At a forum held last night at the VPL, residents questioned the way the City of Vancouver conducts public consultations. The event’s organizers, a group called cityhallwatch, admitted that the forum had been, out of necessity, organized on short notice.

Nevertheless, the forum was well attended, including a member from each of the city’s three sitting municipal parties, real-estate developers, city planners, and grassroots community organizers. There was urgency in the air, as the policies under discussion go to City Council next week.

Randy Helten, cityhallwatch founder, argued that lack of notification and community involvement are only part of a systemic problem in municipal politics in Vancouver. Staff reports and public hearing agendas are often released with very short notice to the public.

Jean Swanson, of the Carnegie Community Action Project, explained how building 7 condo towers in the Downtown Eastside, as proposed, would displace the community’s current residents and community assets by pricing them out and attracting a new class of condo buyers and boutique stores catering to them.

After the evening’s planned presentations, the audience was invited to speak on any particular issues they had. There was significant criticism of Vision Vancouver’s planning policies, and their general attitude towards the community.

The only Vision councillor in attendance, Geoff Meggs, stood up to represent Vision and defend his party, arguing that consultations had been made and that views of the mountains would be saved. Many attendees emphasized that even they (who tended to be relatively engaged in municipal politics) hadn’t been included in consultations, nevermind notified of them.

Concerns were also raised about who exactly would benefit from rezoning for towers. Helten emphasized the increasingly influential role of developers in city planning, and brought up the recent radio interview where former Director of City Planning Ray Spaxman (former consultant on the Historic Area Height Review, who recently spoke with The Mainlander) warned of their influence.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM |

Legislation that would make Vancouver municipal parties disclose their donors and would cap corporate donations and overall campaign spending, might be in jeopardy. While the legislation has the support of the municipalities themselves, including Vancouver, several BC Liberal candidates have said the legislation is no longer a priority.

Campaign finance reform is increasingly important in Vancouver, where wealth disparity is growing. And with real-estate developers, often anonymously, pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into civic campaigns to influence planning decisions, campaign finance reform cannot come too soon. The legislation was to be enacted before Vancouver’s upcoming November election. Are the Liberals stalling to help their wealthy associates?

HEIGHT |

A public forum will be held tonight at 6:30 at the Vancouver Public Library discussing the future of height in Vancouver. Details on a live stream of the forum will be available here. This forum is just a part of the community convergence that has occurred around this issue.

In an interview last week, City Director of Planning reiterated that the city planning department “believe[s] strongly in the value of engagement and consultation.”

The Mainlander recently reported on the negative impact the proposed height increases would have on the Downtown Eastside (DTES). This past Saturday, Jan 8, the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council (DNC) general membership voted overwhelmingly to oppose this DTES condo tower plan.

When there is a rezoning, the City negotiates with the developer to extract contributions that will “benefit” the community (e.g. parks, social housing units, jobs, etc); on Saturday the DNC also voted to oppose the current method whereby residents are shut out of these negotiations.

Council is set to vote on the proposal for 7 condo towers in the DTES at 2:30 on Jan 20 2011. The public is welcome to speak on the rezoning policy, which can be found here.

A memorial service for the three men who died in an East Van house fire was held Saturday at the Longhouse Council Native Ministry.

Garland McKay, Dwayne Rasmussen and Steven Yellowquill died on Dec 22 when the porch they were living in at 2862 Pandora St. caught fire.

On Saturday, the Longhouse was filled to capacity with friends and family. The service began with a song led by Traditional Mothers. Morris then asked the mourners to stand up and share memories of the three men. For friends and family, it was a day to honour the men and their strengths. A picture emerged of the men as compassionate, respectful, and selfless.

At Saturday’s memorial, a broad picture of the men’s journey and challenges also emerged. There were many preventable factors creating the conditions for the tragedy.

The three men came from First Nations across the country (Rasmussen from Mount Currie, McKay from Kelowna, Yellowquill from Manitoba) to Vancouver looking for opportunity, but were unable to access appropriate non-market housing. As a result, the only housing that was accessible to them was the unsafe and inadequate “rooming-house” at 2862 Pandora St.

BC Liberal leadership candidate Kevin Falcon’s campaign team sent out a press release yesterday (Jan 4) proposing that BC teachers’ pay should be tied to student performance. Falcon offered only vague ideas on methods and criteria for measuring student performance.

Falcon’s proposal has drawn condemnation from many quarters – not only teachers unions, but also the Vancouver and Burnaby school board chairs. Today, even the Globe and Mail editorial (entitled “Show us the money”) was thoroughly skeptical of proposal’s costs/benefits.

Vancouver School Board Trustee and Vice-Chair Jane Bouey told The Mainlander today (Jan 5) that Falcon’s proposal “assumes the greatest problem facing BC students is teachers. There is no evidence this is true.” If anything, fault lies at the foot of Falcon and his party: “The real issue is chronic underfunding, after more than a decade of cuts at district levels.”

Of Falcon’s proposal, Bouey said “there is no real evidence that merit pay works. Children are not widgets that just need to be produced more efficiently…It isn’t just that it doesn’t work, there is some evidence that it actually can make things worse.”

The Fight HST movement engaged much of the electorate, who were furious that the BC Liberals campaigned against the tax in April 2009 only to go-ahead with it a week after the election.

The Liberals first claimed that the people just didn’t see the benefits. But the more Gordon Campbell and Colin Hansen talked, the more clear it became that their lie was deliberate, and that the the HST shifted burden from large corporations to working people.

The campaign against the tax began with over 1500 volunteers collecting signatures in April of 2010. Volunteers waived signs, canvassed, and collected signatures for five months to meet the strict BC Elections requirements for petitions. In total, more than 700,000 voters signed the petition. The moment will go down in the books as the first successful attempt at forcing a referendum in B.C. history.

For their part, the BC Liberals worked with their friends at the BC Chamber of Commerce and large extractive corporations to unsuccessfully challenge the Fight HST referendum in court. Hoping to wait out the crisis, the Liberals announced that the forced referendum wouldn’t be held until fall 2011. But polls showed that people didn’t forget the betrayal, with Campbell’s approval rating falling below 10% by the time he was forced to resign Nov 3rd 2010.

The tax has been haunting the BC Liberal leadership race. The primary strategy for candidates over the past month has been to

Image by Murray Bush / Vancouver Media Coop

This is the second of five installments of our “Top Stories of 2010″ countdown. Here we tell the story of how the announcement of the “BC Missing Women Commission of Inquiry” and of “Project Sister Watch” were made possible only by the constant advocacy of aboriginal women.

None of these stories would have unfolded or seen the light of day in the absence of community organizing and grassroots activism. The take-home-message of 2010, it seems, is that activism can be effective while defining who we are.

On September 27 2010, the BC Provincial government finally announced an official commission charged with investigating the failure of the police to respond meaningfully to reports of missing women in the Vancouver Downtown Eastside between 1997 and 2002.

The commission has come far too late, is too small in scope, and is chaired by the wrong person. But it is important to recognize that its existence is owed to the persistent advocacy of community activists. The Women’s Memorial March, for example, has continued to be held in the Downtown Eastside on Valentine’s Day annually since 1991.

Community activist Gladys Radek maintains that at least 3,000 indigenous women have gone missing in Canada since the 1970s. Over the years, her organization Walk4Justice has organized several treks to raise awareness of the fact that the Pickton murders are only the tip of the iceberg.

This is the first of five installments of our “Top Stories of 2010” countdown. None of these stories would have unfolded or seen the light of day in the absence of community organizing and grassroots activism.

In 2010, BC Liberal Education Minister Margaret MacDiairmid continued Gordon Campbell’s attrition policy aimed at undermining pubic education. Underfunding rocked school districts across the province. Parents organized against the cuts, and their campaign forced MacDiarmid to at least temporarily reverse cuts to the Annual Facilities Grant.

While many elected school trustees across the province timidly implemented the cuts, the Vancouver School Board (VSB), which had a $17M funding shortfall, fought back. On April 4th, VSB Chair Patti Bacchus suggested that MacDiarmid resign for denying the funding crisis. On April 10th, MacDiarmid asked the Comptroller General to “review” VSB finances. The VSB found out about the review through the media, for which MacDiarmid had to apologize. Bacchus emphasized that the real issue – provincial underfunding – was excluded from the scope of the review.