Fight for our Kids: OneCity’s statement on Advocacy, the VSB Trustees and Public Education

In mid-October, Education Minister Mike Bernier fired the Vancouver School Board of Trustees because the Board refused to pass a budget that required debilitating cutbacks. Since that time, accusations have swirled; senior staff have resigned; and shots have been fired in all directions. Who are the real losers? Vancouver's kids, families, and school staff members, who lost a democratically elected leadership team that was genuinely committed to serving our kids.

One question that has come up over and over again since the firing: should it be the role of the school board to act as advocates for public education? Bernier - and others - have suggested that some school trustees were prioritizing advocacy for funding over requirements to pass a balanced budget (ironically, of course, the Trustees were set to pass a balanced budget the same day they were fired). Fighting for better conditions for kids shouldn't be the first priority of the Trustees, they said.

It soon, however, came out that not all trustees were guilty of prioritizing advocacy. NPA trustees, keen to preserve their relationship with the BC Liberals, circulated a letter to supporters and made public comment stating that advocacy needs to take a back seat to "stewardship". Once again, they acted as Christy Clark’s lapdog, and stood up for a government that bafflingly, despite surpluses, continues to sacrifice kids by chiseling away at education budget.

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The Sad Housing Lessons of Little Mountain

How the province and city sacrificed opportunity for social and affordable housing in favour of private interests. 

Initially published at The Tyee:

There’s a huge, hard-to-miss vacant lot near the corner of 35th Avenue and Main Street in Vancouver. Until 2007, that 15-acre vacant lot was a thriving, successful social housing community — Little Mountain. 

Little Mountain’s 224 units were built after the Second World War to house returning veterans. Thousands of families lived there over more than 60 years.

Until March 2007, when residents began to be pushed from their homes and the community was destroyed by BC Housing, which owned the land, and its masters in the BC Liberal government. 

On July 26, almost a decade later, Vancouver city council approved a development plan prepared by the Holborn Group, a huge Malaysian corporation. The company plans to build 1,500 new units, with the vast majority — about 1,200 — high-end condos. The bulldozed social housing units will be replaced and fewer than 50 additional social housing or “affordable” apartments will be built. Construction won’t be finished for at least 10 years. 

And one of the greatest opportunities for new social and affordable housing in Vancouver will have been lost forever.

What can we learn from this sad, sad story? What should have been done at Little Mountain?

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Campaign finance reform must be more than a ban on big money

Originally published in The Georgia Straight, June 3 2016

It seems as if almost everyone is talking about campaign finance reform lately.  It’s no wonder.  The vast and obscene donations tied up in political campaigns distort and deform the electoral process, making “big money” the critical factor in determining who governs.  

Vancouver is a perfect example of the problem as developers pour millions into the process – and expect and get a handsome return on their investments.  During the 2014 election the two largest parties, Vision and the NPA received over five and a half million dollars in donations.

For many, Campaign Finance Reform starts and ends with a call to ban corporate and union donations to political parties.

We at OneCity start somewhere else entirely.

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Affordability is the real issue in Grandview-Woodlands

The Vision and NPA City Council have done it again: they’ve proposed a development that doesn’t deal with the desperate need for affordable and social housing, and at the same time makes many members of the community angry.

The conversation about  the proposed Kettle development on the corner of Venables and Commercial has started up again this month, with the release of a design visualization, which includes a 12-storey building, in a neighbourhood where a four-storey limit has been the norm.

Although the project stands to offer some benefit to the Kettle Society’s important work, and would contribute some much-needed supportive housing, the only real winner - at this point - is the developer, Boffo Properties.

The Kettle Society is a non-profit that provides housing, employment and advocacy support for people living with mental illnesses. Their Venables Street centre is too small and needs many upgrades, and wait-lists are growing. Understandably and admirably, the Kettle wishes to expand and gain new facilities, and offer more supportive housing for its clients.

While in an ideal world public funds would support and house our most vulnerable, the Kettle has been realistic and pragmatic, and partnered with Boffo Properties to redevelop the corner of Venables and Commercial.

Unfortunately, the Kettle, and the neighbourhood, seems likely to be shortchanged in this transaction.

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