The DIRTY politics that is sabotaging the ward system in Vancouver and Surrey

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Chinese-Canadian Vancouver Councillors: Kerry Jang , Raymond Louie ,

Tony Tang 

 

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South Asian Surrey Councillors: Tom Gill, Barinder Rasode

 

LAST week, I noted: “Newton’s problems could be resolved with a ward system for Surrey as the city’s councillors don’t really seem to care about the problems of this area.

“Former mayoral candidate Ross Buchanan noted a couple of years ago: “To me a ‘Better Surrey’ is created on a solid foundation of the ward system which will improve safety, reduce violence and foster accountability. We need wards. Our neighbourhoods are the backbone of our city and we need the ward system to help strengthen the communities.”

The next civic election takes place on November 15 – the third Saturday of November – and it’s a SHAME that the issue of wards is being completely ignored.

Many white politicians are desperate to hold on to power at any cost – even if it means that a REAL democracy like the ward system of Toronto is ignored.

And even the white-controlled mainstream media has been supporting the “at-large” system in which councillors are elected

For many years now, I have been waging a war against the undemocratic “at-large” system.

But ironically, now it may actually be in the interest of the white guys to have a ward system as both Vancouver and Surrey become INCREASINGLY non-white, or there will come the day when we might not have a single white face on city councils!

Of Vancouver City’s 10 councillors, only three are Chinese-Canadians (Kerry Jang, Raymond Louie and Tony Tang), while seven are white; the mayor is white, too.

But is 70 per cent of Vancouver’s population white?

NO!

Of Surrey’s eight councillors, only two are South Asians (Tom Gill and Barinder Rasode), while six are white; the mayor is white, too.

But is 75 per cent of Surrey’s population white?

NO!

There is nothing wrong in having a white person elected from a ward that is overwhelmingly non-white if the electorate there thinks the person is a smart, honest politician, just as there is nothing wrong with a non-white guy winning an election in an overwhelmingly white ward for the same reason.

But an at-large system completely distorts democracy for reasons mentioned below.

 

NAME RECOGNITION, BIG MONEY

 

IN 2004, Charlie Smith, who is currently the Editor of the highly popular Vancouver newspaper, Georgia Straight, exposed former Vancouver mayor Philip Owen, who had suddenly become a fierce opponent of the ward system just when a referendum was to take place in Vancouver on it.
In the 1984 civic election, when Owen lost to a COPE candidate by only 229 votes, he told the Vancouver Sun he didn’t have any “big hangups” about a ward system. This was the second straight time that he had failed to get elected to the 10-member Vancouver City Council by coming 11th. And Owen told the Vancouver Sun that he would probably have been on Council if there had been a ward system.
Interestingly, Campbell came up with other excuses, too. He claimed that Gordon Campbell – who was elected to Vancouver city council in 1984 and was mayor of Vancouver for three successive terms from 1986 to 1993 and who was premier from 2001 to 2010 – had beaten him because Gordon shared the same last name as former mayor Tom Campbell and Kim Campbell, who was then a school trustee and who later became the Prime Minister.
That is called NAME RECOGNITION which gives such well-known people an UNFAIR ADVANTAGE over others who may be more competent.

Owen told the Vancouver Sun at the time that the at-large system was “totally into a name identification system.” And as Charlie Smith reported, Owen added that under the at-large system, “all the incumbents get in,” making it more difficult for newcomers.
That Vancouver Sun article pointed out that Owen, who was just starting out as a politician, opposed the at-large system and had told people that a ward system would make it easier for candidates to meet voters.
But in 2004, this same man began imploring Vancouverites NOT to vote for a ward system!
Interestingly, in that same 1984 article, the then-mayor Mike Harcourt – who later became the Premier – was quoted as saying that it was a “disgrace” that voters in the at-large system must go through dozens of names to pick candidates for city council, the school board, and the park board to vote. Harcourt urged Vancouverites to vote for a ward system as it would give them A GREATER SAY in the way their city is run.
Harcourt said: “If you want your city councillors to be accountable for decisions that affect your neighbourhood, then only a yes vote for wards makes sense on October 16 [2004] … In my 14 years as Mayor and Councillor I tried hard to bring in wards because I saw how the at-large system favours BIG MONEY and PARTY POLITICS over ordinary citizens, independent voices and communities … I’m now working to improve cities across Canada and I know that EVERY MAJOR CANADIAN CITY has a ward system that works well, is AFFORDABLE and gives ordinary citizens a voice on the decisions that affect them.”
Campbell noted: “The at-large system … shuts out INDEPENDENT and ETHNIC voices.”
He added: “Vancouver is a great city because it’s a diverse city, but that’s not represented under the at-large system and that will hold us back.” [Capitalizations mine for emphasis.]

 

SHAMELESS SABOTAGE OF 2004

 

IN that crucial year of 2004, it seemed that the Vancouver Sun’s editorial pages had been taken over by the right-wing Fraser Institute. The newspaper shamelessly flip-flopped on the introduction of the democratic wards system in Vancouver.
Vancouverites rejected the ward system by 35,813 votes (54 per cent) to 30,499 votes (46 per cent). The turnout was ONLY 22.6 PER CENT.
It was quite obvious that many right-wing rich white folks across the city came out to vote against the wards, thanks mainly to the propaganda carried out by the Vancouver Sun, The Fraser Institute and other right-wingers.
Just a few years earlier, in an editorial, the Vancouver Sun had pointed out:
“The at-large system DOES NOTHING to foster a sense of personal involvement with a bewildering number of candidates, 44 choices for council alone in Vancouver … What would restore the feeling of INCLUSION is a RETURN TO THE WARD SYSTEM.” [Capitalization mine for emphasis.]
The same editorial then pointed out: “Unsurprisingly (then Vancouver mayor Philip) Owen does not favour wards, nor do his colleagues in the NPA; research shows the unwieldy at-large ballots encourage party or slate voting.
“The more representational ward system also has the effect of dividing the city into smaller sections, and the same research suggests that as the area in question is reduced the VOTER TURNOUT RISES.” [Capitalization mine for emphasis.]
So how come the same paper suddenly did a shameless about-turn when a few years later, the non-white population in Vancouver hit 50 per cent and there was this morbid fear of NON-WHITE guys getting a fair chance to be elected to a civic body in a ward system?
Just a few months before the referendum, two members of the Fraser Institute in a prominently displayed article in The Vancouver Sun came up with their same, tired argument that we should not have a ward system because it will be MORE EXPENSIVE. The propaganda-filled article was entitled: “Ward system will lead to more spending and debt, two economists warn.”
The following week, the Vancouver Sun carried the other side of the story – “Critic of ward system worked backwards from incomplete data” – by Craig Jones, who was counsel to the Vancouver Electoral Reform Commission.
Jones’ article however did not get the same prominent display that the Fraser Institute propaganda piece did. That in itself was terribly unethical!
Jones exposed the DISTORTED and DECEPTIVE arguments by the two Fraser Institute guys and made them look like pathetic liars.
He showed how those two so-called experts conveniently avoided mentioning a footnote of a study they referred to in order to support their argument that a ward system entails more expenditure. That footnote said that that study’s authors conceded that “our results cannot … give the direction of causation.”
Hence, Jones wrote: “So the study DOES NOT TELL US whether the ward system causes higher taxes or spending, or even whether the reverse is true.” [Capitalization mine for emphasis.]
Jones went on to rebut the Fraser Institute experts’ lies and distortions with more facts.

 

DOUBLE STANDARDS

 

THIS brings me to those politicians who just wanted to PAY LIP SERVICE to the ward system – because they so desperately wanted to cling on to power!
In 2009, a South Asian civic politician from Surrey, Rina Gill of Surrey Civic Coalition, while arguing for a ward system, said she was not surprised that the existing City Council did not favour the ward system and added that she thought it was because it would weaken their chances for re-election. She claimed that then-SCC Councillor Bob Bose had consistently supported wards. She and Bose both thought that it was still possible to have the question about a ward system added to the November 15, 2008 election ballot.
At the time I told her that she needed to get her facts right, because Bose actually wanted a MIXED system and NOT a proper ward system – that’s what he had told me back in 2004 in an interview.
He had suggested a mixed ward system with seven Councillors being elected from seven wards (the same as provincial ridings) and three Councillors, who would also represent Surrey on the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) and Translink boards, elected at large.
He also told me at the time: “There are members of Council who would like to serve on the Regional Board and it’s an attractive notion to have a mixed system because there’s less risk to longstanding incumbent Council members who may be the most experienced and have strongest name recognition.”
Talk about OPPORTUNISM!
Yes, Bose was for a ward system BUT he also wanted to make sure he was protected because of his name recognition.
Well, in 2011 the people of Surrey booted him out. Bose learned the hard way that Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts’ name mattered more than his. But it was still all about name recognition as ALL those associated with her name were elected councillors.

 

(This information has appeared before in my write-ups on the ward system over the years.)

 

– RATTAN MALL

EditorAsianJournal@gmail.com