End corporate influence at City Hall
We can change business as usual at City Hall so that it’s accountable to voters, not real estate campaign contributors.
The major parties have already been compromised by their massive reception of corporate donations in recent years. In the 2014 civic elections, Vision Vancouver took more than $2.2 million from corporations, including well over $1 million from the real estate industry. In the 2017 by-election, Vision Vancouver received over $205,000 from property developers.
In 2017, the BC provincial government banned political donations from non-individuals. This is a welcome change. Politicians and political parties will be less influenced by the interests of their corporate and developer donors. It also means a more level playing field for smaller parties and independents.
But the new legislation contains loopholes. Parties may still be able to raise corporate money in non-election years, and they are not required to disclose them. Third-party advertisers - including those funded by corporations - can spend unlimited amounts to influence elections. These loopholes have to be closed.
Vancouver is one of the few large cities in North America that uses an “at-large” electoral system in which all voters cast their ballots for all positions on City Council, with the top ten candidates being elected. US courts have banned at-large voting in many cities because this system specifically under-represents candidates and citizens who are members of minority groups.
In Vancouver, parties across the political spectrum have fallen victim to a non-proportional distribution of votes and seats in municipal elections. In 2008 the NPA received only 10% of Councillor positions, despite earning 38 percent of votes; similarly in 2011 and 2014, the NPA received more votes than Vision but earned fewer seats. In 2005, COPE received 21% of votes but elected only 10 percent of Councillors, while in 2011 and 2014 COPE earned more than 10% of the votes but didn’t elect a Councillor.
An alternative is to elect some councillors by wards. A localized system allows for candidates who deeply understand the people in their constituency and the challenges facing them, and makes it possible for local community leaders to have a better chance at winning against big money candidates. By electing some councillors city-wide, and others by neighbourhood-based wards, City Council would be more representative of the voting choices between and within the diverse neighbourhoods across the City.
Under the Vancouver Charter, neighbourhood wards are allowed even without a referendum.
Make Voting Easier
In the past, Vancouver paid for citywide door-to-door voter enumeration to make sure that tenants, who make up over half our population, aren’t left off the voters list. When the program was cut in 1988, about 20,000 tenants were dropped from the voter rolls. Coincidence or not, the City Clerk who made the change, Doug Little, then ran for office and won. The Vancouver Charter empowers Council to direct the City Clerk to arrange an enumeration of the city for the purposes of encouraging persons to register as voters.
The City of Vancouver should reinstate city-funded door-to-door voter enumeration to make sure that renters, indigenous people, and other racialized groups that have been systematically disenfranchised are not left off the voter rolls.
In the 2014 municipal election, only 2 out of 8 advanced voting stations were on the eastside of Vancouver, and the closest station to the poorest neighbourhood was 2.5km away -- prompting a human rights complaint.
The City of Vancouver should ensure that there are more polling stations, distributed equitably across the city during the 2018 municipal election.
Extend voting rights to permanent residents
60,000 permanent residents -- about 10% of the city’s population -- work, pay taxes and contribute to our community but do not have right to vote. In January 2017, Vancouver’s Independent Election Task Force recommended extending the franchise to permanent residents, but actions haven’t been taken to make this happen in the or the 2018 civic elections. The City should immediately extend voting franchize to all permanent residents in Vancouver.
Empower and fund community organizations
To ensure real sustainable change, we need people in every community to be empowered. One way to build community capacity is to significantly increase funding for grassroots community organizations -- because that’s where the pressure comes from to push government in the right direction. Historic communities, including Chinatown, Powell Street, and Hogan’s Alley, need dedicated support.