Will Vancouver be voting yet again about how they vote?
It's light reading, but I always like to flip through the pages of the Vision Vancouver platform document just to count how many promises they've broken to date. Take for example the assurances to fully support Vancouver's Four Pillars process, while effectively ignoring all but one (policing). Or the promise to be open and transparent, while stepping up the numbers of in-camera meetings and using personal (non-FOI-able) email addresses for city business. Or the green promise that has resulted in little more than symbolic gestures like one very expensive vegetable garden.
But did you know that Vision has promised to "reform our electoral process"? Yep, you'd hardly know it because it's buried in a paragraph about fighting gang crime –
From engaging citizens and reforming our electoral process, to taking on gangs in the drug trade, building strong, safe, inclusive communities is a long-term commitment.
Wait a minute, didn't we already spend $1,000,000 on holding a referendum on wards just a few years ago? The decision there was pretty decisive, with an 8-point lead over supporters of changing of Vancouver's electoral system.
Former NDP candidate and SFU professor Kennedy Stewart won't let the torch go out on wards, and he says in this ThinkCity editorial that Gregor Robertson plans to put electoral reform on the ballot in 2011.
Not only has Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson promised a plebiscite on electoral reform in 2011, he also says he prefers a mixed-electoral system combining single-member constituencies with a city-wide method by which to elect councillors. The mayor’s vow and vision provides a new date on which reformers can focus, as well as a common stance around which all electoral reformers can rally.
Has Gregor Robertson actually spoken to anyone other than Kennedy about this "vow"? Stewart's post maps out a strategy for Vision whereby Vancouver will have an MMP (mixed-member proportional) system by 2014.
Interestingly the frustrations with wards are being documented in a series of stories by Toronto Star writer Royson James. In today's paper he's written a fascinating piece titled, Defeat a City Council incumbent? Fat Chance about how wards virtually guarantees that an incumbent will win.
It's human nature, I suppose, to complain about our political system. Never mind our success at creating one of the finest urban landscapes in North America here in Vancouver, critics of our at-large voting system would never credit it as a reason for Vancouver's excellence. As frustrating as long ballots are to some people here, the fact that it's so difficult to change your elected official elsewhere is a bigger complaint.
Here's what Royson says about Toronto's experience:
For the odds of knocking off an incumbent for a seat on city council are almost as bad as winning the lottery.The current councillors like it this way. Left to their own inclinations, councillors would do little or nothing to change a system that is archaic, undemocratic, unrepresentative and badly in need of reform. Why should they?
Only one incumbent was defeated in 2006 – and it took a former councillor and police stationed at polling stations to effect that "change."
Toronto City Council is a beacon of stability, or fossilization. Of 44 councillors, about 14 have been on council for 20 or more years. The system of electing councillors is so skewed toward the incumbent that taking on a sitting member of council is a kamikaze mission. Consequently, the council chamber looks nothing like the city it serves – despite the city's motto of Diversity Our Strength.
Indeed, look at the bios of many of Toronto's ward
bosses councillors and you'll see "first elected 1994" or "first elected 1988." A quick scan shows that many of Toronto's civic officials have spent nearly half their lives in office.
Whereas, here in Vancouver, change in our elected officials at city council has been commonplace. No one sitting on council today was elected only a decade ago. The longest serving councillors (three successive terms) are Raymond Louie, David Cadman and Tim Stevenson, each elected as part of the 2002 COPE slate.
Not only is incumbency less assured under the at-large system, diversity is more guaranteed. Two councillors with disabilities were elected, several minority candidates have been elected (although a South Asian candidate with broad appeal, we're often reminded, has eluded us), several gay or lesbian councillors have been elected with little fanfare, and women form a large part of both council and the party slates.
Vancouver is also well-represented geographically, although there is always room for improvement on this. Several Westside, West End and Eastside candidates have been elected over the last generation, but Vancouver's south side could use a boost.
Certainly we should always aspire to be the best place to live, work and do business. Electoral reform hardly makes anyone's top ten list of grievances, which is why Vision Vancouver should spend taxpayer dollars on things that truly matter, and end this self-serving effort to change our electoral system.
Sure, there will always be people who say our at-large system is too complicated, but none of them can prove that the Balkanization of Vancouver's neighbourhoods, and the entrenched incumbency of ward bosses that would follow suit, would make this a better place to live.