In the 2008 election, Vision Vancouver and Gregor Robertson recognized that to win an election in progressive Vancouver, politicians needed to talk the talk of progressive politics. For Vision this meant rallying Vancouver around the bold idea of addressing the housing crisis and Ending Homelessness. Electorally, it meant a compromise with COPE, Vancouver’s traditional progressive party. COPE and Vision would work together under the “big umbrella” of progressive change, with COPE running only two councilors.

Today, after three years of a Vision majority on City Council, the progressive spirit chosen in the 2008 municipal elections is nowhere to be found. The party who promised to end homelessness and address affordability has turned out to be its mirror opposite, giving millions in tax breaks to developers, decreasing the corporate tax rate to the lowest in the world, forcibly closing homeless shelters, cutting services, hiring millions of dollars of additional police officers, and deepening the affordability crisis at every possible turn.

This month, the members of COPE will have to decide whether or not to enter into another electoral deal with Vision. Members will be presented with that choice at a COPE general meeting on June 26, 2011. Here are ten reasons COPE members ought to reject the deal as proposed, and instead support an independent progressive party in the 2011 municipal elections:

1. Affordable Housing….

Thanks to a single municipality with clear vision and sturdy backbone — Coquitlam — the juggernaut Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) has at least temporarily failed to careen its done-deal swath across B.C.’s lower mainland. The RGS aims to provide a policy blueprint that would govern the “pattern and form of development” of Metro Vancouver (formerly Greater Vancouver Regional District) for the next thirty years.

Grassroots criticism of the RGS began to acquire momentum in late 2010. MetroVanWatch has established a base for information dissemination and communication on the RGS issue. Various representations were made (or frustrated in attempt) to Metro Vancouver itself and to the 24 constituent jurisdictions. [See appended note for an account of representation to City of Vancouver.]

Points of concern for ordinary people (not bureaucrats, not politicians, not developer interests) have included:

  • Dubious public consultation process that culminated in a few poorly advertised, ill-timed public meetings late in 2010 for the affected 2.2 million population (locations were Coquitlam, North Vancouver, Surrey, Burnaby — nothing in Vancouver)
  • Effective disregard of the overwhelmingly negative feedback received through the perfunctory public process
  • Extensive powers exercised by bodies not accountable to an electorate
  • A “strategy” that seeks to substitute growth for livable region
  • Facilitation of sprawl growth through removal of land from agricultural reserve and through expansion of urban containment boundary

Coquitlam’s refusal of the RGS on 21 March 2011, following a unanimous vote of their council, has thrown the extended and complex policy project into a “dispute resolution process.” On 8 April 2011 Metro Vancouver set sights on recalcitrant Coquitlam, proposing binding arbitration to force acceptance. Nine Metro Vancouver directors opposed that move.

Ida Chong, the provincial minister responsible, has responded to notification and directed Metro Vancouver to initiate instead “a non-binding dispute resolution process by May 16, 2011.” In other words, the Province told the Region to take off the jackboots.

On Saturday May 14, the Vancouver Sun weighed in heavily on the RGS issue, running both a lead editorial and an opinion piece by Daphne Bramham. The editorial in particular aligns with already reported concerns emanating from the province’s “three biggest business groups” — B.C. Chamber of Commerce, Business Council of B.C., Urban Development Institute. In fact, business interests have sought

to participate in the dispute process, saying they weren’t given the chance to be heard during four years of public consultations.   (Sinoski, May 6)

Black humor spreads its wings here. Grassroots critics have been told flatly and repeatedly that the years of process are so adequate they should not dream of making complaint. (Many meetings and passage of much time always provides bureaucratic grounds to assert worth of consultation — regardless of quality of advertisement, extent of engagement, or nature of response to criticisms.) Perhaps business interests will garner more respect?

Besides reinforcing the editorial focus on economic factors, Bramham blasts Metro Vancouver as “probably the most egregious example of Canadian citizens having no voice in decision-making.” Finally grassroots opposition has succeeded in generating this echo in mainstream media.

The worry now is that RGS will be taken to task for the wrong reasons. For example, if the Urban Development Institute wants to affect the current version of policy, it’s hard to believe that things like preservation of agricultural land, respect for a strong urban containment boundary, or maintenance of adequate industrial land will stand at the top of their agenda.

Where all of this RGS debate goes from here depends in part on how well you the reader understand the issues, and whether you take opportunities to speak up.


Mayor Robertson and his party won power on the backs of the poor, claiming to represent their aspirations and promising to “End Homelessness.” Today, Vision Vancouver is waging war on the Downtown Eastside, the last refuge for Vancouver’s low-income residents.

One might wonder at the use of a military analogy – “waging war” – but sadly Robertson’s party has employed ruthless political tactics to outmaneuver Vancouver’s most marginalized residents who, despite negligible resources, are nonetheless fighting back stronger than ever.

As we have reported previously, Vision Vancouver is moving to implement the NPA’s gentrification plan for the Downtown Eastside (deceptively called the “Historic Area Height Review”). The plan, which goes to Council for a vote this Thurs, Jan 20, calls for seven 15-storey condo towers in the Downtown Eastside. It is certain that these developments would impact surrounding property values. Low-income residents, as well as the stores, services, and amenities they use, would be displaced at a pace even greater than what is already underway, with the social and economic goal of gentrifying a low-income community by importing a new class of residents (which City Planning staff like to call “body heat“).

The Decoy

To distract the broader public from their undemocratic plan to gentrify the Downtown Eastside, the Vision-led City Council will be voting on a separate “view-corridors” proposal for towers in the central business district at the same Jan 20th meeting as the DTES plan. The City has purposefully attempted to link these very different plans in the public’s mind, with some success. The supposed link between them is the abstract notion of “height.” The two plans both deal with building heights, but will inevitably have more significant impacts on density and social demographics. Focusing on height instead of density changes the debate. This article from Sunday’s Province, for example, is stuck in the City’s frame about “height,” ignoring any question of social impact, and referring only fleetingly to the Downtown Eastside at the end of the article.