Tackling the powerlessness of Vancouver residents

Tackling the powerlessness of Vancouver residents
Nicole Benson, November 11, 2011

At age 27, with a background in education, people inevitably ask me why I’ve decided to run for Vancouver city council. The answer is actually quite simple: it’s time to take a stand on behalf of Vancouver residents who want a say in the future of their city.

I have been an advocate for bringing democratic practices into the education system that reflect the kind of participation we’d like to see in wider society. Last April, I defended my master’s thesis on social justice education and I have given several workshops on the topic. One key point that I always make is that we must look at countering the powerlessness of our students. In the traditional education system, students are expected to do what the teacher says how the teacher says when the teacher says. I do not believe that this is an effective system if we want our students to grow into passionate, responsible adults who, in addition to other contributions, exercise their right to vote.

All people have the right to participate in the decision-making processes that guide the conditions of their lives and their communities. In Vancouver, the influence of big development companies in election campaigns and in city planning processes has eroded community voice. That is why I am taking a stand with Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV). We are dedicated to bringing the power back to the people. For me, this means at least three things:

  1. Citizens must be encouraged to participate in decision-making at both a community and city level. Many neighbourhood councils and residents associations already exist. The City of Vancouver must facilitate participation in these initiatives so that they are made up of diverse citizens that are representative of their neighbourhoods. Where community visioning plans do not exist, city council and staff need to work with neighbourhoods on creating them, taking into account factors such as expected density and the provision for social housing. Communities must be respected by city hall as partners in these planning processes. When ideas for new projects come in, all information regarding such projects must be available— transparency must be a central tenet of city hall operations.
  2. Council must be free from the influence of corporate interests, or any private group that may cause a conflict of interest. For the last six years, we have seen that the municipal political parties with the heaviest campaign financing win elections, and they then favour their donors—primarily big development companies—over the interests of Vancouver communities. In the next term of council, Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver will implement campaign-finance reform, including restrictions on donation amounts and campaign spending limits. Elections must offer a fair process for voters, one based on principles, not dollars.
  3. We all need to work together. Councillors must work with the citizens of Vancouver, engaging the diverse communities that comprise our city in ways described above, demonstrating a willingness to listen and to learn. We have to build an environment of trust and mutual respect where all stakeholders feel they have an equal place at the negotiating table. Councillors must also work cooperatively with one another. Through collaboration we can build on the knowledge, skills, and passions of each council member in order to ensure a healthy team dedicated to serving the interests of the people of Vancouver.

I believe that a better Vancouver is possible—one in which communities work together to ensure the greatest good for the greatest number of people. But this will only be possible if people know that they are being listened to and that their input matters. I am dedicated to serving the people of this city, to working collaboratively toward the creation an affordable, peaceful, and sustainable Vancouver, a Vancouver that respects and honours its citizens.

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