Vancouver’s two developer-funded parties, the NPA and Vision, are identical on core policy issues. Both put developers before people, and hold their breath for the market to solve our affordability and homelessness crisis. With an election on the horizon, the NPA is desperately attempting to distinguish themselves from their Vision doppelganger. In the absence of substantive differences, much is made of minor sideshows, especially environmental ones. The NPA first opposed backyard chickens, then eschewed downtown bike lanes, and recently denounced the Greenest City Neighbourhood Grants program.
But now the riot has given the NPA a new way to frame its opposition to these environmental sideshows. The NPA team is arguing that the mayor was too distracted by environmental concerns to pre-empt the Stanley Cup riot. But it is the NPA who is directing the sideshow, and it is the public who is distracted. Even with respect to the riot there is little meaningful difference between the NPA and Vision. Despite criticizing the Mayor for inviting masses of people into a confined area downtown, it was an NPA candidate who proposed the idea. He even claimed that opening up BC place stadium could be paid for through food and alcohol sales. At bottom, the NPA’s claim is that it would have implemented a different crowd management strategy involving more aggressive policing. Looking to history, we saw the results of such an approach in 1994 when riots exploded under the nose of NPA Mayor Phillip Owen: police over-reaction led to more cracked heads than windows.
The NPA is arguing that the Mayor’s focus on environmental concerns distracted him even after the riots. In particular, the NPA has continually picked on a small project called Lawns to Loaves, arguing that it is a waste of civic money and that it should not be made a priority at this time. Mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton called the project “goofy” and continually attempts to deceive the public into thinking that it will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In fact, the Lawns to Loaves project, designed by the Environmental Youth Alliance, was awarded a small grant of $5,000, not hundreds of thousands. The project was only 1 out of 16 initiatives awarded a Greenest City Neighbourhood Grant this year. The projects successfully awarded grants this year included: restoring the Stanley Park Bog, greening schools and hospitals, cycling education, and youth environmental engagement programs. The total value of the grants awarded to these 16 initiatives was $100,000. This competition is annual, and $100,000 in grants are allotted yearly. And to correct another piece of misinformation constantly repeated by the NPA machine: the grant program was not the first thing on the agenda after the June 15 riot. There was a Council meeting on June 20th, where the riots were discussed, and the environmental grants were approved a week later at a Traffic and Transportation Committee meeting the morning of June 28 (the Mayor was not even present at this meeting).
The NPA’s political attack on the Lawn to Loaves program is mean-spirited and opportunistic. Is the the NPA really going to run a campaign based on attacking small, community-based environmental youth initiatives? The Greenest City Nieghbourhood Grants program is a small program that engages youth, the same cohort who took part in the riot. It’s easy to see the connections between youth alienation and street violence. As professor Michael Barnholden pointed out in The Mainlander, British Columbia has over 100,000 children living in poverty. Most youth involved in creative environmental projects were not likely among the rioters.
None of this is to say that small grant projects such as these are sufficient to reverse systemic poverty, inequality, or alienation. But nor will dismantling and slandering the projects do anything to avert future downtown conflagrations. It is worth recalling that slashing youth programs is consistent with previous NPA administrations, which twice abolished the City’s youth advocate.
If the NPA plans to ground their campaign in the notion that the riots wouldn’t have been as bad under an NPA administration, it’s a losing campaign for both the NPA and the people. The people of Vancouver don’t need fake distinctions between largely identical pro-developer parties. What people need in the upcoming election is clear choices on the main issues: concrete proposals on how to make Vancouver more affordable, to end homelessness, to improve public transit, to implement campaign finance reform, to support arts, culture, and, why not, environmental education programs.