Monday, July 28, 2014

Some interesting observations from retiring City Councillor Guy Heywood's Blog

While democracy may not be dead at the local level in North Vancouver, there is going to be less of it in the future. There are going to be fewer opportunities for citizens to have influence on their local governments for several reasons:

1. Longer terms. After the election in November it will be four years until the next one. So if you don't like the direction your mayor and council are going, it be an extra year before you will be able to vote them out.

2. The provincial government's failure to reform local election financing.  Developers and unions that have the greatest interest in council decisions and which are the main contributors to the campaigns of Councillors and Mayors that support their objectives, are free to continue to do so and their better financed campaigns will drown out the voices of independents and suppress serious discussion about the future of our communities.

3. Official Community Plans are pretty much finished. The District finished theirs last year and the the City is almost finished it's latest one. In the City, staff is seeking to extend the horizon of the plan to 30 years.  Most planners would prefer not to expose the land use planning process to public scrutiny any more frequently than absolutely necessary.  It could be 20 years longer until the next mandatory review of the plan and opportunity to ask planners fundamental questions about land use policy and its impact on the community.

4. Media restructuring. The ability of local media to provide coverage of local politics in smaller municipalities is already overtaxed given the revenue sources they have available to them.  The editorial and reporting capability North Vancouver Outlook was a victim of the last wave of retrenchment.  Social media (Twitter, Facebook and blogs) is growing, but it is not clear if it can fill the gap.

Adding to the challenge in North Vancouver, there is likely a majority of people who don't know if their government is the one on 14th and Lonsdale or the one at 29th and Mahon.  Is their biggest concern a shared service (police, recreation)? Or is it a duplicated one (library, fire halls)? Do they want a bike lane on the north side of parts of Keith Road or 29th Street (District) or on the south side (in the City) and who is responsible for painting the line down the middle?  I can understand why someone not directly involved in local politics loses patience and gives up.

Normal pressures of everyday life just don't leave enough time to figure out how vote or otherwise influence our complicated local government structure. Without declared parties to frame the issues and connect them to overarching ideologies and perspective, the citizen who may want to vote feels lost and, 4 times out of 5 in North Vancouver, they don't bother other to participate at all in the election of the government that arguably influences their lives the most on a day to day basis.

Mind you, it is also possible that people who are lucky enough to live in a place as fabulous as North Vancouver are predisposed to trust that the people in charge will do the right thing.

But what if those people in charge, blinded by inertia and self interest, are not doing right by the community? What if there is an unacceptable level of duplication and lack of coordination between North Vancouver’s two governments 15 blocks apart? What if this becomes painfully obvious when long term plans for land use, density and infrastructure are being developed? And what if it is getting worse the longer it is allowed to persist?

From 2005 to 2013 City and District government expenditures grew by 46% and 40/% respectively, the economy and average family incomes grew by around 8%. With requirements to fund a new sewage treatment plant, and other projects like Harry Jerome or the new $30 million waterfront attraction that Mayor Mussatto would would like to build, we can't keep sticking our collective heads in the sand.

Citizens of North Vancouver deserve to be confident that our local governments are spending our money wisely. That it is not being spent on duplicated overhead and that major projects affecting all North Vancouver are being properly managed. I am not confident at all. I believe there is a lot at stake and that we are on the wrong track.

I thought my concerns could be addressed by taking up a standing offer the Province makes for any local governments that wants to look at restructuring. This suggestion was welcomed by District Council, but met with fierce resistance at the City. Mayor Mussatto went so far as to bully the President of the Chamber of Commerce for expressing the Chamber's support for the idea of a study. The City Manager then wrote a report strongly recommending against the initiative (surprise) which resulted in the motion failing by a 4 to 3 vote at Council.

While the study is not going ahead, the ferocity of the resistance to it is very troubling. I am now more convinced that all citizens of North Vancouver would benefit from an objective look into the shape and effectiveness of our local governments. But when the chances to ask those questions are going to get fewer and farther apart I fear that it is not going to happen.  Does anyone else share my concern?"


John Sharpe said...

We need the 'restructuring' aka Amalgamation in North Van. almost out of necessity and to help maintain a certain level of sustainability within the running of good government. It's time to think of the bigger, selfless picture for the whole community. It's not the complete answer of course, but it's a help and a start.

Anonymous said...

Voter turnout in local elections is about 19%. Unless there is an "issue" brewing it would appear that people do not feel compelled to get involved.

Anonymous said...

Some think that the level of overdevelopment will compel more vote than the 22% in the City to turn out this time.

Anonymous said...

I'm more concerned about how much city taxes have increased than any amount of development. At this rate it's like paying a small mortgage each month!

John Sharpe said...

CBC news reported that 40% voter turnout is hoped for this election by way of maximum early voting opportunity, etc.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Guy for your thoughtful comments.

I too worry that the lack of common governance will send the two N. Vans in directions that may become an irretrievable dogs breakfast.

The city mayor and CAO are two guys with huge self interest and they've made their feelings clear.

Whoop de do.

Now how about those that actually pay for the services having a chance to tell their civil servants how they would like to proceed.

Griffin said...

Well, this is definitely the year to tell them how you feel. I have felt for years that the only reason NVC was "against" amalgamation was because of the possibility of someone losing their job, someone like Mr. Tolstam, and that does a huge disservice to the people who are paying, and paying, and paying their salaries. If you are against rampant, exorbitant and sometimes unnecessary spending, then get out and vote for the candidates who are supporting amalgamation. It is probably unlikely that a referendum in either muni will make it to the ballot this time round, but if there are politicians on City council in particular who think that way, there's a greater chance that it'll happen in 2018. And if we're lucky, Mr. Tollstam will be retired by then, because he's already a bit long in the tooth now!

Anonymous said...

Tolstam will hang around as long as mussato is mayor. In my opinion the push for development from the prodevelopers side of council is simply an attempt at trying to make the LEC succesful. The OCP has LEC tattooed all over it. I challenge Tolstam to sell this taxpayer subsidized oraginization and get back to delivering services that we pay taxes for. I highly doubt any one would buy the LEC given most of the power plants are on tax payer subsidized city property, and if the city ever got rid of the bylaw that states any development over so many sq ft must be on the LEC is a poisin pill. LEC is a win win for developers, the company setting up the plants. Another drain on the taxpayer

Marg Warkentin said...

I was searching for info on "ANY" competition for the N.V. City Mayor's seat in the next election...when I came across Mr. Heywood's comments (and the death of democracy)!
I SO agree with all he said, and am sorry to hear he's retiring!!
I am all for amalgamating N.V. City/District, if only to eliminate a lot of confusion for people... a large percentage of them don't even know which area applies to them! Why are we paying for TWO Mayors and TWO councils??)
I know there must be people willing to run against our current Mayor out there somewhere.. and I am now going to go back to my search!
Many thanks,

Anonymous said...

KERRY MORRIS FOR NVC MAYOR ----- and there you have it!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

It has always amused me that the houses on the south side of 29th St. W. sit right across the street from DNV Hall, but those homeowners have to go down to 14th to do any business at CNV Hall...The line has been drawn in the road...It gets more confusing around the Grand Blvd, area, where some residents don't even have a clue whether they reside in the "city" or the "district". I kid you not.

Anonymous said...

How can they not know which municipality when they get a reminder each year in the form of a property tax bill? You'd have to be pretty thick to not know which municipality you live in.

Anonymous said...

Maybe they don"t get a tax bill, maybe renters,

Such irregular boundaries!