My Response to Vancouver District Labour Council Questionnaire

This morning, I was asked to comment on the notion that certain unions have it out for the Greens (and COPE). While we do enjoy solid support from some unions, according to revelations published by by Bob Mackin and others, other unions might appear to "have it out for us". As a political neophyte, I couldn't speak to that specifically, although I thought I might publish my own response to the Vancouver District Labour Council's Questionnaire, who earlier this month chose to endorse the Vision Vancouver slate. Rather than guess on endorsement strategies, I thought my honest and considered response might frame my thoughts on labour and unions — which are neither conservative nor "neoliberal". *

The following is my response to the VDLC Candidate Questionnaire, from August 15, 2014.


1. What motivates you to seek election?


  • I am motivated by my frustration with the current government and my desire to make my city a better, more affordable and just place to live. I'm frustrated seeing my friends squeezed out of the city because they can no longer afford to live here. I'm frustrated by deep-pocketed political contribution from the real estate development industry that put property profits ahead of people. I'm frustrated by the disingenuous community consultation model and one-party domination of the City. My frustrations are born out of my experience as (past) president of my local (Strathcona) residents' association and as a representative on the DTES planning process: seeking better consultation and community empowerment, equitable housing and a say in how our neighbourhood is developed, and for who. My desire is to work across partisan lines to ensure our city and the lives lived here are the best they can be


2. What are the critical issues facing your community?


  • I would qualify my answers by saying that for the last twenty plus years I have live in and around the DTES, mostly Strathcona. I'm assuming by community you mean the city at large; so I will attempt to distinguish between my immediate community and the larger community (Vancouver) in all of my answers below. On the whole, Vancouver is facing a crisis of affordability, our transit system urgently needs improvements, the pace and kind of development in the city has exacerbated social isolation and disconnectedness. The level of inequality, homelessness and child poverty is unacceptable in a city of our wealth and means. This is even more apparent in my immediate community where there is a great deal of inequality: poverty, addiction, mental health, vulnerable women and children. A disproportionately high percentage of this population is aboriginal. Also, in my local community, city and region as a whole, we need to accelerate preparation of our infrastructure for climate change and rising sea levels.


3. Under what circumstances would you consider contracting out or privatizing public services?


  • I'm generally not in favour of the idea unless there were exceptional extenuating circumstances where public services could not be reasonably be delivered (for instance massive scale rebuild after an earthquake). Theoretically I might consider contracting out a highly specialized work that public service employees could not provide (but being cognizant of the recent bogus replacing of BC miners with Chinese "specialists" at half the wage; skilled specialist demand would need to be unequivocally legitimate). I would not be in favour of contracting out services to "solve" a labour dispute.


4. Under what circumstances would you consider public-private partnerships (P3s)?


  • Similar to the above statement, I might consider P3s for specialized work that the public service couldn't reasonably supply (or under exceptional extenuating circumstances) — but only within the context of a fair wage policy. I recognize that sometimes P3s are necessary to bootstrap services the public might not otherwise be able to provide at a reasonable cost (for instance bike share). That said, in my observation P3s often seem to be at the expense of the public and favouring some sort of back room deal. Any P3 negotiation under my watch would need to be conducted with the utmost transparency: from RFP through bid process to ongoing monitoring of deliverables and service. I am not in favour of privatizing public assets.


5. How do you expect CETA to impact local procurement options for your municipality?


  • I'm concerned about CETA first and foremost because the negotiations are being conducted largely without public input or oversight. Specifically I am concerned about what investor rights agreements might mean for public health, safety and services, resource management and our democratic process; what dispute resolution mechanisms between governments and corporations are being proposed; and what details we don't yet know about the deal. With that said, it's difficult to ascribe expectations to how CETA might impact procurement options — but my understanding is that under the procurement clause of the agreement, the city might be penalized for not opening public works projects to European companies. Obviously, this is a big concern with regards to local employment. I feel that Vancouver should have followed Victoria City Council's example and opted out of the deal.


6. How would you support a vibrant economy with consideration to the environment?


  • Vancouver is blessed with abundant access to reliable clean energy, which in turn means that many of our economic activities are inherently environmentally friendly without being specifically and explicitly green. Access to good transit preferably electrified or at the very least hybrid diesel will mean less emissions. Encourage local economic development via sensible urban design. Incentivize specifically clean tech jobs. Accelerate a program of 'future-proofing' our public utilities for climate change and sea level rise. Discourage excessive waste and landfill through incentivization, innovation, permits, fees, and taxes (food waste, demolition waste, construction waste, industrial waste) and encourage adaptive re-use and/or deconstruction of said wastes. Incentivize green retrofits for energy-efficient residential and commercial buildings. Incentivize and encourage local training for green jobs. Incentivize local green tech manufacturing, production, and research. Develop and incentivize stronger local procurement policies. Encourage wood frame construction from locally sourced materials.


7. What opportunities do you identify for "green jobs" in your municipality?


  • Transit; Upgrading infrastructure for climate change resilience; Energy retrofitting; (Green) Construction; Deconstruction; Recycling; Local food production; Training and education for green jobs; Green tech manufacturing and research; City greening (planting trees, creating greenspaces and bioswales); Local economic development and jobs where people live.


8. What is your understanding and level of support for a "living wage" initiative?


  • I am very familiar with the "living wage" initiative and support it wholeheartedly. It is an actual Green Party platform plank and we intend to fight for it at the council table. Kudos to our neighbours in Seattle and New Westminster for leading the way. Along with my Green Party council cohort - we have identified poverty and affordability among our top issues we intend to fight for.


9. What is your understanding and level of support for a "fair wage" policy?


  • I support the idea of a "fair wage" policy and was somewhat surprised that I couldn't find mention of it on the website. If it's the case that our city currently does not support this idea, I feel that is a discussion that needs to happen. I don't think it's appropriate for taxpayer money to undercut fair wage earners and exploit employees.


10. What is your understanding and level of support for a "project labour agreements (PLAs)"?


  • From my understanding, they seem like a prudent approach to undertaking a large project, provided that both parties are fairly compensated and willing partners.


11. What ideas do you have for improving transit in your municipality?


  • I do not feel that we have been given enough evidence to support the (Vision Vancouver) Broadway subway plan over Translink's other two proposed options (LRT, BRT). My thoughts (confirmed in conversation with Unifor drivers) is that those 3+ billion dollars for a subway could be better spent improving all the routes on the transit network city (and region) wide — preferably with LRT or electric trolley busses. In the immediate, I think priority should be given to bus rapid transit routes (for instance on the Broadway corridor) with dedicated fast-lanes (no parking, no cyclists) for the BRT route. I am also concerned that the model for Frequent Transit Development Areas (outlined in the City's Regional Context Statement for areas like Broadway specifically) will trigger massive development and speculative investment and further erode our affordable housing stock — for these reasons, I support a more critical look at the kind of transit systems (and attendant real estate development) we build, and where.


12. What ideas do you have for affordable housing in your municipality?


  • We need to look at options on how to densify differently, and diversify our housing stock. Vancouver is now number 1 for high rises per capita, and number 2 for un-affordability (according to Demographia's 2013 global stats). We know that lower scale wood frame constructed housing is 25-40% cheaper to build, and offers a more livable and socially connected environment. We know that rezoning single family lots for multi-family housing (as evidence in Seattle with their "perimeter housing" model) can facilitate building of more affordable communities. We know that building on a human scale (< 6 stories) better contributes to vibrant inclusive communities and affordability. The construction of luxury towers providing seasonal use or investment real estate is an important component of our economy, but should not be at the expense of housing for locals. I believe we should actively pursue an audit of seasonal use and investment properties with the goal of lobbying provincial government to amend the Vancouver Charter and give us new taxation powers that can redirect those tax dividends into affordable housing. The Green Party will call for more transparency in the building pro formas, a more equitable and predictable developer cost levy system that does not favour backroom negotiations. We will call for a more robust Housing Authority that can build, lease and rent affordable housing, and a more transparent means by which we extract developer contributions, similar to the Whistler Housing Authority.


13. How would you address poverty in your municipality?


  • Advocate and lobby the provincial government to raise the welfare rates. Call for City of Vancouver to adopt a living wage protocol. Advocate for zoning and regulations that will build more (real) affordable housing. Look to new innovative ways to address the root and effects of homelessness. Promote local economic development and food security, affordable child care, and safe and inclusive communities with good access to good transit.


14. What plans do your support to assist families with affordable child care?


  • While recognizing that much of this responsibility falls on the provincial and federal government, I do feel that the City can play an important role in the provision of child care for our citizens. I support the "Community Plan for a Public System of Integrated Early Care and Learning" and "$10/day" plan. I would like to see more robust zoning requirements and planning that encourage family housing, with special considerations for child and elder care being built into community planning. Work with school and park boards to take advantage of existing infrastructure and staffing to enhance and improve existing efforts.


15. What forms of inequality do your identify as problems in your community and how would you address them?


  • In my immediate community there is a great deal of inequality: poverty, addiction, mental health, vulnerable women and children. A disproportionately high percentage of this population is aboriginal. I feel this to be largely a symptom of the malaise of the city as a whole. I would advocate for more robust inclusionary zoning, restructuring the newly-created affordable housing agency to call for more transparent building pro-formas and thereby extract more affordable and social housing from the real estate developers.


16. Do you have a library card?


  • Yes.


17. How could libraries get the funding they need to maintain or increase their services?


  • I think libraries definitely need to expand and increase their services, and to look to the future, beyond just books and DVDs. Libraries need to become innovation hubs supplying citizens with research and workspace both for free and for fee. In addition to shelves of books, future libraries should have tools, 3-d printers, laser cutters and workshops; production facilities and meeting space; hands-on spaces where citizens can learn and produce crafting or coding; silkscreening or sewing. Premium on-demand services could be for a fee, public services could be for free. Similar library revitalization schemes are emerging across North America, and we should look to their examples and innovations for best practices and ideas.


18. How would you describe the labour relations climate in your community?


  • As September approaches and BC teachers remain locked out, a transit referendum and bus drivers' collective agreement in spring of 2015 and at least 2 1/2 more years of BC Liberal government - it's safe to say relations in the region are pretty tense. In my conversations with Vancouver city unionized staff and leaders I'm left with the impression that the City Manager is a tough negotiator / axe-wielder for the Vision Vancouver government, and her (micro) management style has disheartened a lot of staff. I understand that the culture of labour relations in City of Vancouver directly effects the region as a whole.


19. If you were to pick 3 words to describe the labour movement generally, they would be:


  1. People because they are both the labour movement's #1 asset and responsibility.
  2. Power because together, people (and unions) are stronger.
  3. Progressive  I think the labour movement typically epitomizes progressive values and has been at the vanguard of equal rights for women, minorities, foreign workers, and LBGTQ. Further, labour often bring to light issues of great public importance with regard to labour, environment, trade, safety, social justice, etc. I am reminded of one of my favourite novels: Upton Sinclaire's "The Jungle" when I think about some of the real and meaningful progress labour has brought to our society.

    While I think my version of a "P3" has a much nicer ring to it, I would add a fourth word Public, one-up the P3 and make it a P4! 


20. Other comments?


  • I appreciated these questions, a few forced me to do a little research work to form my opinions, thanks for that — and thanks for taking the time to read my answers. I hope you will consider endorsing me and our Green team in Vancouver's upcoming election this November. I would of course be happy to answer any follow up questions. I should also note that for the most part, my answers reflect our Green Party of Vancouver platform and our core Green Party values. That said, I am not speaking for the party but as an individual, and my opinions are my own. The Green Party do not "whip" their members, and so long as I/we adhere to the core party values (Ecological Wisdom, Sustainability, Participatory Democracy, Non-violence, Respect for Diversity, and Social Justice) I/we are free to vote along with our own conscience and moral compass.