The following is reprinted from Councillor Guy Heywood’s blog titled ‘Thoughts of a ‘retiring’ Councillor”:
While democracy may not be dead at the local level in North Vancouver, there is going to be less of it in the future. There are going to be fewer opportunities for citizens to have influence on their local governments for several reasons:
1. Longer terms. After the election in November it will be four years until the next one. So if you don’t like the direction your mayor and council are going, it be an extra year before you will be able to vote them out.
2. The provincial government’s failure to reform local election financing. Developers and unions that have the greatest interest in council decisions and which are the main contributors to the campaigns of Councillors and Mayors that support their objectives, are free to continue to do so and their better financed campaigns will drown out the voices of independents and suppress serious discussion about the future of our communities.
3. Official Community Plans are pretty much finished. The District finished theirs last year and the the City is almost finished it’s latest one. In the City, staff is seeking to extend the horizon of the plan to 30 years. Most planners would prefer not to expose the land use planning process to public scrutiny any more frequently than absolutely necessary. It could be 20 years longer until the next mandatory review of the plan and opportunity to ask planners fundamental questions about land use policy and its impact on the community.
4. Media restructuring. The ability of local media to provide coverage of local politics in smaller municipalities is already overtaxed given the revenue sources they have available to them. The editorial and reporting capability North Vancouver Outlook was a victim of the last wave of retrenchment. Social media (Twitter, Facebook and blogs) is growing, but it is not clear if it can fill the gap.
Adding to the challenge in North Vancouver, there is likely a majority of people who don’t know if their government is the one on 14th and Lonsdale or the one at 29th and Mahon. Is their biggest concern a shared service (police, recreation)? Or is it a duplicated one (library, fire halls)? Do they want a bike lane on the north side of parts of Keith Road or 29th Street (District) or on the south side (in the City) and who is responsible for painting the line down the middle? I can understand why someone not directly involved in local politics loses patience and gives up.
Normal pressures of everyday life just don’t leave enough time to figure out how vote or otherwise influence our complicated local government structure. Without declared parties to frame the issues and connect them to overarching ideologies and perspective, the citizen who may want to vote feels lost and, 4 times out of 5 in North Vancouver, they don’t bother other to participate at all in the election of the government that arguably influences their lives the most on a day to day basis.
Mind you, it is also possible that people who are lucky enough to live in a place as fabulous as North Vancouver are predisposed to trust that the people in charge will do the right thing.
But what if those people in charge, blinded by inertia and self interest, are not doing right by the community? What if there is an unacceptable level of duplication and lack of coordination between North Vancouver’s two governments 15 blocks apart? What if this becomes painfully obvious when long term plans for land use, density and infrastructure are being developed? And what if it is getting worse the longer it is allowed to persist?
From 2005 to 2013 City and District government expenditures grew by 46% and 40/% respectively, the economy and average family incomes grew by around 8%. With requirements to fund a new sewage treatment plant, and other projects like Harry Jerome or the new $30 million waterfront attraction that Mayor Mussatto would would like to build, we can’t keep sticking our collective heads in the sand.
Citizens of North Vancouver deserve to be confident that our local governments are spending our money wisely. That it is not being spent on duplicated overhead and that major projects affecting all North Vancouver are being properly managed. I am not confident at all. I believe there is a lot at stake and that we are on the wrong track.
I thought my concerns could be addressed by taking up a standing offer the Province makes for any local governments that wants to look at restructuring. This suggestion was welcomed by District Council, but met with fierce resistance at the City. Mayor Mussatto went so far as to bully the President of the Chamber of Commerce for expressing the Chamber’s support for the idea of a study. The City Manager then wrote a report strongly recommending against the initiative (surprise) which resulted in the motion failing by a 4 to 3 vote at Council.
While the study is not going ahead, the ferocity of the resistance to it is very troubling. I am now more convinced that all citizens of North Vancouver would benefit from an objective look into the shape and effectiveness of our local governments. But when the chances to ask those questions are going to get fewer and farther apart I fear that it is not going to happen. Does anyone else share my concern?