BC Election priority: ending big money in politics
By Elizabeth Murphy, Vancouver Sun, Monday, July 10, 2017
B.C. citizens voted in May’s provincial election to end big money in politics at the provincial and municipal levels. This was the primary election platform that both the B.C. NDP and Greens campaigned and agreed on as a priority.
The B.C. Liberals, backed by many development industry donors, raised $13.1 million. Realtor Bob Rennie was their head fundraiser. However, the NDP, with unions as their largest donors, only raised $6.2 million, less than half of what the Liberals’ raised.
Even with substantially lower funding, the NDP with the help of the Greens are now forming the government. This shows party endorsement by the development industry has become a handicap with the public.
The strong results for the NDP in Vancouver shows that citizens are fed up with the systemic corruption caused by the big money in politics that has resulted in the development industry having excessive influence on housing and transportation policy.
Although the development industry should be at the table for input into public policy, they have instead owned the table, often getting much bigger influence on housing and transportation policy than is appropriate by helping to fund the municipal and provincial parties of their choice.
The regional mayors and their plans are products of the big money that supports them and is largely responsible for the affordability crisis the region now faces. Demovictions, demolition of more affordable older housing stock, large spot rezonings that drive land inflation, and compromised planning processes have become the norm.
For example, Liberal MLA and former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan barely held his seat in Vancouver-False Creek — winning by only about 560 votes against an unknown NDP transgender candidate — in a riding that is usually a safe Liberal seat. But this riding had major controversies that involved both the province and the city of Vancouver.
This was raised as a concern by the then NDP MLA opposition critic for housing, David Eby. The New Yaletown community saw the results of development industry influence and many who otherwise would not vote NDP did so in protest of current practices.
Aspects of the Vancouver regional mayors’ plan are also problematic. The development industry supports this plan since it includes major projects such as the Broadway subway that would subsidize major tower development throughout the corridor. But communities along the corridor generally oppose this plan and would prefer more affordable transit options that serve more people across the transit network and would support more moderate human scale development consistent with neighbourhood plans.
Communities want to have meaningful input into how their neighbourhoods are planned. However, governments have become deaf to democracy and instead support policy that reflect donors’ interests.
The NDP and Greens committed to banning corporate, union and foreign donations with limits on individuals at both the provincial and municipal levels. These changes should be one of the first actions of the new B.C. government and should also apply to the anticipated Vancouver byelection, likely in October.
However, the recent appointment of Geoff Meggs to chief of staff by Premier-designate John Horgan sends a confusing mixed signal from the NDP.
This choice seems inconsistent with the objective to change the image of B.C. from the “wild west” of campaign financing as described in the media such as the New York Times, Globe & Mail and The Vancouver Sun. It is not so much an issue of Meggs’ 1990s baggage under the Glen Clark NDP government as director of communications, but what is most troubling is his more recent history at the city of Vancouver.
Meggs was central to the split within COPE forming the development industry backed Vision Vancouver that continues to accept large corporate donations from developers with enormous influence on housing policy. This has been described by academics and others as a form of systemic corruption.
With Meggs now proposed to have a key role in the premier’s office, can a leopard change its spots? Or will he be working to implement the city’s developers’ agenda rather than the commitments made by the NDP during the election? That may be the public perception.
The Vision Vancouver dominated city council has requested the province to amend the city’s charter to allow it to make its own campaign funding rules. But these are empty requests that are equivalent to the fox guarding the hen house when the two main political parties are dependent on development industry donations. Are they going to cut off the hand that feeds them?
Having someone who is so closely associated with this dynamic put into a prominent position in the premier’s office raises a concern, either real or perceived, about the integrity of the NDP’s election commitment to end big money in politics. There may be a role for Meggs at the provincial level, but is this the right one?
Those who voted for change will be watching closely to see if that change is meaningful and if it is implemented in a timely manner. It may be the deciding factor if this slim minority government lasts the term and will greatly influence the results of the next provincial election.
Elizabeth Murphy is a private sector project manager and was formerly a Property Development Officer for the City of Vancouver’s Housing & Properties Department and for B.C. Housing. firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated July 11, 2017
Note: This article has been suppressed at the urging of the Sun ‘s lawyers’ concerns that it associates one development with corruption. The text above removes that reference.
This is to clarify that in no way was the intent to associate the Brenhill project in New Yaletown with corruption since there have been no such charges laid or proven. The intent was only to give an example of a controversial project where the city approved the project while not heeding the concerns raised by the community that some aspects of the project were not in the public interest.
The facts mentioned about the project have been widely reported in the media. Below is the portion of the original article previously posted with the reference article links for background.
For example, Liberal MLA and former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan barely held his seat in Vancouver-False Creek — winning by only about 560 votes against an unknown NDP transgender candidate — in a riding that is usually a safe Liberal seat. But this riding had major controversies such as the Brenhill development in New Yaletown that involved both the province and the city of Vancouver.
The project included a land-swap deal with public land designated for park expansion transferred instead to a developer without an independent appraisal. The city-owned land was valued at only $15 million before the swap, but after rezoning for a large density bonus it was valued at $130 million, giving the developer a windfall profit. After community initiated law suits and B.C. Housing giving low interest loans to the developer, the police were even brought in on complaints.
This deal was raised as a concern by the then NDP MLA opposition critic for housing, David Eby. The New Yaletown community saw the results of development industry influence and many who otherwise would not vote NDP did so in protest of current practices.