Randy Helten: This is Vancouver’s most important election in a generation

Randy Helten: This is Vancouver’s most important election in a generation
Randy Helten, November 14, 2011

We are at a major fork in the road. The collective choice of Vancouver voters on November 19 will determine how our city will develop for years to come, and is probably our city’s most important decision in more than a generation. Major land use policies adopted and implemented over the next three years will determine how Vancouver changes for decades to come, and these will affect every aspect of life in our city.

Fundamental change
Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV) offers a neighbourhood-based, democratic approach to city governance. We will be quite different from the Non-Partisan Association and Vision Vancouver, whose platforms offer strikingly similar positions on governance, land-use policy, and many other issues. NSV is a valid alternative. We offer fundamental change. Besides myself, the NSV team for council includes Nicole Benson, Marie Kerchum, Terry Martin, and Elizabeth Murphy, and we have even recommended candidates from other parties who we think we could work well with.

Reducing the influence of political donations
In the past, both the Non-Partisan Association and Vision Vancouver have taken office only with the support of millions of dollars in donations from special interests, largely from land developers, creating a vicious cycle of dependency and the most expensive civic elections in Canada. Regulators should never accept money from those they regulate. These parties do. Elected municipal officials who say that patronage from real estate and development interests has no bearing on their decisions are trying to deceive you—or they have deceived themselves. Municipal campaign finance reform is badly needed, and we will push for it. We are already putting our words into action, as NSV only accepts donations from individuals, and screens contributions large enough to require reporting to prevent the potential for conflicts of interest. In fact, voters too can take action immediately when they vote, by not rewarding those parties and candidates that rely so heavily on political donations.

Openness, transparency, efficiency
As mayor I will be committed to opening the doors of city hall, and will make decision-making processes more open, transparent and accountable, and services more efficient. I will restore media access to city hall, with regular briefings and an atmosphere of openness. I will work to improve freedom of information (FOI) processes. I will push city hall to implement many of the 1,000 “opportunities for changing the way that services are delivered” (in a series of “Vancouver Services Review” reports that have been suppressed under councils dominated by the NPA, COPE, and Vision Vancouver since 1998). We could save millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money and have more resources to deal with critical issues such as homelessness.

Principles, policies, checks, and balances
The citywide NSV network has worked for nearly a year to develop principles and policies needed at city hall. As just one example, the NSV team will work collaboratively with other members on council to seek provincial government amendments in the Vancouver Charter to reinstate the Third Party Appeals process, which functioned for nearly 50 years as an essential check on land-use decision-making. It once helped ensure a degree of balance provided and permitted diversity and flexibility, yet respected neighbourhood character and human scale. We need it back. (For more on our principles, see the NSV website.)

Restoring the neighbourhood voice
Having been to City Hall many times and observed from a citizen’s and neighbourhood perspective how it works, the NSV candidates know that changes are needed. NSV will initiate a process to examine and test public support for neighbourhood councils to ensure citizen input into the shaping of their communities, providing direct access not only to decisions on future development, but also on priorities for road and sewer repair, issues concerning noise and ambient lighting, transportation infrastructure, neighbourhood arts and culture policy, and the myriad other issues of concern to our neighbours that determine the livability of our city. With many of the ideas we wish to implement, I predict that neighbourhood relations with the city will improve and citizens will find that they spend less time dealing with city hall, letting them be more productive in their own pursuits and in the economy.

Fix the foundations and other things will settle into place. With the changes above, we will be able to better deal with all the issues before us, including homelessness, housing affordability, rentals, transportation, environment, and more. NSV offers a choice between two paths. One will keep our civic system dependent on political funding from special interests. The other will set our local government free to truly serve the people, including the most vulnerable in our society.

I am asking the citizens of Vancouver to give me and the NSV candidates for city council the chance to serve for the next three years. We pledge to work collaboratively and in good faith with all members of council for the good of our city and society.

My life in a paragraph
To choose me as the mayor of Vancouver, people will need get to know me very quickly. So here is my life in one paragraph. Born in Alberta; moved to B.C. at 13; schooled in Delta; ran an electronics import/marketing business; studied commerce at UBC; spent a decade in Asia mostly working on issues of the global finance, the environment, and sustainability; returned to a quiet life in Vancouver as a Japanese-English translator on corporate social responsibility; active in my local community at child’s school, promoting food security, emergency preparedness, speaking to city council; created CityHallWatch.ca and MetroVanWatch.ca as citizen watchdogs; and joined NSV. A few critical moments in my life were inspiration in the Himalayas at age 21 at a project for the poor; disappointment in Kyoto climate conference in 1997 at the institutional failure to address climate change; the birth of our child; the sudden appearance of a rezoning application in my neighbourhood completely at odds with the area’s urban design criteria; and a trip to Japan shortly after the recent tsunami and nuclear disaster. All of these have shaped my beliefs and convictions, and motivated me to do what I’m doing this month. A mayor not only cuts ribbons, but must also be an excellent leader and administrator. I believe I have the skills to take on the job, as I have worked with and led organizations of many types, many in the non-profit sector. Regarding management philosophy, I recall an article years ago in the Harvard Business Review about how top CEOs should study how non-profits are run, because it is there where people perform their best based on their own desire to contribute to the organization. This is would be my guide as leader at Vancouver city hall.

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