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I Am Skooter
So here's us, on the raggedy edge.
You go your way / I'll go your way too
— Leonard Cohen, Leonard Cohen
October 15, 2004
Letter to the Georgia Straight

I sent this letter to the Georgia Straight in response to “this editorial about wards:, which distorts the facts wildly.

To the editor, Georgia Straight:

I read with great interest your editorial in favour of wards. I was especially amused by the glaring errors.

Your editorial states that “For the first time in almost 70 years, citizens can create a city government that listens a lot more to average people and perhaps a little bit less to the political and financial elites.” This is obviously incorrect, as Vancouver voted on the ward system in 1873, 1978, 1982, 1988, 1996 and 1935. Perhaps the Straight is implying that these past votes were all undemocratic?

You go on to discuss the impact that higher turnout on the west side has on candidates elected. Much research has been done on turnout in Wards vs. Non-Wards systems, and the ward system has been determined to have little impact on turnout. It will likely have little impact on the type of candidates who get elected as well; Candidates with the most media appeal will continue to get the best coverage, and are more likely to get elected.

Your comments on the number of names on the ballot ignore the fact that school board & park board will continue to be elected in an at-large manner, and the ballot size will remain substantially the same. Your claim that candidates without name recognition will have a better change of getting elected is also not born out by evidence from Provincial & Federal riding races, where name recognition remains a huge factor (as does incumbency, which in part drives name recognition for those candidates who have been elected before.)

You suggest that the city’s gay community stands a better chance of “electing politicians who reflect the aspirations of the gay community.” This suggests that the “gay community” essentially votes as a block, which is far from the truth. My gay friends are as diverse as my straight friends, and none of them would vote for a candidate on a single issue: it’s an insult to suggest that this community feels this way. Alan Herbert represents his own views very well, but can no more claim to recognize the concerns of the “gay community” at large than any other single gay man. His failure to get elected in two subsequent attempts (one of which I worked on actively) had nothing to do with his status as a gay man.

Amar Randhawa (and his colleagues) deserves a tremendous amount of credit for his work on behalf of UNITED in fighting violence in the Indo-Canadian community; I have attended UNITED events, and think the work they’re doing is perhaps the single most effective way to effect change. I’m not sure what action Amar wishes the mayor & council would take or what impact a ward system will have on this; if the suggestion is that this is a problem being ignored because it is ethnic in nature, there will be little impact made by wards - the Indo-Canadian community is far from a majority in any of the ward boundaries, and is perhaps even less likely to elect a councillor in the ward system than in an at-large system. Again, I think the implication that the Indo-Canadian community votes as a united block is an insult, but it’s a moot point: without a majority (or anything approaching it) the community would have a modest effect on any ward in any case. I too wish civic politicians would support Amar’s work, but I feel that it will have little impact on the effect of that work itself.

I personally don’t feel that there is any inherent advantage in Vancouver with either system; this city is very small, and can be effectively governed by either system. The reality is that the current ward proposal suggests adding 4 more councillors to a government that is already sufficiently large, where councillors represent (theoretically) fewer citizens than in most other large Canadian cities. Each system has its advantages and disadvantages; it’s simply a choice of choosing your poison.

Vancouver’s government needs to be reformed - the GVRD is clearly dysfunctional, and amounts to taxation without representation - but bringing wards into Vancouver is not going to repair the problems that we currently face.

Posted by skooter at 7:31 PM This entry is filed under Politics, Vancouver.

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