INTERVIEW | Vancouver Citizen’s Voice

The past three years of civic politics have been rich in spectacle, poor on substance. Politicians brought us the Olympic Games, hoping to cash in on Olympics-associated political capital. Then they brought us the Stanley Cup finals celebration, hoping again that street parties might translate into electoral favour. Meanwhile, our city became the most unaffordable on earth, and we even managed to fill a massive social housing project with only the fabulously well-to-do.

With the the right-wing NPA and the ‘centrist’ Vision identical on all core policy planks, these two parties are forced to highlight the most inane and trivial sideshows to distinguish themselves (bike lanes, lawns, etc.). Meanwhile, Vancouver’s working class party (COPE) has conceded the next three years to Vision-NPA rule. The established parties are avoiding all discussion of substantive issues. It appears that the coming civic elections will include many politicians but no politics. In this context of political oblivion, it is inevitable that other voices will begin to speak out. They may be unconventional, and we may not agree with all they espouse, but such is the cost when major parties impose political black-out. The Mainlander intends to highlight some of these less heard voices.

Gerry McGuire, of Vancouver Citizen’s Voice, is one of the individuals challenging the city hall scene. He has decided to run for Mayor against, among others, Gregor Robertson and Suzanne Anton. The Mainlander recently sat down with Mr. McGuire to find out why he’s running for Mayor, and why he thinks Vancouver needs a new political party.

ML: Why does Vancouver need a new political party?

GM: Because, from my viewpoint, none of them are representing the average Vancouver citizen very well.

Vision, by taking COPE in, has neutered the left, yet Vision is not a left wing party. They’re more developer friendly than the NPA would ever dare to be, which should be shocking for anybody that voted for them. You can’t stop progress, but what they’re doing is beyond the pale. They’re letting the developers run wild.

80%-90 of community amenity contributions don’t really reach the neighbourhood in the way they’re supposed to. $834,000 at Cambie and South-West Marine, for a bicycle facility. What about the kids in the neighbourhood who don’t have parks, swimming pools, libraries, community centers?

The cycling is a side issue, a window dressing, to the whole thing that Vision is doing with this City, which is selling it out as fast they can. When they talk about Vancouver becoming a green capital, what they’re talking about is selling it out to the big capitalists. Google “Green Capital Robertson”. You’ll find him boasting about how Vancouver has the lowest corporate tax rate in North America and possibly the world. We’re selling $5 million condos downtown while the Downtown Eastside is getting worse and worse, not better. That’s an astounding disconnect.

We’re not going to solve the DTES’s problems overnight, but that’s what Gregor promised in 2008. It was disingenuous for him to claim that he could or that he would end homelessness. What we’re going to try to do is reduce the tragedy that goes on in that neighbourhood. There’s always hope, and there’s people you can hitch your wagon to that are really doing something. I’m shocked about how much money is spent down there, and believe there needs to be an accounting based on effectiveness of dollars spent.

ML: What are you going to focus on in your platform?

GM: Electoral reform. Justice delayed is justice denied. During the last municipal election cycle there was some enormous corruption all over BC, probably even in Vancouver. There’s no proper regulation of municipal elections. Foreign, union, and developer contributions are still going to be allowed. There’s no recall process, and no limit to individual spending. Exxon could come in, spend eleven million dollars, and get 11 oil executives elected to city council, if they so chose.

Christy Clark has said they don’t have time to change it, but they’ve got to do something.

And I believe the city would be better served with a partial ward system tied to an increase in the number of councilors. We have the same number of councilors now as we did in 1886! Something like sixteen councilors and the mayor would be manageable.

We’ll also be campaigning for human scale development. There seems to be endless densification pressures on Vancouver, but that doesn’t mean we need towers everywhere.

We need low rise buildings, infill development, on properties that are empty and that are already zoned for 3 to 5 stories.

Recently the planning department published a report on how Community Amenity Contributions are being spent, and they’re just throwing them in a big pot. It’s scandalous. A CAC should be upfront. If you want to build a tower, the neighbourhood is going to decide what gets built for the community and it gets built before you get your rezoning approval.

Concord Pacific has gotten away for twenty years without building a promised park on False Creek. If you want to build, give us the goodies first. Otherwise, it’s like the buddy who owes you twenty dollars. Maybe you get five, maybe you get ten, or maybe you get the twenty dollars twenty years later, when it’s worth five.

ML: What’s an example of something we could expect to see if you were in office?

GM: I used to have a membership at the Art Gallery, and I’m going to renew it to see the current show, but I’m not going to condone the City taking on replacing the Gallery until St. Paul’s is fixed up. Right now, it could fall down even in a small earthquake. If we have an 8 or 9, there would be thousands of injured people downtown with nowhere to go. VGH is too far away, and it would be overwhelmed anyway-people would be lining up outside with tents!

If we get elected, we’ll be renewing/replacing St. Pauls before the Art Gallery. If I’m going to be the Mayor, I need to think of all the people. We could move the Hospital over to Larwill park, and expand the Art Gallery on the Burrard site sometime in the future.

This City Council’s idea of earthquake preparedness is to put up a billboard directing you to a website that gives you a list of things to buy. That doesn’t cut it.

It makes more sense to inspect the buildings that were built before current building codes, you can get the landlords to pay for the inspection, and require them to perform the necessary upgrades. It’s their responsibility.

Should residents unknowingly be living in a deathtraps? They don’t want to just look at a website. The city is completely negligent on earthquake preparedness, just like they were on the riot.

ML: What is Vancouver Citizen’s Voice?

GM: An idea, that the grassroots of Vancouver can take back control of our city, and that individual citizens can have a greater voice, and that the neighbourhoods can have a greater voice.