(Epilogue: Regular Council on October 18 adopted this list as presented, with only Clrs DeGenova and Carr opposed. It turned out during discussions that none of the ten councillors had provided the mayor with the expected ranked list of ten neighbourhoods they would like to represent. The mayor provided no explanation for his selection. Several councillors stated that they would continue to accept contacts from all citizens even while being listed as a Liaison Councillor” for specific neighbourhoods.)
(Update. On December 14, 2016, City Manager Sadhu Johnston sent a message to Council clarifying the role of Council Liaisons on advisory committees, and the role of Neighbourhood Councillor Liaisons: http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/2016-12-14-clarification-of-roles-of-council-liaisons-rts-11788.PDF)
The Regular Council agenda for Tuesday, October 18, 2016 carries one item listed as Communication: “Appointment of Neighbourhood Councillor Liaisons.” A one page memorandum to Council from the Mayor is posted there, but no other background or explanation, so we have put together some material about this topic. We welcome your further comments and observations.
Is this an innocent idea to turn Councillors into “concierges”? Or is is a covert attempt to create a ward system and secure more votes in the next election? Or something in between?
Whatever the case, the idea goes right to the DNA of how the City of Vancouver functions. Whatever the intentions, much will depend on how the system is implemented, and how citizens take it up.
The initial idea purportedly came from the Council-created “Engaged City Task Force” in 2015 and later appeared in the form of a motion proposed by Councillor Andrea Reimer. The motion was approved by the majority-holding Vision Vancouver mayor and councillors on January 20, 2016, despite opposing votes by all other councillors — three NPAs and one Green. In fact, the opponents said at the time that they would boycott the initiative if it went ahead. But here we have it, a list in which the Mayor assigns the ten councillors, in pairs of two each, to each of the 22 “areas of the city.”
So again, is this a strategy by Vision Vancouver to improve its re-election prospects for the October 2018 civic election? Or is the role “more akin to that of a concierge: intended to be a welcoming first point of contact for someone to the City,” as explained by Clr Reimer?
Below we look at the system, how it was created, and some considerations.
First, the list. Below, we have colour-coded the names of Councillors with blue for Vision Vancouver, red for the NPA, and green for Green party). We have also included asterisks * where two Vision councillors are listed in one neighbourhood. Mayor Gregor Robertson has this preface to the list: “I recommend that the following Councillors be appointed as Neighbourhood Councillor Liaisons effective from the date of appointment to the end of this term of office.”
|West Point Grey||Stevenson||Carr|
Now, let’s look further. Below are links to official meetings and materials, plus our own comments/analysis, and media links. Here is a tally how many neighbourhoods the mayor has allocated to each councillor:
- Carr: 4
- Affleck: 4
- Ball: 4
- DeGenova: 4
- Deal: 5
- Jang: 5
- Louie: 5
- Meggs: 5
- Stevenson: 3
- Reimer: 5
Download the Mayor’s memorandum: http://council.vancouver.ca/20161018/documents/comm1.pdf
This idea was controversial when the policy was adopted by Council on January 20, 2016 (See agenda item #9 on that day, including video. See minutes of Jan 20 for flow of discussion). The motion #6 by Clr Andrea Reimer including “expectations” for this role was on January 19 (click agenda for more).
Observations and points:
- It is not clear what the significance of being in the first or second column of names, but Robertson has allocated the first column exclusively to Vision Vancouver councillors. It is also not clear to us if all councillors participated in the process (giving a list of ten preferred neighbourhoods).
- Vision councillors all are allocated to five neighbourhoods, with the exception of Stevenson (with three). The NPA and Green councillors only get four neighbourhoods each. In contrast, the NPA and Green councillors actually got more votes each than any of the Vision councillors.
- In six of 22 neighbourhoods, both slots are allocated to Vision Vancouver.
- In the 2014 civic election the difference between the last vote-getters elected and the next few candidates was very small. See table below showing the top 13 vote getters. A small difference in the last two (Meggs and Stevenson) would have dramatically changed the outcome. Instead of having absolute power on City Council with 7 of 11 votes (vs 3 NPA and 1 Green), Vision Vancouver would have ended up with just five, the NPA with five, and Green with one. Could this “Neighbourhood Councillor Liaison” role be intended to improve the odds for Vision Vancouver in 2018?
- In January 2016, “Councillor Carr, who topped the polls in the last civic election, pledges to continue representing all residents equally.” In her media statement she asked “What problem is this supposed to solve? Knowing which Councillor to contact, as the motion suggests, is certainly not the problem I’m hearing about.”
- The “expectations” of the Neighbourhood Liaison Councillors (see minutes below) say “Councillor Liaisons are listed as a contact for a neighbourhood, residents remain free to contact any member of Councillor; The Councillor Liaison is NOT intended to be the conduit for information to or from the City.” However, much will depend on how this plays out through actual implementation.
- In a less politicized environment, would the intentions of the plan for these Neighbourhood Liaison Councillors be seen as more sincere? Vancouver is unusual in this province for having civic parties and huge amounts of money from corporate and union donors involved. The election campaigns in 2014 were over $6 million, and in addition, the civic parties are not required to disclose their donations and expenditures in the three years between elections. Vision Vancouver is spending an estimated $500,000 a year between elections. Who is paying for that? Most municipalities in BC and Canada do NOT have political parties. This idea of Liaisons must be seen within that context.
- When the policy was adopted on January 20, 2016, only one speaker addressed Council, and even then, only “generally supportive” of the idea. Although Council had received at least one letter in opposition, it was not mentioned in the official record.
- Though the “Engaged City Task Force” is credited with creating the idea, no residents’ association is reported to have been consulted on it. All their meetings were private, none public. Minutes of their meetings had to be obtained by formal inquiries under Freedom of Information legislation. They provided no metric to substantiate their claim that citizens had such a huge problem knowing which councillor to contact.
- The City is to review this system by the end of 2018. Note that this is AFTER the 2018 civic election.
- The policy includes “requiring each councillor to represent specific neighbourhoods in Vancouver, and working with local organizations to hold one public event in their designated neighbourhoods per year.” That may be an opportunity for citizens to test this system.
- It would also be interesting to see if there is any correlation between the allocation of councillors to neighbourhoods where one of the parties had strong or weak support in the past, or where controversy has been boiling.
So what do you think? Time will tell.
TABLE: VOTES FOR THE TOP 13 CANDIDATES FOR CITY COUNCILLOR IN 2014 CIVIC ELECTION
|4||DE GENOVA, Melissa||NPA||63134||YES|
MINUTES OF JANUARY 20, 2016 COUNCIL MEETING ON THIS TOPIC
FINAL MOTION AS APPROVED:
1. Council established the Engaged City Task Force, a committee of 22 residents, in 2012 to provide recommendations on how to improve engagement;
2. One of the most persistent barriers raised by residents trying to engage with City Hall is not knowing which Councillor to contact;
3. The Engaged City Task Force recommended establishing Neighbourhood Councillor Liaisons, based on the 22 planning areas in Vancouver, and Council supported this recommendation when it accepted the task force’s interim report in June 2013;
4. Staff have requested direction from Council on the structure of appointment of Neighbourhood Councillor Liaisons in order that they can implement this outstanding recommendation;
5. School and Park Board have had a system of elected liaisons to schools and community centres respectively in place for many years to ensure residents with concerns have an initial point of contact, while still being able to contact all elected members;
6. The School and Park Board system of appointment consists of elected members providing their preferences to the Chair of the respective boards and the Chair makes a recommendation to the full board for approval;
7. This practice is consistent with the approach currently used by Council to appoint Councillors to internal and external positions.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED
A. THAT Council adopt the Neighbourhood Councillor Liaison appointment process as outlined in Appendix A of the motion approved by Council on January 13, 2016, entitled, “Appointment of Neighbourhood Councillor Liaisons” and reproduced below:
NEIGHBOURHOOD COUNCILLOR LIAISON APPOINTMENT PROCESS
1. The appointment of the Neighbourhood Councillor Liaisons is to be initiated by the Mayor, or their designate.
2. Formal notice of a request for desired neighbourhoods will be issued by the Mayor, or their designate.
3. Upon receipt of this request, Councillors will have a minimum of two weeks to a maximum stipulated in the notice, to provide their request for desired neighbourhoods.
4. Submission of this request must be in written form and provide a ranked list of neighbourhoods with a minimum of ten ranked choices.
5. It is not mandatory but suggested that Councillors provide additional information that helps the Mayor, or their designate, assess the best fit for each neighbourhood. It may make sense for more than one Councillor to be recommended as a liaison to a neighbourhood.
6. The Mayor will make a recommendation to Council for appointment of the Neighbourhood Councillor Liaisons at a subsequent Council meeting.
For the purposes of community planning, Vancouver has 22 defined “Areas of the City”.
B. THAT staff be directed to conduct a review of the Neighbourhood Councillor Liaison function no later than the end of 2018, to assess if the function is meeting the expectations generally set out by the Engaged City Task Force and as outlined in Appendix B of the motion approved by Council on January 13, 2016, entitled, “Appointment of Neighbourhood Councillor Liaisons”, and reproduced below:
EXPECTATIONS FOR NEIGHBOURHOOD COUNCILLOR LIAISONS
a. Expectations of Neighbourhood Councillor Liaisons – excerpt from Engaged City Task Force Interim Report:
The city-wide election process prevents residents from formally having an identified go-to councillor for issues in their neighbourhood. The City should reinvigorate the Council liaison positions by requiring each councillor to represent specific neighbourhoods in Vancouver, and working with local organizations to hold one public event in their designated neighbourhoods per year, with a focus on enhancing knowledge of city services and processes, and connecting people to City Hall. There may be an opportunity for these liaisons to work through the rotating mini-City Halls to create regular engagement with a particular neighbourhood.
b. Other Considerations
In addition to the direction provided by the Engaged City Task Force, and in anticipation of questions from Councillors and residents, the following points are intended to provide some broad guidance on the role of Neighbourhood Councillor Liaisons based on successful practices from many years of the the School and Park Board liaison roles.
• The main goal of the Neighbourhood Councillor Liaison program is to improve access and service to residents, organizations and businesses;
• The role of the Councillor Liaison is more akin to that of a concierge: intended to be a welcoming first point of contact for someone to the City with the intention of linking that individual into the appropriate staff, department, service or Councillor in an issue related context (ie. a Heritage related policy inquiry may be directed to the Council liaisons to Heritage Action Plan);
• While Councillor Liaisons are listed as a contact for a neighbourhood, residents remain free to contact any member of Councillor;
• The Councillor Liaison is NOT intended to be the conduit for information to or from the City. It is expected that organizations at the neighbourhood level such as BIAs or residents organizations continue to connect directly with relevant staff in planning, economic development or other relevant departments.
From CityHallWatch – here are some related links on the topic.
“Neighbourhood Councillor Liaisons” motion (Jan 20): Concerns listed by Upper Kitsilano Residents Association: https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/2016/01/19/neighbourhood-councillor-liaisons-concerns-ukra/
Neighbourhood councillor liaisons to provide a point of contact for residents
Moved opposed by NPA’s George Affleck who calls it a disguised attempt to return to the ward system (CBC, 22-Jan-2016): http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/neighbourhood-councillor-liaisons-to-provide-a-point-of-contact-for-residents-1.3415938
“Appointing councillors as neighbourhood liaisons will provide better service to Vancouver residents,” by Andrea Reimer, 19-Jan-2016: http://www.straight.com/news/619016/andrea-reimer-appointing-councillors-neighbourhood-liaisons-will-provide-better-service
Councillor Carr, who topped the polls in the last civic election, pledges to continue representing all residents equally (Green Party of Vancouver), 21-Jan-2016: http://www.vangreens.ca/carr_pledges_to_continue_representing_all_residents_equally
Statement by Councillor George Affleck:
VISION TO CREATE THEIR OWN WARD SYSTEM
In a motion coming to Council this week, Vision plans to ignore previous referendums in Vancouver which turned down a ward system, and create their own “ward” system disguised by the more friendly term entitled “neighbourhood liaison.” If you are not aware, all BC municipal government representatives are elected “at large.” That means they are to represent their communities as a whole.
The 22 “liaisons” will be controlled and chosen out of the mayor’s office. Whether or not you support wards, which if we had them would be democratically elected individuals for a neighbourhood by the people of that ward, what Vision is planning is one of the most politically motivated moves in their 8-year reign of a city that is quickly moving, unknowingly to most, more and more to centralized power in the mayor’s office.
Most people and media have noticed that since being elected in 2008, Vision simply rubber-stamps decisions that come before Council because they have been vetted in the back room and their minds are made up. This is highly disrespectful to the many people who sign up to speak and give us their opinion before we make a decision — for or against.
This motion, which comes from the recently demoted Deputy Mayor now simply titled Councillor Reimer, on neighbourhood liaisons takes Vision’s anti-democratic style of governance to a new level. If you read it, the plan is for the mayor’s office to decide which neighbourhood a councillor gets. This is a sure fire way to ensure one political party or another will be able to make inroads into some of the neighbourhoods that have swing voters election to election and build on those neighbourhoods that are already a solid base of traditional supporters of one party or another.
I for one cannot see myself supporting this motion. I was elected to represent Vancouver at large, not one neighbourhood over another.
If a neighbourhood or resident of the city needs to speak to me, they know where to find me. If you can’t find my contact information on the city website, here are my contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org or call me direct at 604-873-7248
Full wording of the motion noted above can be found here: