Decision-making must come back to the local level if neighbourhood sustainability is to be achieved

Randy Helten, November 17, 2011
Vancouver Sun

Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver is a real alternative for voters in the 2011 civic election, probably the most important one in a generation. In addition to Vision Vancouver and the Non-Partisan Association, NSV is the only other elector organization that has a mayoral candidate and a slate for city council.

Since 2007 NSV has been a citizen-based network of groups and individuals in neighbourhoods across the city who have extensive experience dealing with City Hall. [View partial list]. The Sam Sullivan/Suzanne Anton NPA-dominated council was largely rejected in 2008, in part due to unsupported policies, and Vision swept into power. Vision promised change but instead has further reinforced and implemented the NPA’s principles and policies.

A crisis has been unfolding in Vancouver over the past several years. Neighbourhoods and citizens from all parts of the city have been forced to spend much time and energy dealing with policies and decisions being imposed by City Hall. NSV would like to change the way of doing things and make City Hall operate much more efficiently and harmoniously with the public.

Our vision is for “real democracy” in a livable, sustainable city. The letters N, S, and V say what we are all about. Neighbourhood-based decision-making. Sustainability (social, ecological and financial). And Vancouver-based solutions that accommodate growth in ways that suit the unique character of Vancouver its neighbourhoods.

Our principles and policies were developed over the past year in consultation with neighbourhood groups, and centre on campaign finance reform and the strengthening of neighbourhood representation. Their details were released weeks ago (http://nsvancouver.ca/about-us/principles/).

The most fundamental issue at stake is the influence of political donations on our city government’s decision making. The regulation of land use is a major function of any city council, and it is common sense that regulators should not be funded by those they regulate. This is the crux of the problem being experienced by neighbourhoods. At about $5 million in total, spending on the 2008 civic election was the most expensive in Canada per voter and the 2011 election is likely to be higher.

Developers and unions donate to both of the major parties, representing a large source of funds. Donations to Vision Vancouver also include large sums from organizations with ideological connections. It is our observation that political donations are probably the most important influence on decision-making and one of the main distinctions between NSV and the other main contenders.

This election the Vision and the NPA are reported to be spending about $2.5 million each on their campaigns.

NSV, however, receives donations only from individuals, and rejects any that could pose a conflict of interest. And this probably makes all the difference. Elected officials from NSV will be free to truly do what elected officials are supposed to do: consider the public interest first and foremost, and balance the needs of all stakeholders in society. We believe that this new approach will do more than anything else to restore public confidence in city hall.

NSV acknowledges the need for ongoing development to meet future growth.

NSV supports sustainable development in a scale, pace and form that protects heritage buildings, affordable rental housing and neighbourhood character, implemented through genuine grassroots neighbourhood-based planning processes.

Affordable and social housing should also be a priority and designed to perform well within the scale and character of each neighbourhood.

We believe that policies promoted by both Vision and the NPA actually escalate land prices and promote gentrification, which hurt housing affordability and contradict efforts to fight homelessness.

Our hundred-point policies and principles are detailed and will mean far-reaching changes in the way our city and region operate. We will restore openness at city hall.

Since NSV is unencumbered by the developer campaign funding of the other two parties, NSV has no obligations to reward special donors and interests.

Therefore, NSV will be able to better serve Vancouver as a whole and the public’s best interests than either Vision Vancouver or the NPA.

Randy Helten is the mayoral candidate for Neighbourhoods for Sustainable Vancouver.

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