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On the Saturday morning of 22 October 2011, Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House (CCNH) sponsored an all-candidates meeting for the upcoming Vancouver civic election. This meeting appears to be the very first in a long string of upcoming opportunities to examine choices among persons running for Mayor and Council.
An emailed invitation to the event surprisingly bore the logo of the City of Vancouver itself [full pdf provided below].
A more correct description for the event would be a some-candidates meeting. The panel originally scheduled to sit up at the front table consisted of 3 from Vision Vancouver, 3 from NPA, and 2 from COPE. Explanation? The slots were allocated before electoral registration had concluded!
Provision — absolutely at the last minute — was made to accommodate a single candidate from Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV). The NSV candidate sat behind a crude hand-lettered place card, thus distinguished from all the others.
The math for this distribution of places in no way adds up. For starters, newcomer electoral organization NSV is running 5 candidates. Long-extant COPE is running only 3, after opting for a restrictive partnership with Vision Vancouver back in June. From a broader perspective, the three established parties have a total of 22 candidates for Mayor and Council, running against 31 others. The CCNH ratios gave the three parties now in power 8 out of 22 places, but only 1 out of 31 places to all the rest of the candidates.
As people arrived at CCNH, they were asked to "sign in." When I asked (more than once) why I needed to do this, "security" eventually emerged as the rationale word. After signing in, I was followed and handed a name tag and a slip on which I could write out one question [see scan attached]. A check-back on the way out showed that 107 attenders had signed in. The meeting room had about 70 chairs, almost all filled, plus over 30 people standing around the edge of the room.
Four of the candidates laid claim to their proximity to the CCNH: Mike Klassen near Fraser Street, Andrea Reimer near Trout Lake, R.J. Aquino in Collingwood, and Kerry Jang in Collingwood.
A tight format excluded all live voices except those of the CCNH emcee, the candidates, and interpreters. Each of the 9 panelists opened with a two-minute presentation, in order of stage right to stage left: Tim Louis (COPE), Mike Klassen (NPA), Andrea Reimer (VV), R.J. Aquino (COPE), Elizabeth Murphy (NSV), Suzanne Anton (NPA), Kerry Jang (VV), Bill McCreery (NPA), Geoff Meggs (VV). Next, each candidate was asked one question and allowed brief response — except that Jang and McCreery each got two questions. The question set went in this order: Louis, McCreery, Jang, Anton, Meggs, Reimer, Klassen, Murphy, Aquino, Jang, McCreery. Jang's second question, about a recent proposal for a Little Saigon designation along Kingsway, had two interpretations, one apparently in Vietnamese. One other striking anomaly: starting only with Kerry Jang as third responder, answers as well as questions were interpreted into Chinese (Louis and McCreery got skipped). At the end, each panelist had one minute for a summation, with the order of the opening round reversed.
Five other candidates were recognized for their presence in the audience: Sandy Garossino (Independent), Jason Lamarche (NPA), Raymond Louie (VV), Terry Martin (NSV), Ellen Woodsworth (COPE).
The event started at 10:00 am with all but one candidate present. Suzanne Anton arrived at 10:18.
To avoid subjectivity, no particular account is given here of the content of questions or responses. The emcee stated that copies of all questions will be compiled and distributed to the panelists.
Several aspects of this forum were troubling. Points already covered or implicit:
• The dubious regimentation and registration impeding entry to the event
• The premature and disproportionate planning for presentation of three parties only
• The greater and different attention accorded to certain presenters
• The opaque selection and ordering of questions
• The actual content of translations out of English (independent scrutineer needed)
• The ultimate nature and use of any gathered voter information
The most troubling aspect of all, and one that only compounds those already mentioned, is that Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House is an arm of the City of Vancouver. It seems extremely inappropriate for City employees to so directly facilitate the campaigning of Council members under whose administration they currently serve (or potentially in the future may serve) as paid employees. Especially considering that three of the four self-announced "in-the-neighbourhood" panelists come from the presently dominant Vision—COPE "alliance."
Upcoming meetings that will deserve the same scrutiny given to this event seem scheduled to occur at Hastings Community Centre October 27, Marpole Place on October 27, Killarney Community Centre on October 27, West End Community Centre on November 2, Douglas Park Community Centre on November 5 or 6, and Roundhouse Community Centre on November 9. All of these events seem to be generated by the facilities themselves rather than some other independent community group such as Grandview-Woodland Area Council. Further special attention needs to be directed at any requirement whatsoever for "registration."
These concerns fade away to nothingness when compared with those surrounding Council candidates (the Vision—NPA axis) who take large donations from developers and then go on to approve rezonings that return massive financial benefit to those same contributors.
Once conflict-of-interest situations get started in the body politic, they seem to metastasize.