Vancouver and downtown that affected major transportation routes and harmed businesses. There was a propane explosion at the Vancouver Christmas Market, on the day it was to open.

And then the ultimate tragedy -- the preventable deaths of three men before Christmas 2010 in an illegal rooming house on Pandora Street. Common sense says the city should have acted swiftly and decisively and condemned the building and found the men suitable accommodation elsewhere. But that did not happen. Inspector Carlene Robbins sued in the aftermath.

After the Games, Robertson went to New York City in spring 2010 to make him look like a statesman back home, but instead spent much of his time meeting with New York-based party supporters. Chief of staff Mike Magee held mysterious “hosting” functions at bars and restaurants in the Big Apple, but kept secret the identities of his guests.

Robertson was caught calling concerned citizens “fucking hacks” after a lengthy council meeting. Some of those “hacks” were members of his own party. Randy Helten got so angry at Vision Vancouver, he started his own party called Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver.

The Mayor’s Office hired a spin doctor who in turn hired a blogger to attack other bloggers and the media. It was officially a contract for “conversation mining.”

Researcher Vivian Krause probed Vision Vancouver’s intricate web of campaign financing. Her fair questions about whether American interests are breaking Canadian laws and influencing Vancouver policy making have gone unanswered. Vision Vancouver bagman Joel Solomon lobbied deputy city manager Sadhu Johnston to find a spot for one of his coffee company investments.

Of course, that should have been the job for the Vancouver Economic Commission, but it was too busy trying to pad the results of its Olympic business promotion while hiding the real information from nosy journalists.

Journalists have been stymied, under Vision Vancouver, because of city manager Penny Ballem’s gag order for staff. Meanwhile, the city communications budget has skyrocketed and the Freedom of Information office gutted. The city has fought tooth and nail against those who have sought copies of important reports. It even decided to withhold key information about contracts and spending on the Stanley Cup fan zone until after the election!

Robertson promised in his swearing-in speech that transparency was a top priority. No ifs, ands or buts.

"That accountability must extend to every aspect of City Hall. When the city uses your money, you have a right to know where it’s being spent, and what it’s being used for. When leaders fall short of that standard, public confidence is shaken.

"Over the next three years, we will rebuild that confidence, and ensure transparency, accountability and public debate at City Hall.

"Politicians do not always live up to that responsibility, I know. But I also know that there were literally thousands of people voting last November for the very first time.

"My commitment to them, on behalf of every member of my team, is that I will not let you down on making City Hall more open and accountable."

What is the Mayor hiding? The election will come and go with not a single rioter or looter being charged in Vancouver, yet Robertson, city manager Penny Ballem, Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu and Deputy Chief Doug Le Pard have gone out of their way to protect their reputations amid criticism they failed the public on June 15. No fun city? No fault city.

Unelected, $300,000-a-year-plus Ballem was appointed a member of the VANOC board after her 2008 hiring and has used her power to spend $2.32 million on used VANOC furniture and computers and to sign a contract that keeps Olympic financial and board documents secret until 2025. She did so without council approval and denies conflict of interest. Shouldn’t citizens who employ her be the ultimate judge of that question?

The Mayor is supposed to be the number one cheerleader for business in the city, but the juice company he co-founded made a bee-line for Burnaby a year after the Olympics and quietly closed up its Downtown Eastside warehouse and office. Robertson claims he owns less than 10 percent of shares but was noncommital when I asked him the simple question: did you make any effort to persuade the majority shareholders to maintain a Vancouver presence?

The Olympic Village remains a story without end. When a municipal auditor general is finally appointed, this project must be the first he or she probes. Vision Vancouver inherited the mess from previous COPE and NPA dominated city councils and has continued to keep citizens in the dark about how much the real loss is.

On the eve of the election, lawyers for the Occupy Vancouver protesters were trying to thwart the city's bid to disband the anti-corporate greed tent village on the Vancouver Art Gallery's north plaza. (Y'know, where the B.C. government replaced the green grass with bark mulch after the Olympics.)

Robertson could have enforced bylaws to remove tents and structures in the days after the Oct. 15 rally. He could have followed the lead of Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and sought a compromise that included issuing of permits to the protesters, so that they could exercise their right to freedom of speech and assembly while adhering to reasonable bylaws. McGinn served protesters coffee and his council voted to support the movement. Robertson claims he has visited the Occupy Vancouver site, but my repeated questions have turned up no proof of dates or times of any such visits.

Robertson didn’t and now his city hall’s failure to provide safe and ample homeless shelters to the city's weakest people is an issue for the defence lawyers.

The last three years have been a treasure trove of stories. Those of us in the media thrive on conflict and controversy.

Citizens of Vancouver who pay the bills probably don't share that sentiment. They want a responsible, compassionate and transparent government that upholds laws, protects and respects all citizens (and their rights) and, most of all, spends public money wisely.

Do they really want three more years of Vision Vancouver?

We'll find out on Nov. 19.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Flyer photo flap

A Filipino-Canadian man who complained that photographs of his daughter and niece were used in an NPA campaign flyer without permission appears to have backed off a lawsuit threat. But he is complaining to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner and the civic elections office. He has also issued a list of demands.

Clifford Belgica wants the NPA campaign to pay for full-page apology advertisements in five major newspapers, donate a mutually agreed sum on behalf of the children to B.C. Children's Hospital and perform community service volunteer hours to an adolescent psychiatric unit.

Here is the full complaint, emailed to media early Nov. 16 from Belgica, whose complaint was publicized by the Coalition of Progressive Electors in a Nov. 13 news release.

RE : Vancouver NPA Party

Attention : Peter Armstrong, Party Chairperson
Suzanne Anton, Mayoral Candidate

This is to formally inform the Vancouver NPA and Ms. Anton that a formal complaint had been forwarded to the Office of the Information and Privacy Comissioner for British Columbia as well as Elections Vancouver [File #237386].

This is with regards to the blatant violation of the rights of the my child [Ella Belgica] and her cousin [Gabrielle Mojica] by the NPA and Ms. Anton; done by using their photo image taken in a public event that should have been for posterity purposes; but however the party decided to use as a leverage to show their electorate of their association and "concern" towards the minorities and the multicultural fabric of Vancouver if only to be able to sway votes for party and Ms. Anton's favour without the due process of obtaining consent.

We would also like to inform you that we were at the parade representing a 20 year old duly registered society protected under the BC societies' act upon which the organization is mandated to remain apolitical and not allowed by it's constitution and by-laws not to wear any political color. BIBAK organization of British Columbia is a conglomeration of British Columbians who owe their ancestry and heritage to the indigenous people called Igorots that inhibit the Cordillera mountain ranges in the Northern Philippines hence the traditional garbs being worn by the children during the parade.

This is also to inform you formally that a brief call of no more than 2 minutes to me from Ms. Anton detailing that it was a mistake by a junior staff and the kids are cute anyways ended up providing "insult to injury" specially the media releases sent out by your team right after to say that an "apology" had been made and using media to do the work for you for free . We have given ample time to when a family member had informed your party who were then distributing the materials to withraw up until we had issued our first media release on sunday [Nov 14, 2011] but you only contacted me after the release.

On Ms. Anton's admission, she also stated that the pictures were also used in platform broc
We are ready to move forward with our lives that had suddenly spiralled out of a peaceful existence with a wishful thought of the party making right and setting the wrong that had been done once and for all. As such, in the complaint sent out we wish for the following outcome:

[1] A full page paid party ad with 5 major newspapers [including the Vancouver Sun and The Province] of a full apology and full description of the violation as well as concrete measures that the party had and will do to prevent this from happening again [not a haphazard "apology" via free press]; content to be agreed upon by us prior to release.
[2] A mutually agreed compensation for the incident to include a donation on behalf of both child to BC Children's Hospital
[3] A mutually agreed community service volunteer hours on one of the adolescent psychiatric units in the GVR
[4] Any other outcome that Gabrielle's family has asked in their formal complaint also lodged with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Thank you and best regards to the upcoming elections,

Clifford P. Belgica

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