(Updated) Fair Voting BC and Party X today at 2 pm are holding the second event in their E-volving Democracy Dialogue series. The theme is “Engaging Citizens in the political process – do citizens have a real opportunity to influence policy, do politicians listen, and how might we do things better?” Prominent thinkers are on the panel, including Vancouver City Councillor Andrea Reimer. (We are concerned that the example she plans to give of consultation is one of the worst examples of consultation. See More Task Forces – No Thanks.) Vancouver is a microcosm of the world. If we can get remove the screen and really study what is going in Vancouver, and get things fixed, maybe there is hope for the planet.
Saturday, October 27, 2012 from 2 to 4:30 pm
Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, Simon Fraser University (downtown), 580 W Hastings St
We think this is a great topic. Great panelists. We encourage people to go. But considering the sponsors and title, we have a sense that they are going in the direction of promoting more electronic forms of participation. CityHallWatch has seen enough to believe that a more urgent matter is the need for a complete change of culture in our political institutions. We have systemic dysfunction of our political systems — and it is even evident in Vancouver at City Hall, our closest form of government . Well-intentioned people may seek public office, but it seems that they become influenced or corrupted by a deeply ingrained self-reinforcing power structure.
Anyone who watches things closely — based on direct experience on the ground, and the information that filters through mainstream media — will suspect that the issues go much, much deeper. CityHallWatch focuses on Vancouver, and here are a few comments based on what we have seen. First, we mention the meeting, then below, some observations based on real experiences of citizens in Vancouver.
Panelists at the “Engaging Citizens in the political process” meeting (from organizer website) are:
• Prof. Max Cameron, Director of the UBC Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions, speaking on “A Framework for Engaging Citizens”
• Geoff Campbell, Citizens’ Assembly Foundation, seeking to make a new kind of Citizens’ Assembly a permanent part of government
• Tyrone Reitman, Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review, where citizen panels are now routinely convened to explore upcoming referendum questions in detail and provide unbiased evaluations to their fellow citizens
• Mark Milke, Fraser Institute, speaking on Switzerland’s Referendum and Initiative Processes, where voters can more easily make government backtrack if it goes too far
• Andrea Reimer, Vancouver City Councillor, speaking on the Mayor’s Advisory Committee (pdf) and other engagement processes being used or planned in Vancouver. (Tip: See CityHallWatch post about this committee.)
The meeting is downtown Vancouver and online, and is followed by an annual general meeting for Fair Voting BC from 4:45 to 5:15 pm
PartyX is a “community of tech innovators, activists, social entrepreneurs, and software developers around a vision for group decision-making applications, with the goal of nurturing consensus around an information sharing and storage protocol, and online decision-making tool kit.” (From website.)
Fair Voting BC is a non-partisan, registered, non-profit society which works for fair voting systems for all elections held in BC, whether for federal, provincial, or municipal legislatures or councils or for independent organizations such as societies, unions, coops or student councils. They support improvements in operating practices of elected bodies aimed at making government more representative, inclusive, transparent and accountable; such improvements could relate to campaign financing and disclosure rules, committee structures, or legislative conventions, amongst others. They also advocate increased opportunities for citizens and NGOs to be meaningfully engaged in policy development processes and favour improvements to BC’s initiative process. In the 2009 referendum campaign, FVBC served as the official proponent of the BC’s Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform’s recommendation that we adopt the Single Transferable Vote (BC-STV). (From website.)
Now, commentary from CityHallWatch. Looking around the world, we see many problems with political systems — and we see the same symptoms here in Vancouver. In the United States elections, we see super PACs and corporate influence in Washington. See Mother Jones, “Who Owns Congress? A campaign cash seating chart.” We see debates controlled so that elections are essentially a two-horse race, both horses controlled by big money. See Reclaim Democracy (Restoring Citizen Authority over Corporations), including how presidential debates are controlled (“Debating the Presidential Debates“). In Victoria, we see corporate influence corrupting the political system. See the efforts of IntegrityBC. In Ottawa, we see that federal party members’ biggest regret is that the are forced to compromise their personal beliefs to follow the party line. See the Samara organization’s exit interviews of federal members of Parliament. We know that political parties are using sophisticated data mining techniques to influence voters. See Media Democracy Days’ (Vancouver, November 2-3, 2012) main theme of new trends in political marketing. At MDD a panel will cover new trends in politics and political marketing, including the use of social media, polling strategies, and political messaging. People know that the mainstream media filter information and are often factually incorrect.We know that Canada is one of the worst in the world in terms of media concentration into a small number of hands. See Media Democracy Days.
Examples above are from other places, but all of these dynamics are at play in Vancouver.
The panel discussion of the Fair Voting BC event on October 27 is supposed to address these questions: Are citizens apathetic about politics, or simply excluded? What could draw them in?
This meeting may be an opportune time for someone to bring up issues so crucial to democracy in Vancouver. Here is just a short list of a few things that come to mind. Perhaps there is no single thing that must change, but all of the following.
- Despite low voter turnout in Vancouver (e.g., only about 17% (Robertson) or about 14% (other Vision councillors) of eligible voters actually voted for the current Mayor), eight of eleven votes in our municipal government are controlled by bloc voting, giving whoever influences the ruling party absolute control of the city
- Blatant violations of Vancouver Charter serious election rules regarding advertising occurred near a polling station (http://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/2011/11/19/alert-vision-vancouver-appears-to-violate-election-rules-on-polling-day/) with no punitive actions, and there were reports of voting irregularities in East Vancouver. People have a right to question the integrity of our election process and enforcement of rules
- Numerous problems with the electronic voting machines were discovered by an FOI but never reported to the public or to City Council (http://www.vancourier.com/news/Vancouver+voting+machine+ticks+trouble+losing+mayoral+candidate/6078967/story.html). Besides one story by Bob Mackin in the Courier, no media picked up on it. The implications of faulty electronic voting machines and failure to report should be a huge topic of concern.
- The Chief Election Officer is an employee of the City, potentially biasing his/her actions.
- Candidates were blocked from major live and broadcast debates for mayoral and councillor positions in 2011, leaving the voting public without the opportunity to hear their policies and opinions. Broadcasters could not point to any written policies for selecting candidates.
- The systemic corruption caused by excessive dependence on corporate and union donations (http://www.vancourier.com/columnists/Show+money+Vancouver+civic+election/5618648/story.html).
- The lack of continuous reporting of political donations outside of election period. And the absence of any auditing of candidates and party’s reports of campaign contributions. The weak reporting requirements of political gifts to Vancouver politicians.
- See how the various forces affect a local community on the ground, in a major rezoning favoring a political campaign contributor: “1401 Comox rezoning reveals nasty side of development game.”
- The disrespect toward citizens who make the effort to come forward to speak to Council (e.g., the “f-bomb” incident when Mayor targeted individual who simply asked for more time before he created a dubious committee) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IDcmUQa0WM)
- The difficulties citizens face when trying to address Council in person during daytime council meetings and long evening public hearings. Unpredictability of timing — a person could make repeated trips to council and take many hours from work or family, not knowing when his/her five minutes to speak will come up.
- The track record of our elected officials repeatedly ignoring the views of neighbourhoods in major rezoning and policy decisions (Could probably list about 30 cases in just the last 3 years — Shannon Mews, 1569 West 6th, Rize, 1401 Comox, and many more)
- The biased and substandard behavior exhibited by politically-appointed committees (http://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/more-task-forces-no-thanks/).
- Steady dismantling of checks and balances over the past few regimes in Council, such as the “third-party appeals” (http://www.reinstatethirdpartyappeals.org/).
- Politicians break their promises after getting elected based on election promises in person (Stevenson: prior to 2008 election http://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/media-release-creator-of-viral-f_ckin-hacks-video-premieres-integrity-at-public-hearing-for-controversial-1401-comox-tower-rezoning/) and in writing (as with Vision Vancouver’s survey responses to NSV in the 2008 civic election), even when reconfirming their promises right after being elected (http://nsvancouver.ca/images/stories/pdf/Election2008QuestionnaireResults/FinalVision-%26-COPE-Qs/All-V2-Vision_Vancouver.pdf).
- The failure of the mainstream media to cover critical civic issues (e.g., virtual media blackout before Metro Vancouver adopted the 30-year Regional Growth Strategy) and much, much more.
- Regarding data mining, CityHallWatch has heard of concerns in particular about Vision Vancouver’s mining of COPE data, about e-mail addresses being harvested from petitions to City Council and entered into a database at the Mayor’s Office for political newsletters, and about the risk that personal data could be mined for political purposes from various surveys being done by the city directly and by contractors such as Placespeak. These topics all deserve attention.
And this is just the beginning of a list. It could probably be easily tripled in length.